The Order of Business is No. 1, Childcare Support Bill 2017 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 1.45 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 2, statements on the CervicalCheck screening programme, to be taken at 1.45 p.m., with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed six minutes.
Order of Business
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to explain why the Government has failed to enact the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill 2016 as was proposed and debated by us, as was proposed in the previous Seanad and voted down by the previous Fine Gael-Labour Government and is now not the law of the land. I raised this on Wednesday with regard to the ongoing scandal surrounding cervical cancer checks. Having watched the proceedings of the Oireachtas Committee on Health yesterday, it was a debacle of mismanagement. A debacle is one thing but what they have actually done is kill people. This, unfortunately, is the reality. Every person before the committee, bar one, was a man. They were sorry but there will be no consequences for their mismanagement and failure to act. I again ask why the offence of grossly negligent management causing death is not a law of the land. Section 3(1) of the Bill states:
(1) Where an undertaking has been convicted of corporate manslaughter and a high managerial agent of the convicted undertaking—
(a) knew or ought to reasonably have known of a substantial risk of death or serious personal harm,
(b) failed to take reasonable efforts to eliminate that risk,
(c) that failure fell far below what could reasonably be expected in the circumstances, and
(d) that failure contributed to the commission of the corporate offence,
that agent shall be guilty of an offence called "grossly negligent management causing death".
If we had managed to pass that legislation, the penalty for that offence would be 12 years in jail. Never mind the advisers to Government and the people who came in here with the Minister for Justice and Equality at the time and said there was no need for section 3, we will be back here in a year's time and see who was convicted. Nobody will have been convicted, however, because the Law Reform Commission has said that as a result of the hepatitis C scandal and the fact that nobody was convicted arising from that, there is a gap in our law. No legislation has been put in place since, and this was confirmed by the Law Reform Commission, that has managed to plug that gap in our law so that those high managerial agents go to jail.
If the legislation was in place, we would not need any commissions or tribunals because the courts would do the job, find out the facts and convict people. People would be held accountable. The best this Government is hoping for is a bit like Siteserv - set up a commission, set up a committee and let it go away but month by month, women will die as a result of gross mismanagement causing death. Those responsible should be in jail, but unfortunately, while some women will be in their graves, the Government will not enact the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill. If it comes back on Committee Stage, I propose that it be renamed the Corporate Womanslaughter Bill because, unfortunately, the reason for the legislation is the hepatitis C scandal where thousands of women were knowingly infected and women died.
Here we are again.
Is the Senator referring to the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill, which is on the Order Paper?
Correct. I am asking the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House.
It is not the job of the Minister for Justice and Equality to schedule Seanad business.
It is our job. That is why we have the Order of Business. I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business to allow the Minister for Justice and Equality to come in and spare the taxpayer another commission of inquiry and the need to build another shelf to put another report on with more recommendations that people be held to account and sent to jail for killing women.
I am advised that the Minister cannot come into the Seanad to say why the Seanad has not scheduled the Bill. We will let the Deputy Leader deal with the Senator's request.
We propose amending the Order of Business for the Minister to come in and explain the Corporate Manslaughter Bill.
The Senator cannot propose it in that way. It is not in the Minister's power to explain to us why the Seanad has not done it.
I will take the Leas-Chathaoirleach's advice.
It is up to the Seanad.
The Minister could explain why the Government has not enacted the Bill.
Why does the Senator not do it through Private Members' business?
It is because the health committee brought up issues which make the Corporate Manslaughter Bill relevant.
The Senator will have to frame his amendment differently.
I would like to amend the Order of Business to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to debate cervical screening and the legislation around it.
That is scheduled for today. The Minister for Health is coming in.
He is not in charge of this Bill. Would it help to take the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill today?
It is not in the power of the Minister for Justice and Equality to do that.
It is his Bill.
It does not matter.
We move an amendment that the Bill be taken today.
Does Senator Daly want to take his own Bill today?
We would have to allow time for Members to table amendments. There is a two-day deadline for amendments so the Bill cannot be taken today.
We can start it today.
We cannot take Committee Stage, unfortunately. Can the Senator take this up with the office of the Cathaoirleach?
No. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House to discuss the issue.
It is not the Minister's job. I will have to rule it out of order.
Can the Minister for Justice and Equality come into the House to discuss cervical cancer?
That is what the Minister for Health is coming to the House to do today. The Senator may put down an amendment to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House.
I am putting down an amendment that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss cervical cancer.
It is out of order.
No, it is not.
If it is separate to the Bill, we will take the amendment.
The amendment is tabled.
Recent history should teach those of us in political life some lessons about taking responsibility for the actions of others. Ministers have come under pressure in recent times on a number of high-profile cases such as the blood transfusion anti-D cases, which affected 100,000 women. In 1991 the blood transfusion board was alerted by British hospitals that a batch of anti-D produced in 1977 may have been contaminated. It would later emerge that the blood donor whose plasma was used to make the anti-D had jaundice and hepatitis but these facts had slipped through a sloppy screening process. Despite the alert, no alarm was raised and no action was taken to trace the women who had received doses from the batch, which would have ensured screening slip-ups were not repeated. They were repeated and, in 1982, plasma from another infected donor was used to make anti-D, creating another potentially lethal batch. Hepatitis C awards so far have amounted to €1 billion, with the last awards being paid in 2016. To date, 80 women have lost their lives. We have to ask if the system has learned anything.
Bridget McCole was aggressively and hostilely treated by this State to the point where she was forced into a settlement on the day before she died, on the basis that if she did not accept it, it would bring her all the way to the Supreme Court. In respect of the cervical screening failures, in recent days we have learned that senior officials were aware of CervicalCheck concerns but the State put women through an aggressive and hostile litigation process nevertheless. Would we know anything about the cervical screening issues but for the brave moves of Vicky Phelan, who was prepared to forgo her anonymity to tell us what had happened to her?
All of these cases make me wonder about governance in the public sector. They make me wonder about when political responsibility kicks in. They make me wonder about the most dangerous piece of administrative law ever to have found its way into the public service. Members may not be aware of the Carltona principles or the ideas expressed in them. As established by Carltona v. Commissioners of Works in the UK and having found their way into the Irish public service, the principles make acts of Government Department officials synonymous with the actions of the Minister in charge of the Department. It means a public servant speaking in an official capacity is speaking the words of the Minister. This is lethal because I have seen Minister after Minister dragged into the Dáil and forced to resign over decisions taken by administrative people who remain faceless and hide behind the Carltona doctrine.
I call for a debate on governance in the public sector, which should examine the impact the Carltona principles continue to have on public decision-making and whether they are healthy in a modern State. In the past few minutes, my colleague has raised the issue of people making decisions but he should not tell me that the Minister for Health is advised and informed of every single decision that is taken in the Department of Health and has to take the hit if something goes wrong. The same applies to the Department of Justice and any other Department. It is time we looked at corporate governance in the public sector, in particular how the people who make decisions are responsible for those decisions. Very often a Minister is not aware of what happened until the action has been started. What is the Minister do in that case? Is he or she to come out and say his or her senior officials made a mistake? We have seen the most aggressive treatment towards the women in this case. For some particular bloody reason it always seems to be women.
I wonder how quick the action would have been if the same slip-ups had occurred in respect of prostate tests. I ask for an open and honest debate on governance within the public sector.
I want to raise an issue that springs from a special joint committee meeting we held this morning, involving three committees, the Joint Committee on Health, the Joint Committee on Education and Skills and the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It was really impressive and I pay tribute to Senator John Dolan, who I believe initiated the meeting to talk about how we deal with disability and transitioning people from education to employment in a unified way, rather than in a siloed way. I will give a couple of the statistics that came from the meeting. The first one will really shock us. We were talking about the good unemployment figures yesterday, and rightly so, but 71% of adults of working age with a disability are out of work. It is absolutely staggering. In addition, 26.3% of adults with a disability live in consistent poverty. The figures are from the Disability Federation of Ireland and are absolutely stark. They tell us that we have completely failed when it comes to disability and policies of inclusion, and I say this in a non-party political way.
Inclusion Ireland makes a point which gets to the heart of the matter. They ask why we are spending so much money on putting young people with disabilities through an education system which does not see them as adults progressing into further education, training or employment, but as objects of charity to transition into our health and social services systems.
This is a damning indictment of successive Governments' failure to address the matter and I am calling for a debate on it. There are people from all parties with important things to say on this, which is clear from the joint committee's meeting earlier. The idea of using a unified committee system has much merit. I pay tribute to Senator Dolan on this.
I am also raising a matter which is more delicate but which I must put it out there. It relates to the eighth amendment and the campaign for its repeal. I am fully respectful of people of different opinions. If their opinion is against repeal of the eighth amendment, we must listen to and respect that. I ask for respect for people such as myself who support repeal. Where I struggle is with the people who are hiding on this issue. As public representatives, all of us have a duty to indicate where we stand. The Fine Gael organisation in Limerick has gone into hiding on this issue. It is being openly discussed among the Together for Yes campaign in Limerick. If one is for or against, that is fine, but this is not a personal matter, it is matter of public health policy. As public representatives, we all have to say where we stand. I want to be very direct on this. I see my colleague, Senator Kieran O'Donnell, in the House. I ask him, on behalf of the people, particularly the women, of Limerick, to tell us where he stands on this issue. We will respect what he says but, he should tell us where he stands.
I ask the Cathaoirleach for the indulgence of the House for an amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 12 before No. 1.
I want to speak on two things. The House will debate the matter of cervical screening later. Vicky Phelan is a neighbour of mine. I know her well. Tony O'Brien, head of the HSE, stated yesterday that what is happening is a personal blow. For me, a personal blow must come with personal responsibility. It is extraordinary that someone who heads up an organisation of this size is not taking responsibility in respect of this matter.
The Senator should be careful.
I know. I am passing a general comment.
There will be a debate later, as the Senator knows.
It is akin to the manager of a soccer team whose players do not perform saying that it is a personal blow to him that they did not perform but that he has no responsibility for their performance on the playing field. This is a scandal of an unimaginable magnitude for the women involved, brave women such as Vicky Phelan. Earlier, someone wondered whether this matter would be in the public domain if Vicky Phelan had not come forward. The likelihood is that it would not. I have not spoken publicly on this but, in life, people come along who make an indelible impression on one at a personal level. Vicky is one of those people.
I welcome the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, report which is being launched in Athlone. I am delighted that the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, have reaffirmed that €57.4 million will go to Limerick. That is €56 million for Limerick city and environs, including St. Mary's Park, with which people will be familiar, and areas such as Corbally, Anacotty, Mount Shannon Road, the Mill Road, and other places in the city centre. There is an additional €720,000 for the village of Castleconnell, which has experienced repeated flooding. I welcome the funding for the county. Rathkeel was allocated €300,000 and Athea €380,000. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Boxer Moran. I brought him down to visit on 1 December last and he saw the devastation caused by the flooding at first hand. I am grateful for this funding of €57.4 million for Limerick city and environs and further funds for the county, including Castleconnell.
I second Senator Mark Daly's amendment to the Order of Business. It is crucial that the Minister should come to the House to discuss the relevant matter.
I acknowledge the many Lyme disease patients from across Ireland who gathered outside Leinster House with their families and friends to highlight the plight of Irish sufferers of Lyme and tick-borne co-infections. We should do more to raise awareness of this awful disease. One of those who gathered outside is a brave woman from Carlow called Nicola Slattery. She was here with mother, Margaret. She said that if she could prevent one more person from having to go through the ordeal she had undergone, it would be worth it. Prevention is about awareness. There is not enough awareness about this disease, its symptoms and the devastation it brings to sufferers and their families. The group who met in Dublin joined millions across the world to raise awareness on this debilitating illness.
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease transmitted predominantly by means of a bite from an infected tick. In Ireland, inaccurate testing makes it impossible to know the real number of cases. Many must travel abroad for diagnosis and treatment. The HSE recently estimated that there are over 200 cases in Ireland annually but they do not know because Lyme disease tick-borne co-infections can often be misdiagnosed as myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, MS, lupus, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, early-onset dementia, depression or arthritis. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital for cure. We must all be educated about ticks and the infections, including sepsis, they can pass on. This week, the HSE issued an advisory on the disease which we would be wise to highlight. That is why I am raising this matter. The message we need to communicate is that people must be aware of and should not dismiss any signs of illness, that they should cover up when outdoors, especially near tick bushes, and they should check for insects on clothing or for bites. If a tick is removed in the first few hours, the risk of infection is very low. We all need to play our part and raise awareness. We should encourage better treatment and diagnosis. Awareness and education must be part of this programme. It is about the awareness which we do not have.
I refer to the change in strategy required in respect of employment and unemployment. Four or five years ago, the unemployment rate was 14.5%. We are informed that it has fallen to 5.9%. This creates a totally different challenge for our economy in how we deal with a situation where we are close to full employment. That is a great credit to everybody but what is the next stage? The Construction Industry Federation says that 110,000 workers will be needed in the next three years. How will we build the houses? We do not have the electricians, plasters or labourers to do the work. In the past, we depended on people coming here from other countries, but I do not think that will happen now. We need a very clear, concise, accountable plan in respect of this matter.
I am delighted that teachers have been in receipt of improved pay since 1 January last. As a former teacher - I was a school steward - I am aware that teachers are a key part of the fabric of our country and our communities. We need to look after our teachers a lot better because they are going into private industry. My colleague, Senator Craughwell, has often spoken on what is happening to our Air Corps pilots. It is not an either-or scenario when it comes to the public and private sectors, I believe in the word which should be used is "and". It is inclusive, it is about connectivity. We all depend on each other. Salaries will increase significantly, and that is fine, I do not have a problem with it. However, while it is a bit late now, we need to retrain our workforce so that it is fit for purpose and meets future needs.
For example, there are 35,000 primary school teachers and 27,000 secondary school teachers, teaching about 900,000 pupils. It is really difficult, if not impossible, to get people to go into the teaching profession or to get people in the profession to stay there. I ask the Deputy Leader to convey this to Government and the relevant Ministers. The Government needs to produce a new clear strategy to support our future employment needs.
On the Commencement Matters debate this morning, there was some very good discussion on chefs and our hospitality industry. This is becoming an epidemic at this stage. I would appreciate feedback on that issue.
As all Senators will know, my home peninsula, Inishowen, was devastated by floods last August. The village of Burnfoot was particularly devastated. Journalists from RTÉ and the rest of the national media were based in that village for two days. They told the story of the families. In one council estate, Grianan Park, which is a lovely little community, half of the residents were out of their homes. Raw sewage washed through their homes. They were heartbroken. They have been told that they will not be back in their homes this year or for the foreseeable future.
Other private homes and businesses were absolutely devastated. A range of senior Ministers came in and promised them that flood defences would be built. This was a sore point because, even though it had flooded repeatedly, a cost-benefit analysis ruled out flood defences for the location. It was assessed to be better and cheaper to let the houses flood than to build flood defences. It was offensive.
Today, eight months later, a major announcement has been made in Ahtlone today and I am shocked that no commitment has been given on Burnfoot. The community in Burnfoot should be getting news today that the village's flood defences are to be built as soon as possible. We are hearing that further assessments are being done and there could be another announcement in four weeks.
The Ministers know who they are because they stood before those families and business owners who were heartbroken, many of whom are still not back in their homes. They were given promises that this would be sorted out. The people of Donegal - not just Inishowen - and the north west will not accept those people being abandoned. We were expecting in the next four weeks flood defences to be confirmed by the Minister of State. It should have been confirmed today.
I rise again today to talk about another parliament, the British House of Lords. The UK Government has suffered its tenth defeat in the House of Lords on Brexit. This one would give the UK Parliament powers to reject any Brexit deal that includes a hard border in Northern Ireland. This is hugely significant and at last the politicians in Westminster are seeing the damage that a hard border arising from Brexit could do to the island of Ireland.
I thank Lord Patten, the former chairman of the Conservative Party, whose parents actually come from Boyle, County Roscommon, where I live. He said they were playing with fire and pursuing a policy in Northern Ireland that is "sometimes clueless and sometimes delinquent". While the issue of the Border and the island of Ireland was not part of the Brexit campaign discussions, effectively the Border will be the Achilles heel to Brexit. The Border is not just economic; it is a social and psychological issue on the island of Ireland. I welcome this latest vote in the British House of Lords. While it is a decision for the UK Government, I hope for all concerned on the two islands that the House of Commons would be able follow what is happening in the House of Lords. We never thought we would be saying that.
I second Senator Ó Ríordáin's proposal to amend the Order of Business.
After the Order of Business yesterday, I introduced a Bill on short-term lettings. Yesterday evening, I was targeted by an ad for hassle-free hospitality for short-term lets. When I filled in the form, Airsorted offered €5,250 a month profit on letting a two-bedroom house in the centre of Dublin. How could ordinary workers have an opportunity to rent premises at €5,250 a month? Airsorted was also offering hassle-free hosting, cleaning, laundering and providing keys. The rent for the same unit is €2,000 a month. Is it any wonder that 3,500 units previously let on a long-term basis by ordinary working people have gone to short-term letting?
I hounded the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, when he was Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, and I continue hound the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. Each of them has repeatedly promised legislation, but nothing has happened. Last year after a circular on planning enforcement for short-term lets was issued, the number of enforcements reduced instead of increasing. There is a real problem that is not being addressed.
I welcome the announcement on the flood-relief work. I remind the House and the Minister, that more than six years ago I worked alongside Brian Hayes, MEP, who was then Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, to get a memorandum of understanding with Insurance Ireland, representing the insurance companies, to ensure that when flood protection work was carried out up to a once-in-150-year standard residents in areas covered by that could receive flood insurance. Every week I get a query about flood insurance despite millions of euro of taxpayers' money having been spent in areas such as Clonmel, Dublin, Limerick and Cork. The impact is that people in larger family residences cannot sell their homes to young couples because those young couples cannot get a mortgage unless they have flood insurance. We have been calling for action for six years and nothing has happened.
There is a shortage of dementia beds in County Meath, relating to issues in St. Joseph's public nursing home in Trim. In 2012 and 2013, HIQA published a report showing that St. Joseph's was not up to HIQA standards. Senator James Reilly when he was Minister for Health came on board and allocated €1.2 million to St. Joseph's which ended up being a new 50-patient nursing home and passed all the HIQA standards. In 2014 and 2015, a further €200,000 to €300,000 was invested into St. Joseph's to fix the old roof. In 2015 and 2016, when planning a new future, a shortage of dementia beds in County Meath was identified and €2.5 million was promised for investment in St. Joseph's.
Since then, nothing has happened. We have very few dementia beds in County Meath. It is not right that we have a greenfield site state-of-the-art St. Joseph's nursing home that is ready to go. We badly need this unit in County Meath. Why is the HSE delaying this project? The money has been allocated and is in the clouds somewhere. I want it to come down from the clouds. We need to invest it in St. Joseph's and get these dementia beds operational. I would like the Minister to come to the House to explain why the money has not been allocated to County Meath, which really needs these dementia beds.
Yesterday, we got worrying news from Brussels of a proposed 5% cut in CAP payments. It forms part of a discussion on the EU budget for 2021 to 2027.
The news of that proposed 5% cut will create fear among small-farm families the length and breadth of the country. Considering that for many families, the CAP payments make up about 75% of their total income, it is understandable that they would be worried and fearful. For many small suckler and sheep farmers, the average income is only €13,000 per annum. It is a very important issue for small-farm families and for rural Ireland. Rural Ireland depends on the farming community because what the farmer earns, the farmer spends. I ask that the Leader stresses the importance of the Government and of Commissioner Phil Hogan forcefully rejecting this proposal. I ask that they use all their clout to ensure this proposal does not go ahead. Farming families cannot afford this cut; nor can rural Ireland. I ask the Leader to ensure that the Government does all in its power to prevent this cut from proceeding.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 11 be taken before No. 1.
I join with other Members of the House in congratulating our two new colleagues, Senators Anthony Lawlor and Ian Marshall. I wish them well and a long term in the House.
I ask the Deputy Leader to secure the attendance of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection in the House in respect of pensions. We have all received many letters recently from people working for Irish Life in respect of their Irish Life defined benefit pensions. This could spread to other companies as well. The Irish Life scheme meets the funding standard. There are 1,000 employees in it and the company has €1.3 billion in assets. As the fund itself has €240 million, it meets all the criteria. Irish Life is the biggest provider of pensions in the country. It was bailed out by the State and this is an issue we need to talk about. I hope the Minister will come to the House to address the whole area of pensions.
I second Senator Gallagher's proposal to amend the Order of Business in respect of No. 11.
I want to touch on something Senator Feighan spoke about this morning. It was really nice to read the headlines of the national and UK newspapers this morning. For once, we can be reassured that Ireland has friends in the House of Lords. That has not just happened but has evolved as a relationship. I make particular reference to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, of which the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senators Noone, Feighan and others are members. It has played a very active part in developing personal relationships. I have always believed that if one wins people's hearts, one wins their minds. Breaking bread and sharing hospitality and culture with others makes everyone open to receiving. Through dialogue and friendship we open doors. When we open doors, we open hearts and opportunities. That has been well illustrated.
The House of Lords voted yesterday to give MPs a veto on the Irish hard border question. The peers in the House of Lords have voted to empower their MPs to stop a Brexit deal that might restore a hard border across the island of Ireland. The Upper House supported an amendment to the EU withdrawal Bill that would bar the introduction of border checks and formation of physical infrastructure without the prior agreement of the Irish Government. That is very significant. The House of Lords in Britain is the nearest equivalent to the Upper House here in Ireland. By building those relationships, we have opened doors. This deal is not done yet. There is a lot of water yet to go under the bridge. I urge my colleagues to continue to build relationships and dialogue, to take up the phone, travel, meet and talk about our genuine concerns for the island of Ireland and, more importantly, for the unity of Europe, the European ideal and the principles that bind Europeans together for the common good.
I also wish to express my concern at the news emanating from Brussels yesterday that there is a proposed 5% cut to the CAP budget. We have to redouble our efforts to reverse this proposal. The Taoiseach has indicated that as a net contributor to the EU budget, he is prepared to allow Ireland to increase its contribution to the CAP and to require other member states to step up to the plate also. We cannot contemplate this 5% cut. Payments and supports under the Common Agricultural Policy are the difference between an income and no income for farmers. It is a very small income at that, with all the costs of running farms, feeding cattle, fertiliser and so on. The farmers would simply be lost without this payment and we will see people leaving farming if we do not get this right.
I welcome the announcement of the national flood management plan today, particularly the long-awaited announcement of a flood relief scheme for Ballina and Westport. I have intimate knowledge of the devastation that flooding in early 2014 brought to people along the banks of the River Moy in Ballina. Homes were destroyed, including those of a lot of older people living in Bachelors Walk, Arbuckle Row and Clare Street. Every time there is heavy rain and a high tide, they are in fear of being flooded again. I commend Mayo County Council and the fire service. They are always to the fore with pumps and sandbags, clearing channels and doing their utmost to prevent this. It has been identified as a significant flood risk area. We have gone through the processes of the flood report and a proposal for flood walls. It is very satisfying to hear today that this will proceed to detailed design, planning permission and ultimately construction and, best of all, that it is to be funded under the €1 billion promised for flood defences up to 2027. That is good news for Ballina.
I agree that the Minister needs to come to the House to address the CAP issue. It is very worrying for farming. The substantive issue I want to talk about now, however, is the presentation that was made in the audiovisual room earlier this morning. It was in connection with the drug called valproate and its impact in respect of foetal anticonvulsant syndrome, FACS. We heard from parents who were advised to take this drug and indeed for whom it was insisted that they take it while they were pregnant. They now see the impact it has had on their children. The teratogenic effects of valproate were first reported in the 1980s and have been widely accepted since the mid-1990s. I am calling for an investigation of the historical impact of valproate. That has to be done. No more than what we have been hearing in the past couple of days in respect of cervical screening and the huge cover-up that was done, all the people who were prescribing this drug knew of its effects and kept this from expectant mothers. Those mothers ended up having children with severe disabilities. There needs to be a thorough investigation.
I want the Minister to come to the House to talk about FACS, its implications, the possibility of establishing a redress scheme - as has been done in France - the risk reduction measures that need to be put in place and the overall service needs of these children and their parents. It is not acceptable that there are 1,300 children on the waiting list at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. I want a full debate on this matter in the House because it will take much longer to deal with it than the two minutes I have available to me now.
Before calling on the next speaker, I welcome the Waterford active retirement group to the Gallery.
I support the comments of fellow Members expressing concerns about a reduction in CAP payments and support mechanisms for farmers. It is important that we make very clear that it is not this industry's desire to receive handouts or support payments. It is a situation at which the industry has arrived through no fault of its own. The reality is that a drive and ambition to get cheaper and cheaper food has left us in a system where these people are wholly dependent on support mechanisms from Brussels. That said, we need to be very clear. We all refer to sustainable agriculture. What is sustainability? We are all aware of the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. Very often, the social side of it is the bit that is overlooked because Ireland, both North and South, is completely dependent on the success and vibrancy of its rural economy. If the rural economy is doing well, the country will do well and that is an important thing to note. There will be huge concerns if we overlook the importance of the creation of jobs and wealth in rural economies. If we want to retain jobs and businesses in the rural economy, first and foremost, farming and agriculture must be profitable. If we are serious about keeping young people on the land and stopping migration to cities and other parts of the world, it is important that we resist any temptation to reduce support mechanisms. We should remember that this is not about farm support, it is about cheap food support mechanisms.
I echo the remarks of Senators Feighan and Boyhan regarding yesterday's Brexit amendment vote in the British House of Lords. It is a strange experience, almost like something from "The Twilight Zone", when one looks to the House of Lords to show a bit of sense in respect of this matter. I do not say that to be provocative. I say it as someone who-----
There are some very good people there.
I note that.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach should be there.
We are keeping up the friendships. We do keep in contact.
One never knows who will finish up there. Senator Marshall is now a Member of this House, so one never knows. I note it and despite the bit of craic we have had, it is a very significant amendment and an important process, one that stands in stark contrast to the approach of Theresa May and her Government with their reckless position regarding the progress that has been made in respect of our economy, our political and peace processes and all of the agricultural and social components that have been outlined.
There is a blessing in Irish which I am sure many of us have heard - "go maire tú an céad" - which means may you reach the 100. Today, that most Irish of institutions - O'Neills - marks its 100th birthday. It is an institution with which all of us who are participants in or followers of a wide range of sports in Ireland such as GAA, rugby, boxing and many others are familiar. To me, O'Neills is a real case in point with regard to the potential threat of Brexit to our indigenous businesses. The O'Neills warehouse straddles the Border up around Strabane. It employs people from that wider Border region. It does a fantastic job not just with regard to the quality of product it produces and exports globally but also in providing employment across Ireland. It is a cause for celebration that it has reached this milestone but in the context of Brexit and what has been already said, we must ensure we do everything we can to make sure O'Neills sees out the next 100 years.
I have not had the opportunity to congratulate and welcome our two new Senators. Senator Lawlor is not here at the moment. I hope both of them will have a very productive, happy and collegial time here in the Seanad and that they get to work on a lot of the issues. I was very impressed with Senator Marshall's contribution this morning. It is great to have them here.
Senator Mark Daly spoke about the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill 2016. I hear what he is saying. The cervical cancer screening issue that is unfolding literally by the hour is disgraceful. I am astonished that we have to talk about this in the Parliament. In respect of not just negligence but the willful withholding of information, it is one thing to make a bad decision but to willfully withhold information from women is deplorable. There are no words. My heart goes out to the women who have been affected by this and who do not know at this point whether they have been affected. Every woman in Ireland deals with this issue every so often. We must have faith in the service. A really important point needs to be emphasised over and over again. We need women to continue to have these tests. We need to restore confidence in the system. For the most part, it has worked very effectively. It has been very positive and thorough for any woman I know who has had treatment, such as through a regular smear test and ending up in the colposcopy department. First and foremost, we need to restore that.
On the Senator's amendment to the Order of Business and his request for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House, the Minister is due to go before the Select Committee on Justice and Equality with the Data Protection Bill today. The select committee's meeting is due to last until midnight. The Minister has offered to come before the House on Tuesday evening to deal with the issue if that is to the Senator's satisfaction. That is the earliest point at which the Minister can be here. There is a wider issue when it comes to political accountability. The fact that Ministers and Deputies are elected by the people makes them accountable to the people. By all means, politicians need to be fully accountable but I do not see why the permanent government should not be accountable. I feel really strongly about that. Naturally, I would defend the Minister for Health but I thought it was really difficult for him, on a human level, to go into the Dáil with information he was given at very short notice. How can he have full confidence in the information he has been given when it changes by the hour? I really think there needs to be accountability in the permanent government.
The same thing happened to the former Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald. She was given bad information.
I am not trying to shirk politicians' responsibility to be accountable. However, let me ask the following question. How big is the health service? It is massive. How can one individual be totally au fait and on top of what is going on in every facet of that service? It is a physical impossibility so the idea that we cannot rely on managers in that service is beyond the beyond as far as I am concerned. I hear what the Senator is saying regarding the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill 2016. The Minister for Health has indicated that there will be criminal sanction in the future and that this is his plan in this area for medics or other professionals who withhold this type of information.
We would all be satisfied to hear from the Minister for Justice and Equality about what plans he has for a potential Bill such as the Senator mentioned.
It needs to cover all the public service.
I cannot hear the Senator.
That is what the corporate manslaughter Bill is about, not just the health service.
The Senator can let me know if that is acceptable to him in due course.
Senator Craughwell raised a few issues but fundamentally he is seeking a debate on governance in the public sector. That would be a very useful debate especially in light of recent developments. He mentioned the mistreatment of women. I cannot stand here as a woman and say that I do not feel that women have been let down repeatedly by the State. We are in the middle of a referendum campaign that is, again, about women. I almost feel that I constantly have to speak about things relating to women that are below the belly button. It is really too much for the women of Ireland to have to go through this over and over again. I agree with Senator Craughwell's comments in that regard and I would encourage having a debate on governance in the public sector.
Senator Gavan highlighted a positive initiative of the health, education and employment committees this morning on how to deal with disability and getting those who are disabled into work and education. He also raised the eighth amendment and his comments in that regard are noted.
I accept Senator Ó Ríordáin's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I presume we will deal with that shortly.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell referred to Vicky Phelan, who is a neighbour of his and who has done the State an extraordinary and courageous service. As he said, it is a scandal of unimaginable proportions. We all owe her a massive debt of gratitude for highlighting the issue. I hope she receives justice, in more ways than one, over the coming weeks and months. The Senator also welcomed the CFRAM flooding report, which is positive for his area.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised Lyme disease. It is a serious disease and awareness is obviously vital.
In response to Senator Ó Céidigh, some years ago when we first spoke about the Action Plan for Jobs I doubt that anybody believed we would reach a point of being close to full employment. Unemployment is under 6% for the first time in ten years, which is very significant. Obviously, however, planning is required to get people trained. I have done some work on the chefs issue and it is a huge issue. The Senator's point is well made and a debate on that in due course would be a good idea.
It so happens that every time I have sat in this chair as Deputy Leader, Senator Ó Lochlainn has raised the flooding issue. I heard his frustration and I would be hopeful. However, I cannot comment directly on it because I have not read the report. It sounds as if the people mentioned by the Senator badly need these flood defences. I will ask the Minister to communicate with the Senator on what the plan is over the coming weeks. The Senator is quite right to raise it. The fact that half of the residents are out of their homes is appalling for them, but I will have to refer back to the Senator on the matter because I do not know the details of what is planned by the Department.
I am afraid we will lose Senator Feighan to the House of Lords at some point soon.
No, Lord Boyle.
Obviously, the vote in the House of Lords is hugely significant. A hard border is a red line for us in Ireland, North and South. It is not something we will tolerate. The fact that the House of Lords had this vote raises the point of the validity and importance of a second chamber. It has an impact and puts pressure on Theresa May's government and on the House of Commons. We will have to watch that space for the moment.
Senator Humphreys raised short-term lettings, which is a major issue that he raises frequently. I can convey his points to the Minister with regard to any legislation being considered. The Senator is tireless on the issue. He also welcomed the flood relief for his area, which is very significant.
There is also the cost of flood insurance.
The insurance issue is massive. It would be good to have a debate on insurance generally in the House, because insurance is not only an issue in that area. Every time I have taken a taxi recently the drivers have told me they are having problems with motor insurance due to massive increases. It also affect younger people. A wider debate on insurance would be a good idea.
Senator Butler raised the important issue of dementia beds in his area. That would be a good item to put forward for a Commencement debate to get a more substantial, direct and specific answer from the Minister. It is an important issue.
Senator Gallagher and others raised the cut in CAP payments. I cannot say I would be the world's leading expert on CAP payments but it certainly is a massive issue for rural Ireland. Given the fact that in many cases the payments represent 75% of total income it is a major worry. Knowing Mr. Phil Hogan, I believe he will do all in his power to ensure it does not happen, but we will just have to hope that any impact that can be made on the issue will happen over the coming weeks.
Senator Paddy Burke raised Irish Life and the pensions issue and asked that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection be invited to the House. It would be good to have a debate on pensions generally given that we have an ageing population. I will suggest holding that debate in the coming months.
Senator Boyhan raised the vote in the House of Lords and referred to the relationships that are built by different parliamentary friendship groups and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. It is incumbent on all of us, now more than ever, to build relationships with the UK.
Senator Mulherin also raised the CAP budget and the national flood management plan. She welcomed the scheme for Ballina and Westport.
In addition to raising the CAP, Senator Conway-Walsh raised the valproate drug which is a hugely negative thing to have happened. A full debate on that would be a good idea, and I will communicate that to the Leader. There is always reason for the Minister for Health to come to the House and it could be discussed in the context of a wider debate, but it certainly warrants discussion. It also could be the subject of a Commencement debate in due course. I find the Commencement debate offers a very satisfactory opportunity to interact on a specific issue.
Senator Marshall also raised the CAP payments. He had a more unusual take on it in the sense that not many people focus on the fact that the reason for these subsidies is to ensure that everybody can have cheaper and affordable food. It is not just a requirement or a need to be subsidised. The sustainability point is very important.
Senator Ó Donnghaile also raised the vote in the House of Lords. Obviously, O'Neills is around for a long time but I had not realised it was 100 years. It highlights how much of an impact Brexit, including the fear of it, is having on companies. We must do all in our power to support companies such as O'Neills, but we congratulate it today.
That concludes the responses to the Order of Business.
Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on corporate responsibility for screening for cervical cancer be taken today." The Senator has heard the Deputy Leader.
In light of the reply of the Deputy Leader, I will withdraw the amendment.
The amendment is, by leave, withdrawn. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." The Deputy Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Robbie Gallagher has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 11 be taken today." The Deputy Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.