The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding position of UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, statements on the HIQA report on Tusla, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, of which time can be shared, and the Minister to be given no less than four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 - message from the Dáil, to be taken at 5.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6.15 p.m.; and No. 4, Data Sharing and Governance Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3 and to be adjourned not later than 8 p.m. if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
Today I would like to raise the very worrying reports that the HSE may record a deficit of €200 million or €300 million for the first half of the year without any plan or intimation of a plan in place to reverse that. In 2017, the HSE recorded a net operating deficit of €140 million, yet last week, which was the anniversary of the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadker's, first year in office he made a significant virtue of the fact that he is a master of balancing budgets. This does not seem to be the case.
This matter has a very serious consequences, especially for ordinary people who rely on home help and those in need of mental health services. There has been a reduction in home help hours and a serious crisis in mental health services, especially in the CAMHS sector. These services have been left to languish with little or no support. It is also shocking that the former secretary general, Tony O'Brien, warned the Minister privately that the deficit could reach €800 million for the year, something which was not acted on. This is horrendous. The budget deficit increases have been attributed to older people presenting to hospitals. In a general election manifesto in 2011, the Government ran on a platform of building primary care centres across the country. In Drimnagh in my constituency, we were promised a primary care centre yet to date no sod has been turned and planning is about to run out. What is the Minister's plan in regard to this matter? I call on him to come to the House so that we can ask him how he intends to reverse the deficit and what he intends to do about the roll-out of primary care centres nationally and, more specifically, in Drimnagh.
I wish to raise three issues. There was much discussion in the media over the weekend about the Council of Europe and the anti-corruption body known as GRECO, the Group of States against Corruption. I do not want to pre-empt what I hope will be a lively and engaging debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill next week, but suffice to say it is reported in the press that the Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, and other judges have taken the unusual step of writing to GRECO. They raised a number of particularly serious issues in respect of the perceived appointment of judges to upper and higher courts. Could the Leader ascertain from the Minister whether he is committed to publishing the current GRECO report? If he is, can he make it available in advance of the debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill next week?
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the new Garda Commissioner designate, the PSNI deputy chief constable, Drew Harris, on his appointment. It is a very imaginative appointment. I wish him well. I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Dónall Ó Cualáin on what has been a steady hand in terms of An Garda Síochána. He did not have an easy task, but it is worth acknowledging his work.
I thank the Leader for arranging for a debate on the summer economic statement. It will be important.
I want to express my solidarity with and send my best wishes to the family of Pat Finucane who today launched a bid in the UK Supreme Court in London to hold a public inquiry into his murder. The need for an inquiry was agreed at Weston Park in 2001, but the need for truth and disclosure is widely accepted and needs all sides to be supportive of these efforts. Some of the documentation from the British Government has been quoted. Its exhaustive previous examinations have laid bare some very uncomfortable truths. Paid state agents were directly involved in the killing, including the only man ever convicted of involvement in it. Lord Stevens's conclusions paint a picture of a system of agent running by the RUC special branch and the army. I want to wish the Finucane family well. Families should not have to spend decades in courtrooms in order to access the truth.
Where is the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017? When will it come back before us? While it is not a panacea for the issues surrounding autism and the supports and services that are needed, at least it will go some way to addressing some of the issues through amendments. It is a matter of deep concern that this Government chooses to propose a rainy day fund when I hear from parents all over my county who cannot get respite, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and all the services that children and adults with autism should be entitled to as of right. It is disgraceful. There was a meeting last night and I commend those in Belcarra in Castlebar who organised it. We cannot think of rainy day funds until the most vulnerable people and families in our State are looked after.
People should imagine, while they will leave here in a few weeks' time, and may work in their areas or whatever, what it is like for a carer looking after up to three children with autism to be told he or she cannot have one, two or three days off in the year. It is not right and it must be fixed. Carers need respite as well. They cannot do their job. They cannot function properly. They are working 24-7, 365 days a year and they need a break. They must be prioritised before any rainy day fund. We saw what was done with the last rainy day fund, the pension reserve fund, that was hived off to the bankers. It is wrong and it must be re-examined.
I welcome the Government's announcement today that it will bring forward measures to address the gender pay gap. I very much welcome anything that will bring that forward. However, it is a pity, and I said this to the Minister for Justice and Equality, that the Government did not see fit to use the existing legislation, the Private Members' Bill, that we introduced in this House, which received cross-party support and has passed Second and Committee Stages. The Government could have implemented gender pay gap disclosure measures more speedily through proposing amendments to the Labour Party Bill, which we would have been quite happy to accept and debate in the normal way.
My concern is that introducing a new Government Bill will inevitably delay the introduction of these important measures, which we so badly need, to ensure that we can address the existing gender pay gaps. Would the Leader please pass the message to the Minister that we are concerned that the proposed Bill will bypass legislative provisions that have already been debated in the Seanad? If the Government is going to introduce its Bill it should at the very least be started in the Seanad, given that we have already had a good deal of considered debate on this issue.
I echo Senator Boyhan's concerns about the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, which was to go to Committee Stage this week. I have tabled over 20 amendments for the Labour Party to make to that Bill but I understand it is not going ahead. Could the Leader let us know whether Committee Stage can proceed at this point, given that we have received reports that the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO, has such significant concerns about some key measures proposed in the Bill, in particular that the provisions around the new judicial appointments commission are not in line with European standards and that a more substantial participation is required. GRECO has urged the Government to reconsider the provisions in order to limit the potential risks of improper influence from the Executive and to ensure that any measures introduced are taken in co-operation with judicial authorities.
Given these concerns the Minister should publish the GRECO report and, furthermore, we should be given some indication of how the Government proposes to address these concerns in its amendments which we have not yet seen. We did debate the Bill on Second Stage last week without knowing its proposed final shape. It is most unsatisfactory and many of us expressed concerns about that last week. While we are mindful of the need for reform of judicial appointment measures, this Bill has been, in the words of the Attorney General, a "dog's dinner" to date and the reports about the GRECO report raise serious additional concerns about the new measures.
Finally, I join with others in wishing the new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, well. He has a challenging role to fill in terms of ensuring policing reform.
Like other speakers, I wish the new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, all the best. It is a difficult task to fulfil. I know he has come from a difficult area. I welcome the decision to take someone from outside this jurisdiction to head up An Garda Síochána.
I wish to raise an issue relating to the sports capital programme. I am delighted that €40 million will be allocated but I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House for a discussion on it. There are many clubs that want to find out when this process will start. They have also had difficulties with applications in the past. Why have some clubs and organisations failed when it comes to getting the funding for which they have applied? I would welcome it if the Minister could come in here and give us a briefing so that all clubs can hear about it so that when they apply for funding, they will have all their ducks in a row.
I wish to comment on a disgraceful decision by the central competitions control committee, CCCC, of the GAA yesterday regarding the Kildare-Mayo football match. Having watched the draw earlier that morning, the Kildare players were expecting to play the match in Newbridge. What took place showed a total disregard for both players, management and supporters of Kildare GAA and Mayo GAA, which would have expected the game to take place in Newbridge. The CCCC has gone against its own rules. If one sets down rules and regulations, one should at least follow them but this is typical of the GAA hierarchy. It does not have any regard for the people at grassroots level. As far as I am concerned, it is Newbridge or nowhere.
The ball is certainly in but I do not think that is a matter for the Order of Business or the Leader.
We celebrated 60 years of UN peacekeeping at the weekend and acknowledged and remembered the 85 members of the armed forces and one Garda who lost their lives on UN peacekeeping service on behalf of Ireland. It was a lovely ceremony in Dublin Castle. Indeed, there were two very nice ceremonies in Dublin Castle on Sunday. The other ceremony related to the decriminalisation of homosexuality. There were lots of references to JFK and our current Taoiseach but a Fianna Fáil Government was in power between 1957 and 1959 when it all started in 1958 and I think it would be nice if when referring to it, the Government did acknowledge that a Fianna Fáil Government was in power at the time.
I want to raise another point relating to policing and justice generally. I wish the new Garda Commissioner well. I also acknowledge that 22 years ago today, Veronica Guerin lost her life in the fight against crime and reporting crime. If she was here today, she would say that there is a lot more work to be done. I wish the new Garda Commissioner well but I do want to acknowledge that time. I remember the day very well. It happened on Boot Road in Clondalkin. I would like to remember that.
I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality for the comments he made at the weekend about cycling. He responded to a tweet. I cycled in here today. I regularly cycle in here. I am lucky enough to live close enough that I can do so but it is not all that safe sometimes. I do support the Minister and others who are saying that it is important that the cycle lanes that are there are available for cyclists and that they are not full of cars parked, lorries delivering or buses pulling in and so on. The Minister has said he will meet with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who is far more interested in judges than he is in transport, to deal with this matter. The Minister for Justice and Equality seems to be the one who is most interested in cycling infrastructure, far more than the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Perhaps he is the one we should bring in to talk about cycling, road infrastructure and the enforcement of road policing. I would appreciate it if the Leader could organise that debate.
I wish to raise an issue I have raised several times here in the House. It concerns the lack of guidelines relating to solar farms. At a time when we are facing such huge fines from Europe for our carbon emissions, clearly solar farms would be a huge addition to reducing that bill yet we do not have any national guidelines and local authorities are refusing planning permission for these farms on that basis.
People are having to go to extra expense to go to An Bord Pleanála. I would like the Minister, Deputy Naughten, with whom this lies more so than the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to come to the House and tell us where he is with his plans. The other interest I have in this regard is in all those hay sheds around the country that could be covered in photovoltaic units. An initiative could be put in place for that.
Another national issue is childhood obesity and the fact that almost one third of our children are either overweight or obese. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, promoted an initiative in his own area, Wicklow, of a no-fry zone near schools, something which I fully support. Local authorities need guidelines on this from the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, through the Department of Health but it will be a local authority issue. The local authorities and developers need guidance. We currently have a situation where there is a brand new primary school in Skerries with 365 children and there are proposals to build a huge fast food outlet beside it. The initial proposal was for an all-night drive-through with all sorts of traffic issues but, more recently, that has been dropped. It is a disproportionate development in a small local shopping centre. Our children need to be protected from this. We are possibly going to be the first generation that buries the generation behind us as they develop diabetes and all the complications that go with it.
I echo what other Senators said about the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill. I would also like to know where it is. I have been seeking a meeting about this issue with the Minister for the last three weeks. I hope to meet with him soon. This House passed that Bill in its entirety, unopposed, unanimously and there are children and parents with autism who are struggling on a day-to-day basis. The Bill is by no means a panacea or the end of the beginning. It is the beginning of the beginning for them, in having a process to put in place a national strategy which will give them the help that they need to reach the potential that they have to make their contribution to our society. Over the centuries, people with autism have made major breakthroughs and discoveries.
I wish the new Garda Commissioner well. He has, as others have put it euphemistically, a serious challenge ahead.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business because I would like the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to come to the House. If he cannot come in himself, he can send in the report about community banking which involved, whether it argued for or against it, an argument for the Sparkassen German bank and Kiwibank. I am a great believer in community banking and not capitulating to the pillar banks. The latter have people earning €30,000 to €70,000 unable to save €50,000 to get a room to live in, let alone a house. They are on every campus in Ireland, costing postgraduates fortunes to study, and putting up their interest rates when they qualify. I could start on the banks and would probably have to have medication because of their behaviour. There is capitulation to the pillar banks. I am not afraid of them and do not think we should be afraid of them. We saw it rejuvenating itself with Mr. Drumm, who was not part of a high street bank but who was certainly part of the actions of the bank that led to many people looking at the USC on top of everything they earn. I would like to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, which I think will be seconded by Senator Wilson.
With regard to Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, Senator Bacik is correct and I would like to know what has happened to it. We were all speaking in generalities last week because we did not know what the Government's amendments were or what our own would be, although I know Senator Bacik had loads and I had plenty myself. I would like to find out about that.
With regard to cycling and cars on footpaths, the Minister needs to look at the fact that we cannot walk on our footpaths because cars are now taking precedence over pedestrians.
They are not only half parked, they are entirely parked up on paths. I would start with the walkers, people who may be disabled or in wheelchairs or the blind, who cannot walk in their own city because of the abuse of cars. That is my amendment to the Order of Business. Members should not think I will take "No" for an answer. I would like the Senators to stay with me on this. Where is this report? Why can I not see it? It was presented at Cabinet and I would like to have a look at it. If the Minister cannot come in and organise it, I will take a copy of it, read it and make up my mind, but it has to be done.
I support Senator O'Donnell in that regard.
I want to raise the issue of the spend on agency workers in the HSE. Last year almost €1 million per day was spent on agency workers such as locum doctors, consultants and, in particular, nurses. Of the €15 million that was put in to boost the mental health budget, from January to March of this year, €13 million of it was spent on agency staff. This means there is €2 million left and the first three months of the year are gone, and there is a projection for something like €80 million more for agency staff for the remainder of the year.
On top of that, the nursing unions have just put out a report on assaults on HSE staff. We know that fewer staff, chaotic working conditions and the use of agency staff, with the resultant lack of continuity of care, give rise to increasing assaults. Between 2008 and 2018 there were more than 10,000 serious assaults on staff, 70% of them on nursing staff. I know these nursing staff. They have had their eyes gouged out, they have lost testicles and they have lost their own physical, never mind emotional, well-being. They are languishing at home often in difficult circumstances, including marriage breakdowns, because of the impact chaotic working conditions have on them.
I do not know who would want to sign up to working like this. Recruitment and retention is abysmal. We need to address the staggering sums of money going to private agencies that are putting in locum staff who have less responsibility than permanent staff.
I would like to propose a vote of congratulations to Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, and also to the GAA family from Fermanagh and Donegal for the reception they gave her. It was a wonderful gesture to attend the Ulster final and it sets out an agenda that, hopefully, things are changing in Northern Ireland. That should not go unnoticed, especially given the Taoiseach's visit to east Belfast and the reception he got from the Orange Order and its supporters in east Belfast, and also the reception he got in west Belfast at the opening of Féile. In addition, in recent weeks Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, were in Cork, the so-called rebel county. This island is changing and that is very much to be welcomed. If somebody makes a gesture, I believe we should be strong enough and brave enough to stand up in this Seanad and welcome it. That is very important.
I would also like to welcome the appointment of PSNI deputy chief constable, Drew Harris, as the new Garda Commissioner. Again, this is setting a different tone for the Garda Síochána. My grandfather was among the first members of the Garda Síochána. In this House and in politics, we should challenge the Garda Síochána but we are not here to undermine its good name. I hope that, as politicians, we are balanced in how we talk about members of the Garda Síochána. They are the people who have held the line in very difficult times since the foundation of the State. I wish Drew Harris every success in the future.
One aspect I have raised in the House is the Commonwealth Games, which is due to be held in Northern Ireland in 2021, and which could be another achievement of cross-Border co-operation.
For example, there could have been cross-Border rowing on Lough Rynn in Leitrim. Given that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat since January 2017 and no financial package has been agreed, Northern Ireland has lost the Commonwealth Games. That is a major loss. I hope that all parties can work together to get Stormont up and running. The sooner that happens, the better it will be, not just for Northern Ireland, but the island of Ireland.
To reiterate, Ms Arlene Foster turning up at the Ulster final was a major change in mindset in our country.
I echo Senator Feighan's welcome for the gestures and movement, small though they may be, but we must get past gesture politics because we need the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running again. Brexit is coming down the tunnel like an express train. Politicians want to be taken seriously, but politics is about compromise, so we need the assembly to be up and running and people to take their seats in the House of Commons to ensure that there is a good deal for the island of Ireland. Not taking a seat is unacceptable. We are past the day of denying that mandate.
I wish to discuss the issue of a dedicated transport police force and the effects of assaults on public sector workers and public transport. We are past the day of using private security firms, which have no right to detain people at stations or make arrests. Train drivers, DART workers and other public sector workers are being assaulted week in, week out. If we want the general public to feel safe and secure on public transport, there needs to be a dedicated police force on that transport, be it a train going from Cork to Dublin or a DART going from Howth to the city centre. Many other areas have such forces, for example, London. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House to debate this issue at some stage? It would be useful.
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, might be more useful.
I second Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's amendment to the Order of Business. She was correct. If a report has been presented to the Cabinet, then there is no reason for it not to be published and made available to us, other than its contents not suiting the Government's agenda. The Minister should answer that request.
I join Senator Feighan in congratulating the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Ms Arlene Foster. Her attendance at the Ulster final between her native Fermanagh and Donegal in Clones last Sunday was a significant gesture. We look forward to seeing her attending future GAA events.
I welcome today's announcement by the Government of the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner, a fellow Ulsterman, Mr. Drew Harris. He is a professional policeman. His father served as a member of the RUC until his tragic death. He came up through the Troubles and the RUC as it existed at the time and was there when it was reformed into the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He will do an excellent job during his five-year term as Commissioner of An Garda Síochána.
If we are done, then I will call on the Leader to-----
I could speak again on the amendment.
Unfortunately, the rules do not allow for that, as the Senator well knows. The Leader to respond.
I thank the 12 Senators for their contributions. Beginning with Senator Ardagh's points, the Government has significantly increased the health budget by €1.7 billion since 2013.
I find the Senator's remarks amusing given the record of her beloved party leader and Mary Harney in the Department of Health. They rarely, if ever, balanced the books in that Department. I recall we had supplementary budgets year-on-year at a time when the country had plenty of money. I agree with the Senator that it is important that we invest and that we maintain a service that will deliver outcomes for patients. This is about improving access, building capacity, investing in physical infrastructure and also recruitment, a new general practitioner contract and the delivery of Sláintecare, which will be transformational in reforming our health system.
I remind Senator Ardagh that since the Fine Gael Party came into government, in the first instance with the Labour Party and now as a minority Government, 120 primary care centres have been opened, 12 of them this year, with seven more to come. The Government is investing and reinvesting in our health service, be that in terms of recruitment, physical infrastructure or otherwise, and it will continue its record of investing in our health care system.
Senators Boyhan, Bacik, Lawlor, Horkan, O'Reilly and Feighan welcomed the appointment today of the new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris. I join Members of the House in wishing him well in his appointment. He comes with a 35-year record of policing service in the North as Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI. This is an external appointment from an international selection process at a time when we need to see major reform of An Garda Síochána and the culture therein changed. In tandem with this appointment the Government has committed to investment in An Garda Síochána in terms of recruitment and the provision of new equipment. I thank the acting Garda Commissioner, Dónall Ó Cualáin, for his steady hand in the interim. This is the third Garda Commissioner since 2004. I hope Mr. Harris's five-year appointment will be productive. As Leader of the House, I wish him every success.
Senators Boyhan, Bacik and Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in the context of the GRECO report. The Bill will be returned to the schedule next week. It was withdrawn this week to allow members to submit amendments. I will engage further with Senator Bacik on the matter. I hope the Minister can engage on the Bill with Members on all sides of the House.
It would be helpful if we had sight of the Government amendments.
That is not within my gift. I will communicate the desire of Senators to have sight of the Government amendments.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the Pat Finucane case, which is before the UK Supreme Court today. I wish the Finucane family well in terms of the public inquiry. They need justice and I hope they will get it.
I join Senators Reilly and Conway-Walsh in hoping the Bill sponsored by Senator Reilly, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017, which is currently with the Department, will come before the House soon. I share the view of Senator Conway-Walsh that we need continued investment in primary care in tandem with investment in respite care. Respite care is an important piece of the health budget. I concur that funding should be made available to families who are carers. There is a significant deficit in funding for respite care that needs to be filled.
As Senator Conway-Walsh said, members of families are 24-7 carers for loved ones for 365 days of the year, in many cases in very difficult and trying conditions. There must be continuing investment in respite care. However, I disagree with Senator Conway-Walsh on the rainy day fund. We need such a fund. Otherwise the high tax Sinn Féin model of economics will again bankrupt the country. We saw what happened in the past when there was recklessness in our economy and we cannot return to that. It is important, however, that as the economy grows stronger we reinvest in people and in the delivery of services and infrastructure for people.
Senator Bacik also raised the issue of the gender pay gap. Today the Cabinet approved the legislation compelling companies to deal with the gender pay gap. I hope to work with the Senator in passing a Bill that will eliminate that deficit and repeal that unacceptable gap. I am not sure where that Bill will be introduced but I hope it will be in this House because, as the Senator said, we have done a great deal of work on the matter. The Government is committed to tackling the gender pay gap and we all welcome that Bill and hope it will not be delayed.
Senator Lawlor raised the sports capital fund and the €40 million that will be announced soon by the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin. It was a Fine Gael-led Government that reopened the sports capital grant programme.
It closed it.
We did not. Fianna Fáil closed it.
No, Fianna Fáil closed it.
The Senators can have a chat about it after the Order of Business.
I assure my colleague and friend, Senator Wilson, that it was not the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government that closed it.
That Government reopened it.
We created it.
Do not let the good weather affect you.
We had a number of schemes. I know Senator Wilson is committed to benefitting local clubs and community and sporting organisations.
It is important that the sports capital grant continues for the benefit of all communities, north, south, east and west.
I will not stray into the internal CCCC issue in the GAA regarding Kildare and Mayo. However, I hope a game of football will be played on Saturday night and that common sense will prevail.
Could the Leader intervene?
I join Senator Horkan in congratulating all involved in the celebration of the 60th anniversary of involvement in UN peacekeeping last Sunday and the decriminalisation commemoration in Dublin Castle. He is right to recognise those who lost their lives in the service of the State. We remember the service men and women who died in honour with our Defence Forces when protecting people in many different parts of the world. I also join him in calling on those who use our cycle lanes to remember that they are for cyclists and should only be for them. I agree that the comments of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, are positive.
Equally, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to the number of people who are parking on footpaths and impeding not just pedestrians but also wheelchair users and elderly people, who experience difficulty. It is illegal to park on the footpath and the Garda Síochána should be able to use its powers.
I might as well be talking to the footpath every day.
I will be happy to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House to discuss public transport and other matters.
And cycle lanes.
Yes. Senator Reilly raised the lack of guidelines for solar farms. I will be happy to arrange a debate on that with the Minister. He rightly spoke about the growing issue we face with obesity given that almost one third of our young people are obese. It is a startling statistic. As he said, the knock-on diseases are beginning to come to the fore. I will be happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss that.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell will appreciate that I do not have a magic wand. I have not been able to get an answer from the Minister's office as to whether he is available this evening but if the Senator will indulge me, I will endeavour to have him come to the House tomorrow or on Thursday. I have been in communication with the Senator since she first raised the matter in the House last week. I certainly want to see the report on community banking debated in this House and I gave the Senator a commitment to that effect. I cannot give a definitive answer with regard to the Minister's availability but if Senator O'Donnell indulges and trusts me, I will endeavour to secure the Minister's presence in the House later this week. Otherwise, I will have to oppose her proposed amendment to the Order of Business which I do not want to do because the request being made is reasonable.
I agree with Senator Devine that the number of assaults on staff working in hospitals is unacceptable. I worked in a hospital previously and have family members who are nurses and I agree that any attack is one too many. Senator Devine rightly drew attention to some of the dreadful injuries inflicted on nurses, care assistants and other members of hospital staff. The safety of all of those who work in our health system is of paramount importance. The Government is committed to recruiting additional nurses, care assistants and other front-line health service staff. Staff numbers are growing every year but the important point made by the Senator is that we must ensure that the physical safety of all staff is assured. The HSE has a duty of care to its staff and a responsibility to guarantee their safety in the workplace. A national health and safety strategy has been put in place by the HSE but we must continue to highlight this issue.
The issue of agency staff in our health system arises regularly in these Houses. It was raised at meetings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, of which I was once Chairman, and it has been raised by Senator Colm Burke in this House. The amount of money being spent on agency staff is frightening, especially in the context of the value for money that could be obtained if we invested that money in the retention and recruitment of permanent staff, which would be much better. We must accept that we will always have some agency staff in our health system but the growth in the numbers of such staff is not acceptable. I am happy to invite the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to the House to discuss that matter.
I join Senators Feighan and Wilson in congratulating Ms Arlene Foster for travelling to the Ulster football final at the weekend, which was a positive gesture. I heard what Senator Humphreys said but would argue that gestures are important. It would have been unthinkable 25 years ago for the leader of the DUP to travel to an Ulster football final and to sit with a Cabinet Minister and a Chief Whip to watch the game, so Ms Foster's gesture is positive in that regard. As Senators Humphreys and Feighan pointed out, it is absolutely imperative that the institutions in Stormont are back up and running as soon as possible. It is unacceptable that no responsibility is being taken by politicians in the North and that there is no direct rule at Stormont. It is incumbent upon Sinn Féin and the DUP in particular to re-engage in talks and to re-establish a power-sharing Government in Northern Ireland. I agree with the point made by Senator Feighan about the Commonwealth Games representing a missed opportunity.
Senator Humphreys also argued for a dedicated transport police and the point he made in that regard certainly has merit in the context of last week's report of increases in attacks on both commuters and public transport staff. The Senator called for a debate on the matter and I am happy to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House for that. Senator Wilson seconded the proposed amendment by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. As I have said, I will try to arrange for the Minister to come to the House tomorrow or on Thursday and ask that the amendment be withdrawn. If not, I will have to oppose it, which I am loath to do.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the publication of a report on the introduction of community banking be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
No, not if I get a guarantee that the debate will take place this week.
We will have a major gap because the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will not come to the House. There might not be a gap in the diary of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten. I will not press the amendment if we can deal with it this week. I want to get an answer. I accept what the Leader says.
Is the amendment being withdrawn?
I will withdraw it if I get a commitment. I accept what the Leader is saying but I need a genuine commitment that this is not going to be pushed out week after week.
I think the Senator understands that I have never tried to do that. I will endeavour to do so. I have not had a response from the Minister's office but I will work with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell to ensure we have that debate this week.
I accept that.