Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Mar 2022

Vol. 284 No. 1

Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022: Committee Stage

I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to the House.

Sections 1 to 33, inclusive, agreed to.

Amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order as it is not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Section 34 agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 has been ruled out of order as it is not relevant to the Bill.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Section 35 agreed to.
Sections 36 to 65, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Title be the Title to the Bill."

I will be very brief. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. This Bill is primarily about the transfer of functions from one Department to another in an area we all know about and that is important. There have been no amendments other than two tabled by me, which were ruled out of order. I will take this opportunity to say that no matter how apparently normal and necessary the provisions of a particular Bill are, it should not be the case that a Bill like this is rushed through the House like a dose of salts without an opportunity being given to table amendments properly, to have them considered and, arising out of whatever discussion might take place, to give people an opportunity to consider again the bringing forward of amendments on Report Stage.

I indicated to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte, last week that, in my view, there is a need to provide for better corporate governance in the context of the making available of moneys in the charitable and voluntary sector.

I made the point that such moneys should not be made available to organisations that were not providing proper audited accounts. I previously raised the specific example of Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, which received moneys from the State in circumstances where it had not supplied audited accounts. That arrangement has at least been suspended for the moment. I also made the point that it does not matter what organisation is involved or what cause it is promoting. It is simply not good governance for money to be made available from the public purse, funded by the taxpayer, to organisations in circumstances where they have not supplied properly audited accounts. I gave the example of the requirement on us, as politicians, and on funding for political parties. Where there is not appropriate accounting, the payment of moneys from the Exchequer stops.

The amendments I had tabled have been ruled out of order but they are, in my view, sufficiently related to the subject matter of the Bill because the Long Title clearly provides that the Bill provides, inter alia, for the corporate governance arrangements of the HSE. I accept the ruling of the Cathaoirleach that my amendments are out of order. The amendments would have provided that no payments would be made by the Executive to a service provider which is a body corporate in respect on arrangement under section 34 until the service provider was in compliance with its obligations under section 343 of the Companies Act. That is a reasonable and responsible amendment to propose. It is sufficiently related to the subject matter of a health Bill that is described as containing miscellaneous provisions.

The section of the principal Act I was proposing to amend is among those being amended in this Bill. I find myself in the situation that not only have my amendments not been accepted for consideration but there is no opportunity or break allowed for me to consider bringing forward those amendments on Report Stage and to ask for further and better consideration by the Cathaoirleach of their relevance to the subject matter of the Bill. It is not good for our democracy when we have cursory, and sometimes apparently arbitrary, consideration of the relevance of certain amendments to the subject matter of Bills. It seems to me that the procedural resources available to these House to prevent willy-nilly introduction of extraneous matters into legislation, including the guillotine and other procedural arrangements, are already ample to prevent abuse of the parliamentary process. I am concerned by the all-too-frequent rulings that rule amendments out of order in circumstances where we are rushing legislation. There surely must be time available to consider sincere and well-intentioned amendments to Bills that are proposed by Senators.

It is clear that the amendments I tabled would have restricted funding to organisations, such as TENI or any other charitable or voluntary organisation, unless they provide audited accounts. That is just responsible legislation. It is what the public would expect. There is widespread public concern about the waste of taxpayers' money. It seems that when it comes to considering if that sufficiently relates to the subject matter of the Bill, it is clearly not related to some of the specifics that the Bill contains but is certainly relevant in general terms to the Long Title. The Long Title makes reference to the provisions in this Bill for revised corporate governance and accountability arrangements of the HSE. It seems to me there is scope for a more inclusive approach to serious amendments that are being proposed to legislation. That should be even more applicable in circumstances where mine were the only amendments tabled.

Surely, it was not the case that these amendments were going to contribute to the holding up of necessary legislation. That simply was not and is not happening here. I wish to take the opportunity to register my disappointment with the Cathaoirleach's ruling that the two amendments I proposed in all seriousness were out of order. I further regret and, on that basis, oppose the continuation to Report Stage in circumstances where there is no chance being given to seek further clarification around that decision.

The Senator is entitled to his opinion and that is why I gave him that space. The Bill will be back before the House on Report Stage next week. The Minister and Senator Seery Kearney would like to say a word.

I cannot comment on the decision of the Cathaoirleach to rule amendments out of order. That is within the competence of this House. Since items are being placed on the record of the House, I am concerned about the notion that this Bill is being rushed through the House. I do not believe that is the case. It is transfer-of-functions legislation and there is a general view across both Houses to facilitate that happening because the Bill is focused on moving governance structures from one Department to another. Nevertheless, this has gone through all Stages in the Dáil and we have not asked for Committee and Report Stages to be taken jointly in this House. Both Stages are being taken separately. If they were being taken together, I could perhaps take the criticism that the Bill was being rushed but that is not happening here. The Senator had the opportunity to place amendments. He did that and they were ruled out of order, which was a decision for this House.

It is also important to recognise that there is urgency behind this legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and I are eager for responsibility for disability to fully move to our Department in order that we can do what we want and place a detailed focus on the issue of disability, a rights-based focus, and fully enact what we as a country sought to achieve through our signing up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that is, to deliver a person-centred approach rather than a medical-centred approach to the issue of disability, thereby uniting what was previously under the remit Department of Health within our Department. The Minister of State and I are looking forward to that opportunity and, hopefully, from 1 May, we will be able to do that. Notwithstanding the fact that there is urgency behind this Bill, my view is that we are not rushing it.

As to the substantive issues Senator Mullen raised, it is important to note that a health amendment Bill will be brought forward by the Government. That Bill will undertake significant changes to the governance of the HSE, including the revision of its board and its wider corporate governance. My understanding is that the general scheme of the Bill has been approved. The heads have not been brought forward to the Houses yet. That is legislation with which issues of governance would appropriately sit and there may be an opportunity for amendments to be made when it comes before the House.

Since we are putting items on the record, it is important to remember that a HSE governance framework is in place that oversees how the HSE governs section 38 and section 39 organisations and all the other funded organisation that operate under it. The HSE is governed by that document. Service agreements and grant aid are covered in terms of how they operate.

This is a significant Bill and I am glad it has received the consideration of the House on Committee Stage. I look forward to it being passed by the House in a number of weeks' time and to the transfer of functions for responsibility for disability to my Department.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. The basis of Senator Mullen's amendments is valid; it is reasonable to expect that there be accountability. I completely and utterly support that. I do not believe it is placed here. As a member of the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, having the clear line of accountability is urgent, as is making sure we have a senior Minister who is clearly in charge of disabilities and disability services and as is having accountability and oversight of the HSE in circumstances where services shamefully are not being delivered. At times, decisions are made that prejudice the service delivery of the HSE based on personality clashes and all sorts of issues that are outrageous. Therefore, I very much welcome the move of this Department and the fantastic work of the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, into the Minister's Department. From our working relationship, I know that I can get on hounding him very effectively and that he will listen to what we say and hear what we need. To be fair, much of what I have to say the Minister will know and be apprised of it already.

I am glad to hear there is a health amendment Bill that will deal with the governance of the HSE. The Senators and I will probably have much to say on it together when the time comes. I also think I could support Senator Mullen in the context of the Charities Act and a review of the Charities Regulator and how that works. Not only should we have accountability for taxpayers' money but we should also have accountability in respect of charities that are taking large sums of money from Russian oligarchs. An EU report has pointed to some such Irish charities, which have been the very charities that have spoken out against matters of the State. There is an interesting alignment going on that my office is currently researching.

The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, was present when we last spoke on this Bill on Second Stage. It is great that the Minister is here on Committee Stage. There is a real urgency for oversight. In community healthcare organisation, CHO, 7 that covers the constituency in which I live, there are no services available for children at present. It is terribly under-resourced and we have a real problem with recruitment and the panel system. Somebody has to grab that issue by the scruff of the neck and sort it out because there has been a delay in getting the appropriate people into the appropriate places. I look forward to that responsibility being under the remit of the Department because thus far, we have not been making any progress while it was under the health remit. I appreciate and support this Bill.

I have been very lenient here and I must get the Title of the Bill agreed. Is the Title agreed?

I had requested to come in.

The Senator may come in very briefly. He was not here for the amendments and I still allowed him in.

I am grateful for the Chairperson's latitude.

I acknowledge my error in thinking that the Bill was to conclude on Report Stage today. I apologise for that misunderstanding on my part.

My central point was that I am concerned about the ruling out of order of these amendments because I believe they were sufficiently relevant. I disagree with my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, on that. She has, of course, grabbed the headline of the day by suggesting there are charities in Ireland getting money from Russian oligarchs. All I want to say is, please, tell us more. I am on the record as opposing and decrying foreign money from wherever it comes, be it from Chuck Feeney, for all his good work with universities, or Amnesty International getting money from George Soros around the time of the abortion referendum, which was not acceptable. I am sure what the Senator has to talk about will be equally unacceptable and we look forward to hearing more about that. Perhaps legislation will be necessary to deal with this issue.

I thank the Minister for mentioning the HSE corporate governance framework. The point of my amendments flows from the fact that there is far too much latitude. It should not be a matter of discretion by the HSE to turn a blind eye to the fact that certain organisations have not supplied audited accounts in circumstances where other organisations would lose their funding. It seems that some bettering of the discretion of the HSE may be necessary in this area. When the Bill referred to by the Minister comes forward, I hope we will not be told when bringing amendments, similar to those I have attempted to bring forward today, that legislation to do with the corporate governance of the HSE is somehow different from the standards that the HSE must apply when taking decisions about how it exercises its decision-making capacity.

I do not want to hear it argued that the structure of the corporate governance is one thing and the decisions the HSE takes on the funding of organisations is another. Neither do I want to hear that my amendments are to be ruled out of order on the basis of some such spurious distinction. My frustration and that of many Members of this House flows from this simple fact: if the Minister had sought to bring forward amendments such as I have brought forward, as the sponsor of this Bill, he would have had no problem. There would have been no objection. It is those of us who seek to amend legislation who are fettered in our attempts to do so, and as the Minister knows, we have relatively few opportunities to bring forward Private Members' legislation. My overall point is there needs to be a more generous and inclusive attitude to serious attempts to amend legislation, and the invocation of the rule around relevance to the subject matter of the Bill must not be done in such a broad and extensive way as to prevent legitimate issues, which are considerably well related to the subject matter of Bills, from being brought forward.

I just want to point out that neither I nor the Minister had any hand, act or part in ruling the amendment out of order. I am sure Senator Mullen understands that. I have given him fairly adequate time. It is only right that I would do that.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.

When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 5 April 2022.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 5.12 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 5.33 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 5.12 p.m. and resumed at 5.33 p.m.