Leaders’ Questions.

Yesterday, I raised the serious incident arising from an alleged paedophile ring in Dublin. Today, I wish to refer again to an issue affecting our young people. We have known for a long time that young teenagers are regularly getting hammered on drink. We know now from a report being published today that they are also getting high on drugs. This report is aptly called, The State of the Nation's Children — I emphasise the word "children". The report shows that four out of ten children under 15 years of age have sampled drugs. That makes us number three in the world for trying out drugs. When it comes to girls, tragically, we are number one in the world for trying out drugs. That is an 8% increase in eight years.

When I raised the issue of drugs a fortnight ago, the Taoiseach stated: "I do not believe we should say... there are serious drug problems in every village, community and locality because that is not the case". Fr. McVerry rightly pointed out drugs are apparently available within five minutes of any location. We know the duties of parental responsibility include that parents know where their children are at any time and who they are with, but today's report is a damning indictment of the state of society in so far as young teenage boys and girls are concerned.

They sample drugs.

I am not sure what action the absent and sometimes hysterical Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has taken about respectable Ireland, which, according to reports, regularly snorts vast quantities of white powder, namely, cocaine.

The Deputy's time is concluded.

In the Taoiseach's view, what state do we have to reach before he realises the reality of what is happening and for him to agree there is a crisis that needs to be addressed? Is it five out of ten, six out of ten or seven out of ten? What is the Government's strategy in terms of constantly reminding parents of their responsibilities and children of the dangers in addition to the actions of the State in being able to address this issue?

Enormous and substantive progress has been made in the past 15 or 20 years in the implementation of all aspects of the drugs strategy to deal with issues relating to drugs.

It was not very successful.

In the past seven or eight years, we devised a national drugs strategy. We invested the necessary resources, people and facilities in the strategy. Approximately 500 projects have been funded under the young people's facilities and services scheme, which has been in place for ten years. Hundreds of youth workers and outreach workers are dealing with this issue. Regional drugs teams are in place. There is a good nucleus of people involved in the prevention of drug abuse and in helping people get away from drugs and staying off them. We invested money in sport, recreation and addiction counselling throughout the country. We have a good basis that has been built up over a number of years with a significant number of people involved.

The situation is getting worse.

The figures quoted in the media and referred to by Deputy Kenny in regard to teenage drinking and drug use relate to a survey which was carried out in 2002 and published in 2003. The report is four years old. It was published by the European school survey project on alcohol and drugs. The statistics, together with other research from 22 different data sources, are contained in a report which has been compiled by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Office of the Minister for Children. The report will be published today. It does not contain any new information. It is a compilation of existing data on areas of children's lives that have been identified as important indicators of their well-being.

The report contained some very good news about children. For example, Irish children rank second among WHO countries in terms of being physically active and involved in recreation and sport. This is classified worldwide as being at least four hours per week. I agree with Deputy Kenny about the fact that 40% of teenagers have experimented with drugs — let us get the word right, it is "experimented". If a child of 14 tries one fag or one drink, it does not make him or her a compulsive smoker or an alcoholic.

It leads to it.

Alcohol is legal. There is a slight difference.

One samples.

The Taoiseach should be allowed to speak without interruption.

A total of 40% of teenagers sampled drugs.

It is the first step.

They are not on drugs. They are not junkies or winos. Deputies opposite should not try to twist figures. I do not believe all our young people are either drinking or on drugs or that every community is riddled with drugs. I do not believe that; I do not see it.

The Taoiseach had better come alive then.

The Taoiseach should get out of his car.

The Taoiseach should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I do not see it and I do not accept it.

The Taoiseach should get his head out of the sand.

It is not the evidence of educationalists, people involved in sports or the scouting organisations. I accept people are addicted to drugs but let us not try to use figures for those who might have sampled drugs once in their life and accuse them of being addicted.

Under the national drugs strategy, there are a number of dedicated school programmes aimed at tackling drug abuse. We should continue the social, personal and health education programme which is a curriculum subject at both primary and post-primary schools at junior level. They are dedicated modules that focus on the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse. I am in favour of everything that tries to give advice to people, makes them aware of issues and provides training. I can rattle off a significant amount of resources that are being spent every day by people working in these areas throughout the country. We have a good system trying to deal with the issue and good work has been done by the Garda Síochána. I congratulate the Garda Síochána on its work last night breaking an international ring in Kildare. It tries to stop those who make a living out of this, ruining the lives of our children. While we have problems like every Western society, a great amount of work is being done successfully and we should encourage it.

The Taoiseach should not try to put words in my mouth. I did not say that every young person was experimenting with drugs. I said the report indicated that young people under the age of 15 were trying out drugs. I agree that definitions are important. Cannabis is a gateway drug and leads to other addictions. Some of the facts that have emerged in recent years include a teenager, high on Ecstasy, gouging out his own eye at a party. Parents have taken out barring orders against their drug-addicted children to avoid eviction. A 17 year old Dublin girl, a drug addict, was charged with loitering in a public place with intent to solicit for prostitution. A 16 year old homeless boy begged that he be brought to St. Patrick's Institution for Christmas. Heroin addiction ruined the life of a 16 year old. It caused him to attack his father and wreck his home. This reality was brought to my attention last night at a meeting in Dublin, where many children from the inner city leave the primary system with no hope and find themselves exposed to drugs on a regular basis.

The Taoiseach states he is doing all the work. In 1996 there was a total of 52 gardaí in the Garda National Drugs Unit, of which 47 were operational gardaí. In 2006 there was one more, 53, to deal with what the Taoiseach talks about. The Taoiseach is in favour of everything that helps, as am I. Since I made a proposal for voluntary random drug-testing in schools two weeks ago, it has received strong support from around the country. Pilot schemes could be undertaken in one or two counties, asking the schools to agree to a random drug-testing scheme on a voluntary basis to help reduce peer pressure and the incidence of experimenting with drugs. This proposal would be helpful although the Minister for Education and Science does not agree.

I congratulate the Garda Síochána but the problem is out of control in some areas. The price of cocaine is dropping due to a flood of it on the market. It is addictive. Fine Gael will support any action taken. Does the Taoiseach support voluntary random drug-testing and will he give it his imprimatur?

The Government set up the Office of the Minister for Children under the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to deal with all issues affecting children in an increasingly complicated world. The issues of yesterday reinforce that point. I accept Deputy Kenny's point and, if the boards of management and the schools do not object, I have no difficulties with voluntary random drug-testing. I said that two weeks ago and have asked people to examine it since then.

We should encourage what is positive. When one sees a report that has so many positive aspects about children, one can see people going through it to find something negative and the headline focuses on the 40% of teenagers who have experimented with drugs. Some children said they had sampled drugs but this leads to the perception that our society is drug-ridden and booze-ridden and that is unfair to hundreds of thousands of young people who listen to good parents, participate in active life and try to do their best. The story from the report should have been that our children are the second most active in the world, according to the WHO, but that aspect is not worth a candle according to some people. That is wrong.

Resources for addiction counselling, detoxification programmes and methadone treatment centres are important as are the resources provided for young people's facilities funds across a range of areas and in regional drug teams. Ultimately, helping involves having good youth workers and community workers and providing resources for scout halls and dens and for girl guides to keep people away from drugs. The absence of activity and of having something to do, leads people to drift to street corners, to the ghettoblasters and into drugs. Activity is the solution to the problem. Sufficient research exists to prove that. We must promote resources for sport and recreation in the widest sense. It does not matter if it is tiddlywinks or sophisticated field sport — each one is helpful. This is being successfully done and we will continue to do it. I support it and have provided considerable resources to it.

Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that all expert opinion agrees that the greatest challenge in our health service is the two-tier system? Does the Government accept this is the cause of the fundamental inequality in our health service? Public patients are treated as second class citizens, languishing in the community, languishing in queues and waiting for access to hospitals. The Government's latter day response is the Harney plan to give tax incentives to private developers to build private hospitals on scarce public land. The two tier divide at the heart of inequality in the health service will be worsened by the plan to build super private clinics on scarce public land. Where did the Minister for Health and Children get the mandate for this gearshift towards medicine for profit? It was not included in the manifesto or in An Agreed Programme for Government. It is a reversal of the health strategy published by the two Government parties.

Have contracts been prepared and will they be signed on the eve of the election to hand over public sites to private developers and investors to make profit from health, which is a community service and not a commodity? Is it the intention of the Government to sign such contracts in advance of the general election?

One aspect of Government policy is to increase the number of beds, which is needed. There are 52 acute hospitals and there is a problem with seven or eight, and two or three at any one time, where we require more beds so that acute hospitals can refer patients who do not require intensive care to other locations. We must deal with the bed situation, the biggest problem in the health service. Arising from this, the co-location initiative was to invite private investment to free 1,000 beds now in public hospitals. This will add more quickly to the overall capacity. These services will be bought for public patients. If Deputy Rabbitte asked if I was in favour of co-location beds on the sites of public hospitals — he is right to say the sites are scarce — that would never be accessible to any public patients and would not stand down the 1,000 beds designated as private or semi-private in public hospitals, I would be against such a proposal. That is a clear statement. The Deputy asked if I was for or against a proposal that takes over 1,000 beds currently in designated public hospitals being taken up by private patients, creating at times a delay and difficulties for public patients coming in I am not against that. That is a sensible thing to do.

In regard to co-location I will cite the example I know best for obvious reasons. For over 120 years there has been co-location on the site of my former employment, the Mater Hospital, where the public hospital operated as such and the private hospital has worked since 1860. There is no difficulty there. The doctors on the campus move from one hospital to another.

That does not solve the problem.

Under the terms of their contracts they can do that. It works very effectively. I do not see a difficulty in that happening. In modern life to have co-location of senior staff is an enormous help.

It equates to inequality.

It creates equality for public patients not inequality.

There are no public beds in private hospitals.

I do not see an extension of that being anything other than helpful. In fact what has happened recently, whether with Whitfield in Waterford, the new private hospital in Galway, or private hospitals——-

That is gone now.

These hospitals are increasingly using their facilities for public patients too.

They are doing so at three times the price.

Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

The Ceann Comhairle is as bad as the Taoiseach.

When the Opposition Deputies do not like the argument they interrupt.

We do not believe the argument.

The consultants use the facilities in private hospitals for public patients. Last week I attended an event in the Mater Hospital for the arrival of new cancer equipment. This equipment is not available anywhere else on these islands, not in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. It has come first to the Mater Hospital. One quarter of the patients using it will be public patients. I see no difficulty in that.

It is not a good idea to separate them totally with Chinese walls. I am very clear about that. A campus hospital, with private and public hospitals, with the proper facilities and co-location, is good for public patients. That is my view after seeing the argument from both sides, as an administrator, an accountant, a practising politician, and Joe Public, as well as being Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach of course did not answer the question I asked him about the contracts.

I will answer that question.

He has made clear that the modern Fianna Fáil is in favour of reinforcing inequality.

That is Deputy Rabbitte's spin.

That is essentially his point. I am not talking about private hospitals. We have always had them. That is not the issue. If one wants to pay for a private hospital one should go ahead and pay. I am talking about the inequality at the heart of our existing system whereby public patients are treated in an inferior way and must wait in never-ending queues.

Yes, absolutely.

The Taoiseach has given his blessing to the construction on public land of private hospital beds when he knows well that he cannot stop any private patient occupying a public bed. The Taoiseach knows that and he knows there is hypocrisy at the heart of the aspiration in the negotiation with consultants which reinforces the two-tier system. The Taoiseach will permit further cherrypicking of the simple procedures that are profitable and leave the complex medical specialisms and teaching obligations to the public service, facilitating a migration of personnel to the private sector. That is the nature of this plan. Fianna Fáil ought to hang its head in shame for going along with an idea clutched in desperation out of the ideological air by the Progressive Democrats.

Will the Taoiseach sign those contracts? If there is a change of Government, and I believe there will be, we will not proceed with those contracts. The Taoiseach should say clearly whether he is going to sign them before the election.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

I apologise for not answering Deputy Rabbitte's first question. I am not aware of any contract. The Deputy can table a parliamentary question to the Minister for Health and Children. I am aware of no contract at any stage of negotiation.

I am not suffering an ideological problem, but Deputy Rabbitte is.

Exactly. It is Deputy Rabbitte's problem.

The Taoiseach has back up from the PDs anyway.

They might never see any other talks.

I listened carefully to Deputy Howlin's leader can he please just give me more than ten seconds without interrupting? We have a good medical service——

Have we?

——and a good health service for public patients.

Tell that to the people on trolleys.

There are 34 people on trolleys.

Yes, 400,000 plus. It is Deputy Cowley in Mayo.

The advantage in our system is——

——that some people get very rich from it. That is the advantage.

Deputy Burton should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption. She is not the leader of her party. Deputy Rabbitte is entitled to hear the reply to his question.

We wish there was a reply.

People die while waiting with us.

The advantage in the system is that medical consultants can work in private and public hospitals. It is my absolute conviction that the public patient gains most out of that system. A high-powered consultant who has worked anywhere in the world, comes back to this country and operates in public and private hospitals in our system.

The fact there is co-location on the site whereby some beds are designated as private, and there is a public hospital too, for out-patient clinics, ward rounds, surgery, pathology, radiology and a host of other services we get the benefit of top class consultants who can work on both sites. That is an excellent system. It means that Joe and Mary Bloggs who have little other than welfare, or Mr. X or Mr. Y, who are millionaires or billionaires, can be seen by the same consultant. It happens every day in our hospitals, very successfully.

That is a joke.

People wait five years to get an out-patient appointment.

Where does the Taoiseach live?

(Interruptions).

It is a pity the Labour Party does not even know how a public hospital works in this country.

(Interruptions).

The Deputies laugh because in their ignorance they do not understand the system.

We are laughing at the Taoiseach's ignorance.

Some of the most eminent consultants in this country, and it is not for me to argue their case because I am negotiating trying to change a contract with them but that is another point, give their service in public out-patient clinics looking after Joe and Mary Bloggs day in and day out. I would like them to do more of that and we are trying to negotiate a contract on it.

Deputy Rabbitte unfortunately does not understand the system.

He understands that it does not work.

He understands it all too well.

If Deputy Rabbitte has announced this morning, and I believe he has, that he is opposed to it and that if he is elected his position is the current——

Is the Taoiseach going to sign the contract?

I have said I have no contracts.

The Taoiseach has signed contracts for every community centre around the country.

There are no contracts. The position is that Deputy Rabbitte wants to stop the practice of medical consultants in this country working for public patients. Shame on him. That would create the greatest inequality we ever had.

Apartheid in the health service.

I listened to the questions asked by Deputy Joe Higgins yesterday and I am glad my colleague in the Technical Group raised the issue of climate change. Last Monday we heard from the Institute of European Affairs about the challenges being faced. Throughout Europe people are talking about how we will reduce emissions to 20% below 1990 levels. In this country there has been a 7% growth in transport per annum instead of a reduction. We are faced with trying to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by a third.

The Taoiseach appears to be making change hard for himself and I wonder if that is necessary. Deloitte & Touche recommended that the transmission grid should be separated from the country's generation capacity. The ESB, therefore, would not be in charge of the grid any more but would be a separate concern. The Kish Bank offshore project was given a support mechanism for 2003 but was left in the hands of the ESB and there is no movement on that. Does the Taoiseach not get the message that the ESB is dragging its heels? The Government must give a direction as to how things must proceed. At the same time, Irish companies such as Airtricity and OpenHydro are throwing their hands up in despair and heading to places such as Scotland, Texas or China to invest and make enough electricity to keep Ireland going.

The Taoiseach is not giving direction to the ESB. Why has the interconnector been delayed for four years? There is no facility for small producers in the domestic sector to sell to the grid, even though that is possible in other developed countries such as Australia, America and European states. Will the Taoiseach separate the grid from the generation sector? Will he direct the ESB to install smart metering in every home within five years? It could save a considerable amount on household electricity bills as well as improve the country's ability to deal with climate change. Why has there been a delay with the interconnector, which would help in this regard? A four year delay is inexplicable. Finally, will the Taoiseach give a direction to the ESB that it is time to go green and that it must ensure we are self reliant in renewable energy? The way it is going at present is wrong.

As I said yesterday, all these issues will be dealt with in the White Paper. We published a Green Paper and there has been a good, wide consultation process. The White Paper will be published shortly. We have engaged with the wider market on all the issues mentioned by the Deputy. Obviously, we have had discussions with Airtricity, the ESB and others. They have a view and input on this issue. It is not up to us to direct them. We must make the policy decisions and we will do that.

There is a Cabinet committee on this issue and a large number of Ministers have been involved in it. They worked on the preparation of the Green Paper and are working on the White Paper, which will be brought forward by the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey. The White Paper, as well as the new national climate change strategy, will be brought forward before Easter. It is not fair to state the interconnector has been delayed for four years. Work on the interconnector is ongoing. We cannot move more quickly on it. I was with the Minister when he outlined that to the press conference.

We have increased wind energy in the system by 600% in a three year period. The Deputy knows I have supported that. EirGrid is the independent transmission system operator; it is independent of the ESB.

It is not.

The Deputy disagrees but it is.

It is owned by the ESB.

It is an independent transmission system operator. It is independent in law and independent of the ESB. It makes its decisions independently. We do not direct it.

There was another meeting yesterday and we hope to wrap this process up shortly and put both documents I mentioned into the public domain.

Ownership rather than independence is the issue in terms of operating the system. I would like to press that, but not here. The concept of smart metering is gaining considerable support internationally as a way for householders to gain greater control over their electricity consumption and as a means of feeding back into the grid domestically generated electricity, be it from a farm, photovoltaic cells, biomass or wind turbines. We do not have that facility.

It is ironic that the New Economics Foundation in the UK says microgeneration could save that country £35 million per year and that it is cheaper and faster to bring about than solar generation in terms of the energy effect, while, at the same time, there are reports that the ESB is interested in considering joining forces with a nuclear power producer to import French nuclear energy. Is it not time for the Taoiseach to put his foot down? If he is serious about being anti-nuclear, he should at least let the Irish producer sell into the grid before the French nuclear producer. There must be a priority in this area. Is the Taoiseach serious about turning this country round and giving it the energy supply it needs from green, clean, renewable sources or will he continue to pander to the French nuclear industry through the ESB?

It might help if the Green Party did not oppose windmills.

That never happened.

They are à la carte greens.

I ask the Minister to allow the Taoiseach without interruption.

They are à la carte greens.

I have made our position clear about nuclear energy and it is well understood both in this country and outside it. We do not need to do anything to prove our position in that regard.

Tell that to the ESB.

We favour smart metering whereby domestic renewable energy can be fed back into the grid. We are examining it closely.

Yes, we are looking closely at it.

The Government had ten years.

This is the Green Party again. It never——

There are cost issues for the people but you are not worried about those.

It ignores what we are doing on wind energy——

It will cost less than buying out the toll road.

The Green Party wants us to pursue wind energy. Wind energy has gone up by 600%, and now the party is against wind energy.

We are for it. Can the Taoiseach not read?

The Green Party is for it.

There is more hot air on that side of the House.

I was asked a question on smart metering and I confirmed that we are in favour of it. We have established targets for wind renewables and we will exceed our EU target by 2010. Many of the Green Party's supporters believe that what we are doing in that area is enormously important. We are being seen to lead the way in this, and I do not doubt that the party will continue to support our efforts in implementing it, as well as our efforts in the climate change strategy and in the Green Paper. Furthermore——

Is the Taoiseach pleased with himself?

——when the party goes to communities that are against these things, I am sure its members will have the brazen attitude to stand up and say they have a consistent policy.

As long as they do not give support to big business.

That nearly merits a kiss.

At least we are supporting big business.