Order of Business.

It never happened to me in all my years in public life so I regret the Senator was absent when the Minister was present to take the Adjournment debate.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Defamation Bill 2006, Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m. with the contributions of Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 2, statements on the implications for governance, accountability, discipline and training in the Garda Síochána arising from the findings and conclusions of a number of reports and the actions taken by the Government in response to those matters of serious public concern, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4.30 p.m. with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes, those of other Members not to exceed eight minutes and Members may share time, and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of the statements. No. 3, Registration of Wills Bill 2005 — Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.; No. 4, Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, will be taken at 7 p.m., and as all Stages of this Bill, which comprises approximately two lines, are being taken it is proposed that Second Stage conclude no later than 7.50 p.m., with spokespersons having seven minutes, other Senators four minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. On the conclusion of Second Stage, Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Last week I raised the question of No. 23 on the Order Paper, the motion in the Leader's name, but effectively in all our names, on the issue of Mr. Brian Curtin. I do not understand why the motion remains on the Order Paper. If the Government can tell the House that this is because it has not yet concluded its dealings with the former judge in terms of accepting medical evidence he has given, that is fine. However we need to resolve this issue before the close of session on Friday. It would be wrong if this matter remained on the Order Paper in perpetuity when the committee has done its work and the matter is resolved. If it is a matter of negotiation between the Government and the former judge we should be informed of it. The motion in the Leader's name is in all our names because we agreed unanimously to establish this. I would appreciate some clarity on this by Friday.

Yesterday the Government decided to appoint Deputy Haughey Minister of State at the Department of Education and Children. I congratulate Deputy Haughey on his elevation. He is a decent person and is respected on all sides of the House.


Hear, hear.

His elevation is not just timely, but is an important position for him and the work he is doing in that Department.

Mr. Dermot Nesbitt, MLA, will not contest the next Northern Ireland Assembly election. His is one of the most reasonable, courageous and sensible voices in Ulster politics. He will be a great loss to the new Assembly.

I would like to be associated with the congratulations to a former Member of this House who has been elevated to Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. I wish him well in his work. He was an active Member of the Seanad when he was here with us.

There has been much discussion on the issue of management companies that run housing estates or apartment blocks. Difficulties have arisen from them and they have been discussed on radio and television programmes and in this House. We have examined what has happened in other countries where these management companies are established as corporate bodies with legal recognition. They have an input into the planning processes in the area. For example, a person who wants to change the exterior of his or her house or make significant changes to the appearance of the area must get the permission of the local management group or syndicate. It is established by law. It would be useful if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government came to the House to debate this. Everybody would agree that it is the way forward.

People are becoming the creatures of management companies over which they often have no control. This should be put on a legal footing and a statutory basis so that people could have trust and confidence in them. They could then deliver protection for local people as well as the facilities they need such as painting the exterior of the apartment block or looking after the landscaping. Although it is not major work, it is important to quality of life. Senator Morrissey and others raised it here and we should ask the Minister to attend the House and see if he can advance it.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate early in the new year about policy on the delivery of care for the elderly, particularly in light of last Monday's announcement by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. Against the background of creeping privatisation of elder care services, in line with the Minister's ideology, comes the introduction of a fundamental shift in basic health care delivery policy. If one is old and in need of long-term care, one has to put up one's house while one's family has to care for one beyond that. That is a fundamental change in how we deliver health policy and treats elderly people differently from the rest of the population. I detect a strong opposition to this policy.

On more than one occasion I have called attention to the fact that the establishment of the HSE has taken power and accountability over health policy out of the hands of elected representatives in the Oireachtas. We need to discuss this fundamental issue. The HSE has been established under legislation and we are a democracy. This House needs to debate how the HSE is working and the issue of democratic accountability for decision making. I have a major concern on the issue of elder care.

The recent budget did nothing to alleviate the high cost of child care to the many thousands of couples around the country who pay more on child care than on their mortgages and who expected the Government to meet their needs more than it is doing. That is only one of the child care issues that needs to be examined. What is the position regarding the proposed referendum on children's rights? Can we have an opportunity to discuss the fine report of the Joint Committee on Child Protection instead of concentrating on one issue of that report? There is much in it that Members of the House could valuably examine and debate in this public forum. I ask the Leader to arrange those two debates as soon as possible in the new year.

The Minister for Health and Children would welcome the opportunity to come to the House to discuss her recent proposals. She has always been available to come to the House to discuss any matter in which she is involved. It is a misrepresentation and is scaremongering to suggest that people will have to sell their homes.

It is not scaremongering. That is exactly what she intends to do.

It is clear.

The initiative is precisely to prevent that.


I have a vested interest. My mother died in 2000 and she sold her home to finance her nursing home care. If this initiative is successful that would not happen.

Hear, hear.

That says it all.

We have debated it. The Senator was talking rubbish.

I object to what Senator Norris said. I am entitled to express my opinion. I ask him to withdraw his comment.

I will not.

I support Senator O' Meara's call for a debate on this matter. It is regrettable that we discussed the Health (Nursing Homes) (Amendment) Bill last week. If we were to discuss it this week we would have the opportunity to assess the impact of this latest measure announced on Monday. One of the main provisions in that Bill was that 5% of the value of a property was to be taken into account in the definition of the amount of subvention. Since 5% of €100,000 is approximately €5,000, or €100 per week, and the maximum limit in my area was €192, subtracting €100 from that maximum leaves €92. I would like to ask the Minister what is to happen to that 5% stipulation under the new arrangement whereby the maximum amount would be at least €300. Questions must be asked and genuine concern exists whether they would be better off signing over the estate while they are alive to protect themselves in future. Many elderly people are terrified at what is happening. The Minister should define the scheme.

The Minister of State will do so.

The focus has shifted to estate agents because of the recent "Prime Time Investigates" programme. Local authorities are defining county development plans but also the rezoning of towns in the county. I urge the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to issue a directive to county councils to the effect that a councillor should not be involved in rezoning the area he represents. That councillor has a vested interest in the areas rezoned. We should ensure they are not involved because we do not want them tainted.

I add my voice to those who have congratulated Deputy Haughey on his elevation to Minister of State. I am sure he will reflect the confidence placed in him by the Taoiseach.

Some time ago we had a debate on mental health services. Could we have a further debate in the new year? In Britain Senator Henry and I were made aware of the Appleby report, which has worrying things to say about community services in Britain. We are not so far removed from that country that we can disregard it. I will pass it on to the Leader when I receive it. I am interested in the views of Members. Some worrying facts are revealed in the report and I seek to ensure that events in Britain are not happening here.

I agree with some colleagues on this side of the House that elderly people are terrified. They are terrified because of the lies told by the newspapers and the disgraceful language employed in attacking a decent woman who is doing her best and has provided an interesting idea. This House should tell the truth on what is involved. I deplore the fact that old people are being unnecessarily frightened. When I am gone, I will not be living in the house. Let them sell it, or do whatever they like with it. I have no objection to paying my share for being cared for and it is odd that people object to this. The Minister for Health and Children seeks to protect people's interest in the property while they are alive. They have no quantifiable interest in it when they are dead.

I seek a debate on No. 17, which asks the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism to provide an update on the Abbey Theatre. Yesterday a small premises of no architectural distinction but of some historical interest was welcomed as a site. It is behind the Carlton site on O'Connell Street where the Abbey Theatre should be. It is an outrageous proposal at the instigation of a billionaire businessman that the Abbey Theatre should be located at an unsuitable site on George's Dock, taking over the principal water feature. As everybody knows, it is not the best site. The Minister wanted the Abbey Theatre to be on O'Connell Street. It is outrageous that a small group of property developers and speculators can sit on the asset, leaving a scar on our main street and refuse to allow it to be developed in the national interest. The Taoiseach should use his well-reputed negotiating skills to resolve this situation.

I agree with Senator O'Toole on the management companies of apartment complexes. I have raised this scandal in the House previously. A developer holds one flat so that he or she can control the situation on a legal technicality. The tenants are not allowed the democratic right to elect a committee, the developer appoints his cronies to clean and maintain the property and services are not provided. I passed a dossier on this matter to a friend and colleague who is now an auctioneer. In his new profession he will take up this matter with great vigour.

The Leader should ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to inquire of the Israeli authorities the fate of Mordechai Vanunu, who was imprisoned for telling the truth about the Israeli nuclear facility. Now that Ehud Olmert let slip that Israel is a nuclear power, will Israel remove sanctions against the honourable and decent whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu?

I support proposals for a debate on elderly care. The Tánaiste's proposal is a good one and I have no objection to it. Senator Finucane has referred to one of the side effects of such measures, where people are pressurised to make wills and get rid of property. Where there is a will, there are relatives. Society is changing, people are living longer and family structures are different. We must face up to these changes but we should not confuse a concern for the elderly, whom I support, with a concern for the heirs.

And a concern for voters.

Senator Brian Hayes referred to the impending retirement of Mr. Dermot Nesbitt. I am a constituent, friend and neighbour of his and I endorse what Senator Brian Hayes said. He has been a voice for sanity and reason and contributed greatly to public life in Northern Ireland.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House for a debate on local government funding? The recent budget allocated less than 2% of funding to local government, creating a serious situation for local authorities. It is an essential element of a democratic state and the means by which important services are provided. Local government delivers public sewerage schemes, water, lighting and footpaths. Stealth taxes will be forced on local authorities because of the under-funding of local government, which received less than 2% of funding compared with 8% for the rest of the public service. Serious problems will arise as the estimates and budgets are compiled over the coming months. The water service in Longford is in difficulty. People do not have an adequate supply because the reservoir is out of date.

The Senator has made his point adequately.

A similar situation exists in Tuam——

The Senator has made his point adequately. I call Senator Dooley.

——and I seek a debate as soon as possible.

I seek a debate early in the new year to discuss the impact of global warming and changing weather conditions on rivers, waterways and flood relief measures. We have seen the impact of a dry summer together with a very wet autumn, with much rainfall in recent weeks. This has been wreaking havoc on many communities around the country, particularly in the lower Shannon and south-east Clare area, where the manner in which the ESB generating station controls water on the River Shannon is having a significant impact.

I visited a number of houses last night which had been flooded, with the residents cut off from their families and livestock, living in treacherous conditions. There does not appear to be a plan or an initiative to tackle the problem, and we require a debate as early as possible. If we were to believe the meteorological experts, this could be the future of our summers and winters, with much more rainfall in a number of weeks and months. We should have an early debate on the strategy of various Departments, such as the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the OPW to alleviate the problem.

I join with other Senators in congratulating Deputy Seán Haughey, who has been appointed a Minister of State in what is a very timely appointment, based on merit. The only surprise is it did not come sooner and it is a pity he has only six months to make his contribution to the Department of Education and Science.

He might have much longer.

We wish him well as he is there on merit. People on all sides of the House would congratulate him.

A debate would be appropriate and timely on the Minister for Health and Children's recent policy suggestion regarding elderly care. We have often stated in this House, when discussing mortgage companies offering equity release, that a person's home is a castle. As a country we were able to sustain free second-level and third-level education, and care for the elderly should be based on a caring philosophy rather than harsh economics, as is clear from the recent pronouncements.

Looking at it in this light, we should be ashamed of ourselves in that we want to stake a claim in the estates of older people who had to be cared for by the State in an era when the country has plenty of money. These people have built the Celtic tiger economy and the proposal is a disgrace.

Like other Senators, I would welcome a debate on the proposals dealing with care of the elderly. The previous speaker is quite wrong in saying we have free third-level education, it is free for those who cannot afford it.

There are registration fees.

The 15% figure is not an insuperable obstacle if families want to hold on to the property but I would share the concern expressed by others in the House that unless we consider the issue, it may put undue pressure on old people to hand over the property well before they get to the retirement stage.

I join in congratulating Deputy Seán Haughey on his elevation and in tributes to Dermot Nesbitt. I recall being invited to speak at a conference organised by one of the loyal orders and being told as they said goodbye to me that if they debated long and hard before inviting me, they would never have let Dermot Nesbitt past the door. Unfortunately, that shows the very regrettable division and bitterness found within a tradition, as opposed to between traditions.

I express pleasure in seeing that a vehicle of public opinion in this House has made it safely through the port tunnel.

It was a wide berth.

Did the Senator win?

The Donegal Bar Association, which represents a majority of solicitors in Donegal, has highlighted a significant backlog of cases in the Donegal District Court and the Circuit Court for the northern area. Many of these cases would relate to family law, such as separation and divorce cases. There are examples of a three-year waiting list. This call comes with a backdrop of the population of Donegal being 140,000, with the Circuit Court dealing with a population of 300,000. There are also case loads from Northern Ireland.

It is a novel scenario for members of the Bar Association to make a public plea for additional resources. The plea is specifically for the appointment of a second District Court judge to Donegal and a second Circuit Court judge to the northern area. It is a serious issue as many of these cases are being struck out. Some weeks ago a very eminent judge made a very strong statement in saying County Donegal was a forgotten county in terms of resources. This is very serious for the law and instilling a proper belief system in it. Ultimately, justice delayed is justice denied.

I do not wish to be a scaremonger but a report published yesterday on the preparedness in the United Kingdom, United States and Holland for a flu pandemic would frighten the wits out of anyone. It hypothesises 21 million cases in two weeks in Britain alone and 100,000 deaths. I assume our Department of Health and Children is prepared somewhat for such an event.

I would not bet on it.

The report indicates that when using anti-virals, it is important to ensure they are implemented within 48 hours at onset of illness, or else it is too late. The report was published yesterday but I had not heard about it before. I hope attention has been drawn to it and that we are taking steps to deal with the issues raised within it.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the Middle East, perhaps not this week but when we return after the recess. The problems of the Palestinian people continue apace and there are still killings, bombings and everything else close to the great wall, which is an affront to any human decency.

I also pay tribute to Deputy Haughey on his elevation and particularly to Deputy Síle de Valera for the great work she did when she was Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science.

The Government and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have very recently announced the intention to introduce a new financial watchdog for local authorities and I gather there will be legislation setting up special audit committees to advise on spending plans, estimates and everything relating to finance and accounts. It will report directly to councillors at monthly meetings.

The current system is problematic for all councillors and there is a significant burden on them, which will probably increase. The estimates system is very complex and I am glad the Minister will meet the councillors' representative bodies. I hope he will have appropriate commensurate measures for the proper financial reward of councillors, who will shoulder a great extra burden.

We are aware of the current burdens, which include not only salaries and expenses, but proper pension provisions and severance packages. We properly paid tribute this morning to a great gentleman of Irish local authority life, who served for 44 years. People like that are being left behind with such provisions.

I wish to be associated with the congratulations being offered to the new Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, who deserves his position. I also wish to be connected to the various calls for a debate on the proper care of the elderly. Will the Leader comment on the proposed legislation dealing with the local authority area, to which the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, made some reference?

I join in congratulating the new Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. Will the Leader ask him to urgently consider the scandal in the National Educational Psychological Scheme? The Leader might be interested to note that in her own constituency and that of Senator Bannon, Longford-Roscommon, there is 0% coverage in secondary schools, which is incredible. In the primary school sector, Carlow has only 26% coverage and Kilkenny has only 21%. There is a very significant variation.

That has a major effect on children as they could be waiting two or three years for an assessment. Primary schooling lasts for only eight years, with secondary schooling lasting five years. There is no excuse for the significant variation in coverage around the country and I hope the Leader will pass on the concern to the Minister of State for his consideration. I agree with speakers seeking a debate on the issue of nursing home charges. It causes a great deal of concern, particularly the percentage rule. If a house is worth €300,000, the owners could be liable for €45,000 in charges afterwards. If it is worth €600,000, the owners could pay out €90,000. We must clarify why it is a percentage and not a fixed charge. It will cause problems despite what Senator Norris may think.

Last week in advance of Monday's announcement, I stated it was time private health insurance companies offered to the consumer the option of taking out an extra premium towards nursing home charges. The number of those aged over 85 years will treble during the next 30 years which will cause a problem.

The difficulty is that none of us knows at what age we will die, whether we will be in a nursing home and, if so, for how long. The Minister for Health and Children should have approached this from a different angle. She should have encouraged private insurance companies to create a scheme——

The Senator should call for a debate.

Half of the population has private health insurance and is willing to take out cover for dental or medical expenses. It could be extended to include nursing homes.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the subvention for private rented accommodation, particularly on the trend to increase rents not only by the amount of inflation but also that of mortgage increases. Many people depend on the subvention and are on the maximum rent supplement. While it is outside our control, we should note and debate it as it could become a difficulty. We must ensure those in receipt of the supplement receive good value.

Senator Brian Hayes raised the matter as to why the motion in my name with regard to Mr. Brian Curtin is still on the Order Paper. I will obtain a satisfactory explanation which is what the Senator seeks. Senator Hayes also congratulated the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey. Most people in this House do so. Senator Hayes also spoke about Mr. Dermot Nesbitt. I knew him from when we began cross-Border initiatives and always found him open, fresh, frank and interested. I was surprised to hear on the BBC this morning that he will not go forward for the next assembly elections in March. He will be sorely missed.

Senator O'Toole seeks a debate on management companies which would be useful. People are taken in when they attend residents meetings where a proposal is made which they think it is a good idea as the grass will be cut and windows painted in the complex. However, charges increase and the work is not done. We will endeavour to bring a Minister or Minister of State from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to debate the issue.

Senator O'Meara seeks a debate on policy for care for the elderly. The Minister for Health and Children will come to the House, I hope during the first few days when we return, when we will fully debate the matter. I know Senator Dardis replied to Senator O'Meara but I also wish to do so. The situation since 1993 is that as one lies ill one's house can be sold over one's head. I always thought it an extremely sad situation. Older people might wish to return home and that prop of comfort is taken away from them. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, will do away with that.

Senator O'Meara is a person of probity and did not deliberately promulgate untruths about a policy. We must debate it and work out its intricacies. This policy is designed to ensure older people's houses will not be sold over their heads when they are alive. Why should anyone object to the value of a portion of the house, the amount of which will be debated, being used after the person has received the care and passed away? It is extraordinary to pretend——

It is the fundamental principle of it.

Two different Governments were in power since 1993. The idea of selling the house over one's head as one lay ill was enforced. We have the example of the mother of Senator Dardis whose house was sold as she lay ill and dying to pay for her nursing home care.

We must be careful this does not generate into a debate.

I qualified it by stating I would not enter into a debate. I hope the debate gets a proper level of publicity and that its provisions are made public and understandable.

Senator O'Meara also wants a debate on child care and asked why everybody is homing in on only one provision of the report of the committee. Nobody wants to talk about the 59 other worthwhile provisions. Senator Dardis replied to Senator O'Meara as leader of his party in this House.

Senator Finucane also seeks a debate on nursing homes policy which we will have in the early new year. He also made the interesting point that local councillors who are also auctioneers should not be involved in rezoning decisions because unknown to themselves they may make decisions to their benefit. This is a fair point.

Senator Glynn seeks a debate on the Appleby report which was brought to his attention and that of Senator Henry and other members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children. The report is from London and deals with mental health. We asked the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, to come to the House and he is most willing to do so when we return in the new year. I will need a copy of the report.

Senator Norris is glad interesting ideas on health care for the elderly are being discussed. He has no objection to paying his share should it be necessary after he passes away. We hope that will not be for a long time. He wants an update on the motion on the Abbey Theatre which is on the Order Paper. He also raised the issue of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli whistleblower on the nuclear facility in Israel, and applauded him.

Senator Maurice Hayes is also concerned for the elderly. His up-to-date knowledge and opinion on Dermot Nesbitt was extremely good. I wish to point out to Senator Bannon that local government received an increase of 7.5% or 8%. I note his concern but funding of local government is generous. Senator Dooley is concerned about global warming, particularly flooding of the Shannon. It started again in Athlone where the roads which normally do not flood until February or March are already flooded. It is the old story of ESB management of the Shannon. It would be useful to have a debate on this issue.

Senator McCarthy congratulated the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey. He wants a debate on care for the elderly. Senator Mansergh also wants a debate on this matter. The call for debate on care for the elderly is overwhelming. Senator Mansergh also applauds Deputy Haughey. He also shared his knowledge of Dermot Nesbitt.

Senator McHugh raised the issue of the backlog of court cases in County Donegal, which is generally of three years' duration. That is a matter for the Courts Service but it would be useful to raise the matter on the Adjournment. Senator Quinn raised the issue of the flu. It was brought to my attention by Senator Dardis that when the newspapers write about the need to get the flu vaccine, people do so. However, it is not being written about at present and the take up of the flu vaccine is low.

Senator Lydon called for a debate on the Middle East and congratulated Deputy Haughey. On the day the former Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, was in the House all sides of the House paid extraordinarily generous tributes to her. We will combine the tributes to both Deputies and I thank the House.

Senator Coghlan raised the issue of future legislation on the financial watchdog for local authorities. I do not know about it as we did not receive prior notice of it. I will endeavour to find out about it. The Senator also spoke about how local councillors should have decent pension provisions.

Senator Browne spoke about DeputyHaughey's appointment as Minister of State and the non-operation of the NEPS scheme in several areas. He also called for a debate on nursing homes.

Senator Hanafin raised the issue of subventions on private rented accommodation. All sorts of issues are related to this because, sadly, many people renting out private property do not want to be on the list because they are then accountable for tax. This is leading to anomalies. We will endeavour to have a debate here on this issue at local government level.

Order of Business agreed to.