Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 22 Mar 2007

Vol. 186 No. 14

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude no later than 12.30 p.m.; No. 2, Pharmacy Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.30 p.m. until 3 p.m., to resume at 5 p.m. and conclude no later than 7 p.m.; No. 3, Carbon Fund Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude no later than 5 p.m., with spokespersons contributing for 12 minutes and other Senators for eight, and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.

I have a query about No. 7 on the Order Paper, the Defamation Bill 2006. I have been watching progress of the Bill in recent days and weeks from my office and wish to know if there is an organised filibuster to talk the Bill out to ensure it will never reach the Statute Book. I make this comment because there was a very genuine call in the House yesterday from a member of the Leader's party, Senator Cox, for a debate on a very important issue on which we would all have something to say. Time could be set aside to discuss current issues such as this rather than talking out a Bill if the intention of the Government is that it will never see the light of day. Will the Leader of the House indicate if it is the intention of the Government to progress the legislation by the end of the session? Even if it progresses in this House by then, it will never see the light of day in the other House.

A bloody good thing too.

That may be so.

Why is the Senator in favour of it?

We should stop the sham and say it as it is.

Hear, hear.

If it is to be removed, we will have that debate but we should not waste time with a literary or debating club, or a very bad literary and historical society debate, when we could be discussing other issues.

Does that matter not come within the aegis of the Chair?

The Chair would handle the debate.

That would be typical of The Hist.

I would genuinely make the point to the Leader of the House that if it is not the intention of the Government to progress the legislation——

It is jealousy.

——we should remove it from the Order Paper altogether.

Hear, hear.

We could allocate time for genuine debates on issues such as those raised yesterday by Senator Cox and others.

It would be very easy to disagree with Senator Brian Hayes but yesterday afternoon, while doing some work, I tuned into the debate on a number of occasions to hear discussions on what I believed were related to the Defamation Bill but instead concerned mushrooms.

That was James Joyce.

I heard discussions on the commentariat and pinko extremist commentators and various other issues which I felt had very little to do with the business at hand. There is, therefore, some element of truth in the point made. Apart from the great entertainment provided by Senator Norris and the Tánaiste, who seemed to be enjoying themselves with very little else to do, the discussion seemed to have very little to do with the Bill.

Speaking of issues which should have our attention, I would have thought the idea of having on a regular basis an Adjournment debate, in which general matters would be discussed in Parliament, would be considered. I have raised this issue before. Such a debate allows Members to make a statement or express a point of view on matters. This might be considered towards the end of the session.

Related to this, we might look at the question of regional debates. I recently considered how the regions develop. On a number of occasions we have discussed the position on the western edge of Ireland but we should look at such matters in more detail. Let us take County Kerry as an example. The Leader of House is smiling.

Take, for example, County Kerry.

There are issues to be considered. We discuss important matters such as the hospital in Monaghan.

We discussed the position in Dingle or Daingean.

There are two community hospitals, one in Dingle and one in Kenmare, which are on the books and have been promised, talked about, proposed, dealt with, built and built again. Where do we stand on the issue? I would like to be able to talk to somebody about what exactly is happening there. They are also taking over half of another hospital in Killarney, St. Finan's.


That is part of it. What happened to the ferry services between Dingle, Portmagee and Valentia or the Dingle walkway? Dingle is just one example, but we could discuss Offaly or elsewhere in the same way. We should examine and have a discussion on regions.

We should go there.

We are running out of time.

Recently, I recommended that all committees should go outside the Houses, but the only committee that travels on a regular basis is the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, which visits a number of areas around the country. It is chaired by Deputy Cassidy, who is from the Leader's constituency and shares her thinking in this respect.

This is fun.


It is not organised.

The issues must be examined. Would it be possible to have an Adjournment debate and a discussion on the regions to examine each county or area, such as the south west, and determine what needs to be done?

The Senator could visit the midlands. We would love to have him.

The midlands is getting a railway between Mullingar and Athlone, but we are concerned about the railway between Killarney and Tralee which has not been upgraded to the same extent. We would like to discuss these issues.

The DART to Dingle.

Whatever about the Defamation Bill enduring a de facto filibuster with Government complicity, no one could accuse the Government of delaying on the Pharmacy Bill. It is the fault of no one in this House or the building — I am not criticising any staff — that the final list of amendments in yellow form arrived in the House between 9 a.m. and 9.45 a.m. It was the first time Senators had a full ordered list of the amendments. It is not the fault of the staff of the House who have been working virtually 24 hours per day owing to the pressure, but this is not the way to deal with the business of the House. It is grossly offensive to order this Bill for the other House for tomorrow morning before it has passed through this House.

Hear, hear.

It is an institutional abuse. Will the Leader raise the matter with the Ceann Comhairle? The other House should be informed that it has no right to order business before this House has disposed of it. We do not do so as a matter of practice.

This morning's Irish Examiner has as harrowing a front page as I have ever seen. It is a half-page reproduction of the last note of a young man who committed suicide, published by his mother. She raises a number of reasonable issues, including matters of underfunding.

In a country that has never offered so many opportunities, choices, possibilities and freedom to young people, there is a need for a debate on the underlying reasons for the increasing number of young people committing suicide. I do not have a solution, but it is concerning that bullying is becoming a national sport. A television programme takes its entertainment value from the fact that certain prominent figures go through a process of ritually humiliating young people who do not meet their standards as entertainers. While the young people choose to be there, a large number of us watch the programme for the gratification that comes from ritualised bullying. We should wonder about our society's value system, such as the sexualisation of young people and the unmitigated bombardment of children of ten years of age with imagery that forces them to develop more rapidly than many of them are able for. The degree to which alcohol penetrates their culture is also a concern.

I will give an example of an unresolved conflict. The most competitive area in terms of radio listenership is the 15 to 25 age group, which is regarded as a single category. Contrast how a 15 year old and a 25 year old see the world. We are forcing the images and experiences of the latter on the former, including alcohol advertising. We are creating an adult world in which 15 year olds must cope. I do not know whether this causes anything, but it is time to have a serious debate on the way in which we have forced our young people to grow into emotional adulthood when they are physically children.

Hear, hear.

Yesterday, I asked the Leader to try to facilitate a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I understand that through no fault of the Leader, she was unable to do so. I also understand the Tánaiste will address the issue in the Dáil today under the Criminal Justice Bill 2007 and is unavailable to us. For that reason, I do not intend to table an amendment to today's Order of Business, but it is important for the House to make a statement. The last time there was an emergency issue — the statutory rape situation — the Tánaiste was happy to appear before this House and use its offices when it suited him.

Hear, hear.

For the manner in which we have dealt with issues under the Tánaiste's portfolio, he owes it to the House to discuss this serious matter. I am not calling, as Senator Norris stated yesterday, for a debate on mandatory sentencing or any particular solution. I am just calling for a debate.

Some women believe the message sent by the judge two weeks ago means they cannot report rapes to the police or, if they do, their cases will be brought to court where, due to circumstances we do not understand, there is a likelihood that the defendants will be released free as birds to walk the same streets as them or to communicate with them. That is not good enough.

I thank the Leader for her support on this issue. If the Tánaiste does not see fit to accept our invitation to debate this issue next week in whatever format is acceptable — I understand he cannot discuss individual cases — there must be a forum in which to debate it. I ask the Tánaiste to discuss it next week before our Easter recess.

Hear, hear.

Senator Brian Hayes was correct in his comments on the Defamation Bill. Whatever the reasons, it is going nowhere and is not intended to reach the other House this side of the recess. I look forward to hearing the Leader's explanation.

I agree with Senator O'Toole, especially in respect of his comments on Dingle and Kenmare Hospital.

Dingle-An Daingean.

I support Senator O'Toole's statements on the neglect of the south west. It would be good to hold a regional debate, especially on the south west, because the neglect of major infrastructural projects there is unbelievable. Take the roads, for example. The bypass of Farranfore on the Killarney-Tralee route is not proceeding, the Castleisland bypass has been pushed back, and the Killarney-Cork and Killarney-Mallow-Mitchelstown projects are not happening.

We are trying to keep the tourists in Killarney.

It will be done after the general election.

Senator Coghlan without interruption.

We need better lines of communication with the National Roads Authority on these matters. On 5 December, I had an Adjournment debate on the 14-bed extension of Kenmare Hospital promised ten or 12 years ago, which has since fallen off the list and has not been prioritised since. According to a response from the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on 6 February, my query had been passed to the Health Service Executive. On 21 February, it responded to the effect that the project was still going nowhere.

It could be raised on the Adjournment.

Recently, a Minister announced——

Which Minister was it?

I was not the Minister for Health and Children. It was one of the Ministers of State.

There are so many of them.

Senator Hayes's party started that racket.

It is nice to see that it has been well-continued.

I would like somebody to clarify — perhaps the Leader can do so — the current status of the proposed 14-bed extension to Kenmare Community Hospital.

Hear, hear.

Is it proceeding?

I do not know.

This argument has been going on for a long time. Will the extension be included in this year's list of capital projects?

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?

He is not.

I just want my question to be answered.

He wants an answer.

I am interested in the answer to the question.

I would like to raise the rather extraordinary and Kafkaesque situation whereby people who were abused in schools are being denied compensation on the basis that the State is not responsible for primary schools. It is quite extraordinary.

I raised in the House previously the case of Ms Louise O'Keeffe, who appears to feel threatened that her house might be taken from her because she cannot meet the costs arising from a legal action she took. There appears to be an instinct on the part of the authorities to punish and frighten people to discourage them from taking legal actions. It is quite wrong. By trying to deny its responsibilities, the State is acting in a cowardly manner. If it does not own the schools or have responsibility for them, why is it simultaneously paying for them? It is about time the State took over the schools, particularly in the context of the evidence of the Ferns Report, which I have mentioned many times. When the former Minister, Mr. Mervyn Taylor, was introducing the equality legislation, Senator O'Toole and I fought tooth and nail in this House to prevent the legislation from providing for certain exemptions. Senator O'Toole yesterday organised a meeting with representatives of the INTO to discuss this matter, which is of real concern for teachers.

This problem can be linked to what Senator Ryan said about bullying. We know a disproportionate amount of bullying contains a homophobic element. Very few teachers address this problem because they are frightened to do so. They know legally they could be fired on the basis of their lifestyles. A recent report, which found that this country's sex education is completely inadequate, stated that no such education is offered in approximately 40% of schools. The response of students to these matters is much more intelligent than the hysterical response of some of the authorities and groups which try to apply pressure in this regard. Can the House have a discussion on this aspect of the educational system? If we do not own the schools, why are we paying for them? Why does the State not take over responsibility for the schools?

I am not inimical to religion, in fact, I am a regular churchgoer. However, I do not think it is right that schools should be denominational in this way. I am happy for religious instruction to be offered in schools. I go to church not as a result of anything I was ever taught in school, but because of the way I was brought up. In our family, it was a positive pleasure to go to church. If I did something naughty, my mother would tell me that if I did it again I would not be allowed to go to church that afternoon. That is the way to do it.

The Senator must have been naughty all the time.

Did he keep on being naughty?

Can we extend that system to the Seanad?

The funding of community hospitals is organised in a haphazard manner. Many community hospitals depend on voluntary collections, such as church gate collections, to keep their doors open. Some of them are given small national lottery grants so they can install community facilities. I am not familiar with the community hospitals in An Daingean and Kenmare. Kilrush Community Hospital, with which I am familiar, has 66 patients. It is run by a voluntary committee and survives on the voluntary subscriptions it receives from patients and other members of the community. It is necessary to amend the budgetary system in order that community hospitals are funded in a regular and systematic manner. They should not have to depend on the haphazard payment of funds from the national lottery or the CLÁR programme. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Minister for Health and Children.

It was suggested some months ago that subvention payments would be increased from 1 January 2007, but very little, if anything, has been done in that regard at administrative level. Many people in institutions and hospitals have to depend on their families and others to meet the cost of their accommodation because the level of subvention they are paid is quite low. While a promise has been made to increase such payments, the technicalities of that process are slow, tedious and boring. Some people are very distraught about what is happening. Can the Minister for Health and Children be invited to the House to indicate when the Health Service Executive will deal with the administration of the subvention scheme? When will payments be made to ensure family members can stay in care institutions? There is a great deal of concern in the community hospital sector about the severe burden that is falling on families. The recent price increases have made it difficult for many people to make ends meet. The HSE is not dealing with the problem. It seems it does not have the staff or the facilities it needs to deal with these issues. Payments have been due to many people since 1 January but very little, if anything, is happening in that regard.

I support Senator Daly's call for a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on the shambles that is the Health Service Executive. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Harney, will be in the House tomorrow to deal with the Health Bill 2006. When I heard Senator O'Toole speaking about mushrooms, I was reminded of the approach taken by the HSE to the people it is supposed to serve. Like mushrooms, we are kept in the dark and fed lots of you-know-what.

I would like to give two examples of the problems I would like to raise with the Minister. A 42 year old man from County Tipperary who was discharged from Cappagh Hospital after a serious spinal operation was referred for rehabilitation to "Our Lady's Hospital" in Thurles, even though there is no such hospital. When he travelled by ambulance from Dublin to a hospital in County Tipperary, he discovered that the hospital knew nothing about him and did not have a bed for him. If it had not been for the intervention of a local health services manager, who used common sense and a great deal of effort to try to sort out the problem, there would have been nowhere for the man in question to go. People living in rural Ireland have to tolerate difficulties like those encountered in this case, which has not yet been sorted out. Similar problems are a feature of the out-of-hours doctor service. I know some people who were minding a child of four or five years of age as a favour to their neighbour. When the child became sick, they contacted the Shannondoc service, which refused to treat the child or issue a prescription without knowing the child's medical card number. There is an urgent need for a debate on the treatment of this nature that we are now expected to tolerate. I call for such a discussion of these matters.

I would like to comment on the various agricultural schemes for which farmers now have to apply. Can we ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to the House before the end of this session for a debate on the issue of compliance? I refer in particular to a 166-page document, including 1,450 boxes which have to be ticked, that has been issued to farmers. Given that many parts of the country do not even have broadband, it is wrong of the high-tech Department of Agriculture and Food to think about people making applications by e-mail. The Government, which promised under Agenda 2000 that it would make farming free and easy, seems to have gone totally and absolutely crazy.

I hope the Senator enjoyed his visit to the farm centre yesterday.

Bureaucracy has gone so far that farmers are now expected to tick 1,450 boxes.

When I had the pleasure of having a meal in Paris on Monday night, I discovered that the menu specified that all the meat served in the restaurant is Irish. I was very impressed by this discovery, which should remind us of some of this country's success stories.

Where did the Senator see that?

It was in Paris.

Where is Paris?

It is in France.

No, I asked about the restaurant itself.

My apologies. If the Leader wants the address of the restaurant, I can give it to her.

The Senator should name the place.

I mention my experience in Paris to emphasise that this country has some very solid success stories. Bord Bia is to be complimented for the work it has done in this area. When the British budget was announced yesterday, it was interesting to note that Britain is following our lead in many ways. During an interesting debate on the national development plan in the House a couple of weeks ago, the Minister for Finance defended himself openly and explicitly against any criticism of the plan. The budget announced in Britain yesterday signals that things are beginning to change. The British identified that tax competitiveness is an essential element and they have introduced a minor reduction in corporation tax because of the threats to competition posed by Ireland but they have invested heavily in science and technology and have identified the importance of research and development.

We must examine this area on an ongoing basis. I accept we will not do this immediately but we must have a debate on inflation and the danger posed by an increase in inflation here and the lack of competitiveness. We need to have such a debate on a much more regular basis than we have had in the past. I urge to Leader of the House to arrange for a time slot for such a debate on a regular basis.

It is worrying that the EU Commission will issue a final legal warning to the Government today over its failure to comply with EU law to provide clean water to its citizens. It also threatens the Government with a fine of a multimillion sum over two previous rulings by the European Court of Justice. I request the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House today to explain the position. This is a first world economy but people in parts of the country have to boil drinking water. Despite the funding that has been invested in various water schemes, it is worrying that many of them throughout the country do not provide clean water. The Minister should come to the House to explain this serious problem.

Committee, Report and Final Stages of the Pharmacy Bill will be taken today. If Committee Stage is completed, will it be possible to have a break to enable us to submit amendments for Report and Final Stages? It is unusual to deal with all those Stages together and normally it does not happen in this House. This is a important Bill and involves many serious issues. It is also unusual that the Government has tabled 50 or 60 amendments to the Bill, which we only received at 8.30 p.m. last night. In saying that I am not being critical of the Bills Office but of the Government. It published the Bill, announced straightaway that it would bring forward amendments on it and only published them at the last minute, which does not give the Opposition and other interested parties time to study them in detail. If we complete Committee Stage, I request the Leader to provide time for a short break to enable us to submit amendments for Report and Final Stages and thereby do the Bill and our job in this House some justice.

I agree with Senator Norris's point on the Department of Education and Science and the ownership of schools. What he said was news to me, I having been a primary school teacher. I was concerned to hear on radio this morning that the Department of Education and Science is writing to potential claimants and people who claim to be victims of abuse in schools threatening that unless they retract their claims they will face financial ruin similar to the case mentioned by Senator Norris. This is unusual. I have never heard of anyone behaving in this manner and one would not expect a Department to behave like that. The Leader might investigate the matter. It also raises a serious question about the ownership of schools. The fact that the church owns such a large number of schools leaves us vulnerable, given that the church body has become elderly and, unfortunately, many of them are selling schools, which have become valuable.

The scenario painted by Senator White about the petrol stations might well and perhaps is being replicated in terms of schools. The religious orders realise their property is valuable and they may decide to sell it, which would leave parents and students in a difficult position. It is an issue we must address and have clarified by the Minister for Education and Science.

I support Senator Cox's call for a debate on sentencing and the consistency or lack of it in this area. I warn against discussing any specific case at this stage, as I would be fearful that we may prejudice an appeal that the Director of Public Prosecutions may make on a case, which nobody in this House would want to see happen. We should be careful about talking about specific cases and rather we should deal with the generality of sentencing and consistency or lack of it.

Hear, hear.

Senator Cummins's point is well made.

The Health and Safety Authority was established by legislation put through this and the other House. It is generally accepted that it is doing an excellent job in terms of supervising employers, helping to eliminate workplace accidents and so on. Two years ago the Health and Safety Authority decided that it would use its supervisory powers to inspect roadworks being carried out by local authorities, a development that was urgently needed. It carried out 100 inspectors and as a result enforcement orders were issued to a raft to local authorities. Two local authorities, Clare County Council and Donegal County Council, are now challenging the right of the Health and Safety Authority to be involved in——

What about Mayo County Council?

I would not be surprised if Mayo County Council was doing likewise, given that there is also a case that has arisen in County Mayo. The Health and Safety Authority's statutory right is being challenged by several local authorities throughout the country. A tragic accident occurred in County Donegal where resurfacing work on a road, which I can only describe as having been scandalously neglected, was abandoned by the local authority workers at 2 p.m. on the day in question and that led to the death of a young widow. In regard to that case, Donegal County Council is challenging, through the courts, the right of the Health and Safety Authority to exercise its statutory rights. The case is not sub judice yet but it will be and I am aware of the advice that has been given.

What happened in that instance was a scandal. The Minister for Transport, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government hold the purse strings and if one holds the purse strings, one should be entitled to call the tune. They should instruct all local authorities to back off challenging the Health and Safety Authority which is only doing its job——

Hear, hear.

——which is to ensure there is proper compliance with road safety standards and proper maintenance of roads.

I request the Leader to contact the Minister for Health and Children on an issue related to the danger smoking poses to people's health. We all recognise the great effort made by the Government to stop the sale of packets of ten cigarettes, many of which were bought by young people. The system was changed and people can now only buy packets of 20 cigarettes. However, cigarette companies are selling two packets of ten cigarettes together and selling them as a packet of 20 cigarettes. Young people are buying a packet of 20 cigarettes which consist of two packets of ten cigarettes. That is not good enough and the Government must review this practice. Cigarettes should not be sold in packets of fewer than 20 cigarettes. Some people want to continue smoking, but the way cigarettes are sold should not make it easier for young people to get into the habit of buying cigarettes and smoking

Senator Brian Hayes, the leader of the Opposition, asked if we were filibustering on the Defamation Bill. I have followed the debate on the monitor in my office and have been enlivened and educated about various matters, about which I did not know, from listening to Senator Norris, occasionally other Senators who tabled amendments, and the Minister. If Senator Brian Hayes is asking me if I know anything about a filibuster on this Bill, I do not.

Will it come to a conclusion?

That is a matter for the Chair.

I cannot bring any legislation to a conclusion. I understand it is the Chair who regulates that.

Does the Government want the debate on the Bill to come to a conclusion?

I am sure it does. It did not tell me that it did not, if that is what the Senator is asking me.

It is a subplot.

Allow the Leader to continue without interruption.

I do not know about that.

Just because Senator Brian Hayes is paranoid does not mean we are out to get him.

A Senator

I hope the Senator is not misleading the Leader.

No, that is between the Senator and me, is it not? We might be all slightly green with jealousy at Senator Norris's terrific photograph in The Irish Times today in the context of the debate on the Bill yesterday. A half of a page was devoted to him and his musings and the Minister’s musings in reply to his. I said “musings”, not “amusing”. To answer Senator Brian Hayes directly, I am not aware of any filibuster, although I am getting a little tired of listening to the debate — it is going on and on. I suppose it is noteworthy. I am unable to say whether it will go through the other House as I do not know enough about the other House——

It is probable time will not allow.

I hope to renew my acquaintance with it but as of now I do not know anything about a filibuster.

The Senator will be able to deal with it when he gets there.

There will not be sufficient sitting days.

Senator O'Toole wisely avoided that issue and concentrated on regional debates.

With respect, I made the point about the discussion on mushrooms and pinko extremists and the commentariat and that I saw some sense in the point raised by Senator Brian Hayes.

Mushrooms and James Joyce.

It is all to do with the Defamation Bill.

Senator O'Rourke without interruption.

Like me, the Senator has been energised by listening to the exchanges. He raised the matter of regional debates but in my opinion this should be accompanied by regional visits. I suggest that if we were to discuss Dingle and Kenmare and their various hospital needs then we should visit those places——

We could meet in Killarney.

We should go to the midlands——

Killarney would be the logical place.

——and talk about various matters in the midlands. Senator O'Toole's point about having regional debates is a fair one.

Debates on the needs of local communities.

It will not be possible before Easter but perhaps after Easter, if there is to be a sitting after Easter.

Senator Ryan complained that the final list of amendments to the Pharmacy Bill has only been circulated today although he does not blame anyone in the House for the delay. He asked me to speak to the Ceann Comhairle on the matter of the Dáil announcing that the Pharmacy Bill is on its agenda for tomorrow even though it has not concluded in this House. I will speak to the Ceann Comhairle about this because it is a little presumptuous, if nothing else, to make such an announcement.

Senator Ryan also referred to the front page article in the Irish Examiner about the young boy. He spoke about bullying and the brandishing of images which bring children into adulthood almost overnight by bombarding them with images which make them want to perform older than their years.

Senator Cox referred to the Criminal Justice Bill. I support her wish to ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss the matter of sentencing although I agree with Senator Norris that we cannot discuss a particular case because it has been sent on appeal to the Director of Public Prosecutions and we do not wish to prejudice the outcome. Senator Cox has requested a general debate. She made the point that rape victims will now be unwilling to go to the Garda Síochána because they fear how their case may be dealt with and whether it would even be entertained. This is a salient point resulting from the matter.

I am now proposing to do what this House has been lambasting the Dáil for doing. The House hopes to deal with the Criminal Justice Bill in the week after next. I add the rider that this is on the presumption it will pass through the Dáil.

Senator Coghlan supports the point made by Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole. I note an unholy alliance between Senators Coghlan and O'Toole. The word "Kerry" has only to be raised——

There is nothing unholy about it.

——when the Senator is jumping, or else he says the word and Senator O'Toole is jumping. It is both amazing and great.

It is an important part of the country.

I agree it is very important and I fully approve of it. The Senators are very compatible on that point.

We should not be neglected because of our peripherality.

There is no chance of that.

Senator Norris asked for a debate on the abuse of children in primary schools. He raised the issue of the ownership of schools and whether the Church is handcuffing various measures which could be introduced. He referred to sex education as being completely inadequate. He questioned the ownership of schools. This is an emerging debate in modern times but I remind the House there would have been no schools in the past only for the school authorities who set them up and they cannot now be discarded.

Senator Daly raised the issue of the haphazard nature of funding for community hospitals. Kilrush hospital has to rely on funding as well as voluntary fund-raising. He said the subvention was to be increased from January 2007 but this has not happened and the HSE is not dealing with the situation. We will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House to answer that question. The concept of a community hospital is excellent but the funding has to be on a statutory basis or else it is all for naught.

Senator Coonan referred to various cases in County Tipperary with which he is involved and spoke of the need to address those issues. He referred to the 165-page document which farmers must fill out. I have met with the farming organisations on this matter. European funding demands accountability and compliance but there should be some way to streamline the process while not sacrificing accountability. The questions on the form seem to be a repetition of other questions farmers are asked all the time.

Senator Quinn has been in a restaurant in Paris which serves only Irish beef. That is wonderful. He suggested we should build on this success. He also referred to the British budget.

Senator Feighan asked that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government come to the House to discuss the EU directive on clean water. Senator Browne asked a pertinent question regarding the timetable for the taking of the Stages of the Pharmacy Bill. It may be possible to arrange a delay of half an hour between Committee and Report Stages. He referred to the Church's ownership of schools. He raised this matter in the House last year.

Senator Cummins supports Senator Cox's request, as do we all. He cautioned care in dealing with individual cases and the possibility of prejudicing an appeal. We cannot keep standing up and commenting on the way in which judges deal with cases. Another case this week also excited comment although it had nothing to do with the other matter. These are sensitive issues which need to be treated properly when being discussed in the House.

Senator Higgins stated that individual county councils are attempting to circumvent the health and safety regulations for the inspection of road works. We are all familiar with cases where people have been injured by road works which have been neglected or abandoned by county councils. A case in County Westmeath is being hotly contested.

Senator Moylan raised the issue of packets of cigarettes whereby packets of 20 are available and can be shared. Everybody should stop smoking or should never start smoking but that is my personal belief and I do not wish to impose it on everybody. I thank the Senator for making the point.

Order of Business agreed to.