The Order of Business is No. 1, the Copyright and Related Rights (Amendment) Bill — Committee Stage and a1, which is on the Supplementary Order Paper. It is my pleasant duty to inform the House that the Taoiseach has appointed Senator Wilson as Government Chief Whip to the 23rd Seanad and has reappointed Senator Glynn as Assistant Government Chief Whip to the 23rd Seanad.
Order of Business.
That is agreed.
What about Private Members' business today?
It is proposed to take Private Members' business between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Is that No. 2 on the Order Paper?
It is No. 2, the Climate Protection Bill 2007.
I apologise a Chathaoirligh.
I will address the management and planning of our public health service and public service generally. Just more than four months ago there was a general election campaign during which Fianna Fáil pledged to be the party that could best manage the economy and deliver public services. This pledge looks very hollow today given the continuation of the Health Service Executive's recruitment freeze. The Minister for Health and Children was in the House some days ago and said this matter would be reviewed on the first day of the month and that no patient would be affected or suffer as a result of the changes. This is clearly not the case. Operations are being postponed in quite a few hospitals and there is general unrest in the health service associated with industrial relations activity. There is no confirmation as to when the recruitment freeze will end.
During the Order of Business in the Dáil this morning, I heard the Taoiseach almost fail to respond to a question on health. Despite our having a Minister for Health and Children, a Department of Health and Children and a sub-committee on health, the Taoiseach almost seemed to be washing his hands of public accountability in respect of the health service.
Yesterday RTE reported there are a huge number of patients, some 41,000, on hospital waiting lists. Some 24,000 patients are waiting for day care procedures and 17,000 are waiting for inpatient procedures. In light of these very disturbing figures and the reported adverse economic climate which appears to be affecting our health service so adversely, will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance come to the House before the budget so Senators can discuss this matter?
In the spring of this year, the Independent Senators introduced a motion on credit union savings to achieve a guarantee of savings protection and a system that would be independent of all representative bodies and others. There was a long debate in the House and at its conclusion the Government Members did not disagree with my proposal that savings in credit unions should have exactly the same level of protection and guarantee as those in a bank. They said Government representatives were in talks with the Irish League of Credit Unions in conjunction with the Financial Regulator and they intended to conclude them by 31 March, after which they would move on the issues. The Government has not been as good as its word on this issue and we therefore need to address it. I have a duty to introduce my Bill. I do not mind if the Financial Regulator or Minister for Finance say clearly they disagree with what I propose but I know my proposal is correct. I am getting telephone calls from all sorts of people who are afraid to speak out and do not want to rock the boat. I am afraid we will see a run on credit unions such as we saw in respect of Northern Rock. If there is a lack of confidence, this is what will happen. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to address the issue?
I have been trying for some time to figure out what has happened to mutton. I would like the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to answer this for us. It represents a traditional flavour of Ireland and was the basic ingredient for Irish stew. Senators will find this very entertaining but that is not my point. At a time when slow cooking is a fast-expanding area of cuisine, it is time that mutton be made available again in Ireland. This would provide a new outlet and market for the Irish farmer. Mutton is derived from lambs that are approximately one and a half to two years old and which are finished on grass. This is exactly what the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been advocating and it represents a significant issue.
Some of the farmers on the Agriculture Panel are smiling but they will note I have raised this issue in the House on a previous occasion. Recently in the United Kingdom mutton has had a champion, namely, the Prince of Wales, who has accepted the job of patron of the mutton renaissance campaign.
Let us hear it for the Prince of Wales.
Senator O'Toole without interruption, please.
If we get the small things right in agriculture, we will get the big things right as well.
Was Senator O'Toole in the running for that job?
This area of the market, which is huge in France, for example, is being ignored. Those who were reared during a particular age will be familiar with the gamey flavour, taste and smell of mutton, which is part of Irish life. I would like the Minister of State with responsibility for food, Deputy Sargent, to come to the House to offer Senators his views on this matter. We need to educate ourselves, if nobody else, on the value and attraction of mutton.
We should bring him in and let the dead sheep savage him.
The Labour Party will not oppose the Order of Business. Given that the Government parties have been quick in recent years to claim credit for this country's economic growth, does the Leader agree they must take the blame when the story goes the other way? In the months and years leading up to the recent general election, the Taoiseach or the Minister for Finance tried to claim personal credit for constructing almost every crane in the sky. I am making this point in the context of the Exchequer figures we have seen today. Some respected commentators have used the word "slump" in recent weeks, but it seems a slight exaggeration to describe the circumstances we face as a slump. There is certainly a slump in the construction sector, however. Before this year's election, the former leader of the third largest party in the current coalition predicted that if my party and others were to be elected to government, it would prove to be a "slump coalition". We now seem to be having a slump even though Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are still in power. Will the Government parties act in a logical manner by taking the blame, given that they were so quick to take the credit in the past?
There is an element of déjà vu about this when one considers what happened five years ago. During the 2002 general election campaign, many promises were made and we saw a great deal of profligacy on the part of the Government parties, particularly Fianna Fáil. The people discovered a few months later that they were faced with stringent cuts in public services. Can the Leader or anybody else tell us anything that will give us any confidence or help us to believe that the same thing will not happen this time?
It will not happen.
How can we believe the Government Senators when they say that? The last time Fianna Fáil made all these promises, it turned its face and did the opposite.
The electorate did not turn its face on Fianna Fáil.
We need to have some honesty in this House and elsewhere. How can we be sure the Government will not do the same thing it did the last time?
We cannot be sure.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance and Mr. Eoin Ryan, MEP, to come to the House to discuss tax harmonisation, which is an issue that is gaining some momentum at EU level and needs to be discussed here? I have discussed the matter with Mr. Ryan, MEP, who has a great deal of knowledge about it. He is a member of a European Parliament committee examining tax harmonisation, which would pose an enormous threat to Ireland's competitiveness. I am sure Senator Alex White will agree that we need to take preventative measures to safeguard the economy. There is a precedent for getting MEPs to come to the Seanad to debate issues being discussed at EU level. I am worried that this subject will be ignored at local level, even if the Minister for Finance is batting admirably on Ireland's behalf. We should not allow the momentum that is building in Europe to continue, as we might not be able to stop it at a future stage. The Seanad should use the facility available to it to ask the Minister for Finance and Mr. Eoin Ryan, MEP, to come to the House, thereby allowing it to focus on this matter. I would be grateful for the assistance of the Leader in this. The country would benefit from a focused debate on tax harmonisation which poses a significant threat to the economy.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that we should be worried about the financial position within the health service. As an ordinary person I am rather surprised at the inaccuracy of the figures given as projections by the Department of Finance. I know this is not an easy area but these figures are remarkably inaccurate from time to time. This looks like a bit of a bump, the effects of which can be seen in the health service, even though significant amounts of money, approximately €15 billion, have been expended on the health service. However, too much of this is spent on administration and on the administration of the HSE whereas not half enough goes directly to the coalface. The result is that in the Cavan-Monaghan hospital operations are being put on the long finger and people's treatment delayed because a consultant anaesthetist takes a scheduled holiday and the hospital is not allowed to cover his absence because of financial stringency within the service. It is not acceptable that because a consultant anaesthetist goes on holiday, patients are deprived of treatment because coverage is not permitted. It is unprecedented and unprofessional.
I wish to raise a matter also raised by my colleague, Senator Bacik and other Senators, the question of the absence of legislation governing the control of trafficking of human beings in particular for sexual purposes. I raise this matter in light of the reports that Ireland is currently co-operating with police forces in 14 or 15 other European countries in this important area but this co-operation is being hindered by the absence of legislation. Ruhama has stated that the majority of prostitutes, sex workers, in this country are from abroad and that it has dealt with 200 cases of this kind of exploitation in the past year. It is not just an urban situation but happens throughout the country.
I welcome the fact that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has increased the fine for littering. It would be a great relief in the city of Dublin and especially in the north inner city if we occasionally saw a litter warden. They are rarer than the greater spotted cuckoo. There is no point in increasing the fines unless we support this initiative by having litter wardens fining people.
I wish to be associated with the best wishes to our Chief Whip, Senator Wilson and to the assistant Chief Whip, Senator Glynn, on their appointment by the Taoiseach. I also congratulate all my colleagues who have been appointed as spokespersons. I wish them well in their responsibilities. We can get down to work in the House now as all the responsibilities have been assigned.
I call on the Leader of the House to have a debate on health issues. I am very concerned about the situation which may develop in County Roscommon. We have accident and emergency cover 24-seven at the moment and this saved the lives of Colm Mee and Paul O'Grady and the young man involved in a serious crash in Hillstreet this morning. I wish to be associated with the sympathies expressed to the family of the bus driver who died as he was bringing 27 students to Carrick-on-Shannon. Without the accident and emergency department in Roscommon hospital, three lives would have been lost in the past two weeks in County Roscommon. This highlights the serious nature of the situation.
The managers of the HSE never propose that any manager be let go, but they propose the reduction of consultant numbers in smaller hospitals——
The Senator should vote against it.
I regard the Hanly report as being dead and gone. We binned it a long time ago.
In light of what is happening, we must now ensure a root and branch review of the health services is carried out. Professor Drumm seems to be the Minister as well as the chief executive of the HSE. I would like to see political responsibility for the management of the health service returned to the Oireachtas. Hands off Roscommon's accident and emergency department and hands off Roscommon county hospital which has saved——
What about the Hanly report?
——all those lives in the past weeks. We have lost Kieran Kelly, Padraic McHugh and Danny Hynes, unfortunately and there have been terrible tragedies in my area in the past week. Three young men have died on the roads of County Roscommon this week and a bus driver died this morning. Without an accident and emergency service in Roscommon hospital, at least three other young men would have been lost in the past two weeks.
Blame and shame the Government.
What is more important and valuable than people's health and well being? What is more valuable than one life? What should it cost? I am a former chairman of the Western Health Board and I note that few former executives were laid off when the amalgamation took place.
The Senator supported the Minister here last week.
They are protecting their own jobs; they are not particularly concerned otherwise. They have built an empire for themselves, including Professor Drumm. In the case of a small hospital such as that in Roscommon, which has provided an excellent service for the people of that county——
It is a pity the Senator is not running the Government.
——the people will revolt. We were given commitments by the Taoiseach, the Government and the Minister, Deputy Harney——
They are letting down the Senator.
——and those commitments must be honoured. The present consultation with regard to Portiuncula Hospital will determine whether acute surgery will be discontinued but if it is discontinued, it will mean discontinuing accident and emergency services. I am putting down a marker in that regard, and I ask the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on the health service and on whether Deputy Harney or Professor Drumm is running it.
Senator Leyden might join us on this side of the House.
I thank Senator Leyden for supporting the point I made on this matter.
The Senator may speak only once on the Order of Business.
Ba mhaith liom iarraidh ar Cheannaire an tSeanaid cuireadh a thabhairt don Aire Fiontar, Trádála agus Fostaíochta, an Teacha Martin, teacht anseo chun cheist fíor-tábhachtach — cúrsaí dífhostaíochta san iar-thuaisceart — a phlé. Tá mé ag caint go háirithe faoi Chontae Dhún na nGall, áit ina bhfuil go leor fostaíocht caillte sna seachtaine agus míonna atá thart. Tharla sé arís i rith na seachtaine nuair a chaill daoine i monarcha atá lonnaithe in eastát tionsclaíochta Ghaoth Dobhair a gcuid postanna. Tá 80 post cailte sa monarcha úd ón samhradh.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the serious issue of unemployment in the north-west region. Last week there was a request in the House to discuss Shannon Airport and the impact that the withdrawal of Aer Lingus flights to Heathrow would have on the broader Shannon region. It was correct to request such a discussion although it has not taken place in this House. However, there was a discussion in the Dáil.
There also must be a discussion about the north west. This week there were further job losses in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Although the number of job losses might appear small to Members of the Oireachtas, a total of 80 jobs have been lost in one company since the summer months, 12 of them this week and 24 last week. This is at a time when other factories are closing down in the Donegal Gaeltacht and other job losses are occurring. The losses might be absorbed if Donegal was on a par with the rest of the island but the county has 18% unemployment, the highest levels of poverty and the lowest levels of disposable income. It is a serious issue which every Senator must tackle. It is unacceptable that we allow part of the island to be left isolated, as has happened with Donegal and the north-west region.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the House in order that we can address this issue and seek action instead of rhetoric. Donegal must become more than an afterthought for the Government, as it has been for years. I am seeking the opportunity to address these serious issues in the debate.
Could the Minister with responsibility for regional development be invited to the House to address the Government's policy on regional development? The west has taken a serious hit in recent weeks, both economically and with regard to health. Last week we spoke about the Shannon- Heathrow slots and the impact this will have on both business and tourism. In the past few days we learned, from figures released by the HSE, that Galway University Hospital was due to appoint 25 nurses in September but that this has been deferred. Three of those nurses were needed for cardiothoracic care, so bypass operations and cardiac surgery could be carried out in Galway. Yesterday we learned that a stroke and geriatric——
Is the Senator calling for a debate? If I let this develop into a——
I wish to make two or three points.
If the Senator seeks a debate on health services we will wait for the Leader to reply.
I wish to finish my point. A geriatric and stroke ward in Merlin Park Hospital has been hit and we also learned that 24 orthopaedic beds and 2,000 patients with painful hip and knee conditions awaiting surgery——
This relates to a debate on health which will be taken.
I accept that.
The point has been made by Members and I do not want people to continue.
I want a wider debate on regional development. My question is whether the Government, in particular Fianna Fáil, has abandoned the west of Ireland.
If the Senator had been around long enough she would remember when her crowd——
If the answer to the question is "Yes" then it should stop charging us taxes at the same rate. We want the infrastructure and the services we deserve.
During the Order of Business questions are put to the Leader. If he agrees to have a debate all these important points can be raised.
Many of my colleagues know that I drew up policy documents on child care and ageing during the course of the last Senate. I inform my colleagues on the other side of the House that today I was honoured to have been appointed spokesperson for the elderly and for child care.
I look forward to debating these two serious issues.
I congratulate my constituency colleague, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, on his appointment. I hope it will keep him in Dublin and the House and that we will have less of him at home.
Will the Leader organise a focused debate to examine the degree of bloated administration in the HSE, cutbacks in renting buildings and wastage in general through a plethora of unnecessary meetings? I am horrified at the decision to remove cancer services from Cavan General Hospital and ask the Leader to convey my horror to the relevant Ministers. What is the timetable for this? What transport arrangements will be put in place to deal with this difficulty? What are the full implications of the removal of an excellent and highly reputed service from Cavan General Hospital?
Will the Leader find out specifically why in God's name a locum is not appointed for an anaesthetist who is on holidays? Senator Norris raised this matter previously but it is mind-boggling that the services of a hospital would be held up in this way. It does not constitute a tightening of finances; it is a false economy obscenity and it is bizarre and unacceptable. Will the Leader find out how we can rationalise and justify the removal of ten medical beds from Monaghan hospital parallel with the removal of cancer services from Cavan General Hospital? It is a bleak situation I want the Leader to address.
With regard to a matter raised by Senator Frances Fitzgerald, it is unacceptable that 17,000 people are on a waiting list.
The figure is 41,000.
Whatever the number, it has come to my attention through my local hospital in Sligo that not enough people avail of the treatment purchase fund, particularly in orthopaedics. In Sligo, we find people do not want to travel and this is why waiting lists are so long. We need a change of mind-set and must educate people that for the foreseeable future they must travel for emergency or immediate treatment. The Private Members' motion last week was tabled by the main Opposition party, Fine Gael. The Minister was in the House for two days last week, the only two days the House sat and there was every opportunity to raise any issue with her. She replied comprehensively.
In regard to what my colleague, Senator Leyden said — I have just been appointed Front Bench spokesperson on health — not all of the 11 chief executive officers were given jobs in the HSE. If I am correct, perhaps one or two of them were accommodated in the new HSE. I do not speak on behalf of Professor Drumm but, as a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children in the last term, I would point out that he came before the committee on at least five or six occasions when all parties put to him whatever questions they wished and he answered them. The Minister, Deputy Harney, does not cross over Professor Drumm's role nor does he cross over her role.
I do not know if the Leader and the other Members will join me in sending our very best wishes to our Special Olympians, their families and supporters in Shanghai. Very often our culture emphasises strength and power and the vulnerable in our society are easily forgotten. The Special Olympians are witnesses to the power of love and solidarity between people and how this can triumph over adversity and, perhaps, teach the world a lesson. I am also conscious that they are competing in China. China has much to learn from the example of the Special Olympians. This is a country where human dignity is frequently trampled on. China's one child policy has made it the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. As we heard on the radio yesterday, it is a country where many children with Down's syndrome simply are not born; such is the negative attitude to disability that pertains there. That these games are taking place in China is a good thing and, perhaps, it is a signal of the softening of Chinese culture in Government. I hope our Government will recognise that the progress in achieving human rights and respect for human dignity in China is not keeping pace with economic progress. I hope it will not see our strong economic links with China as somehow giving it an opt-out on the need for Ireland to be a beacon, a prophetic voice, in promoting universal respect for human dignity.
In the context of the Special Olympians I support, as I am sure the House would want to support, the aims of Down's Syndrome Ireland, as it seeks to establish a national medical resource centre for the health promotion of all persons with Down's syndrome, and their families.
A welcome has already been extended to this morning's news that the police in Ireland and Britain will undertake a campaign aimed at cracking down on those involved in human trafficking. There is a motion on the Order Paper calling for the rapid introduction of legislation to ban human trafficking. It is not enough to ban human trafficking. It is important to recognise that this activity is giving rise to a form of effective slavery——
Is the Senator seeking a debate on that issue?
I hope that when such legislation comes before the House it will seek to provide protection for those women and children who are trafficked into this country and that they will not be seen as merely an immigration problem.
I welcome my colleague, Senator O'Toole, questioning what happened to mutton. I thought he was going to volunteer the opinion that it was going around dressed up as lamb, but that would not apply in this House.
I did not think it would have been necessary, but in light of the comments from the Opposition parties I support the call for another debate on the health service. I thought, given the enlightened comments from the Minister in the House last week in which she outlined the good vision and the necessity for health reform, that people would have been better informed. Investment in our health services has increased from €3.5 billion when many of us first came into this House in 1997 to €15 billion this year, with a €1.2 billion increase this year.
What about the cutbacks and freezes?
We could of course return to the Garret FitzGerald school of economics and the laissez-faire approach taken in the 1980s——
There was accountability in the health service then.
——which led to widespread unemployment and mass emigration as a consequence. I support the call, as it is obvious——
Does the Senator remember the election slogan, "Health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped"?
——that people need to be better informed than they are.
Allow the Senator to speak without interruption.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the very near future on pensions, an area in which the former Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, made very good progress in trying to address the deficit among the public in providing for their pensions. A recently published report has shown a lack of transparency in the financial services industry in revealing the charges being levied on people's pension funds. As a consequence this will deter people from pursuing investing in pensions to provide for themselves as they become older.
I strongly support the call by Senator Fitzgerald for a debate with the Minister for Finance, who I am sure would oblige. The landscape has altered totally and we would like to hear from him regarding the shortfall in Exchequer returns against forecast and the impact this will have across all Departments. The Leader should be able to put that issue to the Minister who, I am sure, would receive it well. As the situation is serious, such a debate would be useful and timely.
Senator O'Toole raised a potentially very serious matter regarding credit unions. We urgently need a level playing pitch in this area and I strongly support what he said. It is time for the same protection to be applied to credit union customers as is given to bank customers.
I listened with interest to comments made about the health services. For some time people have been confused about the roles of the Department of Health and Children, the Minister and the HSE. I wish to place on the record my appreciation of all those involved in the delivery of the services whether on the front line or in administration. Thousands of people are receiving excellent services from our service providers. In recent years much has been done on the provision of service. I was impressed by one change. I noticed when driving on Pearse Street that poor unfortunate addicts were no longer queuing and crossing the road in front of our cars. Thousands of commuters saw this on a daily basis. They then moved to Amiens Street and we saw a repetition of that simply because nobody wanted a drugs clinic in his or her back garden.
Now throughout the country pharmacists are participating in a methadone programme. Drug addicts integrated in their own communities are availing of the required supports. The House may be aware of some difficulties between the HSE and the pharmaceutical union on the operation of the scheme. I ask the Leader to make contact with the two authorities. From speaking to pharmacists, I understand they have been trying to seek a meaningful conclusion to ensure the continuation of the methadone programme, but have been unable to reach agreement. A deadline of Monday, 8 October has been set for agreement, otherwise pharmacies participating in the scheme will withdraw, which would lead to a very regrettable position. Will the House pass a resolution asking both sides to enter meaningful discussion to ensure the continued success of the methadone programme?
Did the Senator hear the Minister last night?
"No surrender", she said.
There was no support from the Government benches when I raised the issue last week.
I am raising it this week. Let us have the Senator's support.
The Minister says she will not be blackmailed. I am glad the Senator is supporting this issue, which I welcome.
I welcome the Senator's support.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment, as I did not have the opportunity to do so last week, and I wish him well in his role.
I refer to an important issue that involves many communities, both urban and rural. I seek a debate on school transport catchment boundaries and traffic management audits and plans with a specific focus on the review of catchment boundaries. In the area I come from, siblings are being separated and they can no longer attend the same schools. Demographics have changed rapidly in many suburban and rural towns. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House for a debate? This issue arises every September when schools resume and it needs to be urgently addressed. School catchment boundaries have been in place for decades and are outdated. The Joint Committee on Education and Science examined this issue during the previous Seanad but it should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
I refer to the debate we had on the commencement of the new Seanad regarding reform of the House. This issue should be examined and debated within the House. The impression might be given of how democratic is the House. A proposal was put before the people in 1937, which was voted on in 1938. Almost 700,000 voted so that we could be elected in the manner we are — six from the university panels, 43 from the vocational panels and 11 nominated by the Taoiseach. This has served the country well. I propose the number of Members should be increased. Given the membership of the Dáil has increased from 120 to 166, there should be at least ten more Members.
From the universities.
Senator Hanafin without interruption, please.
I was thinking of something fairer. The additional seats should be distributed on a pro rata basis.
That would be the end of the Senator for a start.
It would make sense. Looking back, we should take pride in this House being the forerunner on debates on stem cell research during the previous Seanad and on abortion during the 1980s and 1990s. A President was elected who was a former Senator while other former Members, such as Ken Whitaker, have become Ministers and MEPs and have done great things in other areas. I commend to the House that we debate the matter with a view to increasing the number of Members under the current system.
I refer to the state of our economy and the new information that has emerged in this regard in recent days, which is at the heart of many of the issues raised, including health and transport funding and so on. The Leader and other Members on the Government side have stated their desire for the Minister for Finance to come to the House soon to discuss these issues. I ask that the debate be brought forward because there has been much trumpeting about the importance of prudence. However, given the scenario we are facing, it would appear the Government has been anything but prudent in how it forecasts for and manages the economy.
I would like three issues, in particular, to be addressed in the debate, the first of which relates to budget forecasting. Last year we had a budgetary surplus of €2 billion and we are now on track for a budgetary deficit of €1 billion, a difference of €3 billion. Last December the Minister for Finance stated we would have a deficit of approximately €500 million. As I have stated, it is now a multiple of that at €1 billion. How have we gone so wrong and in the space of only eight to nine months, how has there been such a significant change in the performance of our economy? How has this only come to light after the general election?
My second point relates to how the Government will respond. It is crucial that whatever measures are taken do not undermine the confidence of people working within our economy already, making a difficult situation worse.
We need to ensure that with whatever moves are taken, expenditure on social programmes is not affected. We cannot have those in our society who are either too young or too old paying a price for this. They must be protected at all costs from any required changes. I would appreciate it if the Leader would ask the Minister to come to the House to answer these questions and give assurances.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on the professional way he does his business. I did not have the opportunity to congratulate him before now. I thank the councillors throughout the country who supported me in the Seanad elections.
The Senator may drop them a note. It is not appropriate to refer to it in the House.
Many of the Senators would not be here today if not for those fellows. They should not be forgotten.
Senator Hanafin is going to reform the whole system so that will not be necessary.
Senator Butler, please.
We will do that under the good auspices of Senator Norris. He will have some very good and solid ideas on how we might address Seanad reform. That is for another day.
I ask the Leader if he will bring the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to discuss organisation of the local authorities. With issues such as global warming being raised, these authorities will be called on over the next few years. The financing of these bodies will be very important.
Over recent years, we have financed local authorities very well and we are improving this finance all the time. We cannot sit back on our laurels when we think of what must be done at local level. I would like to find out what the Minister has in mind in that regard because he has stated he would look into the issue.
I support Senator Leyden in his call for a debate on the health services, especially the point he made regarding political accountability for such services, which has now been passed to Professor Drumm. When the issue is raised, the Minister of the day almost has political immunity from being responsible for health services. On its creation, the Health Service Executive was supposed to be a beacon of hope for the many thousands of people who wished to access services, but it has only been a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to explain the comprehensive dossier sent to the European Commission last Friday in response to a request relating to the local needs restriction affecting planning permissions which is contained in many local development plans. Initially, the local needs restriction just referred to one-off rural housing, but the same restriction is now being used with estate development. This is a serious issue as it may breach European rules on movement and freedom of capital.
The Minister was asked to comment on the content of the comprehensive dossier returned to the Commission last Friday but he has refused to do so. That is very unfortunate. The matter of one-off rural housing, planning and associated issues has been debated at length in this House over the last five years, with many fine contributions from all sides of the House.
Deputy Dick Roche, when he was Minister in the Department, at least began to act on one-off rural housing and easing that type of restriction on local authorities through the introduction of guidelines. They were not strong enough in my view but it was nonetheless a start. Now, his successor is refusing to comment on the content of a very comprehensive dossier returned to the Commission last Friday.
I echo Senator Butler's congratulations to the Cathaoirleach and his thanks to local councillors.
As my party's spokesperson on education and science, I support Senator Coffey's request for a debate on catchment areas. In my opinion, such a debate may come within the remit of the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey. However, the House should also encourage the Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin, to attend the House to discuss preschool education. Major investment has been made in first, second and third level education. In light of the work Senator White will be doing in respect of young people, it would be timely to have a debate in respect of the latter.
I support calls for a debate on the north west. As a deputy spokesperson on issues relating to the North, I am also of the view that it would be timely to discuss the degree to which matters have progressed in the recent past on foot of the new dispensation and in light of the opportunities that exist for cross-Border co-operation. It would be interesting to discuss the new political dispensation that has been facilitated by the Taoiseach and many others.
I agree with Senator Walsh's call for a debate on pensions. I would welcome it if the relevant Minister would attend the House in the near future to facilitate such a debate.
Has the Leader made any progress in the context of encouraging the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come before the House, as soon as possible, to discuss recent outbreaks of diseases in meat-producing animals on the neighbouring island?
I agree with colleagues who requested a debate with the Minister for Finance regarding the figures that were published recently. Such a debate should take place as soon as possible.
I also agree with those who raised the issue of the HSE and funding and cutbacks relating thereto. We engaged in a number of debates — to one of which I contributed — on health last week. There seems to be a growing belief among those on the Government benches as well as those in Opposition that the HSE is almost out of control. The Taoiseach had difficulty answering a question on health in the Lower House and I not sure whether the issue relating to the answering of parliamentary questions there has been fully resolved. Forums have been established across the country to facilitate councillors but, as far as I can see, these are not operating satisfactorily. Briefings are held for Oireachtas Members, who are herded into Buswells Hotel, and everyone in the southern half of the country is invited to attend. However, sufficient time is not provided to allow people to discuss health issues.
I do not understand why the Department of Health and Children employs officials if, as currently appears to be the case, everything is being farmed off to the HSE. I agree with Senator Leyden and I wish to provide a concrete example relating to duplication in the health service. I was not particularly satisfied when the HSE was established and the health boards abolished but I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. As far as I am aware, however, the press offices that served the health boards remain in existence and those employed in them continue to issue press releases. Surely the central office in Naas should provide this facility for the entire country. If such a process cannot be streamlined within the HSE, then where the hell are we going?
I congratulate the new Government Whip in the Seanad, Senator Wilson, and the assistant Whip, Senator Glynn, on their appointments. I also extend warm congratulations to all of the Fianna Fáil Senators who have been given very important portfolios. We look forward to fulfilling our duties, in a joined-up way, during the next five years.
I join Senator Mullen in wishing Team Ireland the very best of look at the Special Olympics which will take place in Shanghai during the coming weeks. This year, the team consists of 142 athletes, competing in 12 different sports, 55 coaches and 200 volunteers from the 18,000 involved in the Special Olympics movement in Ireland. I know our athletes will do us proud, irrespective of whether they win, lose or draw. This House certainly sends its best wishes to the athletes and their coaches.
I join Senators Doherty and Keaveney, my colleagues in Donegal, in supporting the call for a debate on employment matters pertaining, although not exclusively, to our county. I have reservations about the way the IDA implements Government policy in terms of creating jobs in the regions. I would certainly like to put this issue to the Minister when he comes to the House. Donegal and other Border counties have experienced huge difficulties as a result of the conflict in the north of Ireland. Senator Keaveney is correct is saying that the institutions now up and running and power sharing will bring new life to the Border counties. We should try to embrace this. As I said here last week, it is also important that when the Minister of Finance comes to the House, the issue of a special dispensation or incentive for the Border counties will be on the agenda.
I support Senator Coffey's call for the Minister responsible for school transport to come to the House. My portfolio encompasses lifelong learning, youth work and school transport. It is a sad day for those travelling on school transport because of the death of the 56-year-old male driver at High Street in Elphin, County Roscommon. There were 26 pupils on the bus. If one puts this in context, every morning and evening, 140,000 pupils go to and from school on the school transport system. It costs the Exchequer €111 million, approximately 5% of which comes from local contributions. Since the accident on that dreadful day on 23 May 2005 much has been done to address many of the safety issues associated with school transport.
Coming from local authority backgrounds, we are all aware of the HSE and what it is doing at the moment. We should have a discussion on it and perhaps look at discussing the standard of some of the buses being used for school transport purposes.
In light of recent forecasts of a shortage of water in Ireland, particularly in the greater Dublin area, the type of solutions proposed to address those issues, such as desalination of water from the Irish Sea or the pumping of water from the Shannon region, for example, from Lough Ree, the vociferous opposition of people in those regions to such a solution, and Fingal County Council's plans to put a massive superdump on top of a very significant aquifer in the north of Dublin with a serious risk of contamination of that supply, will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to attend the House to inform us of his proposals for water supply into the future and whether he agrees with me that Fingal County Council's plan is at best irresponsible in the current context?
Níor labhras fós sa Teach seo, ach ní mór dom cúpla focal a rá anois. I planned to make my maiden speech on something more uplifting and inspirational than mutton. I must advise the House, particularly my great friend and colleague, Senator O'Toole that I now rejoice in the title of Government spokesman on food and food health in the Seanad. In this capacity, I assure the House and Senator O'Toole I intend to embark immediately on very comprehensive research, including a rigorous programme of dining out in some of the best eating houses in the country.
On the Order of Business.
I invite Senator O'Toole to join me, as he has several times during our well-known food fair in Listowel, County Kerry. I assure him that I share his enthusiasm for mutton, although I cannot equal the deep affection Dinglemen have for their sheep.
They are mountainy men down there.
Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
As long as this regime is in power, mutton will always be on the menu.
Listening to the concert coming from the Government benches regarding the Health Service Executive, it is misplaced to make a virtue out of penalising patients. Last month, senior management in the HSE paid themselves significant bonuses. This month, we are told, the problems in the HSE are due to the failure of senior management to understand their own budgets. How can someone pay himself or herself a bonus for doing such a good job, if he or she fails to understand what it means to manage a budget?
Some Members on the Government benches run their own businesses and would not accept this carry-on from people working for them. Neither would they accept it from those working for the people. While this failure is not on the same scale as that of the Minister for Finance who had a €2 billion surplus last year and is now facing a deficit of €1 billion, the HSE's budgetary failure is affecting patient care.
The issue is accountability, not warm sentiments about what the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the HSE chief executive, Professor Drumm, are doing together. This budget overrun equates to the same amount of moneys wasted on the PPARS project, €220 million, which was switched off once the general election was over.
Last week, the Minister told the House of the great job she is doing in the HSE. When I asked what genuine reforms she introduced into the health services, she was silent. There has been little or no reform. Senator Walsh might comment that €3.5 billion was spent on the health services when he first entered the House ten years ago and that it is now €15 billion. It is easy to spend money; it is spending money well that is the problem. That is where there is no accountability to the Houses. Instead of Members on the Government side paying lip-service to the mess into which the HSE is evolving——
Is the Senator seeking a debate on this?
There has been a U-turn on health policy by the Government. While no one is reforming the public health system, it is being given over to the private sector which is not regulated by the statutory bodies established by the Government. These are the matters to be debated in the House rather than paying lip-service to an unholy mess in the health services. I know of many patients waiting since last February for basic diagnostic tests in one hospital but who cannot get them because the steriliser is not working. The Members on the Government side need to open their eyes to what is happening in the health services.
I support Senator Leyden's call for a debate on the health services. He has been consistent in his opposition to the recommendations of the Hanly report, attending along with myself and Senator Cassidy public meetings against it in Athlone. I have serious concerns that acute operations will be finished and accident and emergency services will be downgraded at Portiuncula Hospital. While we recently had a debate on health services, the extension of the freeze on employment in the health service was only announced yesterday. The Minister needs to attend the House to debate this development. She alluded to the fact that Athlone had low accident and emergency admission figures. That is because there is no accident and emergency service in Athlone.
Déanaim comhghairdeachas leis mo chara, Senator Wilson. Little did I think when we were in college together that we would end up in Seanad Éireann.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House so that we may have a debate, in light of the planned reform of the leaving certificate, taking cognisance of the fact that the views of teachers should be taken into account, given that they are primarily responsible for education.
I do not want to rehash the debate in the House last week, but I request the Leader to seek clarification from his colleagues on the Government benches as to whether they are happy with the current recruitment freeze in the health service and the cutbacks. Perhaps he will give his answer to the House because it is clear from listening to Members opposite that everything is not rosy in the garden. It is somewhat akin tothe old story that while Rome burned Nero fiddled.
I have a serious matter to raise about which I want the Leader to seek clarification from the Taoiseach, as Head of Government. It concerns the allegation, and I stress that word, that a serving Member of the Government, as reported by a journalist on a radio programme last week, has admitted to taking cocaine. It is a very serious allegation. We need urgent clarification since the use of cocaine is increasing. While I accept the Government has an active anti-drugs strategy co-ordinated by a Minister of State, it is important that Ministers are answerable to the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader to seek clarification, accordingly. The Leader will agree that it would be inappropriate for a Minister to take drugs. The quotation was, "Yes, I take drugs, only coke, and I am not the only one". That is quite a serious comment. If it is true it deserves to be answered. If it is untrue, then the Ministers concerned deserve to have their names cleared.
Quite a number of speakers were concerned at current developments in the HSE and called for a further debate on it. As was stated by Senator Fiona O'Malley, the leader of the Progressive Democrats in the House, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney was here for two days last week. These were very informative sessions. I can certainly ask the Minister to try to find the time to come to the House and update us. I suggest that might be later in the month, since she was only here last week. There are other pressing problems, but €14 billion is an enormous amount to spend. We want to know why this is not percolating down to patients and on all sides of the House we want to see what we can do to help improve the situation.
As regards calls, particularly by Senators O'Toole, Mullen, Coghlan and O'Sullivan for a debate on the concerns of credit unions, these institutions have been among the country's great success stories. Some 90% of the time, credit union depositors will know the personnel they deal with. They are all local people of high standing in our towns and villages and have built up a lovely business in local communities in the course of the past 30 or 40 years. I shall do everything possible to enhance or support the work of the credit unions and I certainly support Senator O'Toole's proposal for a debate in the House.
On the proposal to have the Minister of State with the responsibility for food address the House on the promotion of mutton, I accede to that unreservedly. It is nice to hear our Kerry colleagues in the House, as the experts in this area. We have always had much to learn from Members from the kingdom in the Oireachtas. They are extremely successful whether in the Dáil or Seanad. We certainly know they are here because they are people of great vocal prowess and long may it continue. There is no problem with that.
It is the mountainy mutton that gets us going.
Senators Alex White and Paschal Donohoe called for a debate on the economy. We have to be consistent. I should not like this House to be a bad news Chamber. The media home in on one Chamber. I should like the Seanad to present the facts, reflecting how positive they are. These are the figures from the Central Statistics Office. They are not Senator Alex White's or Senator Donie Cassidy's figures. The CSO indicated economic growth of 4.5% for the first half of this year. These are facts, not just one-liners to be shown on "Oireachtas Report" later this evening. These figures were released last Friday.
The quarterly national accounts show that gross domestic product, GDP, in the first half of 2007 was €90.7 million, an increase of €5.7 million or 6.7% on the same period last year. That does not reflect an economy that is heading for difficulty. When it comes to employing people, I have as much experience as any other Member of this House, with the exception of one Senator. Let us not talk down here. The House comprises in the main all new young Members. There are 25——
With the exception of Senator Cassidy.
When I want a squeak, I shall call on Senator Norris. We have 25 new Members and in all some 35 who came back to be Members of the Seanad. We should not fall for the bad news that is in the public domain.
We should recognise the facts——
The Leader should not patronise the House.
I am speaking about the facts——
He should give the House some respect.
——and the facts are the figures. If they are unpalatable——
The Leader is being selective.
——they must be dealt with. We have achieved a good deal as a nation and we certainly do not want to develop a negative attitude in this House. This is the Upper House of Parliament and people should realise that when they become Members of theSeanad.
We are reflecting the views of the people.
Senator O'Malley called for tax harmonisation——
For a debate on it.
She wanted a debate on tax harmony and suggested various speakers to address this. If speakers are not to be members of the Dáil or the Seanad, that is a matter for the CPP, I understand. As a member of the CPP, Senator O'Malley can put that suggestion before the committee. She will get considerable support as it is a good idea.
As regards No. 21 on the Order Paper, dealing with the issue of human trafficking, I certainly support the calls from Senators Norris and Mullen for a debate on that immediately if we can get agreement with party leaders at our next meeting. I also agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Norris on litter wardens, increased litter fines and how important this is for the whole island as well as the beautiful city of Dublin. Senators Doherty, Keaveney and Ó Domhnaill called for Deputy Mícheál Martin, as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to address the Seanad in a debate on Donegal in particular. With the House's permission, I should like to include the role of the IDA — and what it does or is not doing, in some cases — in this half-day debate that we will arrange with the agreement of the House. Senator Healy Eames called for a debate about regional development and perhaps that might be included under this heading when the Minister comes to the House. Senator Mary White also asked for this debate.
I congratulate all colleagues whom the Taoiseach appointed today, in particular Senator White, who has done extraordinarily good work in the area to which she has been appointed today, namely children and senior citizens. I wish her well and look forward to working with her.
Senators Mullen and Ó Domhnaill proposed the House send its greetings and best wishes to our Olympians who are in Shanghai. Some of us have had the pleasure of visiting that most beautiful city in the vast country of China. It is certainly the career highlight of the 142 athletes concerned and everyone who has supported them. Ireland can take a bow for its leadership in supporting people with special needs. We wish them well from all sides of the House.
Senators Jim Walsh and John Paul Phelan addressed the House on the serious challenge in relation to pensions. I understand that a Green Paper is to be published on this subject by the end of the year and I certainly will allow time in the House for a debate when it comes before us.
Senator Ivor Callely expressed serious concern on behalf of the pharmacists about events that are proposed to occur over the next few days. I shall certainly pass on his views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senators Paudie Coffey, Cecilia Keaveney and Brian Ó Domhnaill made a worthwhile proposal that we have a discussion on school transport and catchment areas. Senator Coffey was correct in stating that the catchment areas were last decided in the late 1960s. Since then the population has grown and changed considerably. I understand that consideration of this issue is at an advanced stage within the Department. It is the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey, and I have no difficulty with requesting him to come to the House to discuss this issue and listen to the concerns of Senators so that they may be addressed.
Senator John Hanafin expressed his views on Seanad reform. This is a serious challenge for all Senators, and we will consider the issue in the future.
Senator Larry Butler requested a debate on local government. A Green Paper is to be published on this subject in January, so I suggest we delay this debate for two months so that we can have a half-day debate on the Green Paper.
Senator Michael McCarthy, whose views I respect as he is a great colleague in Seanad Éireann, requested a debate on environment and local needs, especially with regard to rural development. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been born, bred and reared to represent the people should do everything we can to ensure local needs are considered. We must represent the people who elected us to this House without being dictated to by any force that interferes with the quality of life we enjoy in our communities.
Senator John Paul Phelan requested a debate on agriculture. I will endeavour to allow this to take place over the next three to four weeks.
Senator Brendan Ryan suggested that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, come to the House to discuss the requirements of the city of Dublin over the next 25 to 30 years. That is a worthwhile suggestion, and I will allocate time for this purpose. As the Senator's party is responsible for Private Members' business next week, if the Senator wishes to deal with this urgently, he might consult his colleagues about having the discussion during this time. Senator Alex White can inform us of the decision in this regard later in the week. Otherwise, it may take three to fourweeks.
Senator Jerry Buttimer called for a debate on education. I have no difficulty with this taking place over the next month or so.
Order of Business: Motion.
That in each sitting until the adjournment of the Seanad for the Christmas recess the Leader of the House be called to reply to the Order of Business no later than 40 minutes after the proposal of the Order of Business.