Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 8 Jul 2008

Vol. 190 No. 11

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on housing. It is proposed that No. 1 will be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business to conclude not later than 5.45 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for ten minutes, all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time with the agreement of the House. The Minister will be called ten minutes before the end of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons.

News on the economy continues to be very distressing, particularly for families whose homes are being repossessed. Yesterday we heard that the number is increasing weekly, as are the unemployment figures. Today the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance will unveil cutbacks apparently amounting to €450 million, although we await the figures. The Taoiseach bears a heavy responsibility for his time as Minister for Finance when his inflationary budgets killed competitiveness and the huge increases in day to day spending were financed by unsustainable property taxes. During his time as Minister there was stalled public sector reform and value for money principles were abandoned. The public will now pay the price for this when it hears today from the Government how it proposes to tackle the problem.

It is appropriate that I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that in view of the rising numbers of unemployed and the front line stress being caused to people, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment should come to the House to discuss the situation. We are seeing cutbacks already, particularly in the health service. I propose my amendment so that we can discuss these issues today. We need to hear the views of all Senators on the situation. Fine Gael launched its economic analysis and action plan last week, Recovery Through Reform, which I recommend to Senators. It outlines clearly the issues that need to be tackled by the Government, issues the Taoiseach failed to tackle during his period as Minister for Finance.

I take the opportunity, with Senator Boyle here as Deputy Leader, to raise two issues of environmental concern. First, we are the only country that has not signed up to the Aarhus Convention. It would be of assistance to residents concerned about the toxic waste at Haulbowline in Cork, if this convention was signed by the Government. It is extraordinary that we have two Green Party Ministers, yet we are the only EU state not to ratify the convention. What is the Government approach on this?

I have another concern with regard to the situation at Haulbowline in Cork and am very interested in hearing Senator Boyle's response to it. My concern is that the Government is threatening legal action against an environmental consultant who is trying to alert the public to the risk posed at Haulbowline. We have talked often about whistleblower's legislation, yet it appears that this man has been warned not to release any documentation on work he did for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government relating to the island. What approach are the Green Party and its Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government taking to this, given that the Government appears to be threatening a whistleblower with legal action for trying to raise environmental concerns?

I hope the Deputy Leader will address this question. Many people see this man as doing a public duty by trying to get information into the public arena. Perhaps the reports are wrong on this and if they are, perhaps Senator Boyle can inform the House on the issue. It is important for the House to have accurate information on the issue.

It feels a little like the end of school term today. I am not going to call for a discussion on the economy because we will have the opportunity to do that tomorrow. However, like at the end of school term, we should give ourselves some homework to do. This should apply no matter who we are, whether Members of the House, civil servants of Departments, Ministers or citizens.

One of the major topics of discussion at the G8 meeting currently taking place in Japan is the question of food shortages around the world. Some 20% of the world's population consumes 80% of the world's food. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs where we heard from both Oxfam and Trócaire, who talked about the significant problems that exist. Although I do not intend to talk about the economy today, I hope that when we consider the savings we will make, we do not drop the ball with regard to the target we have set for ourselves of trying to reach 0.7% of GDP for developing aid before 2012. We must ensure we do not drop it, as we are not really achieving what we set out to do in that area.

Another area of concern is the amount of waste food that exists. The figures published in Britain yesterday suggest that 6.7 million tonnes of food are thrown away every day by households. I gather if one adds what those nasty supermarkets do, the amount of waste is huge. I inquired from Repak whether it could supply figures in respect of Ireland and, while it could not supply the exact data, it indicated that the proportionate amount of waste would be 337,000 tonnes. I am not sure how we achieve that but it is apparently almost one third of everything we buy in supermarkets. This is a matter which we as a nation can address by saving the food we currently waste and buying only what we need to consume.

Last week, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food heard an interesting presentation from the professor of genetics at Trinity College Dublin, who spoke about using science to produce better food. I know that talk of genetically modified organisms sends shivers up people's backs but let us keep an open mind on what we can do, both as individual citizens and collectively as a nation, to increase the production of food globally. We need to avoid taking our eyes off the ball, particularly in regard to encouraging the G8 to meet the targets they have set. It is possible for us to achieve much more.

The other figure which frightened us is the increase in world population from its current 6 billion to 8 billion by 2025. We may not be able to produce sufficient food for that population if we do not do something about it. At present, one person in the world dies from hunger every minute. If that is happening now and matters could become worse in the future, we should do everything we can as individuals and as nations to solve the problem.

It was stated in a recent newspaper report that taxpayers are paying up to €4 million per week to keep in hospital patients who are fit for discharge. More than 700 patients each week are forced to remain in hospital because the follow-up services they require are either not in place or have limited availability. The report referred to these people as "bed-blockers", a term which I find offensive because, as service users, they have no control over the duration of their hospital stay. The Department of Health and Children has repeatedly promised to increase the number of nursing home beds to cater for those who need convalescent care prior to discharge. It appears the number of people taking up acute beds unnecessarily has increased in the past year.

I am concerned about two aspects of this issue. It is well documented that minimising hospital stays can reduce the incidence of MRSA and Clostridium difficile. It is essential that patients are in hospital for acute reasons that require hands-on care and immediate and active treatment, followed by which they should be discharged as quickly as possible for the benefit of all. The availability of non-invasive and supportive services would have a significant impact on the management of these patients. These services could be provided by health care professionals, such as GPs, community physiotherapists and public health nurses. It should not be necessary for a patient to remain in hospital for treatments such as wound dressing or physiotherapy where these can be offered in the community.

When services go through cutbacks or restructuring, we should take cognisance of the reasons people might be in hospital and the impact this has on costs. It is estimated that an acute hospital bed costs almost €1,700 per week, which is approximately six times the cost of keeping a patient in a nursing home. Not everybody requires nursing home care or can be immediately discharged from an acute hospital setting. We need to reconsider how the HSE supplies services and I hope we can help to formulate a meaningful policy when we hold our debate on this issue.

Before I call the next speaker, I welcome to the House the former Member of Dáil and Seanad Éireann, Mr. Pat Gallagher, and his wife and family, who are in the Public Gallery. Mr. Gallagher has left this House for greener pastures.

I wish to raise two issues one of which relates to the food surplus, as raised by Senator Quinn. I acknowledge the EU initiative regarding the distribution of fruit to all primary schools and the value of this initiative in the context of the continuing growth of obesity levels in young children.

While it is too late at this stage to ask for a debate on this matter perhaps the Deputy Leader could seek from the Minister for Health and Children an information note on the number of beds available for people with eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia and so on. A rise in obesity levels and other health-related issues owing to a lack of food or of too much food can have a knock-on effect in terms of mental health services, current statistics for which are low. Perhaps the Deputy Leader could obtain for us information in respect of the provision of beds in this area during the next five to ten years.

The second issue relates to the financing of hospitals. Previously, the worse a hospital performed the more money it received. However, following a change in policy — I am open to correction on this — it is now the case that the best performing hospitals get the most money. It is important the Minister for Health and Children provides us with information in regard to the work being undertaken to ensure hospitals maximise the funding allocated to them. Letterkenny General Hospital recently announced it is to close a number of beds. We must ensure patients do not suffer as a result of cutbacks.

I ask that an evaluation be undertaken to ascertain if we are getting value for money and patients are obtaining a service. It is extremely important we listen to and support hospitals and that in turn, hospitals meet the mark in respect of outstanding issues.

The Government is pulling a stunt in rushing through the House this week the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008. The Dáil is dealing with Committee and Report Stages of the Bill today. The Seanad will tomorrow take Second Stage of the Bill and will take Committee and Report Stages on Thursday. Adequate time should be provided for public consultation in regard to the tabling of appropriate amendments to substantive legislation. Also, the legislation should be adequately debated in this House.

In rushing through this legislation, the Government is hiding its failure to adhere to its legislative programme. Very little of the legislation contained in the legislative programme has been enacted by the Oireachtas this year. The only substantive piece of legislation enacted was the Finance Bill which is flawed legislation bearing in mind it is effectively being amended today in respect of changes to planned expenditure as a result of a shortfall in tax take and the over-shoot of expenditure, both of which were predictable at the beginning of the year.

The Government proposes to introduce in the autumn comprehensive legislation on the sale of alcohol. I believe the Intoxicating Liquor Bill and that legislation should be taken together. This would ensure there is adequate time for parliamentary scrutiny of this legislation. We cannot complain about the inadequate time available in respect of the scrutiny of EU legislation while at the same time accepting the Government's fixing of procedure to ensure there is inadequate time for proper parliamentary scrutiny by both Houses of this type of legislation. I ask that the Leader consider my proposal which will ensure this legislation, which affects a number of interests with views on the matter that need to be considered by politicians, is not rushed through this House.

In view of the emphasis on food production at the G8 summit, I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on genetic modification. Whatever opinions one has on genetic modification, there could surely be no basis for objecting to genetic modification of bio-fuel crops, which are used solely for energy purposes, including the provision of electricity. In light of the current world food crisis, in which Ireland, as a food producer, can play a major role, this debate should take place at the earliest opportunity.

I support Senator Regan's comments about rushing through the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. I agree entirely that it seems most inappropriate to give such a short time in the Seanad to such an important Bill. I do not see what the urgency is. Why can the Deputy Leader not arrange for more time to be given to the debate in the autumn?

That would be worth doing.

I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House for a debate on the economy. At a time when we are hearing from the Government about what it calls necessary savings or adjustments but what any sane person would call cutbacks, and in view of the fact that these cutbacks will hurt the most vulnerable, it is important that we have such a debate. I have spoken before in the House about the difficulties faced by staff, particularly HSE front-line staff, who have nobody to replace them when they go on maternity leave or annual leave and are therefore forced to offer reduced or scaled down services to patients and clients. It is appalling, and it is important that we ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to deal with this issue.

I also ask the Deputy Leader for resumption of the debate on a Bill I introduced in the House in October, the Climate Protection Bill 2007. It is still on Second Stage and there is time left on this Stage. I have had correspondence from the Deputy Leader in which he made various points about how other things needed to fall into place, but I ask him to ensure that we resume debate on this Bill early in the next session. It is important, for all the reasons expressed when the Bill was first introduced, that rather than dealing with this issue through political promises, we introduce legislation geared at reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. This week Fianna Fáil Senators put down a back-slapping motion congratulating the Government on how much has been done to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. However, it would be far more practical if we were to pass legislation that sets binding targets, not just for this Government but for future Governments, in tackling climate change.

I commend Senator Quinn on the point he made regarding waste of food in a time of food shortages. In some ways he may have set in train a new awareness of our responsibility to those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Hundreds of thousands of people die from starvation. We see terrible pictures on our television screens from time to time. I am sure we all feel a pang of guilt when putting excess food in the dustbin. If the figures are correct, and the level of food wastage is in the region of 337,000 tonnes per year, there should be a campaign to prevent this and to give assistance to those who need help. Irish people are particularly generous when requested to give money during famines in other parts of the world.

I hope the points made by Senator Quinn are not forgotten and do not just disappear into the record of the House. I suggest to the eminent Senator, in view of the influence he has, that he consider convening an all-party group in the House on this very issue. We could create a new impetus on this matter. We all think about ourselves and our own problems but compared to problems experienced by people around the world they are small. I expect Ireland to provide leadership on this and respectfully make my suggestion. I would be prepared to go along if the Senator convenes such a meeting.

I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the economy and on employment in general. The trends in recent live register figures are worrying. The Government was happy to use the housing boom to conceal our declining competitiveness in exports and manufacturing. Now thousands of young Irish construction workers, skilled in various trades, find it hard to get work. I call on the Acting Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, to come before the House to outline the Government's plans to re-skill and upskill these workers to help them face the new employment challenges. Senators should be allowed debate the roles of FÁS and various Government agencies in this issue. I formally second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.

Much has been said about provisional licences and the testing taking place at the moment. When the Minister for Transport delayed the enforcement of legislation on provisional driving licences he set a target of ten weeks for the various licensing centres. I have a list of these centres before me and they all issue test notices in less than ten weeks. However, I have doubts about this. A couple of people contacted me about testing dates that were set. A young lady who works as a veterinary nurse twenty miles from the testing centre had a test set for this week, Thursday, 10 July. She holds a provisional licence, has done all her lessons and was ready to sit the test on Thursday. She received a call last week from a private number to inform her that her test had been cancelled. No reasons were given and she received a letter yesterday stating that she must wait a further six to eight weeks for her test. This is very unfair to people who have prepared for a test. I wonder whether the figures stating that the target of ten weeks is being met are credible. Are tests merely being arranged in a number crunching way to allow targets be met? This is how it seems to me. Cancellation of tests like this is unfair to young drivers and drivers on provisional licences who have prepared for the test. I ask the Acting Leader to request that the Minister for Transport investigate this and ensure adequate resources are allocated for the proper testing of provisional drivers.

I ask the Acting Leader to organise a debate urgently on head shops. This issue was brought to my attention in my midlands constituency in recent days. A young man went into a so-called head shop, bought herbal cigarettes and ended up in hospital in intensive care. The young man in question was 17 years of age and had never been in trouble in his life. He neither drank alcohol nor smoked ordinary cigarettes and was a fit person but he ended up in a psychotic state.

I have done some research and have spoken to local gardaí and these head shops are all legal and above board. To my mind this is an outrage. In a newspaper yesterday the Minister spoke of the increased number of heroin addicts. These so-called head shops sell all sorts of devices that help people smoke heroin. One can buy seeds, drugs and drug related devices there and I have been told they are "legal".

What sort of message are we sending to young people if we allow such shops to trade on high streets all over the country? I am aware that a similar shop in Galway has been closed. I ask the Minister to come before us, as Members of the Upper House of the Oireachtas, to tell us what he proposes to do and the legislation he intends to draft urgently to close these dreadful shops once and for all.

With the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, the second issue I wish to raise relates to affordable housing, though I know there will be a debate on housing later. It is necessary that councils are able to renegotiate with developers considering the glut of vacant houses, amounting to thousands. There is a considerable number on the housing list. On behalf of councils, the Minister should renegotiate ways in which they can buy the houses at a cheaper price than they could normally do. This would constitute a payback by developers given the amount of money made by them in recent years. It would reduce the number on housing waiting lists throughout the country.

Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Leas Cheannaire. An gcuirfidh sé ceist ar an Taoiseach agus ar an Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha an rachfaidh siad i ngleic leis an cheist ó thaobh na himircigh atá sna Stáit Aontaithe, Meiriceá? The Deputy Leader may be aware that, in recent months, there has been an intensification of the imprisonment of undocumented Irish in the United States and of deporting them back to this island. Three people from my county are awaiting deportation for the past couple of months. A young 27 year old has been in a correction centre for a number of weeks and is awaiting deportation to Ireland. Another young lad from my constituency was held in a prison for more than a month. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs to engage with the political parties in the United States and particularly the two presidential candidates, Senator McCain, who has sponsored US immigration legislation, and Senator Obama. The Spanish league has already engaged with the two candidates. I ask that the Taoiseach, along with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to use his trip to the Untied States this July to deal with this issue as effectively and speedily as possible.

The Deputy Leader said three months ago that the gateway innovation fund was due to be announced the following week. There is serious concern in the eight gateways where the €300 million pilot fund was supposed to be invested. The spatial strategy means nothing to those in most of the gateways because the funds have not been made available. This was supposed to be the first slice of the cake but it is now feared they will be subject to the cutbacks the Government is announcing. The Deputy Leader may have information on when the gateway innovation fund will be announced.

On health care, what is happening in Letterkenny General Hospital is appalling. The cutbacks or budgetary constraints in the hospital are ridiculous. Health care is supposed to involve putting patients first. When the Taoiseach opened the short-stay unit in Letterkenny just over a year ago, he said it was a major step forward. That the ward is now closing, thereby taking 20 beds out of the system in the hospital, is a major step backwards. Coupled with the fact that day services are being scaled back for the month of August, what is happening, including the activity of the Government, is ridiculous. I ask that the Deputy Leader exert some pressure on the Government or facilitate a debate. The problem is not unique to Letterkenny in that it features in Galway and elsewhere. Let there be no doubt that other hospitals will withdraw services over the summer months.

On a final point——

Other speakers are waiting. That is the Senator's fourth point.

I support the amendment to the Order of Business to facilitate inviting the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House. We are having a debate on the economy tomorrow, which will probably last two hours. We will then head off on our sabbatical, or whatever one wants to call it, for 13 weeks.

The Senator's point is made.

There will be no debate in the Chambers of the Oireachtas.

The Senator's point is made. I call Senator Buttimer.

I ask that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment be invited to the House today in order that we can debate the subject the rest of the country will be talking about over the summer.

The Senator has made his point and has sought the debate. I ask him to resume his seat.

We will not have an opportunity to have it.

I note the Deputy Leader was very fast to defend the Government in respect of the economy this morning. How times have changed.

Has the Senator a question?

I am supporting the amendment proposed to the Order of Business. Some 19,000 people——

Is the Senator asking me a question?

Senator Buttimer, on a question to the Deputy Leader.

That was typical of the smart-aleck glib reply that got the Senator into Government.

The Senator should not use such language.

This is typical of Senator Boyle. He is defending the Government on a matter about which he was complaining 18 months ago. He has not changed.

The Senator should ask a question.

He is not listening to the people. As 19,000 additional people are affected today, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment must come before the House to discuss unemployment and the loss of our manufacturing base.

I rise primarily to ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate a debate on social work cover in Cork city and generally, in light of the report in today's edition of the Irish Examiner that a 15 year old boy spent two nights in a Garda cell in Mallow and has been waiting for five days for social workers to visit him and his family. While that may be good enough for the Green Party’s Ireland, it is not good enough for the Ireland and Cork I represent. I ask for a debate in this regard. The Deputy Leader may make smart comments but I represent people in this House.

The Senator should have some perspective.

I represent people in this House——

And we do not.

Unlike the rest of us.

——and this is a serious matter.

The Senator should speak through the Chair to the Deputy Leader.

I seek an urgent debate on the role of social workers and the provision of out-of-hours coverage at weekends. Life does not end at 4 p.m. on Friday only to restart at 9 a.m. on Monday. I commend the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors on raising the issue today. Answers are required from the Deputy Leader and the Government on the reason no out-of-hours coverage is available at weekends. This is another indication of recruitment freezes, cutbacks——

——and of the Government being inhumane to people.

And of certain professions wanting to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday.

Senator Buttimer, without interruption.

It is an appalling vista for the Government that a young boy——

It is a lack of vocationalism.

I am concluding, Cathaoirleach.

Senator Buttimer has made that point.

It is appalling that a young boy was obliged to spend two nights in a Garda cell. Shame on the Government.

The Senator's point is made. I call Senator Cummins.

I join Senators Regan and Bacik in respect of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. Although the Intoxicating Liquor Bill will complete its passage through the Dáil only tonight, its Second Stage debate in the Seanad will take place tomorrow. How much time will be made available to table amendments on Thursday? How much time will be available between Committee and Report Stages to allow amendments on Thursday?

The Bill is based on the commission's recommendations.

The manner in which the business of the House is ordered for the week is deplorable. Although the Government is trying to rush through this legislation, its record on introducing legislation to either House has been deplorable in the past 12 months.


Hear, hear.

Although the number of Bills that have been put through this House is disgraceful, an attempt is being made to rush through the House the Intoxicating Liquor Bill in a couple of days. It requires more careful scrutiny. If one speaks of Seanad reform——

——that is no way to go about it. This House has met many times in the week after the Dáil has risen and there is no reason Members should not return next week to discuss this Bill properly.


Hear, hear.

Hear, hear. Let Members do so.

I ask the Deputy Leader to consider that course of action. It is unfair to staff, let alone Members, to introduce Committee and Report Stage amendments in the amount of time allowed. The staff are being asked to work overnight.

Is the Senator trying to delay its passage on behalf of the vintners?

A sitting next week should be considered as a matter of urgency if the Deputy Leader is serious about proper debate on Bills, of which few are passing through the House. If a proper debate is required, the Deputy Leader should be prepared to allow Members to return next week to discuss the Bill.

Were that to happen, it would scare the life out of the Senator.

In recent years, great developments, as well as new services and supports have been put in place in the health service. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange either clarification or a briefing document with regard to the co-operation and liaison that takes place on the discharge of older people from hospital to community care teams. While I have the height of admiration and respect for those working in this area, it has been brought to my attention that on occasion there appears to be a breakdown in respect of the discharge and the required supports and new services for those elderly people. I would be obliged if the Deputy Leader could get that information.

In light of the Cabinet's meeting today to approve cuts in Government spending to save approximately €400 million, it would be timely that we would have an urgent debate on how in a time of crisis and cutbacks we would order our priorities.

On an international level, it is estimated by most informed commentators that the money promised at the Gleneagles summit by the G8 in 2003 — €50 billion to Africa and elsewhere by 2010 — will fall short by approximately €30 billion. This suggests that, internationally, there is great evidence of selfishness among the richer governments of the world. When it comes to making priorities, the poorest of the world's poor are not top of the list.

Domestically, we also need to ask ourselves where will we make the Government cutbacks. Will we make them in such a way that the most vulnerable in our society suffer? Our colleague, Senator Mary White, in her report What We Can Do About Suicide in the New Ireland, makes the point today that there is a shortfall in the money made available to the National Office for Suicide Prevention. The estimated €3.5 million for this year falls short by approximately €2 million of what it was recommended it get a couple of years ago. The Abbey Theatre is getting ten times that amount — I do not grudge it that amount — but I worry about whether at a time like this the influential people will still get what they want and the most powerless and the most vulnerable will be the most easily excised from the list of priorities.

The arts were always excised from the priorities.

On the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Fitzgerald to debate the economy, on which Senators Bacik, Doherty, Coffey, Buttimer and Mullen have also commented, we are having a debate on the economy tomorrow in the form of statements and it is not in order to offset the Order of Business to have a special debate today as well.

That said, many of us are waiting with anticipation for the announcement at 3.30 p.m. of the new spending allocations. Tomorrow's statements will probably give the House a better opportunity of debating the matter. My understanding is that the choices being made by the Government will put emphasis on protecting the least vulnerable in society, to whom Senator Mullen referred, give consideration to keeping up spending on infrastructure and ensure that the spending allocations, particularly on capital spending, are readjusted according to new time lines for projects rather than imposing direct cuts in current services.

Closing hospital wards.

We will wait and see what is proposed.

New time lines means postponement or cancellation.

We are concerned here with a spending adjustment of €450 million out of a budget of €53 billion.

If they did not squander it, they would have it to spend.

The actual spending in 2008 will be along the same lines as 2007.

Senator Boyle is buying into the spin. He has learned well in 12 months.

The Deputy Leader without interruption.

The situation in which the country finds itself, particularly in terms of public expenditure, is not the preferred course. However, the way to look to our future economic development is through reasoned debate rather than through constant belligerence.

They are all about that.

This House deserves better than finger pointing and name calling.

They have been practising that for years.

They made their reputation on it.

Let us have a debate on unemployment today.

I will adjourn the House if Senators will not allow the Deputy Leader reply.

It deserves better than a Greek chorus of constant sloganising. There are those in the House who are willing in such a debate and I look forward to tomorrow's debate as an opportunity to consider how we progress in that area.

Senator Fitzgerald also asked about the Aarhus Convention, which is in the programme for Government. It is intended to implement it as quickly as possible. There are four consents outstanding that need to be changed to allow Ireland to comply with the convention. Three of those are within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and one is within the Office of Public Works. As soon as those consents are changed Ireland will be in full compliance——

It is the fault of Fianna Fáil.

——and an order will be signed to that effect, hopefully in the months to come.

Last Thursday Senator Fitzgerald asked about the position on the EU directive on environmental liability. This will be a part of the Environmental (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to be published in the autumn.

Senator Fitzgerald also raised the matter of the newspaper report about Haulbowline Island, the consultant of the sub-contractor involved and threats made by the Government related to court cases being taken. It is my understanding that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated, in reference to the contractual dispute, that it did not want information given to the sub-contractor in the course of undertaking that contract to be made public. In the meantime the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has already made information available in the form of the 2005 report and has given a public undertaking that all information relating to the Hawlbowline site is, and will be, made available to the public. This includes information in the possession of previous Governments dating from 1995 and 2002. When all such information is available I wish to hear an explanation from those in Government at that time of why they sat on the problem.

The Senator is passing the buck.

Will the officials still pursue——

I call the Deputy Leader without interruption, please.

Will the officials still pursue the contractor? The Senator is saying the Minister is doing one thing and his officials something else.

That is not a point of order.

The question of information is not an issue of contention. All information will be made publically available.

Will he be pursued legally?

This issue concerning the contract is separate. There is correspondence from the Chief State Solicitor about those who were asked to stop work and refused to do so. The work they were doing was causing an environment hazard. That is the nature of the dispute.

It is not about the information?

The information will be made publicly available.

It has been made available already; the 2005 report was made available last week. This will be followed by the 2002 report.

It will also be followed by the 1995 report, which informed us of the sale of Irish Ispat, a company sold for €1 with no environmental responsibility whatsoever.

Come clean. Do not go back.

The company was given a five year derogation from compliance with an integrated pollution licence. That is the type of information that will inform this debate in future.

Senator Quinn raised the matter of food shortages and spoke of the other side of the coin in that regard. He spoke of the developed world and the shocking statistic that 20% of the world's population consume 80% of the food. It is important that we have a debate on this matter which should be informed by events at the G8 meeting this week. The Senator was joined by other Senators including Senator Hanafin and Senator Keaveney in requesting such a debate, which is worth having.

I have strong reservations about matters relating to the debate on GM food. Senator Hanafin raised the issue of genetically modified bio-fuel. The issue of bio-fuel is caught up with those of food shortages. There are people who seem to think we can continue to use the same amount of fuel to travel to the same extent and that we can simply replace the lack of oil with other substances such as bio-fuel. That mentality is creating food shortages elsewhere on the planet. Bio-fuel is a substitute, but not a replacement for the sources of fuel we use to travel. We need a wider debate on how, where and what we can grow and for what purposes.

There is also a need for a wider debate on GM food to consider how it contaminates other substances and the matter of GM food companies which hold onto patents, making it difficult to grow other foods in the future. There is a wider political and moral debate that needs to be held on those grounds. Such a debate is worth having and I am sure many in this House would be willing to participate.

Senator Prendergast and Senator Callely raised the issue of what is termed "bed-blocking". I accept the term is offensive and perhaps we should use the term "over-hospitalisation". This debate should include the need for step-down facilities and increased access to nursing homes.

It should also include home care packages.

The debate should also include the matter of community care responses. There is no argument about this. I refer to a discussion that Professor Tom Keane held about the reform of the cancer services in British Columbia. He said that money taken from bed spaces there was put directly into other alternative approaches. A debate on this subject, held in that tone with such helpful suggestions would be useful and would help structure national policy in the future. I look forward to such a debate.

Senators Regan, Bacik and Cummins raised questions about the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. The debate surrounding this Bill has run since the publication of the advisory group report on alcohol.

I am speaking about in this House.

We have had two special debates on alcohol in this House.

Alcohol is a different subject matter. It is not specific to the Intoxicating Liquor Bill.

They were not on the Bill.

The Acting Leader, without interruption.

On a point of order, what has been said is incorrect.

It is not correct.

I raised the Intoxicating Liquor Bill and he has not referred to it.

It is not a point of order.

It is based on the recommendations of the advisory group.

On a point of order, Committee Stage amendments must be in at 11 a.m. tomorrow, before Second Stage even begins.

There is no question but that it is being rushed.

I spoke in the general sense but I will address that question. We have had general debates in this House about the recommendations of the policy group.

We are speaking about the procedural matters.

If the Senator allows me finish, I will get to those points. The debate has been informed by those recommendations with regard to how the Bill is being taken both in the Dáil and in this House. From the Government's perspective, there is a wish to pass the Bill before the summer so its effect can be immediate.

That is not a basis for good legislation.

We can meet next week.

When we begin consideration of the Bill tomorrow, I am sure the Leader of the House will listen to debate and decide if additional time is available this week. The House has made a fairly clear decision about the session finishing this week so I am not sure the leeway exists. I have taken on board the concerns expressed today and if there is an opportunity for readjustment tomorrow, the case can be made again. The concerns made today will be communicated.

We will certainly make them again tomorrow.

Senator Bacik spoke about the Climate Protection Bill and the need for further debate. I am unsure whether she speaks directly about the Bill and its progression in its current form. I included in correspondence some of the concerns I have about waiting for the report of the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and decisions on the follow-up to Kyoto, which is expected from a major meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. It is still the Government's preferred course to wait for international decisions to be made before we progress with legislation. The Government still feels it is important this legislation remains on the Order Paper so it can help inform whatever legislation follows.

Senator Coffey brought up the issue of driver licensing, outlining particular concerns. I will seek to make information available to him as to why driver test centres would communicate cancellations to people in that way and whether it affects statistics in the way described by the Senator.

Senator McFadden talked about head shops which exist in several urban centres across the country. My understanding is the materials sold there are subject to control by the Irish Medicines Board. Whereas they may be unconventional and have the type of effects described, questions must be asked in the first instance about the particular substances sold. If paraphernalia is being sold in these shops which can be used for other drug uses, I would consider it a more serious charge. If information can be supplied on that, the Minister should respond to queries of that nature and we will seek to have a debate on that.

The question of affordable housing may be more immediately answered in today's debate and I am sure the Minister of State with responsibility for housing can speak on Government policy in this area.

Senator Doherty asked about the undocumented Irish and more or less answered his own question in the sense that it is an issue in the American presidential campaign. His concerns will be forwarded to the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs to see if the two candidates will be involved in an initiative in that regard.

The Senator also spoke about the gateway innovation fund and I am conscious that I said decisions were imminent. I was informed that the consultants making recommendations to the Government had made their report. The interim time which is about two months since has been about debate in the Government about how and when finalised decisions will be made and the public announcement will follow. I understand such an announcement is imminent and I am not led to believe the issues at hand are affected by today's announcement. However, as I do not know the contents of the announcement, we must wait and see.

Senators Doherty and Keaveney referred to the announcement of ward closures. We need to discover to what extent these closures are additional to the usual ward closures in August or whether they are linked to a policy under which resources are allocated on a performance related basis. I will seek information on the matter from the Minister for Health and Children. I share the Senators' concern about Letterkenny General Hospital, which does excellent work. My father passed away in that hospital.

Senator Buttimer, when he got around to putting a question, asked about social work cover in the Cork area. As someone who has worked in the community and youth work area, I share the Senator's concern. The current approach to social work has resulted in poor service delivery across the country for several years. The problem is only partially related to resources and may be attributed to a culture within social services and the manner in which they are delivered. I would be pleased to facilitate a debate on social services in Cork or at national level.

The Senator made useful points with which I agree.

I am glad to hear it.

I have covered all Senators' contributions.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements on the increase in the number on the live register be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Twomey, Liam.


  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Fiona O’Malley and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.