The Order of Business is No. 1, a procedural motion to extend the number of matters that can be taken on the Adjournment to four, to be taken without debate. That was a recommendation from the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. We will have four Adjournment motions each day rather than three, with four minutes each for the proposer of the motion and the Minister in reply. That is an improvement that will be welcomed by everyone. No. 12, motion No. 1, is an all-party motion initiated by Senator John Crown regarding the detention by the Bahraini authorities of health care professionals, which will be taken without debate. No. 2, statements on the 20 year strategy for the Irish language, will be taken after the Order of Business and conclude at 2 p.m., with the contribution of each spokesperson not to exceed ten minutes and that of every other Senator not to exceed eight minutes, and the Minister to be called upon to conclude no later than 1.50 p.m. No. 3, Biological Weapons Bill 2010 — Committee and Remaining Stages, will be taken at 2 p.m. We agreed yesterday that we would take the Bill as there are just two procedural amendments from the Government to be tabled on Committee Stage and we should conclude it in a short time.
Order of Business
I welcome the change to the number of Adjournment debates proposed to the House today by the Leader. It is important that there would be four Adjournment matters allowed every day as it would allow more Senators to raise issues that are of concern.
On the agreed motion on Bahrain, it is a well worded motion that has been agreed by the House today. I thank Senator Crown for his work in that regard. If it is possible, will the Leader seek an update from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on his dealings with the Bahraini authorities in that regard?
Earlier in the week this House condemned a brutal murder in Donabate in north County Dublin. It saddens me to hear of another murder in Clondalkin last night. That is two murders in one week in the city of Dublin. We all realise this is something that cannot be stamped out immediately but I am sure the Government and the Garda authorities are doing everything they can in this regard. The murder of two fathers, who have been taken from their families prematurely, shows the absolute disregard for the value of human life. I roundly condemn these brutal killings and I wish the Garda well in its investigations. On my own behalf and that of the Fianna Fáil group, I extend deepest sympathy to the two families.
It has come to our attention that under the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 the universal social charge is included as a deduction when a means test is being done for a family income supplement. In other areas and for other allowances related to social welfare, the Bill, as published, does not permit the deduction of the universal social charge for the purpose of a means tests. The Minister for Social Protection, was extremely vocal as a Deputy when the universal social charge was introduced and prior to the election promised to have it reversed. That has not been done, which is fair enough; that is life. I urge the Minister to ensure that the amendments tabled by the Fianna Fáil Party in the Lower House on making the universal social charge deductible for the purpose of means tests for all social welfare allowances is accepted by the Government. Are there plans for the Minister for Social Protection to come before the Seanad in the coming weeks?
The Minister for Social Protection will be in the House in two weeks time to discuss a major Bill. I join Senator O'Brien in expressing sympathy to the family of the man shot dead in Clondalkin. It is sad to see in one week two such murders being committed in Dublin.
I welcome very much the all party motion, initiated by Senator John Crown, on Bahrain. It is most appropriate that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade comes to the Seanad at some stage, perhaps before the end of the session to discuss what can be done from an Irish perspective about the situation in Bahrain. All Members are deeply concerned about the treatment of the doctors who are being prosecuted because they assisted in giving medical treatment to people.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the reports of the abuse in a south Dublin nursing home and the wider questions those reports raise. The Irish Times today carries a report from HIQA that residents of a south Dublin nursing home were subjected to abuse. There are wider issues, not only about treatment of the elderly in nursing homes, which is itself very serious but also about the treatment of whistleblowers. One of the commitments in the programme for Government was to introduce a Bill protecting whistleblowers and this report shows the necessity for that.
May I respond to a comment made by Senator Mullen yesterday? I would not normally respond to personal comments but he asked for a response on something I was reported in the newspapers as having said on male genital mutilation during the World Atheists Convention last weekend. Perhaps not surprisingly, Senator Mullen, was not present. My paper was on another topic but I mentioned the Bill on female genital mutilation and somebody in the audience asked me what I thought about male genital mutilation, his words. I said I thought it was of a different scale and of a different order entirely to female genital mutilation but personally I do not believe that the cutting of a child's genitals for anything other than medical reasons is ever justified. I stand over that and I have had a good deal of support from individual members of the public on that stance. As a person who can barely bear to watch my children being vaccinated for very good reasons—
Is the Senator looking for a debate?
I am not, I am simply giving an answer. I look forward to Senator Mullen's support for any other measures that might be taken to ensure that we do not subscribe to views that are offensive to members of any other religion. For example, the fact that we have a Christian prayer at the start of business in the Seanad and in the Dáil could be seen as problematic for Members of other religions or for Members of no religion and that is something we might well seek to debate.
The Deputy Leader can propose a constitutional amendment.
That would not take a constitutional amendment, but I would certainly agree with a constitutional amendment on the offence of blasphemy, which is another matter that we have debated at length in the House.
A Chathaoirligh, it is a privilege to contribute to the work of this Chamber and I thank the Taoiseach for the opportunity to allow me to do so. I thank the Seanad staff for their assistance to newcomers like me in recent weeks. I offer my best wishes to all Members of the Seanad and hope this Chamber's connection with the people and its contribution to their welfare will be enhanced by what is said and what is done in the name of this Seanad.
I am sure that nobody would wish this Seanad to endlessly debate its own future. It would be wiser, would it not, to let the people debate the future of the Seanad and let the Seanad debate the future of the people, the future of our country?
For as long as this Seanad endures it has the potential to be much more than an enclosed space where Senators talk to each other, but rather an open space where we draw into official public discourse those who in these times of trial are sustaining family and community life, progressing our civic society, generating business and commerce, evolving our intellectual and cultural life and instituting the fresh thinking which can help us solve our many problems and evolve models of best practice. This Chamber can be a source of encouragement to all those in positions of leadership from street level right up to national level and in all spheres of influence so that every single ounce of energy is harnessed to guide and drive us through this very exacting period of our history.
The Seanad is a ready-made platform for regular public discourse with authoritative people invited here from all walks of life, whose experiences place them well to help us frame seminal, formative and pioneering debates. I was delighted to hear the Leader support such an initiative last Tuesday. Nowhere is the transformative power of dialogue and ideas more evident than in the peace process. The growing harmony now being experienced most be more enduring than mere respite and I urge all those not yet engaged with the peace process simply to think again. This Chamber can be a pivotal host of regular, respectful North-South interchange.
We face a decade of sensitive centenaries which with good forward planning could considerably consolidate peace on our island and we can play an important role in developing the peace dividend in terms of all island trade, commerce, shared services and collaborative initiatives, which promote mutual prosperity on the island.
I look forward with enthusiasm to working with colleagues in the Seanad to make this Chamber a place to which Irish citizens look for inspiration, reassurance, and encouragement. We are custodians of the trust of a good and great people. It is up to us by our actions as well as our words to make the mission of the Seanad relevant to their lives, their needs, their dreams and our Ireland.
It is an honour to follow those words of Senator McAleese. I will not touch on the words except what he said about "fresh thinking". I would love to instill the idea that this House can create fresh thinking. This is approximately the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk in Britain. Let us remember what happened in Dunkirk. The people of Britain were on their last legs and suddenly a degree of confidence and enthusiasm and belief in themselves came about. We are in a similar situation, a situation where we are facing a threat as big as Dunkirk was to Britain, but we can do something about it. This House can set an example. The one thing I do not want is that we call on the Government to do everything. We can set an example of doing it ourselves. This came into my mind yesterday when speaking about that island in Japan where there were threats to the airport. They got together and decided to do something about it themselves without looking for the government to subsidise it. We, the citizens, can do something about it. Instead of calling on the Government to do it, we could initiate a truly enthusiastic vigorous effort to support our local industries, shops and producers. I know this is the Order of Business and the Leader may be wondering what we can do here. I would like time to be allocated to debate active citizenship. Last year President McAleese talked about active citizenship, which is about the citizens saying that we can do it rather than asking someone else to do it. I have been through a number of towns in the past year and have found that some towns are spotless and some towns are very untidy. I hear people complaining that the council does not clean the streets often enough. One will find other towns where the shopkeepers and people who live there get out and clean the streets themselves. They do not litter them or if they do, they get out and clean themselves. When one person does it, then his or her neighbour does it also and it acts like a catalyst — that enthusiasm and belief in ourselves that we can do that sort of thing.
One thing we can do is to buy Irish. The Government is no longer allowed to support a buy Irish campaign because we cannot use State money to do it, but individually we can do it. In my experience in the supermarket business, we ran a buy local campaign and the local people discovered that they did not know certain items were made in their area or that a local factory employed so many people. I call on the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to come to the House to give us the chance to have that debate. I am not looking for any help or money. I am not looking for anything other than his ears in order that he could spearhead and drive that active citizenship to encourage us to do something ourselves. I believe this is the House that can do it. We can earn our keep and earn the respect of the country if we lead this. With enthusiasm, vigour and energy we can overcome the difficulties we are facing now, not by calling on someone else to do it but by doing it ourselves.
I wish to follow up on a matter raised yesterday by Senator Whelan on the shortfall in the number of junior doctors. He mentioned his area of Portlaoise and the midlands in general. My information is that there will be a shortfall of 450 junior doctors on 1 July. In other words, 450 places will not be filled. I understand this has come about as a result of centralising the applications system with little consultation with the people who manage individual hospitals. There has also been late advertising of posts. In addition, people coming from outside the European Union need to sit an examination to determine if they have adequate English. While everyone accepts that is very important, there is a delay in holding those examinations for those who are successful in getting posts. The training status has been removed in many junior hospital doctor posts. As a result, people are not even applying for the vacancies advertised.
I want the Minister to come to the House to explain how he proposes dealing with this matter between now and 1 July. I quote from an e-mail sent to me yesterday:
This centralised process has been a fiasco for niche jobs in small services such as ours. Medical Manpower continue to have their head in the sand despite increasingly frantic concern expressed by myself and others... over the past few weeks. We are either ignored or fobbed off with extremely brief emails indicating that they are just about to advertise. When we initially pointed out that they had overlooked our service and its posts about six weeks ago, we requested that we be permitted to advertise & recruit locally ourselves. We were refused such latitude.
With 450 posts going unfilled from 1 July, this issue needs to be addressed and the Minister needs to come to the House to explain how it will be done. We also need accountability regarding the people who made the mistakes in centralising the application process with delays in dealing with the job applicants and the advertising of the positions. It is an important issue that needs to be dealt with immediately and I ask that the Minister would come to the House in the next few days to give an explanation.
Last week I raised the issue of nursing homes and in particular the ownership structure of nursing homes. I am not aware if it is a problem in this country but it is a major problem in Great Britain. While the situation in the Rostrevor nursing home was bad enough, imagine what the burden on the State would be had that company or family owned 40 or 50 nursing homes. That issue needs to be addressed. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, committed to introduce whistleblower legislation for the health sector. While it is good for her to talk about that, when Fianna Fáil was in government such legislation was already brought in and was included when the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, was set up. There are questions over why HIQA, having given the all-clear to the Rostrevor nursing home last year, had to seek a court order this year to close it. I am glad it took that action, but it is hard to credit that circumstances would change so dramatically in a number of months.
I am glad to be able to address the issue of Navan hospital on the Adjournment. I note that the political campaigners in Sligo got the bad news last night from the Minister for Health that there would be no change in the national cancer strategy, which I support as it is in the interest of patients. I hope that when these false promises are shown to be the false promises they were, we will never again have the disgraceful political campaigning on the backs of sick people and cancer patients, which we saw in the run-up to elections in a number of areas. I am proud to have supported the national cancer strategy throughout even though some services were lost in the best interests of patients in my area.
This is my first time to speak in the 24th Seanad and I do so with a great sense of anticipation, joy and profundity. I say profundity, because I understand, as I know all Senators do, the responsibility and privilege of this position. I am one of the Taoiseach's nominees, or as Senator Crown likes to call us an "Enda-dependent". Such a nomination is an affirmation of 33 years in third level education, the arts and culture, and broadcasting. I hope to serve the nomination very well. I hope to serve the House with clarity of purpose, vision and action, and also with an articulate and melodic voice.
I hope to bring two distinctive and distinct qualities to the House. They are qualities that Einstein thought were good. Anything good enough for Einstein is good enough for me. The first is imagination — the kind of imagination that allows us to know that change can happen, that it can move things on, move them out and move them up, that it can unearth and unfurl, that it can be put into practice and be seen to happen, and that it can be qualitative, calculable and accountable for the people. The second quality is energy — energy to propel, infuse, motivate to action and push forward, with all other Senators, the route to that change. Without the energy of action, nothing happens. Language and argument are not enough; because we give something language does not mean it will happen. I intend to bring imagination and energy to the House.
In the past week we have heard from Senators as well as from television, radio and newspaper reports the human tragedy that was the Magdalene laundries. Many Senators, Deputies and Ministers have been involved in bringing this national scandal out into the open. Senator McAleese spoke about the possibility of inviting on a regular basis representative groups from Irish life into the House to inform, engage and reveal truths. I request that the first of these should be Jim Smith, the man who went through the State archives and found the evidence of State complicity in the incarceration and labour exploitation of women and girls in the Magdalene laundries. I also suggest the brilliant lawyer, Maeve O'Rourke, who wrote the submission as to why the State was responsible and presented it in Geneva allowing the United Nations Committee Against Torture to tell the Government that the issues of a thorough investigation and compensation had to be addressed.
A UK Labour Party councillor for Hackney, Ms Sally Mulready, who leads the survivors' group has also told us what the State must do. These are the examples that the Seanad needs to platform in its regular public discourse and about which Senator Martin McAleese spoke. I am very privileged and humbled to have been chosen to be in the Seanad. Circumstances in the country cannot be shocking because a commission, or a television or radio show tells us they are; we need to know ourselves when they are shocking. It is our problem and we need to deal with it. I respectfully suggest and request that the Leader consider my proposal as one of the first steps in restoring the relevance of the Seanad to the people.
The Chair was lenient with the Senator in making her maiden speech.
It is very difficult to follow the maiden speeches of Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Martin McAleese, whom I commend for their thought-provoking and powerful contributions. Senator Martin McAleese called for this House to act, be relevant and ensure it does its business. When Senator Feargal Quinn spoke about active citizenship, I was reminded that Margaret Thatcher had suggested there was no such thing as society or communities, that there were only individuals. How wrong she was. It is good that we in Ireland value society and our sense of community. We are very proud of this.
I join Senator Ivana Bacik and others in condemning what we now see as a catalogue of abuse in the Rostrevor nursing home, which has surfaced in the media. We should be conscious of this and act upon it. The Senator was correct to highlight that, while the abuse in the nursing home was tragic and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, there were wider issues. People who work in such institutions should be able to come forward and tell outsiders or inquiries what is happening therein. I am sure abuses are not occurring in the Rostrevor facility alone. I am sure similar abuses are taking place elsewhere across the State. In recent weeks we have dealt with issues arising from historical cases of abuse in institutions in the State. Let us ensure that in ten or 15 years Members of this House, if it still exists, and the Dáil will not be talking about the abuses in nursing homes about which we are now reading and hearing. I refer to older people who should be treated with respect and dignity being treated in a truly shocking fashion. There is a need for us to have a full discussion about nursing home provision and standards, and also about the ability of members of staff in these facilities to come forward and state what is happening therein.
Yesterday I raised two issues, but they were not addressed by the Leader of the House. One concerned the review of the taxi industry by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. This is an important review and we should have an opportunity to be part of the discussion. I also called for a debate on housing, which is fundamental to society. It is one of the big issues affecting people. The latest CSO figures suggest there is an urgent need for us to debate it.
Will the Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food intervene to solve the problems that forced a number of farmers to sit in on the premises of the Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food on Kildare Street? I believe they stayed there last night.
Is the Leader aware of the Government's timescale for legislating for the tax elements of the civil partnership legislation? I understand it is now intended to provide for these changes in a finance (No. 3) Bill, but I am concerned about the delay in bringing the Bill forward. The State has been recognising foreign civil partnerships since January and domestic partnerships since April. The delay in legislating for the tax rights and responsibilities of couples in civil partnerships is unfair. I hope that when the finance (No. 3) Bill is brought forward, its effect will be retrospective. Legislating for civil partnership was one of the key achievements of the last Government.
I recognise and celebrate the role of Members of this House, particularly Senators David Norris, Katherine Zappone and Ivana Bacik, in advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people over a long period. I urge the Leader to make the necessary arrangements for the finance (No. 3) Bill to be introduced in the House at the earliest possible opportunity.
I welcome the very interesting contributions made by two of our distinguished new colleagues in the House this morning. I was particularly taken by a comment of Senator Martin McAleese on the obligation on us all to have respectful or sensitive commemorations of the various historical events that will occur in the next decade or so. Almost six years ago I asked in this House that the then Government begin preparations for the centenary celebration of the 1916 Rising. That celebration will have to be approached in a very careful and sensitive fashion. This House is a forum in which we could debate and consider the types of commemorations that would be most appropriate.
I support my colleagues who have asked for a detailed debate on nursing homes. In the previous Seanad I frequently raised the issue of the care of the elderly. Even when we were bringing forward legislation to deal with nursing homes and make financial provision therefor, I expressed my profound concern that our only aspiration as a society appeared to be to provide what I described as a "clean bed in a clean nursing home". If that is our only aspiration for elderly people, we are in a very sad place.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me a little latitude. There is a powerful editorial in today's edition of the Irish Examiner referring to indifference. A major speech entitled, The Perils of Indifference, was made many years ago by Jewish scholar Elie Wiesel. We are now demonstrating the perils of indifference to the elderly. We need to reflect on this as a society and have a very constructive, inclusive debate on our aims for the elderly. These aims must be more ambitious than simply providing a bed in a nursing home. A nursing home must be an inclusive place in an inclusive society. I would welcome an urgent debate on nursing home care, but the debate on the elderly should be far wider than this.
I echo the sentiments of my colleagues who condemned the abuses in the Rostrevor nursing home. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House to discuss not only abuses in nursing homes but also abuses across all institutions of the Health Service Executive, including general and psychiatric hospitals. He should seek to carry out a review of historical cases of abuse that may have been reviewed internally in the relevant institutions but which may have been put to bed when evidence went missing. There are legacies of abuse in such institutions. I have a very close friend, a psychiatric nurse, who tried to raise issues associated with the abuse of patients, but he was cast aside and had to leave his job as a result. While there is much talk about whistleblower legislation, we must ensure it is enforced.
I echo Senator Averil Power's comments on legislation on civil partnership. Before the collapse of the last Government, there was a commitment to make the required legislative changes in the Finance (No. 2) Bill this year. I ask that the changes be legislated for speedily.
During the Adjournment debate last Tuesday night which was ably facilitated by the Leas-Chathaoirleach I spoke about a funding problem affecting a suicide prevention initiative in Cork. Unfortunately, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs could offer no comfort to me on the matter and it seems funding will not be restored. During my contribution at that time I made clear my intention to ask the House to lay aside time for a full debate on this most pressing of issues. The issue of suicide is the greatest single challenge facing us as a community where 527 people a year die by suicide, and many who work in this area believe that figure is considerably underestimated. The Cathaoirleach might advise me or facilitate a full debate on this most pressing of issues.
Has the Leader been able to establish the status of the historic buildings in Moore Street? I raised this matter two weeks ago because it is becoming somewhat urgent at this stage if we are to prepare to have a development in Moore Street in time for 2016. The Leader will recall that in the last weeks of the previous Seanad we had an exceptionally good debate in this Chamber with all parties subscribing to the views being put forward, but what was particularly significant about the debate was that in the Gallery were relatives of all the 1916 leaders, the first time since 1916 that the relatives came out in a united fashion to back any single proposal. Meetings took place with the Taoiseach at that time, the appropriate Ministers and the officials from the Departments and it was clear we were gradually reaching a stage where there was support for the plans being put forward by the committee at that time.
It would be a significant development because it would be an important focal point of the centenary. This is where the leaders surrendered in 1916. It is the Alamo of Ireland in many ways. It would be very important because it would give people the opportunity to visit the buildings and experience what happened at that time. It would be good for schools which could have projects on it. Above all else, however, from a tourist point of view, we have seen in the surveys that history is in the top three interests for all tourists coming into the country, and I could see these historic buildings being exceptionally successful. I do not know if the Leader has had the opportunity of establishing the status and, if not, I can understand that, but he might have a discussion with the Taoiseach on this matter because the group promoting this idea should be met. They may have been met already but I would like to think we would not let the opportunity pass.
I understand there are also opportunities for investment moneys being made available and therefore all the money would not come from the public purse. The GPO seems to be sidelined to some extent. I might be wrong in that and when we get the report we will know but the GPO was very much to the fore in the initial prospective plans. I believe the plans for the centenary are now reaching an advanced stage. I would very much appreciate it if the Leader could ascertain that information for us.
It would be remiss not to comment on the two maiden speeches of both Senator O'Donnell and Senator McAleese. It is evident that the Taoiseach chose well.
I wish to make two points. First, I was disturbed to read media reports in recent days of significant overpayments within the Health Service Executive. Funds are tight and people are suffering enough but to see computerised self-generated systems significantly overpaying in terms of contracts, staff and so on is worrying.
Second, I agree with previous speakers on the issue of care of the elderly, what is happening in nursing homes and the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, report. It would be important for the Minister for Health to come to the House and update Members on what is happening with HIQA. It is disturbing that closure orders have been served on three nursing homes since 2009, and from what we are hearing there may be many more, but we need a national discussion on the important issue of care of the elderly. I agree with Senator Bradford that it is not a straightforward position of putting people in nursing homes. Older people should be able to live in their own homes independently for as long as is humanely possible. They are the people who created this society and given us the future we are going to have and it is important that we would have a national debate on this issue. I suggest the Leader should talk to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, about setting up a structure whether it be a commission on the status of older people or finding some way of ensuring we have a debate and that we, as legislators, ensure the tools are available for older people to live a full, healthy and interactive life, with access to entertainment, sport and whatever else they wish for as long as possible. We have let down older people in recent years and we have an opportunity to redress that but a debate is necessary.
I want to refer to two contributions earlier before making my main point. First, the Leader and the House would do well to take on board the cogent and eloquent contribution from Senator Martin McAleese. The sentiments outlined in his contribution would chart a way forward for the Seanad. His words clearly illustrate the reason the Presidency has become relevant and respected by the people in the past 14 years. We could do a lot worse than embrace fully what Senator McAleese said.
Second, I concur fully with my colleague, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. He has championed the cause of those buildings in Moore Street which were pivotal in the retreat from the GPO in 1916. While I am sure the wish of the previous Seanad will be endorsed by this House that those buildings would be preserved as part of our heritage, in terms of the emphasis the Government is placing on tourism and the part history can play in that, it is essential we would have a commitment with regard to the preservation of those buildings. I support that suggestion.
Last December the European Court of Human Rights found against Ireland on the failure to implement legislation following the X case. Given that we recently had fairly trenchant comments from Thomas Hammarberg, who is named as the Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe, which surely must be a misnomer given some of his comments, and given that the Government is currently preparing a report to set out to the Council of Europe in the coming weeks how it intends proceeding with regard to that issue, it is imperative that before anything is sent to the Council of Europe it is discussed in these Houses. The will of the Irish people has been clearly stated with regard to abortion. Commitments have been received internationally and enshrined in international agreements, and people voted on the Lisbon treaty on the basis of commitments made in that regard. It is imperative, despite some minority liberal thinking within the coalition Government, that the majority will of the Irish people would not be aborted in regard to this issue. I ask that the Minister would come to this House prior to any report issuing from the Government to the Council of Europe and that we would have a full debate here on that issue.
I call for a debate on two issues on which I have strong opinions. The first concerns our wind energy policy. I will not go into detail on that now but will do so when we have a debate on the issue. I ask for a debate on our wind energy policy because unless we shout "stop" regarding our current policy on wind energy and re-evaluate it, this country will have so-called ghost wind farms in the same way as we have ended up with ghost housing estates. That issue deserves serious debate in this House.
The other debate I call for is on the supposed independence of An Bord Pleanála. I call for such a debate purely because of the inconsistency of its decision making. I received a four page email this morning from a family which has been trying for four and a half years to get planning permission to build a family home. It has been granted planning permission by Roscommon County Council on four occasions in that four and half year period but refused on four occasions by An Bord Pleanála. The supposed independence of that body deserves to be debated. If we debate the issue, I will cite many incidences to show that An Bord Pleanála will make one decision today and a different one tomorrow in similar cases. The issue is worthy of debate.
Many Senators, led by the Leader of the Opposition, raised the issue of nursing homes and the HIQA report. What we have learned from this and similar reports during the years is appalling. As we have a debate arranged on the fair deal scheme next week, we will incorporate the issue of nursing homes also and bring in the Minister to deal with the subject. It will provide an opportunity for the concerned Members to debate the contents of the report in the House.
Senators Darragh O'Brien and Thomas Byrne spoke about provisions included in the social welfare Bill which will be debated in the House in two weeks. Therefore, everybody will have an opportunity to raise these issues again.
I compliment Senator Martin McAleese on his maiden speech. I certainly share many of his ideas and those of other Senators which I hope we can address fairly soon. I look forward to engaging in dialogue with Senator Martin McAleese and others on them. We need to freshen the House and use the energy in it to focus on these issues. Senator Feargal Quinn raised a similar theme in referring to the need for active citizenship. I will have a word with the Taoiseach on the matter. Obviously, we do not have the Taoiseach in the House very often, but I think he would be willing to come here. I will raise the matter with him.
Senator Colm Burke spoke about the deficit in the numbers of junior doctors this year and the centralised application process. I will raise this issue with the Minister for Health, as it presents a major problem which must be addressed.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made her maiden speech. I hope we will hear her melodic voice in this Seanad in the coming years.
I am all in favour of change for the good of the House. Standing Orders 92 to 95, inclusive, deal with the setting up of a petitions committee, but the House has never acted upon them. They allow a petitions committee of the Seanad to engage in dialogue with the public and to then report back to the House. We should get such a committee up and running as a first step. We can be the catalyst for dialogue between the House and the public, which is what many Members want. We will examine the matter at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to see how we can set up such a committee and I will be willing to discuss it with any Member who wishes to do so. I am certainly in favour of its establishment.
Senator David Cullinane spoke about the taxi industry and housing. We will look at having a debate on these subjects with the relevant Ministers in the House.
Senator Michael Comiskey raised an agricultural issue. Perhaps he should seek to raise it on the Adjournment.
Senators Averil Power and Kathryn Reilly raised the issue of tax rights to be provided for in a finance (No. 3) Bill. As the programme for Government lists this as a priority, I will try to find out what the status of the Bill is and when it is due to be taken in the House. The Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 will be before the House next week, on which I have arranged for a three hour debate. As many Senators have asked questions about the economy, there will be an opportunity for them to debate them at that time. By extending the time allocated for the debate to an unprecedented three hours, I hope everybody who wants to do so will have an opportunity to speak on the Bill.
Senator John Gilroy raised the issue of suicide, on which I have agreed to arrange a debate. Senator Mary White, among others, has raised it previously.
Senators Labhras Ó Murchú and Jim Walsh spoke about the status of the historic buildings on Moore Street. I will try to get an update on the matter and get back to them next week.
Senator John Kelly spoke about wind energy projects and An Bord Pleanála, the independence of which has been a topic for debate on many occasions in the House. We will arrange to have the relevant Minister in the House in the next few weeks for a debate on wind energy.
On a point of order, in respect of the report to the Council of Europe, is it possible to inquire——
The Leader will report back to the House.