Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht regarding the Harbours Acts 1996 to 2009 (Transfer of Functions of Dundalk Port Company) Order 2011, to be taken without debate; and No. 13, motion No. 1 regarding Seanad procedures, which is resumed from last week and which will conclude not later than 5.45 p.m.

First, there has been much discussion about the 10% cut on last year's level in agreed hours for special needs assistants, SNAs, proposed by the Government. Where in the EU-IMF deal is it stipulated that the Government is tied into cutting SNA hours? The national recovery plan contains a commitment to retain SNA numbers at 2010 levels. Many parents of children with special needs find it difficult to understand why the Government is proceeding with an effective cut of 200 SNA teachers on previously agreed levels for 2010. Over the past ten years, great progress has been made in the provision of SNAs and language support teachers. Whereas in 1997, there were fewer than 600 SNAs in our schools, the figure currently is in excess of 11,000. Does the Government propose to proceed with the cut in agreed hours for SNAs? Where does the EU-IMF deal say SNA numbers must be cut?

Second, services in regional hospitals have been raised a number of times in the House, particularly last week, and the Leader has stated the Minister for Health will attend the House in the context of discussing progress on the programme for Government. Many Senators have raised specific issues regarding how regional hospitals will be dealt with, particularly in light of the apparent difficulties in recruiting junior hospital doctors. Can the Leader indicate when the Minister will come to the House to address these matters? He was available to deal with the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill, on which there was agreement throughout the House. However, a number of issues need to be teased out in great detail and tied down because the Government gave many commitments regarding the retention of services that cannot be met.

Third, the Minister and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill provides for full powers to be conferred on the Minister for public expenditure and reform. Deputy Howlin is a Minister without Portfolio and, therefore, without powers in what is an important ministerial role. The Minister made a number of comments, which I welcomed last week, regarding progress under the Croke Park agreement. While I understand the Cathaoirleach's ruling, it is a pity Senator Byrne's request for an Adjournment debate on the apparent savings under the deal has been ruled out of order. However, all Members of the House will welcome an opportunity to have the Minister, Deputy Howlin, come into the House to discuss what appears to be the most important area where this Government will frame budgetary policy, particularly in light of the commitments given last week when we were told there will not be any income tax increases or social welfare cuts. On the basis of that I understand that the €3.6 billion adjustment the Government will have to make this year will fall mainly within public expenditure and therefore it is crucially important that well in advance of any decisions being taken the Minister, Deputy Howlin, come into the House. I would suggest that for the Government it is probably better that he come into the House once he has ministerial powers. In that regard I ask further when the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill is due to be taken in the House and when the Government expects that Bill to be passed to give the Minister, Deputy Howlin, some powers to enable him to drive through the reforms about which he continues to talk.

Like Senator O'Brien, I ask that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, come into the House although it is almost as important that he be brought in to speak to us on the topic of political and constitutional reform. We are all delighted that the Private Members' business will resume today on the subject of Seanad procedures but there is an urgency about debating in this Chamber the bigger issue of constitutional reform and the setting up of the constitutional convention promised in the programme for Government which falls under the responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Howlin. I ask that the Leader might arrange a debate with the Minister on that topic as well.

Given that this week marks World Refugee Day I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality be invited into the House in the coming weeks to discuss reform of asylum procedures. I am conscious that the United Nations Refugee Agency today called for reform of our asylum laws noting with grave concern Ireland's low rate of recognition of refugees. At 1.5% we have the lowest recognition rate in the European Union, and that is and should be a matter of great concern for all of us. It has also noted the delays in the system.

All Members of the House will be aware that under the previous Government the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill was at an advanced stage when it was withdrawn by that Government. We must hear from the Minister for Justice and Equality about his plans for reform of the asylum system in the context of new legislation coming forward.

I ask further that the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality for a debate on white collar crime. I note that Ken Murphy of the Law Society of Ireland has raised the issue of the delay by the Garda in investigating complaints against two Dublin solicitors struck off more than two years ago by the High Court, and there is no indication yet as to where the Garda investigation against them is going. That is in the context of much more serious concerns about the lack of any speed in the investigation of white collar crime and crime committed by bankers.

My first question is on special needs assistants because the lack of clarity is deeply worrying. We know the important role special needs assistants play. If we looked at it in a purely fiscal way we would see that we save money in the long term by supporting children in the early years to mainstream education. Special needs assistance was an indication of a major move from an old Ireland where we hid our problems behind closed doors but instead we have become a society of which we all wish to be a part. It is very important that we get clarity around special needs assistants and that children are allowed to be educated together as we would hope them to grow up in society together.

Second, I ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would update us on the national vetting bureau Bill and her intention to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis. That is often talked about but as we know reports will be forthcoming, not least the Cloyne report. It is a serious discussion because we make the statement that we should put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis but in terms of the way we will do that this House could play a role in framing that.

My third question is on youth mental health. There are many actions in this area but they are not often co-ordinated among Departments. We should consider a debate to examine the various aspects of youth mental health, not just in terms of hospital beds but in schools also and the long waiting lists for children to be seen after a teacher has identified a need.

We had a useful debate in the House last Thursday on the fair deal nursing home scheme. It would be appropriate for us to keep the focus on nursing home care in this House in the light of what continues to emerge about the quality of some of our nursing homes. It is fair to say that the media is doing us some service in this area by turning the spotlight on proceedings regarding some nursing homes. In today's newspapers and in the media the focus is on yet another nursing home but what we are coming across are the same worrying accounts of neglect in various forms, whether it is nursing homes being too cold and people being at risk of hypothermia or nutrition problems where it was not even certain in one case whether a particular elderly resident had eaten in the past 24 hours, and there was no meat to be found in the place. It is quite disturbing.

We could take two views of that. We could say, on the one hand, this coverage is evidence that HIQA is doing its work — I gather this is the fourth such nursing home to be at risk or closed down at the request of HIQA since it began its investigations in 2009 — or, on the other, we could ask whether such investigations are taking place quickly enough and whether enough is being done to take action once complaints have been made. In the case before us today, the Creevelea nursing home, it appears that a complaint was made about that nursing home over a year ago. If there is a problem at a particular point in time we must look closely at the procedures then in place for dealing with allegations about the quality of care. The persons in these nursing homes cannot wait for their champions to arrive.

It is often said in this House that we can join in issues when a debate is being organised around a particular Department's remit but this House should see itself as the place in which we look for a precise account from the relevant Minister about what is done in these nursing homes once a complaint is made. I asked last Thursday whether it is considered to be best policy to seek to close down a nursing or if there is a procedure in place for bringing in a person to effectively run the place as an examiner once a severe complaint is made and whether there is provision for such persons being able to go in and run a nursing home to make sure, once a serious complaint is made and aprima facie case for neglect established, that the nursing home is then run by a third party on behalf of the State while it is getting itself sorted out because seeking the closure of a nursing home may not be in the best interests of the residents in all of those cases.

I ask the Leader to arrange for an early engagement between the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, or the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, and the Members of this House where we would hear precisely what happens from beginning to end once a complaint is made about a possible or probable neglect in a nursing home, including the procedures and resources that are in place to make sure that action is taken as quickly as possible——

A question for the Leader, please.

——irrespective of whether there is a problem with the time it takes for these investigations and possible proceedings before the District Court to reach their finality and whether there is a danger that people could be unacceptably neglected or ill-treated in the meantime.

I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to review the grant scheme for group sewerage schemes. Currently, 170,000 homes are on group water schemes but there are approximately 440,000 septic tanks in the country. We have all heard about the EU judgments against various local authorities regarding our groundwater sources. The grant of €6,647.66 put in place by previous Governments was available for group water schemes yet the grant available for group sewerage schemes was only €2,031.58. I ask that the Minister review the scheme and at least give an equal grant for both aspects of the scheme. It is important that we protect our groundwater sources and if the scheme is changed it will be of benefit to the country.

Without wishing to breach thesub judice rule, I want to endorse what Senator Mullen stated. I am very concerned about reports of current court actions concerning nursing homes in County Meath and the issue is worthy of further debate. I will say no more about the issue until a decision has been made but I would hope the courts will come to a decision on that very quickly because it is a serious position for the residents.

It is encouraging to see that substantial savings have been made under the Croke Park agreement, and I am proud to be part of the Government which put that agreement in place. It is now being implemented word for word by the current Government. The first progress report, which I tried to raise on the Adjournment today, refers to pension and redundancy costs, which would have the effect of offsetting many of the savings made. It would be worthwhile to have the Minister for public expenditure and reform come before the House to discuss the progress made, the challenges ahead and to give us the exact figures.

We had a very good debate last week on the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, was very engaging. However, we were promised that the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, would take the debate. I acknowledge that he was busy doing very important work at the time, but it was promised that he would be there to discuss general matters of economic concern and I urge the Leader to try to arrange that debate. I understand the Minister for Finance has a very busy schedule. None of us would like to interfere with that in any way, but it is important to have a wide ranging debate on the economy and on the IMF.

Government spokespersons and Members of both Houses constantly quote the IMF report, even though some of them have not read it. Several Deputies admitted to me that they did not know much about it, but I told them it was only a short document. I urge people to read it in advance of any debate and to stop using the document to justify reductions in gardaí, cuts to SNAs and so on, because these things are not mentioned in the IMF deal. They were Government decisions that are within the sovereignty and the economic competence of the State. It is about time the Government started taking responsibility for those matters. They could be cleared up if the Leader agreed to a debate with the Minister for Finance. He has been here before, and I would be grateful if he came to the House again.

I would like to highlight an alarming reading of radon gas in a home in Castleisland, County Kerry. The reading was found to be 185 times the acceptable level of radon gas, which is the equivalent of 125 X-rays every day for each person living in that house. It is most alarming. Dr. Ann McGarry from the RPII has confirmed that she believes Ireland has a significant radon problem and that many people are living in ignorance of it.

We campaigned long and hard in Kerry to bring BreastCheck to the county. Detecting radon is simple and inexpensive, but rectifying the problem is not. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should come to the House and tell us his proposals to put in place grant aid to help people rectify the problem. It is very alarming in Kerry, but also along the west coast. Any of us could have it in our house. It is a silent killer and one cannot see it, taste it or smell it. We should all be aware of this and carry out the test to see if it is in our homes. The Minister will, I hope, address it as soon as possible.

Last week, I raised two related issues. One was about Bethany Home and the fact that the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin should be included in the redress scheme. This was met with a rather strange silence. The other issue was about Magdalene laundries. I would like to pursue these issues, because there have been developments.

First, on behalf of the Bethany Home survivors, Mr. Leinster has stated that he is putting a three month time limit to await positive action from the Government, after which he will seek a judicial review. Second, there was a very interesting article written by Mary Raftery inThe Irish Times. Both she and The Irish Times should be commended for the continuing interest in this area. The article contains material that would lead us to have such a debate. She suggests we need to look in an imaginative way at other areas, rather than the direct areas. For example, State bodies such as the Army removed contracts from commercial companies in the early 1940s and gave them to the Magdalene laundries on the basis of cost. This had the effect of closing at least one laundry and placing a considerable number of people on the unemployment register. In 1941, former Minister Oscar Traynor mislead the Dáil — possibly unintentionally — when he said that the people in the Magdalene laundries were covered by the fair wages clause in their contracts. They had no contracts and, in fact, they were unpaid. Many of them were involuntarily contained in those institutions.

The operation of the Factories Act 1955 needs to be scrutinised. The health and safety conditions and requirements contained therein were never met by the Magdalene laundries. There was a legal requirement on the State to inspect them under the Factories Act, but the State never did so. That is very regrettable. It has been stated in both Houses that there was no requirement on the State, but section 84 of the Act clearly includes laundries.

In May 1955, former Minister for Industry and Commerce, William Norton of the Labour Party, said: "Once you wash clothes in the institution, not for the institution, then that is a factory. In other words, you have a right to wash clothes for the institution, but if you start to wash other people's clothes, it is a factory for the purposes of section 84." Nothing could be clearer. We really need to do justice to both these groups and the best way to help is through a full debate in Seanad Éireann. I call on the Leader to permit such a debate.

I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources before the House to address the discrepancies and deficiencies in the roll-out of the Saorview project. I have had contact from people in my constituency who have bought the digital box who were then told that there was no reception in their area. In one case, a person bought a new television before discovering that there was no reception.

We must welcome the work that HIQA does, but we should bear in mind that reports were done in the last ten years by HIQA and bodies other than HIQA on the closure of St. Finian's Psychiatric Hospital in Killarney, yet it is still open to this day. The Minister for Health should come to the House to discuss the closure of these antiquated institutions as a matter of urgency.

I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Health before the House to discuss a report published this morning which claims that a previously undisclosed form of brutal child birth surgery was used on Irish women for several decades. The document details the practice of pubiotomy, in which the pubic bone of a woman in labour was cut to facilitate difficult births, instead of Caesarean sections, and where symphysiotomies were deemed to be too difficult. The report, written by Marie O'Connor, documents that 1,500 symphysiotomies were carried out in Ireland between 1944 and 1992, but it finds that hardly any of these were carried out as a result of necessity. Most women who underwent these procedures were left with a legacy of health problems, and the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group intend to bring their case to the UN committee on torture. It is important that the Minister comes before the House to discuss this issue and his intention to pursue a public inquiry into the use of symphysiotomy and pubiotomy in Irish public hospitals.

The shortage of junior doctors has already been raised in the House, but the first we heard from anybody in the Government on the issue was when the Minister for Health spoke about it on "The Frontline" last night. It seems that the Government is sleepwalking into a catastrophe on 11 July, with suggestions that the Midwest Regional Hospital in Limerick, which has the second busiest accident and emergency department, will have to close at night. We have also been told that small rural hospitals will be severely affected and that some accident and emergency departments will not be safely manned. On a day when there are 310 people on trolleys across the State, I believe the Minister for Health should also come before to tell us which hospitals will not be safely manned and what action the Government will take to avert this crisis.

It is not acceptable that we have governance by the media and that the Minister addresses us on programmes such as "The Frontline". The real difficulty is that we do not yet have the date for the Minister to attend the House to address these issues. I ask the Leader to address this.

I do not suggest the item I wish to raise is as urgent as the special needs assistants issue, nursing homes or the shortage of junior doctors. Nevertheless, it is important for us to seek clarification. I call on the Leader to use his good offices to write to the director general of RTE to establish who decided, and why, not to broadcast "Oireachtas Report" on Tuesday, 14 June. The Dáil was correctly adjourned as a mark of respect to our late colleague Brian Lenihan but the Seanad had a full sitting, a full Order of Business, two Ministers appeared before the House and a number of important issues raised.

As a public service broadcaster, RTE has been outstanding. Yesterday in New York, RTE Radio received no fewer than 17 awards and was named as best broadcaster of the year. However, the same cannot be said of some of its news programming. The broadcast of "Oireachtas Report" sometime after midnight, when B-movies and shoddy reruns are showing, is unacceptable. The State pays over €200 million in licence fees to the State broadcaster, RTE, to subsidise its public service broadcasting remit.

It is important for us to know who made this decision and why. The programme was scheduled to run but was pulled. It is a grave insult to the business of this House. The Seanad comes in for criticism from time to time, some of which is deserved. Under the new Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, and the Deputy Leader, Senator Ivana Bacik, we have seen radical reform, improvement and a great deal of progress. A productive schedule of work is being done in the House. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to write to RTE to seek a fair and just explanation of why "Oireachtas Report" was pulled. It is absurd.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Taoiseach attend the Chamber to discuss NAMA and his statement last week about his sources and what they told him. It is unusual that the Taoiseach agrees with me on concerns about developers buying back property. The Taoiseach has since rowed back but I maintain my position. My sources are willing to meet the Taoiseach to explain how this is going on but I am sure the Taoiseach is well aware of it. My information comes from a confidential source. We often get information from sources who ask that their identities remain undisclosed. It helps us to do our job because, if we disclose our sources, people will not trust us with information.

Many people in public life were given information about planning corruption in Dublin up to 20 years ago but they failed to act. They did not introduce necessary legislation to punish those who behaved incorrectly. Thus, there was a major loss to the taxpayer. As a result, we have numerous calls for a tribunal after the event. A tribunal on planning went on for ten years, had an army of barristers and cost almost €100 million. I do not propose a tribunal on the aftermath of NAMA, I propose we should act now.

I also find it unusual that the chairman of NAMA is in agreement with me regarding the NAMA website. On 27 January I proposed that every property under the control of NAMA should be put up on the NAMA website. Last week the chairman said there would be such website, where all properties are shown. This will not apply to all property, only property over which NAMA has control through liquidators and receivers. NAMA is in control of some €72 billion worth of assets but not all of that will be on the website. Much of it will be sold by the developers, which is the kernel of the issue. Developers should not be in charge of the sale of their assets because it is open to corruption.

The Senator can make these points during the debate.

I will, if the Taoiseach agrees to it. Fianna Fáil will propose the NAMA transparency Bill in order that every asset under the control of NAMA, whether a loan or a property, will be on the NAMA website. In that way, any person in this country or beyond can see what NAMA is selling and how people can bid for it.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business requesting the Taoiseach attends the House to tell us what he knows about NAMA. In that way all can hear his views.

I join other speakers in asking for the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to attend the House for a frank and open exchange with Members on the operation of the HSE. Those of us who have seen the Minister for Health in action are impressed with his openness and frankness. He is the first Minister who will take on the HSE and challenge many of the vested interests.

I would like a discussion on how the HSE west can, on 1 July, consider discontinuing the transport for dialysis and cancer patients. If the HSE management is budgeting properly, surely it cannot have exhausted the budget by 1 July. Like Senator Reilly, I challenge the ludicrous proposal to bring accident and emergency patients from the mid-west hospitals to the University College Hospital in Galway, which is already creaking. There is inadequate space for people to park and the situation is ludicrous and outrageous.

I would like to talk to the Minister about how savings can be made in HSE. A person in the constituency in which I live is occupying an acute bed in a psychiatric hospital. This is at enormous cost and the person cannot be accommodated under the fair deal scheme because she is under 65 years of age. I would like the situation addressed, which will result in an immediate saving to the HSE.

A building in Ballinasloe is unsuitable for its intended purpose. The local management wants to move to another building, leading to the saving of €5,000 per year.

This matter can be raised on the Adjournment.

The system is slow and cumbersome. I ask the Leader to give us the opportunity to make helpful suggestions to the Minister on how matters can be improved and money saved in the HSE.

Last week we raised the matter of mathematics teaching and how 80% of it is being carried out by people without a degree qualification in mathematics. The distress it causes has been featured in newspaper articles and letters about the leaving certificate, which is currently in progress. Our situation contrasts with Finland, where people have a masters degree in the subject they teach at second level. There is a bonus point system in operation and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the Chamber to discuss it. The bonus points for mathematics helps those who already have a qualified mathematics teacher or can afford to pay for expensive grinds.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to address this vital issue and to explain whether the provision of bonus points answers the question of the problem in mathematics Irish schools.

Two weeks ago I raised the issue of centralisation of medical cards. I called for the Minister for Health to answer questions on this. Now we are at the 11th hour because centralisation is taking place on 1 July. I am satisfied that 90% of medical cards are centralised but 10% are granted on a discretionary basis. Such people may be over the guideline amounts for medical cards but, because of the knowledge of the local community welfare officer about the family circumstances — whether alcohol addiction, gambling, cancer, terminal illness or MS — it is important that the Minister explains how he will deal with these discretionary cards. Once this is centralised, it will become a matter of mathematics. If someone is over the guidelines for the medical card, that person will not receive a card. As a GP, I hope the Minister understands the sensitive nature of this issue. Senator Mullins admired the Minister for his openness and transparency but I would like to see the Minister in this Chamber rather than on "The Frontline". We need to get these answers before 1 July.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Daly, who has been consistent in raising this issue. I thought the Taoiseach's statement was courageous but I was concerned to hear him backtrack under pressure from officialdom. Many of the economic and fiscal difficulties we are encountering arose because people within the public service were not giving the advice that was necessary and the politicians probably lacked the expertise or did not engage those with the appropriate knowledge to chart a proper way forward. The exposure to the taxpayer through NAMA is enormous and should it go wrong in any way it will have a negative impact on economic and fiscal recovery.

I ask the Leader if he was aware when we were debating the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 that the Department of Social Protection had opposed the introduction of the pension levy. That was pertinent information from which the House would have benefited. The leader of Fianna Fáil in the House, Senator Darragh O'Brien, and Senator Byrne, opposed the levy in light of its consequences. It is significant, therefore, that the Department took a similar position.

I ask that the Minister for Finance attend the House for a debate on the rescue package and the EU-IMF loan, with particular attention to the EU part because of the high interest rate that attaches to it. I am not impressed by the notion of a 1% decrease in the interest rate. It will not be a solution to the depth of our fiscal problems. As Michael Soden recently argued, we need long-term money over a loan span of 20 to 30 years and an interest rate which is marginally above the base rate. Unless the EU and the ECB make those structural changes not only Ireland——

We cannot have a debate on the matter.

——but also the EU itself will be seriously challenged. I ask the leader to arrange a debate on this issue at an early date.

I am sure the Leader and other Senators share my sense of outrage at the details of abuse in a residential care unit revealed on "Prime Time" last Thursday and my frustration at the absence of a system of inspections for such institutions. It is outrageous in this day and age. The institutions and the high walls may have gone but the residential care homes that are dotted throughout the community are not subject to inspections and family members can only gain access to their loved ones by appointment even though they may have serious concerns. I welcome the announcement by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on the provision of €6 million for putting in place a system of inspection but I ask the Leader to establish when these inspections will take place and what processes will be followed. The inspections need to take place on a random basis whereby inspectors knock on the doors rather than get buried in their offices studying paperwork. They need to inspect, walk into these institutions and talk to management because last week's revelations of abuse in institutions should not be tolerated under any circumstances by a civilised society. I am delighted that the resources are being put in place but immediate action is needed.

I do not want to sound like a broken record and I am aware that the magnitude of the crisis involving non-consultant hospital doctors has exercised many of my colleagues in this and the other House over the past several weeks. However, I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Health that little debate has taken place in this House or in any other public forum in regard to the fundamental cause of the problem. We will have a net shortfall of approximately 400 non-consultant hospital doctors manning front line services as of the next scheduled calendar turnover, which will occur in the second week in July. This will have catastrophic effects across the health service but will be particularly acute in accident and emergency departments. There already has been speculation that individual units may be closed or curtailed as a result. While we have heard considerable discussion about the various Band-Aid solutions being offered, such as sending teams of recruiters to take young doctors from India and Pakistan to work in our emergency rooms, geriatric wards and surgery departments or encouraging the Medical Council or other statutory and licensing agencies to make it easier for doctors to enter the country, there has been a lack of debate about the fundamental problem, namely, the dependence of the health service on trainees to provide front-line services. We should regard junior doctors as having three functions — first, training; second, training; and, third, training. That is all they are there for and their presence or absence should have no effect whatsoever on the conduct of the health system. Those jobs should be educational. Sadly in Ireland, we have a track record of taking people into those jobs and making them work under consultant rank to provide services disproportionately to public patients. It is not an issue of pay because they are paid relatively well but they are not given the appropriate career prospects.

My colleagues may not be aware that Ireland has the highest number of medical schools per head of population. We have six schools for 4.5 million people. The average in Europe is approximately one per 1.5 million people and in North America it is one per 2.5 million. How can a country which has one medical school for 750,000 people have, on the other side of the coin, the smallest number of career level doctors per head of population of any country in the western world? That is the fundamental problem. People believe it is due to the actions of a medicalcosa nostra or closed shop but, I can speak with authority for the hospital system, one group of people in this country control the number of career level posts, namely, the officials of the Department of Health and the HSE and the Government. This is not a party issue because it has been the same case with successive Governments. A deliberate decision has been made to base policy on the premise that we will have a low level of career jobs.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

I am. In July, chickens will be coming home to roost. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the Minister's attention. The Minister correctly wishes to reform the health system fundamentally. His plan appears to be to introduce minor reforms during his first term and, following a putative second election victory, to make the fundamental reforms that are necessary. He should put that cart before the horse by reforming the system now.

I wish to raise an important issue on behalf of the deaf community, namely, Irish sign language. I am not referring to signing in Irish but the sign language and culture of the deaf community. It is an old language, having been first established in Ireland in 1846, but it is not recognised. It is in the programme for Government which states that it will examine different mechanisms to promote the recognition of Irish sign language. I am asking that time be made available to debate this issue in the presence of the Minister for Education and Skills so we can discuss the kinds of mechanisms the Goverment intends to examine, the timeframe it intends for the completion of the examination and the proposals which might come from the Seanad on Irish sign language and how we compare with the rest of Europe.

British-Irish sign language is recognised in the North of Ireland and is included in the North-South agreement. In that sense we are only catching up with the North of Ireland. The language has formal recognition under the Good Friday Agreement. It is important to the deaf community. There are over 5,000 people who use Irish sign language in preference to signed English. Iceland recognised its own sign language last May, and many countries such as Hungary recognise their own sign language. Over 5,000 people in the deaf community use the language but over 40,000 people who work with the deaf community use Irish sign language and there is a dearth of information, booklets and other material to help the deaf community. I am asking for a debate in the House to try and implement what is in the programme for Government and examine the different mechanisms to promote the recognition of Irish sign language. This is also provided for in the Brussels declaration.

It is not so long ago that two senior politicians in the State revealed serious abuses in the operation of the State apparatus. One was a member of the Fine Gael Party and the other was a member of the Labour Party. They came under immense pressure at the time to reveal their sources. They continued to resist the pressure and they argued that, first, they would not have access to the information only that the person supplying it felt that it was being transmitted with confidentiality. We are all aware that, subsequently, the tribunal which was set up very much supported the position of those two politicians. One is a Minister today and the other is a Member of the European Parliament. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude because it was their courage and tenacity at that time which brought the abuses to light and also brought a conclusion at the same time. Ironically, around the same time one of the daily newspapers also found itself with legal problems when it was also asked to reveal the sources of its information. That went all the way through the legal process. Members all know the outcome.

There is very much a similarity with Senator Mark Daly's contention today that if information is supplied to a Member of the Oireachtas one would like to think that the person bringing it could feel secure in so doing, because if people do not feel like that is the case it is possible that type of information will not be brought forward. The issues raised on NAMA suggest, if proven correct, that we are dealing with an exceptionally serious situation. We all know the public attitude to NAMA and why it came into existence. The public will be watching the issue very closely. As a House of Parliament we have an opportunity to do like those two politicians did some years ago. I hope we have the courage and foresight to do that.

The poor state of the public finances and the harsh austerity measures being imposed on us are dictating the quality of our lives and services. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, is doing an incredible job for us in Europe to try to claw back some sense of decency for us as a country and to get the best terms possible to deal with the financial situation we have inherited.

I say that for two reasons which concern me, the first of which is NAMA. I raised it in the House on the opening of the Seanad session. Since then I wrote to the CEO of NAMA about its business plans. In his letter of response he said we acquired debts — property to the value of €70 billion for approximately €30 billion. He said the goal of NAMA is to get back at a minimum from the developers what we paid. I am shocked if that is all the business plans have to show. What about all the homeowners who have paid maximum value at the height of the boom? We all still have to pay the full price of our homes. I want the Minister for Finance to attend the House to address the issue concerning NAMA. There must be fairness. There cannot be special treatment for one group of people and much tougher austerity measures being taken on by the homeowners of this country. That is unfair.

I am also concerned about special needs assistants, SNAs. We have approximately 10,500 SNAs in this country. We received an e-mail from the Minister for Education and Skills indicating that he must work something out for approximately 200 others. That means 200 children will be affected. Our job must be to protect children, their care and education in the classroom.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I seek a debate on the matter. We are in a tough financial state. How can we protect children in classrooms with disabilities and learning difficulties while doing the same thing? We are in difficulty and we must look at other models of doing that while keeping children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms. It is time we looked at new ways. I visited the united Kingdom last year when I was a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. I saw another way to achieve the same outcomes. It is time we looked at that in this House because we must find other ways to achieve the same outcomes.

The issue I wish to raise is connected to that raised by Senator O'Neill. I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government would extend such a grant to people living in rural areas for single rural houses. If such a grant were available it would mean major benefits for rural water and it would also create much needed jobs in the manufacture and installation of septic tanks and other such equipment. I would welcome such a development.

With respect, Senator Daly is being deliberately provocative on the issue of NAMA. It is outlandish to claim that the Taoiseach agreed with him. Under no circumstances did that happen. He expressed the hope, publicly, that the type of situation alleged by Senator Daly could not happen and that NAMA was on top of the situation and would ensure it could not happen. A public assurance was given to that effect by Mr. Frank Daly, the chairman of NAMA.

On a point of order, Senator Coghlan is well aware that he is misquoting the Taoiseach.

That is not a point of order.

That is not what the Taoiseach said.

That is not a point of order.

The Taoiseach said the opposite. Senator Coghlan is well aware of that fact.

That is not a point of order.

Senator Coghlan might point that out at his next parliamentary party meeting.

The Taoiseach fully accepted the assurances of the chairman of NAMA.

Senator Daly well knows that is not a point of order.

I ask the Leader——

We are not having the debate in the House today.

I know that but I wish the Leader to confirm that it is the duty, as Senator Daly is aware, under law that NAMA must do due diligence on all acquirers and that it is precluded by law from selling in trust.

On a point of order, a Chathaoirligh——

If Senator Daly is a dutiful public servant——

Does Senator Coghlan have a question for the Leader?

Senator Coghlan is misquoting the Act. That is the case for only those properties over which NAMA has power as a liquidator or as a receiver.

No, Senator Daly is wrong.

We are on the Order of Business. Does Senator Coghlan have a question for the Leader?

The Leader knows that Senator Daly has not——

Does Senator Coghlan have a question for the Leader?

Yes. I ask the Leader if any Member of this House — that includes Senator Daly — has made anything available. A dutiful public servant would make the information available to NAMA.

That remark should be withdrawn.

He or she could use privilege to make it available.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I have one other matter to raise.

The Senator should resume his seat. I call Senator Noone.

The matter that Senator Ó Murchú referred to——

Senator Coghlan, I have called Senator Noone.

Those two Deputies went to the Minister for Justice.

Senator Coghlan, please resume your seat.

It is a complete coincidence that I wanted to speak about something related to the matters raised by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames and half the House this afternoon. I welcome the idea currently being considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to invite the leaders of various organisations to appear before us in the Seanad. One such leader — a point which today speaks for itself — is the chairman of NAMA. I understand this is currently under consideration. NAMA is the biggest financial enterprise ever undertaken in this country in our lifetimes and certainly in the course of the 24th Seanad. In view of the professional fees being racked up in NAMA, I would like the chairman to come before us and let us know how it is doing its business.

That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Yes, but the question I am asking the Leader is whether he would be willing, once the committee has considered the issue, to ensure that one of the first people called before us is the chairman of NAMA.

The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, spoke about special needs assistants. We had a debate on this only last week. I have some correspondence from the Department on that matter. I will read the first page and provide a copy of this correspondence to Senator O'Brien.

Schools are being advised this week of their allocation of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) for the coming school year 2011/2012.

The last government decided in December 2010 to cap the number of SNAs at 10,575.

There are currently 10,802 posts, 227 posts over the cap to be reached at the end of 2011.

As the 10,575 cap must be met by year end, there will regretfully have to be a reduction of 227 posts from September.

The Minister states:

I want to assure you that the existing levels of SNAs in special schools will be maintained, in order to assist and protect the most vulnerable children

I also want to assure you that all schools that enrol children with significant care needs, will have SNA support, and all such children will have access to this support

No school in this country will lose all of their SNA support.

Let me re-iterate, any school which has even one child with care needs will get SNA support. It is scaremongering in the extreme and deeply distressful for parents and schools to be suggesting otherwise

I have about five pages here and I will make them available to anybody who wishes to have them after the Order of Business.

Quite a number of Members requested that the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, come to the House to discuss a whole range of issues, including hospitals and junior doctors. The Minister has been to the House to deal with legislation and also to reply to a matter on the Adjournment. I assure Senators that the Minister will be in the House on Thursday 7 July for statements on health, and Senators may raise any issue they wish.

There have also been questions about progress on the Croke Park agreement. As we stated, there is a lot done but more to do in that area. Questions were also raised about the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill. This will be dealt with in the House on 29 and 30 June.

That is good to hear.

That is another request that will be honoured.

Senator Ivana Bacik asked about constitutional reform and reform of the asylum system. This is a matter that the Minister for Justice and Equality is examining and I am sure he will be happy to come to the House at a later stage to discuss it.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout mentioned SNAs, as did quite a number of Members. I have given a response on this.

Senator Rónán Mullen and quite a number of Members mentioned nursing homes. I arranged a debate at the request of Members last week and it was an excellent one. Everybody would agree the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was certainly on top of her brief. She would be willing, if needs be, to come in and discuss the same subject at a later stage, but we should give her a few weeks at least before we ask her to come in and speak on the same subject.

Senators Pat O'Neill and Michael Comiskey asked about a review of group sewerage schemes. We will ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government whether he has any proposals in that regard.

Senator Thomas Byrne raised the matter of finance, as did other Senators. We had a debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, but I realise that people want further discussion on the economy and the EU-IMF deal. We will ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to come to the House. He has been here to address a motion by Senator Byrne, but we will ask him to come again.

Senator Marie Moloney mentioned the issue of radon gas, which is a major problem. Committee meetings were held with representatives of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland during the course of the last Seanad at which they advised of the situation with regard to radon gas in their areas. It is not very expensive to detect radon gas but to implement procedures could be costly. We will ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government about this.

Senator David Norris spoke about a matter he raised previously, that of the Bethany Home and the Magdalene laundries. An interdepartmental committee is to be established and when the recommendations are published, we will certainly have a debate on this.

Senator Tom Sheahan mentioned the roll-out of Saorview and the lack of reception in Kerry. We will deal with that with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Senator Kathryn Reilly spoke about the use of symphysiotomy in some of our hospitals, which is brutal, as we know from the "Prime Time" programmes some time back. The report is out now and this is something we can discuss with the Minister for Health when he is here on 7 July.

Senator John Whelan raised a valid point about "Oireachtas Report", asking why it was not broadcast last Tuesday. I will undertake to write to RTE to elicit an answer from it on this subject.

The question of NAMA was raised by a number of Senators. I thought we would have to institute peace talks for two Kerry Senators on it.

It is a serious issue and we will try to have a discussion with the Minister for Finance in the context of the debate we are trying to organise. I have no objection to bringing in the chairman of NAMA if the Committee on Procedure and Privileges permits an expansion of the category of people that can come in here. However, we should hear from the Minister for Finance on the subject first.

Senator Michael Mullins spoke about the operation of the HSE in the west and the transport of patients. This is a matter that can be discussed, and we have an assurance that the Minister will come in and discuss all these items on 7 July.

Senator Barrett mentioned the teaching of maths. This is an important matter and I will certainly raise it with the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn.

Senator John Kelly mentioned the centralising of medical card applications and the lack of discretion that will be available to community welfare officers. I suggest the Senator raises this matter on the Adjournment this week as he may get a more immediate response to it then.

Senator Jim Walsh sought a debate on various aspects of finance policy. Senator Martin Conway called for a debate on standards in and inspection of residential care units.

Senator John Crown will be happy that the Minister for Health will attend the House soon for a debate on the health services. I am sure the Minister will address the reform of the whole system then.

Senator Cáit Keane raised the matter of recognition for Irish sign language and the deaf community. Again, I suggest she raises this matter on the Adjournment this week.

Before we conclude the Order of Business, I welcome a former Member of the Seanad and Dáil Éireann to the Visitors Gallery, Paul Connaughton.

Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That statements on the Taoiseach's comments on NAMA be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 32.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 37; Níl, 15.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O’Keeffe; Níl, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

I wish to inform the House that arising from the omission to vote by Senators Jim Walsh and Mary White, who is present in the Chamber, the result of the division as shown on the display board has been amended with the agreement of the Tellers from both sides.