Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 1, motion to amend the order of the Seanad of 16 June 2011 in respect of the establishment of a select committee to include the Department of the Taoiseach under the remit of the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, to be taken without debate; No. 2, the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 5.45 p.m.; and No. 3, statements on food safety, to commence at 5.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister or the Minister of State to be called on to reply not later than 7.40 p.m.

I thank the Leader for outlining the Order of Business. In regard to the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, a number of amendments have been tabled from our side of the House and from other Senators. I ask Senators to take a detailed look at these as I believe they will strengthen the Bill. Our justice spokesperson, Senator Denis O'Donovan, will propose a number of my party's amendments.

On other issues, I welcome the report of the independent review group on the national children's hospital and that the group has effectively confirmed the decision of the McKinsey report of 2005, namely, that the Mater Hospital site is suitable for this hospital, contrary to many remarks made by the current Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, while in opposition. In that vein, and on foot of the independent review board's report, with minor amendments as proposed, will the Government — and the Minister for Health — confirm that the Mater site is suitable, reaffirm and commit that the new national children's hospital will be opened in 2015, that the funding for it, which is part of the capital envelope in the four year plan agreed with the troika, is ring-fenced and will be used to build the hospital, and that the Government will move very quickly to lodge a planning application for the Mater site to ensure this hospital will be open in 2015? Every Member of the House will agree with what is proposed, namely, that the new national children's hospital is the way forward with its 445 beds and, most important, that 392 of those beds are single room beds that will allow dealing with and assistance for children who are badly in need of medical care. It is important that this Government reaffirm its commitment to the planned hospital, accept the findings of the independent review and push forward and reconfirm its commitment to having the hospital open in 2015.

Will the Minister for Transport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, come to the House to discuss the issue of regional airports, particularly in regard to Galway and Sligo airports over which closure orders are effectively dangling? I ask this in the context that the Minister was able to find, in the space of 24 hours and on foot of community protests, €1 million to ensure that a train station in Ongar, in his constituency of Dublin West is opened. If the Minister can find €1 million to open a train station in his constituency, which is well served by public transport, surely to God he can find the resources to ensure that Galway and Sligo airports remain open and that the Government will confirm to the electorate the commitments it gave during the general election campaign to ensure regional airports stayed open and operational. If the Minister is able to find €1 million for his own constituency, it is crucially important that he find €5 million for Sligo and Galway airports.

Like Senator O'Brien, I welcome the report from the independent body that looked at the siting of the national children's hospital. Many concerns have been expressed about the way in which the decision to locate the hospital on the Mater Hospital site was taken originally. I was among the many who had misgivings about the decision, validly, I believe. People were concerned the decision had been taken for the wrong reasons at that time. It is good now to see another report confirming this to be the right siting.

Another Fianna Fáil policy confirmed.

The Senator might say "sorry".

As Senator O'Brien noted, we now need to know there will be commitment to open the hospital by 2015. This is very much contingent on funding, as we all know. The original plan had envisaged a substantial amount of funding would be sourced from private benefactors but there is a large question mark over that now, quite apart from the issue of Government funding.

In the context of the children's hospital, I pay tribute to TG4 which broadcast a remarkable documentary about Dr. Kathleen Lynn some weeks ago. Much of the programme was devoted to the difficulty she had in establishing a children's hospital according to enlightened and progressive principles many decades ago. It is unfortunate that we have had such a protracted debate over the siting of the new and much needed national children's hospital.

I call for a debate on children's rights. We have talked previously about the children's rights referendum. It would be useful to have the Minister for Children in the House to hear more about the proposed timeframe for the referendum. We had national play day on Sunday and one of the rights recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the right of children to play. It is hugely important in every culture and is one of the things we should examine in the context of the wording of a children's rights referendum.

I congratulate Senator Martin McAleese who has been appointed by the Government to chair the inquiry into the Magdalene laundries. That is a worthy appointment——

——and we all hope to see that bear fruit very soon.

I support Senator Bacik's calls for a discussion on a children's rights referendum but we must discuss the supporting legislation that is needed, in particular, the heads of Bills and the policy intent of such a referendum.

I refer to the forthcoming Irish Presidency of the European Union in 2013. Today is the first working day of the Polish Presidency which started on 1 July. It is the first part of what is called a trio presidency programme of Poland, Denmark and Cyprus . Under the Lisbon treaty we now have team presidencies that put forward an 18 month programme, and Ireland will be the first part of the next trio presidency which starts on 1 January 2013. We will be joined with Lithuania and Greece.

That date of 1 January 2013 will also coincide with the 40th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the EU. I raise this matter because the thinking and discussions on the priorities and work programme of Ireland's presidency programme are already under way and I believe this House has a role to play in informing and shaping our role in the EU and our role during the presidency. It is an opportunity for us to rebuild Ireland's reputation both on the European and the world stage. I note that an interdepartmental committee is already established. It met in April and is already examining the priorities.

I ask the Leader to ensure that we play a role in informing the setting of Ireland's priorities during its presidency of the EU. Regarding some of the major issues, when the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, was here we discussed the seven year multi-annual financial framework programme which is due to be finalised at the end of 2012 during the Danish Presidency. It is far more likely, however, and all the indications are that it will be left to Ireland to finalise that extremely important funding programme. We also have the Horizon 2020, which is the big research programme due to start in 2014. Of particular importance to Ireland is the Common Agricultural Policy, which comes to an end in 2013, and, therefore, European agricultural reform will be a big part of Ireland's Presidency. They are big issues in which this House must play a role in terms of setting the agenda. I ask the Leader to ensure that time is given for that discussion over the coming months because we must agree this programme with the other two countries within our trio and agree our programme.

Recently, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport announced that he will decide by the end of September on joining the two Luas lines and on the metro to the airport and Swords and that this would be published as part of the national development plan. I ask the Leader to communicate to the Minister that he should separate the two issues and discuss the Luas-metro issue here. We should beware preparing a national development plan by the end of September given that the last one to run until 2013 was sub-titled, A Better Quality of Life for All. We will be about 40% short of the incomes the last NDP planned for. It was a programme twice the EU average and in view of the difficulties we have got into since, that may have been a bad idea. There is a lack of quantification, a lack of economics in Departments, a view that it was captured by interest groups and that it was too expensive. There is no urgency in preparing a national development plan by the end of September and, therefore, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to address the Luas and metro issue separately and that drafts of the national development plan might be sent here first rather that we being presented with a fait accompli on 30 September.

Last Saturday evening the McGivern family in County Leitrim got the call they were eagerly awaiting for their daughter Maedhbh. A liver had become available in London for Maedhbh and the family was delighted with the prospect of her having a life-changing operation later that night. What happened from the time Joan McGivern got the call——

That matter is to be raised on the Adjournment this evening by Senator Susan O'Keeffe.

When the Minister for Health comes to the House — I believe it will be very soon — I want him to address this subject. I welcome the fact that he has set up an inquiry into what exactly happened. I hope it will last only two weeks and that we will know what occurred so other patients——

That matter is to be raised on the Adjournment this evening.

——waiting for transplants will not have to experience what occurred at the weekend.

On one of my first occasions to speak in this House, we were debating the motion on the Smithwick tribunal. It is the case that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, misled the House on that occasion by withholding correspondence. It was, I understand, published subsequently, at the suggestion of the judge in the case. The information on this very serious matter was not available to us on the night of the debate.

In his statement to the Seanad, the Minister stated: "There has been some misreporting surrounding the reasons for putting forward this motion. Its purpose is not to curtail, impede, confine or interfere with the independence of the tribunal." In spite of his having said this, the Minister had received correspondence from Mr. Justice Smithwick some days earlier stating: "I see this as a wholly inappropriate attempt by the executive to interfere with the independence of my tribunal." I did not even make that charge in my speech, nor did I go as far as the judge, yet the Minister said my "hysterical and grossly distorted misrepresentation of the Government's position and of the motion before this House is to no benefit of this State or his party".

Shame on him for not telling us about this correspondence in the House. He came here to address a very serious matter of public concern, a serious matter of British-Irish relations concerning families and individuals, and did not tell us about what a judge had told him in correspondence. The judge suggested this should be made public and that he had no objection to that. The Minister, if he is not going to resign over this, should be brought into the House as soon as possible to explain to the Seanad why the correspondence was not put before us. It is an absolute disgrace, particularly because of the comments he made about me and my party. God knows what he is saying about the judge.

I welcome Team Ireland home from the Special Olympics World Games in Athens. The team members, who arrived in Dublin Airport today at 12.30 p.m., made a really successful contribution to the games. I congratulate the 126 athletes, who between them won 107 medals. Many of the athletes recorded personal bests. I ask the Leader to ensure that we continue to support the Team Ireland athletes and their families. I thank them for representing our country so well.

Senators

Hear, hear.

As the person who raised the question of the Mater hospital and the establishment of an international peer review group some years ago, I very much welcome what has happened in this regard, although I had reservations about the site. It is important that the project proceed straight away. The children cannot wait. In light of the contribution by my distinguished colleague, Senator Sean Barrett, I contend the project will have implications for the metro. As I understand it, the metro is an integral part of the development at the hospital. I am not sure the hospital would work as efficiently as one would wish without development of the metro. It is important that we discuss this problem also. I important that it be an investment in building. The site is on the north side of Dublin and I certainly welcome the project from a human point of view.

I have received correspondence from a former academic colleague who engaged in civil partnership. He did so in the British embassy in Dublin under British law. He communicated with the various authorities, both British and Irish, to ascertain his status and whether it was recognised under the new legislation. He was first told it was, then told it was not and thereafter told something totally different. In his final sentence he describes how having been unpartnered, then partnered and then both on the same day, he feels very close to despair. I understand we will deal with some of the matters consequent on the passage of the civil partnership Bill, particularly the economic conditions. This was a commitment I received from the previous Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan. I am very glad it is coming to the House. Will the Leader inquire whether these other anomalies that exist and disadvantage people who are already in partnerships entered into in other countries or in the embassies of foreign countries in Ireland can be addressed and rectified at the same time?

I commend the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, on his proposed reorganisation of the VECs. The Minister has shown great understanding of his brief in the proposals he has brought forward——

——unlike the previous Administration whose changes would have proved unworkable and impractical.

He is doing exactly the same.

I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to make a statement to the House on the administrative centres of the proposed new VECs clarifying from where each VEC will be administered and what will happen to the present VEC offices. Some of the proposed changes involve amalgamating the VECs of two counties. A VEC may own offices in one county. Will this be the administrative centre or might it be in leased properties in the other county? If the administrative centre will be in leased properties, what will happen to the VEC offices which are owned? Will they be let or sold? Will some staff from each county be retained?

I join with Senator Moran in congratulating the 126 athletes who took part in the Special Olympics. They are a credit to their country and families and well done to all involved.

I also want to pay tribute to all of those in Waterford who were part of the tall ships event. It was one of the best festivals which took place in the State over many years and has set a benchmark for the future. Hundreds of thousands of people were on the quays in Waterford and a huge effort went into organising and planning the event. I commend all of the volunteers, staff, management and local councillors and all of those who were supportive of the event and who attended it.

Two years ago, the only Irish sail training ship, theAsgard II, sank. As an island nation with maritime history, we have no sail training programme in the State or on the island. It is an issue that could be addressed by the House through all-Ireland North-South co-operation. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister are to come before the House and this is an issue on which we should work on an all-Ireland basis. Many young children who took part in the sail training programmes on the Asgard II experienced a life-changing event. This matter should be re-examined and the programme reinstated.

I restate our intent to have the Minister for Health come before the House to discuss issues which are of concern not only to Members of the House but also to those outside the House. The Minister will be in the House for seven hours this week to discuss legislation. This is fair enough but there is a plethora of health issues including the potential closure of accident and emergency departments in a number of hospitals, a shortage of junior doctors and nurses and a general crisis in health services. We want to have discussions on these with the Minister for Health but we cannot. However, he is coming to the House for seven hours to discuss legislation. The issues to be discussed in the context of the legislation pale into insignificance——

A question to the Leader.

——when one considers the real issues in the health service. Will the Leader bring the Minister for Health to the House for statements on the issues Members and those outside the House want to discuss, namely the real issues affecting the health service?

I congratulate the Special Olympics team, many of whom come from Donegal. They have done the country and every county proud. Every medal is a marvellous achievement and they won 107. I join with other Members in congratulating them.

I want to raise an issue which was front page news in theDerry Journal today, which is robberies in Inishowen — which has a population of 33,000 — in County Donegal over the past week and I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to make a statement on the matter. Around this time last year, eight people died in a tragic car crash on the peninsula. In fairness to the authorities, a large number of gardaí were mobilised in response to carry out speed checks. When asked, gardaí came out in force after the tragedy in question to monitor speed on the roads and set up checkpoints. In light of the considerable local reaction to a number of robberies at the weekend and in previous weeks, will the Minister make a statement on the Garda resources available in Inishowen and the rest of County Donegal? As I stated, the local news this morning focused on the fear people are experiencing in rural areas as well as towns where businesses have been broken into. I do not know if the Garda believes the attacks are being carried out by a single gang but the break-ins seem to be targeted at obtaining cash. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister make a statement on recent events in Inishowen.

Arising from the Cathaoirleach's decision not to allow a matter I submitted to be discussed on the Adjournment tonight, I call on the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to come to the House to explain the betrayal of——

To clarify the issue, while I did not select the matter the Senator submitted, I allowed it.

It has not been ordered for discussion.

There is a difference between allowing a matter and selecting it for discussion. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow the Minister for Health to come before the House to explain the position regarding the accident and emergency department in Roscommon County Hospital. People in County Roscommon are in revolt because of the proposal to curtail the department from Monday next. They will come to Dublin tomorrow to protest because the absence of an accident and emergency department will require people to travel a distance of as much as 125 km in emergencies. This a matter of life or death. I remind Fine Gael and Labour Party Senators that the first hour in an emergency is critical and the absence of a hospital means death. As many as 15,000 people will travel from County Roscommon to Leinster House tomorrow when the Dáil will discuss a Private Members' motion on accident and emergency departments which will be tabled by Sinn Féin and supported by the Fianna Fáil Party.

The former Minister of State, Mr. Michael Finneran, has made an important statement in which he hits out at the single, greatest crime perpetrated on the people of Roscommon by the Minister, Deputy Reilly. People will die as a result of this decision.

The Senator may raise these points during the debate.

I do not believe Deputies Naughten or Feighan or Senator Kelly realise how serious this matter is. It is a matter of life or death for people in County Roscommon. The 14,000 people who attend the accident and emergency unit in Roscommon County Hospital every year do not have anywhere else to go as there is no room in the inn. This was the greatest U-turn and betrayal perpetrated by any Government in the history of the State.

(Interruptions).

People in County Roscommon will not stand idly by. The Minister misled people in County Roscommon and secured two seats in the constituency to which the Fine Gael Party was not entitled. The Fianna Fáil Party lost a seat in the county because he gave a commitment on the hospital.

The Senator is a sub.

He did not make the team.

Sending out a letter containing such a commitment to people in the constituency was the greatest political stroke ever but the Fine Gael Party will pay a price sooner or later. In the meantime, people in County Roscommon will pay the price because people will die as a result of Fine Gael policy.

The Senator should stop posturing.

I do not see any hospitals in Dublin having their services curtailed.

I call on Senator Healy Eames.

The Government parties now realise the Mater Hospital site is suitable for a new children's hospital, having fought against it over the years.

I call on Senator Leyden to please allow Senator Healy Eames to speak without interruption.

As did Senator Henry, I found it deplorable to learn that a 14 year old child lost an opportunity to have a life-saving operation over the weekend.

I have ruled on that issue. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have one question only. Why was the Government jet not accepted by the Health Service Executive?

The matter will be discussed on the Adjournment later this evening. Senator O'Keeffe will probably share speaking time on the Adjournment.

This is a major issue. Every parent is outraged that this——

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

Why was the Government jet not accepted by the HSE to bring this child for a transplant?

Senator Healy Eames, I have ruled on this issue.

Why does the HSE continue to operate as if it is an independent republic, even in the case of Roscommon County Hospital? We have learned that the Minister for Health was doing his best behind the scenes to ensure that Roscommon County Hospital was safe, but the HSE officials are talking about the redeployment of staff. There are totally mixed messages and that is not good enough for our people.

The Minister is in charge of the HSE.

He took over the board of the HSE.

Senator Healy Eames, without interruption.

It is not unusual to learn that a black market thrives during a recession. However, I heard about two cases last weekend that absolutely horrified me, where consultants in a midland hospital and a Dublin hospital are seeking cash payments from their patients. Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the Minister for Health and ask him to issue a directive in this regard? Obviously, patients are very vulnerable. They wait a long time to get on a list and when they do they are glad to pay up. However, this practice is unacceptable.

Finally, I learned this morning that Threshold has issued a good report on Galway city which indicates that almost 4,000 houses in the city are empty. This phenomenon is not unique to Galway but occurs throughout the country. It is a big issue and it is important that there be joined-up thinking on it.

Have you a question for the Leader?

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for housing to the House. He must engage in joined-up thinking and involve organisations such as Threshold, which has produced these figures, the local authorities which have lists of people waiting for homes——

The Senator can make those points during the debate.

——and the landlords. In Galway city, for example, there are 7,000 on council waiting lists.

Those are points you can make in the debate.

Indeed. I ask the Leader to arrange for such a debate. I look forward to it.

There are two useful statistics we should note from the 2010 report of the Refugee Applications Commissioner. The first is that the number of applicants granted refugee status has fallen to 1.1%, which equates to 24 persons granted refugee status. The second notable statistic is that approximately €1.2 million has been paid out in legal costs arising from judicial reviews of decisions that were settled or lost by the State. Clearly, this points to a problem in our system of adjudication of applications for immigration and asylum. The Irish Refugee Council has proposed that we establish a model immigration and protection tribunal, which would guarantee proper second scrutiny of applications not just for refugee status but also for visas, residency, citizenship and so forth. It is also clear that we need a more robust first decision making stage if those statistics are the consequence. If so few people are being granted refugee status, it raises a significant issue of concern, as does the amount of money being paid out in legal costs. It would be useful to have the Minister for Justice and Equality address the House on his intentions in this area, particularly in the context of the forthcoming Bill. It appears that structural renewal is needed in the adjudication of immigration matters.

I also wish to refer briefly to the memorandum sent by senior members of the Judiciary to the Office of the Attorney General regarding their concerns about judicial independence in the context of proposals to reduce judges' pay. I have spoken previously about this issue in the House and made the point that the concerns the Judiciary might have could be addressed somewhat by ensuring that in a situation where judicial pay is being reduced it would also be the case that the pay of senior officials, members of the Government and so forth would be reduced too. The concerns of the Judiciary deserve to be taken seriously. It is not just self interest but, as I said previously, there is a cherished tradition of judicial independence that must not be compromised.

However, another issue that must be considered is the way in which judges are appointed. The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board certainly does its work, but it remains a fact that the system of patronage surrounding the appointment of judges has not changed. The fact remains that membership of certain political parties is no load, to say the least, when it comes to the making of appointments to the Judiciary, and appointment will depend on which Government is in power. That is not to reflect on the quality of our judges. They cherish their independence, once appointed. However, we need to be looking at systems in other countries.

I would like a debate on how we appoint our judges. We need to reflect on the separation of powers in our country and in our institutions. We also need to reflect on increasing the role of the Oireachtas in the scrutiny of judicial appointments. Parliament should not be a fiefdom of the Executive. Although we may not have experienced problems so far, we may do so in the future. In reflecting on judicial independence, which we now have to do, we should also consider the manner in which we appoint members of the Judiciary.

Could the Leader examine further the facts put before the House by Senator Healy Eames regarding hospital consultants, working on behalf of the State to save people's lives, seeking cash from patients? While the Leader is bringing that matter to the attention of the Minister for Health he might also ascertain from the Minister the progress he has made in curtailing and reducing the cost of hospital consultants' contracts to the State. Has any progress been made in bringing down this cost? Consultants are paid massive amounts of money from the public purse. Cost efficiencies could certainly be achieved there. When the Minister for Health comes to the House, could he reflect on the progress made in this regard?

A Chathaoirligh, given that you ruled my Adjournment matter regarding the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience and the competition to find the New 7 Wonders of Nature out of order, could the Leader ask Deputy Michael Ring, the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism, to find out what Fáilte Ireland is doing to promote the New 7 Wonders of Nature vote? If the Cliffs of Moher become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature it will be a major boost for tourism, not only in County Clare but throughout the country. This competition has enormous status throughout the world and millions of visitors would be attracted to this country were the Cliffs of Moher to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It is incumbent on the Government to prioritise this.

The working group in Clare are completely frustrated by the lack of involvement by Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport. This is an urgent matter that needs the urgent attention of the Minister. I ask the Leader to bring it to his attention.

I second the proposal to amend the Order of Business and I join Senator Moran and others in welcoming the return of the successful Special Olympics team. Senator Moran and I have a particular bond that helps us to understand the enormous pride felt by the families, supporters and, particularly, parents of those involved in the Special Olympics when there is success at that level. The games are a wonderful initiative. The psychological benefits for the individuals taking part and for all around them cannot be counted in monetary terms.

I also articulate the anger communicated to me by the people of Leitrim at the manner in which Ms Maedhbh McGivern——

I have ruled on that matter and it will be raised on the Adjournment tonight.

Coming from within 12 miles of where the McGivern family live, it is important that I raise the matter in the national Parliament.

I have ruled on that issue.

All I ask is that the Leader, having put the question to the Minister, would come back with some indication of what went wrong. When the opportunity arises, which I hope it will sooner rather than later, I hope there will be a seamless transfer of Ms McGivern to the relevant hospital and that her family will not have to suffer what they have been grievously suffering over the last number of days. I would very much like to have the person responsible named and shamed. Some individual made the decision. We do not have a culture of naming and shaming in this country.

In light of the guillotining of the social welfare Bill last week, the opportunity to question the Minister about the sections covering the habitual residence rule did not arise. However, I was delighted to read over the weekend that she has issued guidelines to all community welfare offices to ensure returning emigrants will not be discriminated against when they sign on legitimately for social welfare benefits. Will the guidelines be circulated to Members in order that we have an idea of what they involve rather than us having to rely on newspaper reports? It was a shame that those who contributed so much to this country but who had to leave because they had no option were being denied social welfare payments when they returned. It was a national scandal and I compliment the Minister on seeing fit to issue the guidelines, which are the result of the lobbying that has taken place in this regard both by Irish organisations working on behalf of emigrants in England and organisations here such as Crosscare Migrant Project FLAC. I hope the Minister will give us an assurance that they will be adhered to and they will not be strictly enforced to ensure no returning emigrant will be denied the right that those of us living in the country enjoy.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House as soon as possible to discuss the free legal aid scheme? This is one of the most abused schemes in the State. It s being abused not only by criminals but also by the legal profession itself. I was sickened when I saw a court report on the television news regarding an individual with 67 previous convictions who was afforded free legal aid. The scheme should be amended. If one has three strikes, one should be out because there is no incentive for criminals not to re-offend. I would like the Minister to come to the House to tease out his thoughts on the abuse of the free legal aid scheme and changes to its delivery.

If we are to get the economy right again, we will have to depend on small and medium-sized enterprises. While they are not looking for help, they are looking for a fair deal. I am concerned greatly by the figures published yesterday, which highlight that the State is delaying payments to small and medium enterprises for goods and services that should be paid within 30 days for an average of 73 days. This is either policy or inefficiency. Will the Leader follow this up with the Minister for Finance to find out whether it is the result of policy or inefficiency that the State is delaying payment to small and medium enterprises, the very people we have to rely on if we are going to get the economy right again, for up to 77 days and, on average, 73 days? This is probably due to inefficiency but I would hate to think it is due to Government policy.

I bhfianaise thuarascáil an Choimisinéara Teanga ar maidin, a léirigh go bhfuil cuid mhaith de na Ranna Stáit ann nach bhfuil ag comhlíonadh a gcuid dualgas faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an tAire Stáit sa Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta isteach anseo le tuairisc a thabhairt dúinn ar céard atá i gceist aige agus ag an Rialtas seo a dhéanamh le go mbeidh na Ranna Stáit agus na comhlachtaí leath-Stáit ag cur i bhfeidhm a gcuid dualgas maidir le hAcht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla.

Chomh maith leis sin, d'iarr mé tamall ó shin ar an gCeannaire go mbeadh díospóireacht againn maidir le cúrsaí iascaireachta agus dúirt sé linn go dtarlódh sin. B'fhéidir go dtabharfadh sé soiléiriú dúinn inniu ar cénuair a bheidh sin ag tarlú agus an dtarlóidh sé an taobh seo den samhradh.

Ghlaoigh mé faoi dhó an tseachtain seo caite ar dhíospóireacht eile a bhaineann le acmhainní nádúrtha na tíre seo, a dheimhneoidh gur féidir linn ár gcuid a fháil ó na hacmhainní nadúrtha atá againn sa tír seo agus nach rachaidh siad chuig na hollchomhlachtaí. I am calling for a debate on our natural resources. It is an area into which we could tap for badly needed revenue. We must ensure that what happened in Bellanaboy does not happen again. We must also ensure that any new licences issued for energy generation from wind, oil, gas or wave energy are to the benefit of the State and the good of all citizens and that we get the tax revenue we should get from natural resources which we have not got under previous Governments. Táim ag glaoch ar an gCeannaire go mbeidh a leithéid de dhíospóireacht againn chomh luath agus is féidir.

I also seek that the Leader would speak to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, once again, about regional airports. Mention has been made of the young lady from Leitrim in need of a liver transplant. That is also a regional development issue. How are people in those regions to access emergency services on time if the airports in Sligo and Galway are closed? Time is critical in such scenarios.

Glaoim ar an Aire Iompair, Turasóireachta agus Spóirt athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar na cinntí atá á dtógáil aige maidir leis na h-aerfoirt réigiúnda le deimhniú gur féidir iad a choinneáil in áit ar chúinsí sláinte amháin, muna bhfuil aon rud eile i gceist.

I wish to raise an issue raised by Deputy Tom Fleming in the Lower House last week in connection with the payment of more than €1 million to one particular consultant and other high payments of six-figure sums to others. The answer given by the Minister for Health was far from satisfactory. He said that while it would be inappropriate for any Minister to intervene directly in matters relating to prices, he had concerns about the level of claims, in particular, the cost of services being provided to and paid for by the VHI.

Many people have opted out of health insurance because of the escalating cost. The cost is a direct result of medical inflation in recent years, not least of which is the huge increase in salaries. I suspect the particular individual was probably in receipt of another €250,000 from the State if he was in the pay of the HSE for hospital work. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House as a matter of urgency to debate the issue. It is one thing to reduce the salaries of staff on modest incomes for the optics value but people who earn six and seven-figure sums are getting away with no account being taken of their earnings. If the Minister will not intervene to correct the profiteering that is going on within a number of the professions, who will do it? There is no other port of call for the matter to be corrected, other than the Minister.

In reference to what Senator Rónán Mullen said, we all took note of the statement made by the judges over the weekend. Judicial independence is paramount to the judicial and democratic system, but that does not imply that the Chief Justice should be paid €130,000 a year more than the Chief Justice in the United States or that Supreme Court judges in this country should be paid €100,000 more than their counterparts in the United States. Everyone must put his or her shoulder to the wheel. I call for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to say what exactly he intends to do about the fairly scandalous situation of fees within the legal profession.

I tabled a motion with a quarter of Senators in the previous Seanad on bringing the escalating cost of tribunals of inquiry to account. I could not get a sufficient number of Seanad colleagues to bring the motion to the floor. That is unacceptable. We need to change that culture in the interests of people who are struggling to make ends meet.

I wish to raise the Foreshore (Amendment) Bill which is before the House tomorrow. The legislation was not published until yesterday evening. That does not give appropriate time to scrutinise the Bill. Rushing legislation without affording appropriate time for it to come before the House does not do justice to it or to the House. A similar issue arose last week. Perhaps the Leader could investigate the matter and ensure that legislation of this nature is not rushed into this House again. As an Opposition spokesperson on agriculture, marine and food, I only found out this morning that a briefing had been organised by the Department yesterday evening, despite the fact that most rural Members of the House — and, indeed, of the Dáil — tend to be in their areas or constituencies, rather than in Dublin, on Monday evenings. I ask the Leader to make sure this does not happen again.

The social welfare budget represents over 40% of State funding this year. Currently, there are more than 33,000 appeals lodged with the social welfare appeals office, and many of these are taking between six and 12 months to determine. This is totally unacceptable. I am calling for an emergency debate on the operations of the social welfare appeals office. It is unacceptable that any member of the public would have to wait for up to a year for a genuine appeal to be heard. I have heard of a number of cases over the last 12 months in which applicants were refused supplementary welfare allowance while their cases were on appeal, yet when the appeal decision was made they were awarded social welfare entitlements.

There are problems, as I understand it, due to the moving of community welfare officers from the HSE to the Department of Social Protection. Less leniency is being shown by CWOs at a local level than when they were under the HSE. This is a serious issue that is affecting more than 33,000 of our citizens. I ask the Leader to convene a debate on the social welfare appeals office as quickly as possible.

I join with other Senators in congratulating our Special Olympics team, who have represented us so well. Particular congratulations are due to a couple of Olympians from Ahascragh and Woodlawn in my own area of Ballinasloe, who brought home a number of medals. They will certainly be celebrating in those areas tonight when they welcome home the athletes.

It was encouraging over the weekend to hear a nice message from the Restaurants' Association of Ireland thanking the Government for the reduction in VAT and confirming that they will be in a position to hire more people and, it is to be hoped, to reduce prices and stimulate growth in the economy. We must make sure all the businesses that have been affected by the reduction in VAT pass on those reductions to their customers so we can see people beginning to spend again.

I join with a previous Senator who requested the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House for discussions on the reconfiguration of the VECs and the impact this will have on accommodation and staffing. I would also like to raise with the Minister the issue of school accommodation. There is a long-established gaelscoil in the town of Loughrea, in my area, which is operating entirely out of prefabricated buildings. In this day and age, this is not acceptable. We want to see permanent accommodation put in place. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House as soon as possible for a discussion on educational matters.

I welcome the Cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council, Seán McKiernan, to the Chamber.

I echo the sentiments of other Senators on welcoming back our Special Olympics athletes. As a Cavan person I would like to pay special tribute to John McKiernan from Bawnboy in County Cavan, who is coming home today. As previous speakers have said, there will be celebrations.

I ask the Leader for clarification with regard to the statements on food safety planned for later this afternoon. Are these the statements on food labelling that were requested a few weeks back? If so, I must voice my concerns at the fact that the Minister for Health will not be present for the debate. Why is the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food attending this debate, given that the labelling issue falls under the Department of Health's remit? If these statements will not include the issue of food labelling, when can we expect a debate on it, given that the European Parliament will vote this week on a compromise text regarding nutritional and energy content of product labelling and country of origin food labelling?

Will the Minister for Finance attend the House before the summer recess to clear up some issues relating to the budgetary process? Yesterday, he added an extra €400 million to the cuts target for this year's budget, which will now amount to €4 billion. Exchequer returns show that one in every five euro of Government revenue is spent servicing our growing debt. Will the Minister attend the House to clarify whether the target for this year's cuts will remain at €4 billion or continue to increase in the run-up to December's budget?

Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the recent review of the location of the proposed national children's hospital. The report of that review group was considered by the Cabinet earlier today and there will be an announcement on it by the Minister for Health soon.

Several Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, raised the matter of funding for regional airports and, in particular, finding an extra €5 million for Galway and Sligo airports. It will be very difficult to find millions of euro for every project. There is also the question of ongoing costs at these airports, not just a once-off €5 million payment.

Why not tell the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to put his hand down the back of the same couch in which he found the money for opening a train station in his constituency?

One reason recent Exchequer figures are on target is that the Government is serious about bringing the public finances into order.

Senator Bacik called for a debate on the children's rights referendum. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has indicated she would be willing to attend the Seanad at an early point for such a debate. All Members join with Senator Bacik's congratulations to Senator Martin McAleese on becoming the chairperson of the Magdalene laundries investigation. He is a fitting person to deal with it and I wish him well in his task.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout inquired of the preparations for Ireland's EU Presidency term in 2013. I will arrange for the House to have ongoing debates on this matter and Europe over the next several months. With the permission of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, I intend to have the President of the European Parliament address the House next week.

Senator Sean D. Barrett asked that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport would deal with the Luas and metro issues separately. He also asked that the Minister would forward the drafts of the next national development plan to the House for debates on them rather than announcing that the plan has simply been decided. I will raise this matter with the Minister.

Senator Imelda Henry and several other Members raised the case of Maedhbh McGivern who lost her opportunity for a liver transplant due to a failure in transportation services. As the Cathaoirleach said, the matter will be dealt with on the Adjournment. The Minister for Health has expressed his deep concern and sympathy to the McGivern family over the traumatic events which led to the lost transplant opportunity. He has ordered HIQA, the Health Information and Quality Authority, to deal with this matter as expeditiously as possible. Every Member will agree the HIQA inquiry is essential in ensuring the McGivern family and others in similar predicaments do not face such heartbreaking outcomes in the future.

Senator Byrne raised the issue of the Smithwick report. The Minister has agreed to come into the House when the report is published and I am sure he will address the concerns outlined by Senator Byrne in that regard. Senators Moran, Harte, Mooney, Mullins, Reilly, Cullinane and others mentioned the Special Olympics, a matter we dealt with last week. I would like to compliment all the participants, the coaches and the families involved. The athletes are a great credit to their families, their counties and their country. We would all like to join in congratulating each and every one of them.

Senator Norris mentioned anomalies regarding the civil partnership legislation. We hope these can be addressed through the Finance (No. 3) Bill which will come before the House in the next week or so. Senator O'Neill spoke about the VECs and Senator Mullins spoke about the administrative centres and called for a debate on education. We will arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House in the next session for a wide-ranging debate on education.

Senator Cullinane mentioned the tall ships festival. I had the pleasure of being in Waterford for the festival for a number of days and I join in congratulating the organising committee, the city manager, the Garda, the Civil Defence and everybody involved on what was a wonderful festival that hosted over 500,000 people in Waterford over the weekend. With regard toAsgard II and the sail training programme, this is something that can and should be addressed on an all-Ireland basis. As someone whose grandfather was a sea captain who sailed on three-masted schooners many moons ago, sailing is something very close to my heart. I will raise the issue of sail training with the relevant Minister.

That is a very interesting story.

Senator Harte spoke about robberies in Inishowen. That deplorable situation is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality and I will raise it with him. Senator Harte could also raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Senator Leyden has put forward an amendment to the Order of Business but I do not propose to accept it. He will have ample opportunity on Friday to deal with health matters when the Minister will be in the House for six or seven hours. On the question of letters, there have been letters from the Minister. However, I was reminded last week at a meeting held by the hospice in Waterford that it had letters from a former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, before the 2007 general election, promising a 20-bed hospice at Waterford Regional Hospital which has still not been delivered. There was also a letter on the front page of local newspapers in Waterford prior to the 2011 general election insisting that the Waterford Institute of Technology would be upgraded immediately to university status.

There is no relevance in that response. The Minister for Health gave a written commitment to the people of Roscommon.

The Leader, without interruption.

Is this letter to be consigned to the bin as well?

There is a long history of letters, not alone from the Minister for Health but from the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

There is a significant difference between a hospice and an acute general hospital.

False promises were made.

Senator Healy Eames made a serious allegation concerning consultants demanding cash from patients. I hope she brings any evidence she has in that regard to the attention of the Minister for Health. This is a serious allegation and I hope the evidence will be brought to the Minister as a matter of urgency. We cannot allow such activity to occur in our hospitals.

Senator Mullen raised the issues of the Refugees Appeals Tribunal, legal fees and judges' pay. The Government is committed to a referendum on judges pay and it will go ahead. With regard to how we appoint our judges, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board advises the Government on appointments to the Judiciary and does an excellent job in that regard.

Senator Conway asked about Fáilte Ireland and its lack of involvement in the competition to find the New 7 Wonders of Nature. This is a matter we can raise with the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Ring. Senator Mooney referred to the guidelines for habitual residence. We will arrange that the guidelines are circulated to all Members. The point raised is valid. Senator Sheahan raised the anomalies in free legal aid, a matter we will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to address.

Senator Quinn mentioned delays in payments. When he attended this Chamber a week ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, set limits for the payment of small and medium-sized enterprises by State bodies. He said they were almost on target for 30 days and that he hoped it would be reduced to 15 days for all State bodies to pay suppliers. I am concerned at a report that it was taking 73 days. It is the intention of the Government that 30 days is the maximum and the Government intends to reduce this period. It is unacceptable that State bodies contribute to small businesses going to the wall. That is not the intention of the Government. The Minister of State is chasing up that matter as a matter of urgency.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh called for a debate on fisheries. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will appear in the Chamber on 20 July. Senator Walsh made reference to escalating costs and consultants' pay. The Minister for Health will be in the Chamber and Senator Walsh can address it with him then. Senator Walsh has raised the matter of judicial pay and fees for legal practitioners on several occasions. Regarding Senator Ó Domhnaill's contribution, I advised Members last week that we would have emergency legislation and that we would be dealing with the Foreshore Act and health legislation. I do not like to have emergency legislation rushed through the House but the Government is publishing the Bills today and they will be introduced and passed by both Houses by Friday.

Senator Michael Mullins referred to businesses passing on the VAT reduction. I hope all businesses that have benefited from the VAT reduction pass on these reductions to the customer. Regarding Senator Reilly's question, we will have the debate on food safety today and labelling comes into that. The figures released yesterday are mainly on target. If necessary, we will invite the Minister for Finance to the Chamber before the end of July.

I am sure Members of the House will join in welcoming Judge Anthony Kennedy, the Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, to the House. He is very welcome. We wish him a very successful trip and we thank him for calling.

Senator Terry Leyden has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That statements on the continuation of the accident and emergency service at Roscommon County Hospital be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 31.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
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, 34; Níl, 16.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • 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.