Adjournment Matters

Direct Payment Schemes

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Baineann an rún seo le scéim atá tábhachtach do fheirmeoirí agus do chúrsaí talmhaíochta go ginearálta. This matter is self-explanatory and I call on the Minister of State to update us on the reopening of the agri-environment options scheme for 2012. When the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, was last in this Chamber he was asked about the potential reopening of the agri-environment options scheme for 2012 and indicated that the scheme would open. We have not heard any update since.

There are approximately 30,000 farmers who would traditionally have been in the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, who are leaving REPS 3 by the end of this year. They will not have the opportunity to go into any new scheme, so it is essential to reopen the agri-environment options scheme. Not only that but the €4,000 payment should be increased to €5,000, with at least 10,000 farmers allowed into the scheme. Oddly enough, last year there was an underspend in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine of approximately €230 million, and the scheme was curtailed even though provision was made in the 2011 budget for 10,000 farmers, with a maximum payment of €5,000. The Minister chose to reduce the payment to €4,000 at the maximum level and the number of eligible farmers to 8,000.

Will the Minister consider the numbers of farmers leaving REPS 3 and bring in the alternative scheme? The scheme I mention is earmarked for farmers coming from disadvantaged land areas, where the potential to farm aggressively is unavailable, with the alternative being to protect the environment and work under this scheme, which is co-funded by Brussels. It should be opened as quickly as possible.

As the closing date for the single farm payments every year is 15 May, the Department could open this scheme now and flag it early. There is no point in having a window of opportunity for applications of three or four weeks, as the system will be clogged because REPS planners and advisers would not be able to process the number of applications. If the scheme is to be reopened, it should be based on the outlined criteria and the scope should be widened. There should at least be three months for farmers to apply for the new scheme, taking into account the fact that many farmers, in conjunction with REPS planners, would take that amount of time to prepare and get applications in on time.

I have much praise for the Minister and the way he is handling the Department. The farmers coming from disadvantaged areas and the west need stimulus from this scheme, which should be opened as quickly as possible. In doing so, many farmers could enter into it.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill as an cheist seo a thógáil ar an Athló sa Seanad. I want to take the opportunity, at the outset, to emphasise the Minister's and the Government's commitment to the agri-environment schemes as operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The schemes put environmentally friendly farming at the forefront and recognise the vital role farmers play in delivering public goods in protecting the environment and the natural heritage for the benefit of society as a whole. The Government's commitment in this regard is evident in the fact that more than €500 million was spent by the Department on agri-environment schemes in 2010 and 2011 alone and also in the fact that, despite the financial pressures facing the Department, the Minister has provided a further €243 million in funding in 2012 for expenditure under the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, and the agri-environment options scheme, which is commonly known as AEOS.

The Minister's commitment is also the reason, despite serious budgetary pressures, he reopened the AEOS last year. Given the background of very serious economic and budgetary constraints on the Department, the Minister's decision to reopen the scheme to new participants in 2011 was a very challenging one involving very difficult choices. That said, I want to acknowledge that the commitment by Government is matched by the enthusiasm of Irish farmers who have shown a keen willingness to engage with environmental issues and an enthusiasm to adopt environmentally friendly practices since the introduction of the first agri-environment scheme.

The REPS, which was the first of the agri-environment schemes, was introduced in 1994 to promote ways of using agricultural land which are compatible with the protection and improvement of the environment, biodiversity, the landscape and its features, climate change, natural resources, water quality, the soil and genetic diversity. There are almost 31,000 participants in the REPS and their contracts will continue until expiry of the five-year contract period in each case.

The successor to the REPS — the AEOS — is a more targeted agri-environment scheme for which funding is provided from modulation funds under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, health check. Not only is it mandatory to spend the modulated funds on the so called new challenges, but also the EU regulation stipulates the type of actions to be funded and the kinds of effects that are required to be achieved in dealing with those challenges.

As the House will be aware, at this stage, the AEOS, as currently framed, specifically targets three challenges that have been assigned the highest priority at EU level as needing urgent action: halting the loss of biodiversity, contributing to the improvement of water quality, and combating climate change. The format of the AEOS is a menu-type approach as distinct from the whole-farm adopted approach under the REPS, consisting of actions which can be demonstrably linked to those three important challenges. The range or menu of individual measures available to farmers include traditional hay meadows in the case of biodiversity, riparian margins in the case of water quality, and minimum tillage practices in the case of climate change.

There are about 15,000 participants in AEOS I and II, which were opened to new participants in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The scheme builds on the important environmental work that commenced with the REPS in 1994 and will go some way towards addressing the serious challenges of sustainability and conservation which we face. The Minister is conscious of the number of farmers who have left the REPS in the past year or so who are anxious to continue to participate in an agri-environment scheme. He is also conscious of the need to continue to encourage and promote environmentally friendly farming. However, a decision to extend the AEOS must have regard to the budgetary realities.

The Minister is now considering the possibility of reopening the AEOS in 2012, possibly on an amended basis or on a limited scale. Any expenditure under a new scheme will have to be funded within the overall funding for the Department, beginning in 2012. The Department is already faced with a serious challenge in terms of declining budgetary resources in 2012, and the House will be aware of the decisions made and announced at budget 2012 last December to reduce expenditure in 2012. Although €1.312 billion has been provided in the Department's Vote for 2012, this represents a 19% decrease compared with 2011. The Department's expenditure ceiling as set out in the comprehensive expenditure review as agreed by the Government provides for further reduction in the Vote for the Department in 2013.

Nevertheless, the Minister is actively considering the various options for such a new AEOS but, as I have said, he must operate within the financial resources available to him. The Minister is particularly concerned about the budgetary implications of any new measure in future years. If a new AEOS is to be opened this year, it will represent a five-year commitment to each participant with the full-year cost falling to be met for the first time in 2013. Accordingly, any decision to reopen the AEOS for applications in 2012 will have to be taken in the context of the financial resources available to the Department in 2013, as agreed by the Government and, in particular, the further decisions that will have to be taken to remain within the budgetary limits that will apply. As I have stated, the question of opening the AEOS in 2012 is under active consideration and the Minister will be announcing his decision shortly.

Aistriúchán de Bhillí agus Ionstraimí Reachtúla

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is deacair do dhuine teacht isteach ar lá chomh breá leis seo ach táim buíoch de as bheith anseo.

Tá an cheist seo ag eascairt ó dhúshlán cúirte a bhí le tógáil ag comhairleoir as Baile Átha Cliath maidir leis an mBille Rialtas Áitiúil (Muirear Teaghlaigh). Baineann seo leis an leagan Gaeilge de Bhillí Stáit a bheith le fáil. Tá réimse Billí nach bhfuil aistrithe go Gaeilge go fóill agus is faillí mhór é sin dúinne mar Ghaeilgeoirí; níl sé ceart nó cóir nach mbeadh leagan Gaeilge de Bhille ar fáil dúinn agus sinn ag déanamh ár gcuid gnó sa tír seo.

Léirigh Sinn Féin ár ndíomá nuair a tháinig an tAire Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionannais isteach roinnt míonna ó shin nuair a d'áirigh sé an dualgas a bhí ar an Stát maidir le foilsiú comhuaineach de na Billí nuair atá siad achtaithe ag Tithe an Oireachtais; gur féidir anois iad a chur ar fáil i mBéarla amháin agus gur féidir an leagan Gaeilge a chur ar fáil tamaillín ina dhiaidh sin. Dá bhrí sin, táimid ag ardú na ceiste anocht maidir leis na Billí. Cé mhéid Billí nach bhfuil aistrithe go Gaeilge go fóill? Tá sin fíor-thábhachtach mar tá sé tábhachtach go dtuigfimid cad iad na réimsí a bhfuil na Billí seo ann.

Tógadh cás i gContae Mhaigh Eo anuraidh. Bhí beirt tabhairneóirí ag lorg ceadúnais arís don phub a bhí acu. Chuir na gardaí ina choinne sin ach caitheadh an cás amach as an chúirt ar an mbunús nach raibh leagan Gaeilge den Bhille áirithe ar fáil. Má tá Bille le cur i bhfeidhm agus má tá dlí na tíre le leanacht, ba chóir go mbeadh duine in ann é a leanacht i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla más toil leis sin a dhéanamh.

Tá amhras agus imní orm mar tuigim ón chás faoin mhuirear teaghlaigh nár cuireadh eolas ar fáil go dtí gur chuir an pobal brú ar an Stát leagan Gaeilge den eolas a chur ar fáil ar an suíomh Idirlín mar ní raibh sé ar fáil go comhuaineach.

Cé mhéad Billí eile atá fós le n-aistriú go Gaeilge? Cad é an sceideal atá ag an Rialtas le déanamh cinnte go n-aistreofar iad? An bhfuil an Rialtas chun na hacmhainní cuí a chur ar fáil go ndéanfar a leithéid chomh tapaidh agus is féidir? An bhfuil an tAire Stáit in ann léargas a thabhairt dúinn ar caitheadh amach cásanna eile cosúil leis sin i gContae Mhaigh Eo as an gcúirt ar an mbunús nach raibh leagan Gaeilge den Bhille ar an dlí a bhí in ainm is a bheith á shárú ar fáil? Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeimis in ann sin a thuiscint mar, sa chomhthéacs níos leithne, dar linn, níl an Stát nó an Rialtas seo i ndáiríre faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. Tá ról an Choimisinéara Teanga i mbaol de réir cosúlachta, tá go leor de na Ranna Stáit nach bhfuil ag comhlíonadh a ndualgas faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla agus dá mbeadh coimisinéir láidir againn, bheadh sé in ann aird a tharraingt ar an chineál sin ceisteanna. Tharraing an coimisinéir aird air seo tamall de bhlianta ó shin.

Tá súil agam go bhfuil freagra dearfach ag an Aire Stáit ar an gceist seo.

Tugaim buíochas don Seanadóir as deis a thabhairt dom teacht isteach agus freagra a thabhairt ar an cheist seo. Ceist chasta í ceist na n-ionstraimí reachtúla. Ar dtús, níl aon chúraimí reachtúla orm féin ná ar an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta sa réimse seo, cé is moite de na hionstraimí reachtúla a dhéanfaimis dár Roinn féin. Is é sin le rá, níl aon tagairt in aon reachtaíocht don fhreagracht seo a bheith luaite le haon Roinn ar leith. Tuigtear dom gurbh nós do Thithe an Oireachtais ionstraimí a aistriú go Gaeilge go dtí tús na 1980dí, cé nach raibh aon dualgas reachtúil orthu é sin a dhéanamh.

An chúis is mó a bhfuil mé ag caint leis an Seanadóir inniu ná go bhfuil mo Roinn freagrach as an mBille um Leasú Acht Choimisiún Thithe an Oireachtais, atá ar liosta reachtaíochta an Rialtais. Sin dáiríre an freagra is fearr agus is soiléire is féidir a thabhairt ar cheist an tSeanadóra ag an phointe seo. Nuair a bheidh an Bille sin achtaithe, beidh sé an-soiléir sa reachtaíocht den chéad uair riamh cé atá freagrach as an tseirbhís seo.

Nuair a d'éirigh Tithe an Oireachtais as ionstraimí a aistriú sna 1980dí, tuigeadh tar éis tamaill gur faoi gach Roinn Rialtais a bhí sé a gcuid ionstraimí féin a aistriú. Is eolas poiblíé nár aistríodh cuid mhaith de na hionstraimí thar na blianta. Tógadh cás i gcoinne an Stáit ag leibhéal na hArd-Chúirte i 2002, ag maíomh go raibh dualgas bunreachtúil ar an Stát ionstraimí reachtúla a aistriú go Gaeilge. Chaill an Stát an cás san Ard-Chúirt ach bhuaigh séé sa Chúirt Uachtarach. Cé gur chinn an Chúirt Uachtarach nach raibh dualgas ginearálta bunreachtúil ar an Stát ionstraimí reachtúla a aistriú go Gaeilge, is fiú a thabhairt faoi deara go ndúirt an Chúirt freisin go bhféadfadh saoránach aonair fós a bheith i dteideal leagan Gaeilge a iarraidh d'ionstraim ar leith i gcás ar leith.

Chinn an Rialtas deireanach ar aonad aistriúcháin a bhunú sa Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta, mar a bhí, le haire a thabhairt do cheist na n-ionstraimí reachtúla le linn dá achomharc a bheith os comhair na Cúirte Uachtaraí. Ag glacadh san áireamh comhairle ón Ard-Aighne ag an am, cinneadh leanúint ar aghaidh le cur chuige an Aonaid seo, ainneoin an chinnidh sa Chúirt Uachtarach, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs stádas na Gaeilge ag leibhéal an Aontais Eorpaigh. Aithníodh ag an am, áfach, go raibh brú nach beag ar acmhainní an Stáit. Sa chomhthéacs seo, deimhníodh go gcaithfí an polasaí seo a bhrú chun cinn ar bhealach tomhaiste céimnithe a chuirfeadh acmhainní an Stáit san áireamh.

Cé go bhfuil an Rialtas seo i bhfách i gcónaí le haidhm an pholasaí seo, d'aithin muid chomh maith go raibh an scéal imithe in olcas go mór maidir le hacmhainní an Stáit. Sin an fáth ar chinn muid na seirbhísí aistriúcháin a lonnú in áit amháin, i dTithe an Oireachtais, mar chuid den chuíchóiriú atá muid ag iarraidh a dhéanamh ar sheirbhísí an Stáit go ginearálta. Tá súil agam go dtuigeann an Seanadóir go bhfuil loighic ag baint leis seo. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba iad na Tithe a bhí ag aistriú na reachtaíochta ó bunaíodh an Stát. Ar an dara dul síos, tá deimhnithe sa reachtaíocht cheana gurb é Coimisiún na dTithe atá freagrach as Achtanna a aistriú. Nuair a chuirtear san áireamh an oiread taithí agus saineolais atá carntha thar na blianta ag Rannóg an Aistriúcháin i dTithe an Oireachtais, is léir go luíonn sé le ciall is le réasún go mbronnfaí cúram na n-ionstraimí reachtúla uirthi go hoifigiúil chomh maith, go háirithe i gcúinsí reatha eacnamaíochta an Stáit.

Tá súil agam gur léir don Seanadóir faoin am seo a chasta is atá ceist na n-ionstraimí reachtúla. Toisc an stair seo, is deacair freagra cruinn beacht a thabhairt ar a chuid ceisteanna. Féadfaidh mé a dheimhniú don Teach seo, áfach, go bhfuil an Rialtas seo an-chinnte go gcuirfear réiteach i bhfeidhm anois, a bhuíochas leis an mBille atá luaite agam, a bhfuil sé mar sprioc aige a chinntiú nach mbeimid sa riocht seo amach anseo.

Ar ndóigh, mar a thuigeann an Seanadóir, beidh deis againn, nuair a bheidh an reachtaíocht sin á plé sa Teach seo, na cúrsaí seo uile a chíoradh go cruinn.

Níl mé sásta leis sin, beag nó mór. Níor tugadh freagra ar an gceist a chuir mé. Tuigim go bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag rá go bhfuil reachtaíocht nua ag teacht isteach ach an cheist a chuir mé ná cad iad na Billí nach bhfuil aistrithe, cé mhéad acu atá ann, cénuair atá sé i gceist sin a dhéanamh agus cé mhéad cás a caitheadh amach as na cúirteanna de bharr nach raibh na Billí aistrithe go Gaeilge. Ba chóir go mbeadh an t-eolas bunúsach sin againn. Is cosúil go bhfuil an Rialtas ag dul timpeall ar an gceist a chuir mé anseo mar is dócha go bhfuil go leor leor Billí fós le haistriú. Ní ghlacaim gur tugadh freagra ar bith ar mo cheist. An bhféadfadh an tAire Stáit dul ar ais agus labhairt leis an Aire Dlí is Cirt agus Comhionannais le fáil amach cé mhéad Bille nach bhfuil aistrithe go Gaeilge fós agus ar caitheadh amach mórán cásanna as na cúirteanna de bharr nach raibh leagan Gaeilge den bhun-Bhille arfáil?

An Billí nó ionstraimí atá i gceist ag an Seanadóir?

Táim ag caint, mar shampla, faoin mhuirear teaghlaigh. Má thógtar duine chun na cúirte an féidir a rá nach bhfuil leagan Gaeilge den Bhille ar fáil, más Bille nó ionstraim a chuireann i bhfeidhm é. Ba chóir go mbeadh an Bille agus an ionstraim reachtúil a théann leis ar fáil i nGaeilge. Cad iad na Billí atá achtaithe nach bhfuil ar fáil trí mheán na Gaeilge agus cé mhéad cás a caitheadh amach as na cúirteanna mar thoradh air sin?

B'fhéidir go mbeadh sé níos fusa uimhir na mBillí a fháil ná huimhir na n-ionstraimí. D'fhéadfadh an-chuid ionstraimí a bheith ann. Táimid ag dul siar breis agus 30 bliain agus tá obair uafásach ann chun sin a dhéanamh. Tá sé faoi gach Roinn a cuid ionstraimí féin a aistriú. Ní raibh muid ábalta cuntas cruinn a thabhairt air sin ach nuair a bheidh an Bille tríd, beidh sé ar bhonn reachtúil agus beimid ábalta dul ar aghaidh. Mar a dúirt mé, b'fhéidir go mbeimis in ann uimhir na mBillí a fháil ach bheadh sé beagnach dodhéanta ag an phointe seo gan an-chuid oibre a chur isteach ann cad é an méid ionstraimí nach bhfuil aistrithe. Tuigim gur mhaith leis an Seanadóir fáil amach ach an tsuim atá agam as seo amach go dtí go mbeidh an Bille achtaithe, gur féidr linn bualadh ar aghaidh.

Sin an cheist a chuir mé: cé mhéad Bille atá i gceist?

Glacaim nach bhfuil an Seanadóir sásta ach caithfimid dul ar aghaidh chuig an chéad rud eile.

Medicinal Products

The fascinating dialogue between the Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley, and Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh in which the Leas-Chathaoirleach intervened was one of the most interesting and fluent exchanges I had heard in the Irish language for many a long day. I doubt such has been heard in the Dáil for quite a while either, which is another good reason to keep Seanad Éireann going. Let it be recorded that the Minister of State nodded.

I raise a poignant case involving the death of a young man who was a constituent of mine, albeit not one personally known to me. His mother had, however, written to me on a number of occasions about various matters and I know the family is a fine one. The young man in question did not want presents for his 21st birthday; he wanted everything to be given to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He had also helped out with the homeless and was completely against violence, even when it had been visited upon him. Despite this, in August 2009 he killed himself and another young man. The reason, his mother believes, is that he was having emotional difficulties which she described as a broken heart. While I presume it was a romance that did not work, I simply do not know the circumstances. In any case, she took her son to the doctor who prescribed anti-depressants. After 17 days on the drug citalopram he took the dreadful action mentioned. His mother enlisted the support of a leading Irish authority, Professor David Healy, who has given evidence in trials in the United States and is a world renowned authority on the relationship between certain anti-depressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs, and suicide and homicide. He gave evidence to the Coroner's Court that in his opinion the drug had caused the young man in question to become suicidal and homicidal. A number of other Irish academics, whose names I will give subsequently, have come to the same conclusion.

That SSRIs have the potential to cause suicide and homicide is acknowledged in the United States where the relevant patient information leaflet lists these side effects. Unfortunately, the patient information leaflet in Ireland does not include such a warning. Whereas the Canadian leaflet includes a five page black box, the Irish leaflet contains absolutely nothing. I ask that a question be raised about a conflict of interest between the Irish Medicines Board and the interests of the patient in question. The IMB which has links with drug companies continually refers to the European Medicines Agency, a body which is under inquiry because of its conduct with regard to various drug companies.

It is important to note that the jury at the inquest into the death of the young man in question returned an open verdict, in other words, it did not return a verdict of suicide. The drug in question only has a particular effect on specific individuals. While I do not deny it has an anti-depressant effect on some people, a minority experience severe trauma as a result of taking it and this can lead to totally uncharacteristic violence.

After the inquest, the manufacturer of the drug stated on an RTE news programme that its drug could not have caused the events and that there was no evidence to support Professor Healy's claim, despite the fact that it had a kind of "Dear Doctor" letter stating side effects could include self-harm and harm to others, also known as suicide and murder or homicide. The College of Psychiatry of Ireland dismissed the views of Professor Healy as speculative, despite the drug manufacturer accepting the existence of the side effects of self-harm and harm to others.

The drugs in question can cause people to become uncharacteristically suicidal or extremely violent; the facts are known. I, therefore, ask that the issue of a conflict of interest be examined to get at the facts, to establish by investigation what is the impact of the drugs and ensure there are adequate warnings placed before patients in order that they and their doctors will know there is a possibility of side effects. I refer to two learned articles which may be of assistance: Anti-Depressants and Violence: Problems at the Interface of Medicine and Law, by Professor David Healy et al in PLoS Medicine which can be downloaded from the Internet, and Suicidality, Violence and Mania caused by Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, SSRIs: A Review and Analysis, by Peter R. Breggin in The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine.

While I am aware that the Minister of State, like me, is not a qualified doctor and that this is not his particular area of responsibility, I would be grateful if he would bring the matter to the attention of his colleague in government, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and ask her if she would be willing to receive a deputation, including the bereaved mother of this wonderful young man. From everything I have learned about him, I wish I had had the opportunity to know him because he seems to have been an adornment to this planet.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Norris as ucht an ábhair seo a ardú inniu. Perhaps the Senator might be good enough to convey my condolences and sympathy to the mother and family of the unfortunate young man to whom he referred.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs, are anti-depressants available on prescription only. They are licensed for use in Ireland and across the European Union for the treatment of depressive disorders and some anxiety conditions. It is estimated that at any one time more than 450,000 people in Ireland experience depression. Young people, in particular, can find it hard to cope with depression and one in ten adolescents experience a depressive episode. Untreated depression can have a fatal outcome. Anti-depressants, when used properly, are effective in the treatment of depression and lead to a reduction in suicidal thoughts. According to the College of Psychiatry of Ireland, approximately 3% of Irish adults use anti-depressants. It is important to note that, in addition to the significant health benefits of medicines, all medicines carry some risks. People taking anti-depressant medicines may also experience adverse effects.

The Irish Medicines Board is responsible for the licensing and safety and monitoring of medicines in Ireland. In conjunction with medicines authorities in other member states, it continuously monitors the safety of medicines in a collaborative way and takes actions, as necessary, to ensure medicines continue to have a favourable benefit-risk profile for patients. As part of the system of monitoring medicines' safety, it has a spontaneous reporting system by which health care professionals and patients can report suspected adverse reactions to medicines. It also reviews, approves and continuously updates the product information and package leaflet of medicines to reflect the current state of knowledge of each medicine and the risks associated with its use. All new and emerging safety data are assessed by it in conjunction with EU medicines authorities.

Unfortunately, depression can be associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, self-harm and suicide in some patients. This risk persists until significant remission of the depression occurs. It has been known for some time that there is a potential risk of suicide related behaviour, particularly in the early stages of treatment with anti-depressants. The approved product information for anti-depressants specifically highlights the need for careful monitoring of patients with suicidal thoughts following initiation of treatment.

In 2008 a comprehensive review of the safety profile of SSRIs was undertaken at European Union level by EU medicines authorities. During this safety review the existing warnings contained in SSRI product information were further strengthened throughout Europe and manufacturers of SSRIs were obliged to update the product information on all SSRIs. The new updated warnings were communicated by the Irish Medicines Board to health care professionals.

While anti-depressants play a central role in the treatment of depression, patient safety must be paramount. The Irish Medicines Board actively monitors the safety of medicines, including SSRIs, on an ongoing basis and does not hesitate to issue safety warnings and update information, if required. At European level, new legislation will be implemented later this year which will include a range of new measures to improve patient safety such as improved systems for monitoring the safety of medicines and patient reporting of adverse reactions. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure the system of monitoring medicines safety in Ireland and throughout the European Union is as responsive as possible to the emergence of new information on medicines safety in order that patients continue to have access to safe and effective medicines.

I thank the Minister of State for his gracious reply and, in particular, his words of sympathy to the mother of the young man, which I will certainly pass on with a copy of his statement. I wish to comment briefly on the statement, in particular the Minister of State's remark that the IMB "has a spontaneous reporting system by which health care professionals and patients can report suspected adverse reactions" and that it is continuously monitoring. This simply has not worked. In fact, it has been useless. As I understand it, the IMB has not even replied to this woman.

The assistant State pathologist, Dr. Declan Gilsenan, has expressed very considerable concern in this area and lent his full weight to it. He said he has seen too many suicides among people who had started taking these drugs and, in his considered view, the evidence was more than anecdotal and he was hoping to raise the matter directly with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. This adds strength to the case, which has the support of Dr. Gilsenan, Professor Healy, Dr. Pat Bracken and Dr. Terry Lynch. I would be grateful if the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, would draw this to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. Perhaps she may be prepared to see a delegation.

I appreciate the Senator's deep knowledge of this drug. His comments will certainly be brought to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

I am very grateful.

Tá mé an-bhuíoch don Leas-Chathaoirleach as ucht na díospóireachta seo a roghnú ar an Athló, díospóireacht a bhfuil an-tábhachtach, i mo thuairimse.

I raise the specific issue of narcolepsy which has been diagnosed recently in at least 32 children in Ireland who received the Pandemrix vaccine at the time of the swine flu epidemic. Narcolepsy is a malfunction of the sleep-wake regulating system in the brain. There are thought to be 2,500 sufferers in Ireland but there are at least 32 persons in Ireland who have developed it since the swine flu epidemic and the administration of the Pandemrix vaccine at that time. The symptoms include excessive sleepiness during the day time — so-called sleep paralysis — micro-sleep, where the person continues to function even though asleep, and night-time wakefulness. There is a further condition called cataplexy, which is the sudden loss of muscle control and is very dangerous for people who might want to engage in activities such as driving or normal day-to-day business. There is also a syndrome known as sleeping beauty syndrome, which is very frightening. One can imagine from its name what is entailed.

At the time of the administration of the vaccine, studies were carried out in the Scandinavian countries plus Finland which identified some causal links between the vaccine and narcolepsy, which is having a terrible effect in particular on young people in Ireland. I know at least one of the families involved in this issue and know it is literally a living nightmare for them.

There are many medium-term and long-term issues to be addressed. While I will not deal with them all today, I put the Minister for Health on notice that I intend to raise this matter on an ongoing basis. I wish to focus on two issues that arise for the families concerned. First, a study is being carried out by the Department of Health — it is referred to as an inquiry, although I am not sure of its exact status — with regard to the causal links between Pandemrix and narcolepsy. We understand this study is about to be completed. What the parents want as soon as possible is for the report to be released at least to them in order that, if there is valuable information in that document or reference to research of which the Department has become aware in recent months, it would be made available to the families in the hope that a better situation for their children may result.

Second, the families want to know what efforts are continuing at a pan-European level in terms of examining further the causal links and the treatments available. Only two treatments are available, namely, ritalin and Provigil. These are both essentially stimulants to keep children awake and are not cures for the disorder. They temporarily deal with some of the symptoms that arise, as I understand it. The families want to know from research at pan-European level in regard to rare diseases, which we debated in the House some weeks ago, what efforts are under way. This problem has arisen throughout Europe and we will not solve it on our own.

The families involved want one point person to deal with in Departments. The families were offered medical cards, for example, and most have availed of this. Initially, however, the staff in the medical card section did not seem to know about this offer and people were refused medical cards even though they had been promised. While I understand this has been addressed, other issues arise, in particular in regard to the Department of Education and Skills and how these children are dealt with at school. As the Minister of State can understand, if children have the symptoms I have described, it is very difficult for them to continue their ordinary day-to-day activities, which mainly involve school at their current ages. They want one point person, preferably in the Department of Health but one who can also speak to the Department of Education and Skills, to whom they can bring all the issues, which would be helpful. These people are going through something that has not been gone through before and deserve further help.

Many other issues arise. The families have set up an organisation called SOUND and they have been making a lot of sound about this. They are willing to work with the Government but they are anxious to have some contact from the Department in regard to the studies that are ongoing.

I quoted from an Irish Examiner article of 25 February. While I do not have the name of the journalist, I hope I can give it as I quoted directly from her article, although I must return to my office to get her name. The article certainly explains the situation very clearly and in depth.

That is what I have to say at this stage. I put the Minister on notice that the parents involved are banding together in a representative body, as they should do. They intend to make noise about this and to do the best for their children. We would not expect anything less.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht na ceiste an-tábhachtach seo a árdú agus an seans a thabhairt domsa é a thógáil ar an Athló.

As Senators are aware, the H1N1 influenza pandemic alert was issued by the World Health Organization in 2009. As part of the response, two pandemic vaccines were provided in Ireland, Pandemrix and Celvapan. Subsequently, the Irish Medicines Board, IMB, reported two confirmed cases of narcolepsy in people who had been vaccinated, and it was agreed the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, would work with the IMB and clinical experts in narcolepsy to examine the Irish data. The HPSC conducted a retrospective population-based study and submitted a report to the Department of Health in February 2012.

The parents of those affected have formed a group, Suffers Of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder, SOUND. The Minister has already met SOUND and is available to do so again. SOUND has raised the issue of obtaining international expert advice on this matter and the HSE has agreed to facilitate this request. SOUND is obviously concerned about the possible effects which a diagnosis of narcolepsy may have on their children's education. Officials from the Department of Health, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills have been meeting SOUND to address the parents' concerns. There will be ongoing contact between the Department of Health and SOUND and I understand a further meeting will take place in approximately six weeks. Two members of SOUND sit on the HSE serious incident alert group which is managing the issue.

I draw to the House's attention the additional supports being put in place, as follows: senior officials from the Department of Health met with their counterparts in the Department of Education and Skills to brief them on the report and to discuss the possible educational supports which may be required for the children affected; the HSE will assign a named individual as a single point of contact where families' service issues can be addressed; a case definition has been agreed by clinical experts; the HSE will begin a multidisciplinary needs assessment of the children affected by requesting primary care physicians or specialists to refer to a nominated lead in each of the four regions — the regional leads have been appointed and the assessments will begin shortly; the multidisciplinary assessments will allow appropriate health and educational supports to be put in place for affected children and adolescents — those about to undertake State examinations will be prioritised; and the multidisciplinary assessments will be repeated every two years to assess the changing needs of those affected.

The Department of Health will consider all other possible supports which may need to be put in place for those affected. The possibility of having narcolepsy-cataplexy classified as a disability has been raised with the Department of Health and the issues involved will be examined prior to any proposals being formulated.

The Minister for Health is preparing a memorandum for the Government which will set out the full response to this issue and will detail the supports for the affected children, adolescents and their families. It is intended to submit it as soon as practicable.

I assure the House that the Minister is treating this issue as a matter of priority as he is aware of the difficulties which both the children affected and their parents are experiencing.

I want to raise a number of issues. As I stated, I intend to raise this matter repeatedly because this is a developing situation.

In the experience of my constituent no contact has been made between the Department of Education and Skills and the school involved. I am sure there will be direct contact in that regard with the Department of Education and Skills in that the schools received no advice in that regard.

The single point of contact in the HSE in terms of medical services is important, but it is also necessary between the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills from a policy point of view in terms of the information that is sought from across Europe. I do not know whether there are any Ministers of State serving the two Departments anymore. The HSE has agreed to facilitate the request on that pan-European issue, but I want to see more happening on it because there are procedures in place, as I understand it, from a debate here on rare diseases.

I do not think there has been mention of a document to issue shortly, apart from the memorandum to the Government. What is of immediate practical concern, apart from the medical treatment, is that any information the Government has that could be of help to the individuals be provided. We can understand legal advice and such information is not an issue, but if there is information within the Department that can be of assistance, then the parents want to know about it at the earliest opportunity.

In fairness, it is up to the Minister of State. He has given a response. The Senator wanted to hightlight that issue, maybe for a future debate. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 28 March 2012.