Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 5 Mar 2013

Vol. 221 No. 10

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding section 17A of the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Act 2001, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Members not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 5.35 p.m.

The Leader has asked me to remind Senators of the decision taken not to facilitate committees in session during the Order of Business.

We will not be opposing the Order of Business.

As the Deputy Leader may be aware, yesterday the Fianna Fáil Party launched a document, Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Structural Approach to a Societal Issue, which is a set of proposals for structural reform and resourcing of a strategy for suicide prevention. We welcome that the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has welcomed the publication of the document, and all Members will receive it by e-mail as of today. It is my sincere wish that we could debate the document in the House. While I appreciate that we can put forward these issues in Private Members' time, in light of the non-adversarial spirit in which it was written and presented yesterday and its ministerial welcome, the Government might make time available to allow us to debate the document and its merits. Members on both sides of the House have equal concern about this matter, and equal ambition to solve it. Following seven months of work and research in putting together the existing body of work, which is available, and adding new strands to that by way of additional research, we believe we have come up with a structure that can work. The rhetoric of many of us in these Houses following instances of suicide is often empty when one considers the kind of action required to ultimately deal with this issue. We must provide the required structure and resources to the experts, who are the people who can begin to peel back the blindfold on the scourge that is the loss of life through suicide.

We have proposed that this measure would be financed, even in the depths of this recession, by €88 million which could be easily sought from consumers who would contribute through their purchases in off-sales of alcohol, which are, as we all know, at a historical low. A vox pop in the street would result in unanimous support for such a measure. I am not asking that we debate the document today, but I very much hope that this issue, which I know unites the House, will be debated in the coming weeks, when all of us can share our thoughts on the document and the way it can be improved, and more importantly, how quickly we can move to implement the positive recommendations within it.

I note the launch of Senator MacSharry's policy document yesterday, which I am sure will contribute to the serious debate on the issue of suicide prevention.

I welcome today's news that European Union finance Ministers have agreed to formally ask the troika to examine the best possible option for Ireland in extending the deadline for repaying the bailout loans. It is important news and, combined with the recent decision to replace the promissory notes with bonds, will result in real savings and benefits for the Irish people. It is another important step on our road to recovery, and it is to be welcomed.

I draw the House's attention to the fact that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, along with EU partners in the Commission and from industry, yesterday launched an initiative to examine the filling of ICT jobs. It is estimated that there are 900,000 vacancies in this area across the EU; we know of 5,000 in this country. I welcome the decision by FireEye to develop 150 jobs in the Cork area, but there is much that can be done. There is huge potential for this country to be at the forefront in driving change and ensuring we have the computer, science, engineering and mathematics graduates to match the needs of industry. The initiative announced yesterday will work with industry and partners in education here and across Europe to ensure that individual skills are honed to match the needs of industry and that the education sector reacts. That will tie in appropriately with the discussion we will have on Thursday with the Minister for Education and Skills on the Education and Training Boards Bill. This is a welcome initiative because it is an area on which there is not enough focus in this House. Developing jobs is important, but this is real potential that we should maximise.

In The University Times today there is a story that in the negotiations on the reconfiguration of teacher training in Ireland the Church of Ireland College of Education will not be allowed to retain its name. The inclusion of "Church of Ireland" in the title does not threaten anybody; rather, it enriches the island as an example of the diversity enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. Perhaps the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, can clarify the matter when he comes to the House on Thursday. We had a debate on the issue of patronage of schools and the Minister agreed that some people were unduly sensitive to symbols, emblems and titles associated with the religious beliefs of others. As a country we must grow up and allow the diversity we all wish to see.

I wish Senator Marc MacSharry well with his discussion document on the issue of suicide. I heard the Senator speak on LMFM this morning and he spoke well. I do not know, however, if we would get enough money from the off-licence trade to fund it. The funding might be discretionary.

A couple of weeks ago tributes were paid in the House to Pope Benedict on his retirement. I pay tribute today to Bishop Gerard Clifford, a native of Bellurgan, near Dundalk, which has been in the news for other reasons recently. He has stepped down as auxiliary bishop of Armagh on grounds of ill health. He was highly popular with clerics and the laity and his work covered the areas of ecumenism and education. He was president of Cura, the pregnancy support group. Crucially, he was part of the response of the Catholic Church in Ireland to the request made by the late Pope John Paul II for Christian churches to work more closely together. He was often the man in the gap who in his quiet way dealt with very difficult circumstances which caused him deep personal pain. When we talk about people in the church who are having problems, we must also when the occasion arises honour and pay tribute to someone who, like Felix Randal, the farrier, has done his duty.

I refer to the 800 former IBRC workers who are on temporary contracts. It is important that the Minister for Finance come to the House to discuss what will happen to these workers. There was a presentation in the audio visual room in Leinster House last week at which we heard an account of many workers who were struggling to pay their mortgages and meet their family obligations. They face an uncertain future. Some of the terms of the redundancy arrangements previously agreed to are, apparently, not being met. There are, therefore, serious concerns among the workers and I ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss the matter.

I also ask for a debate on the HSE's service plans which are being rolled out across the State. The plans are very important and contain a mix of good and bad news for most areas. We should have an opportunity in the House to discuss these very important plans which will govern the way the State spends the huge amount of money put into the health sector. Spending on health care represents a large slice of overall Government spending, which makes it a hugely important area for all of us.

While there was some good news for the south east which I represent, in terms of new consultant posts and capital funding that may be made available at some point, there is a big issue coming to the fore and I ask the Acting Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to come to the House to debate it. This is the big issue facing all hospitals in meeting the target set for outpatient activity. That target - that patients should see a consultant within 12 months - is laudable. However, owing to cutbacks in hospitals, beds being taken out of the system, wards being closed and the loss of staff, hospital management is not in a position to meet this target. We have the Minister for Health, on the one hand, setting very unrealistic targets for hospital management and, on the other, taking away from the hospitals, which makes it more difficult for them to meet these targets. I would welcome a debate specifically on that issue but also on the more broader issue of the regional health plans published in recent weeks.

I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange for the Minister for Finance to come to the House for a debate on the banking sector. Stubbs Gazette recently estimated that 25,000 Irish households would seek redress under the new insolvency rules. On top of this, numerous pronouncements have recently been made by members of the banking profession that the new legislation is expected to make it easier for them to repossess properties through the courts. This will not only affect people in the buy-to-let market; it is as if there is a blue sea between the buy-to-let market and the rest of the residential market. Ordinary people are living in fear of statements that we have to get real about the number of repossessions and the fact that people cannot pay mortgages. The reality is that banks were willing to kick the can forward for years on end and have people pay what they could, in the process leaving themselves short of food and not putting fuel in the fire, but now as soon as they see an opportunity as the market begins to rise and things improve in the economy, it is time for them to draw a line in the sand as far as people's debts are concerned. It is time we arranged for the Minister to come to the House for a genuine full and frank debate on what is happening as regards the level of mortgage debt.

I ask the Acting Leader if she will comment on or arrange a debate shortly on the ground-breaking decision by Mr. Justice Henry Abbott in the High Court today on the genetic mother of twins born to a surrogate mother who in this case happens to be the genetic mother's sister. Legislation is not in place to provide for this ground-breaking decision. I, therefore, ask the Acting Leader if it is the intention of the Government - I hope it is - to introduce legislation to deal with this matter and not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. It is a very well worked out decision by the Mr. Justice Henry Abbott who is a former Member of the other House. It is a very serious decision that will have repercussions for the people concerned. Legislation is not in place to provide for this position, but medical science has advanced to the point where in such cases the mother can be clearly identified. I ask the Acting Leader, as a leading light in this area, to outline her views on the matter and indicate whether the State will appeal this decision to the Supreme Court and whether we should arrange for the Minister for Social Protection, as opposed to the Minister for Health as the Department of Social Protection has responsibility for the Registrar General's office, to come to the House for a debate on it. Mr. Feely, the Registrar General, made a decision on this issue in January which was appealed to the High Court which has made a decision on it today. This decision will have major repercussions for the Oireachtas and the Government. I would like to hear the Acting Leader's view in this regard.

I welcome the discussion paper produced by my colleague, Senator Mark MacSharry, on the issue of suicide. Every community has been affected by this very serious difficulty in recent years. I hope the discussion paper will provide some help for those affected and that it will solve the problem.

I call for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to come into the House to discuss the works being carried out to upgrade N4.

Yesterday at a meeting of Sligo County Council, we learned the N4 upgrade between Collooney and Castlebaldwin in County Sligo has been postponed. Two weeks ago after another road death on this part of the N4, I called for funding to be put in place to improve it. It is the worst stretch of road between Dublin and Sligo. While the upgrade is suspended for the short term, every effort should be made to have this upgrade back on the plans to ensure this final stretch of the N4 is brought up to scratch.

On Senator Leyden's comments on Mr. Justice Abbott's decision on surrogate motherhood, it would be appropriate that we debate this issue in the House. Some very sensitive issues arise here and I believe we are only at the beginning of it. For example, what happens when a surrogate mother changes her mind and decides to keep her baby? Whose side should we take in that kind of dispute?

I agree it is primarily a justice issue in terms of what is just for the children involved. I am not sure that everything that is gradually being permitted constitutes progress in this regard. We could have a useful discussion on the matter.

I welcome policy document on suicide prevention published by Senator MacSharry and Fianna Fáil. It is very interesting from what I have seen. Others in Fianna Fáil, like Senator White, have also taken an interest and engaged with this issue in the past. We could have a discussion on this issue. There are aspects of the policy's proposals that I find particularly worthy of support, such as the greater resourcing of general practitioners. It seems to me that, unless we facilitate people locally to deal with the problem of suicide, we will not make inroads into prevention.

There are also wider questions about values in our society and whether people feel they have something to live for. There are bigger questions than merely ones of resources that need to be debated. It has been suggested there should be a levy on off-licences. Why should that levy not also apply to alcohol sold in pubs and so on? It may very well be that Senator MacSharry has answered that question in the policy document and I have not come across it yet. I add my support to welcome the document and to ask for a debate on it in early course.

I commend the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, on securing funding for the EU youth guarantee. It means €3 billion will be spent on labour activation programmes for the under 25s across Europe.

While I welcome the establishment of a working group to examine a replacement scheme for the mobility allowance and understand the legalities of the issue, I am concerned that anything other than a monetary payment to mobility allowance recipients, particularly in rural areas, will not work. For example, a young person in receipt of the allowance who goes out to socialise with his or her friends may not go home until 1 o'clock in the morning. Where is the public transport to take this young person home? They will need a monetary payment to pay for a special taxi to get home. Will the Leader set aside time to discuss this matter?

The debate on the jobs initiative showed we all have ideas and proposals. It would be good if we could collate our proposals on the new allowance across the parties and present them to the working group. I am sure we could find somewhere in the schedule - either we sit longer or on a day we are meant to be off - to have a debate to collate our ideas on the replacement allowance. We should also ask the Minister to have a Member of this House on the working group as we all have ideas to offer.

With regard to the very important case concerning surrogate motherhood and the issue of legal parenting, I would expect the State will appeal today's judgment for the simple reason if it does not, it does not give clear and a perfect definition to that judgment. It would be better for all parties and I would be interested to hear what my colleague, Senator Bacik, has to say about this.

This issue has been hanging around for a long time, as far back as when the party of the Senator who raised this was in power. I remember Senator Mary Henry from this side urging that we make legislation available in this area and she was supported by Senator Bacik at the time.

With regard to those responsible in Trinity College, I am very surprised and rather ashamed of them if they will not allow the Church of Ireland training college to retain the term "Church of Ireland" in the title. We are a bit squeamish about this. I call for Trinity to change its name from the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin. Perhaps it is time for a name change after 400 and whatever years, because it is no longer near Dublin - it is in Dublin - and if it does not like the Trinity and does not believe in religion it should get rid of it. While we are at it, we could get rid of the prayer in this House. As a practising Christian I find it offensive and hypocritical. I think the silence is a load of fraud as well. Perhaps we should all clean up our act and be a little more honest about things.

It is also important for us to be honest about proceedings in court. There is an important issue I wish to raise, and I beg the indulgence of the Leas-Chathaoirleach. There was a big article in one of the newspapers - the Irish Daily Mail, not a newspaper which attracts me particularly - about an important issue. The article did not appear today but some days ago. A well-known reporter, Eugene Moloney, was struck on the back of the head by someone when returning home at the weekend. The assailant pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the sentencing-----

I remind you that this matter is before the courts. I wish to express caution in this regard.

In any case, it is before the newspapers. I am simply saying it. I am not talking about the actual sentencing and I will not talk about it, but the fact is that it was delayed in order to allow the assailant to go before the courts. There was a much worse case in the Republic in which a young man, a gifted student, a devoted son and a very brilliant man, was hit from behind while cycling by a man who was speeding. He was knocked flying. The driver did not appear to brake or slow down; he simply went on and hid the car. He has had a series of convictions for drug and other offences, including traffic offences. As I understand it, he was actually more or less out on bail when this happened.

Senator, if this matter is before the courts-----

I am not identifying anyone and the matter I am referring to has actually lapsed by default. I am suggesting that there are victims in these cases and there are a large number of them. It is creating a danger to the public. People who have a long criminal record are let out on probation or on bail and the fact is that they have suspended sentences already hanging over them which are not implemented. They should be back in jail that minute. That is the law; I am not dealing with anything that is before the courts. I am stating that this is the law but we are allowing dangerous people out. We should know how dangerous they are and we should recognise the appalling damage they do.

I welcome the High Court judgment today under which the genetic parents of twins born to a surrogate mother were deemed to be the legal parents and the genetic mother was entitled to have her name on the birth certificate. I think this was the right judgment in this case, but the whole issue is not straightforward. What if it had been a donor? Who then would be deemed the legal mother? It is absolutely past time that we had a debate on assisted human reproduction in the House. Certainly, we need legislation in this area. Each year in Ireland thousands of couples seek help in the area of assisted reproduction, and therefore it is timely. The legal judgment will push the issue on. I am keen to hear from the Leader on this issue in his response.

Like Senator Aideen Hayden, I was absolutely disgusted to hear that Ulster Bank is maintaining that this year it will foreclose on 1,000 homes. It has stated that it is time to get real. I will put what is real to the bank: those couples, families and individuals qualified for a mortgage pre-recession. They had incomes, higher incomes in some cases, and since then they may have lost them or had them reduced. The bank is expecting those couples and individuals to meet the same mortgage repayments.

How could that add up? How is that real? In place of it we have a mortgage arrears resolution process that is not working. This is my third week in a row to raise this issue. We need the Minister for Finance to come to the House because this is the big issue coming down the line. We have personal debt and mortgage debt. I will not let the banks lecture homeowners given all we have done for them.

I second the proposal by Senator Moloney that we set aside time to debate the announcement on the mobility and motorised transport allowance. As spokesperson on disability for the Labour Party group, I was inundated with calls from stressed and worried people who had gained a sense of independence thanks to the mobility allowance and now feared that it would be withdrawn. While I recognise that €10.5 million has been ringfenced for them, what will happen in four months' time? I agree with the Senator that it would be beneficial if we were to put our heads together in this House or if some of us asked to be on the working group, given that we are in touch with people who receive the allowance.

In regard to unemployed teachers, I have previously raised the issue of retired teachers being employed in schools. Some 3,365 newly-qualified teachers graduated from college last year, whereas 153 retired teachers were employed by schools in the two weeks before Christmas. I commend the Minister for Education and Skills on his recommendation that schools should prioritise unemployed and newly-qualified teachers when employing substitutes but, as we approach the time of year when teachers will be asked to get involved in practical examinations and State examination supervision, I ask that some kind of system be put in place so that graduate and unemployed teachers are given priority over retired teachers.

I congratulate my friend and constituency colleague on the report he has produced on suicide and I support his call for a debate on the issue.

I return to an issue I raised last week in the context of local authority funding. Not for the first time I expressed a concern shared across the House among those who have served in local councils that the road maintenance programme will be so starved of cash resources that all of the money poured into road infrastructure over the past 20 years will come under severe threat. However, the issue of local authority funding goes much deeper than that. At a meeting of Leitrim County Council yesterday evening, it was proposed that the disabled person's grant would be restored under the essential repairs section in order to provide showers, toilets and downstairs facilities for those who are eligible for the grant. The proposal was welcomed by all sides until the county manager advised that the amount of money proposed would result in a shortfall of more than one third, based on the existing applications. This happened in the same month in which the Government announced the reintroduction of the local improvement schemes for local authorities. This announcement was particularly welcome in rural Ireland. However, grants can only be introduced if the money allocated for road maintenance is shifted to local improvement schemes. I appreciate that the country is bust but we must not go below certain standards and benchmarks.

In the Sunday Independent on Sunday Colm McCarthy, despite the fact that he is against any increase in the capital programme - he made a very cogent argument as to why - conceded that there was a need for a continuation of resources for local authorities, particularly in the infrastructure area, to ensure essential maintenance, at least, was carried out. I know the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is due to come to the House to deal with the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill, but I would like to see a separate debate on local authority funding, before Easter, if possible. Either the Minister or a Minister of State could come to the House to deal with that issue. It would be an opportunity for Members on all sides of the House to give an opinion on their experiences in their local authority areas in order that we can build some momentum to try to ensure that come the next budget and the discussion on the Estimates, there will be an increase and an improvement in local authority funding.

I want to raise an issue that emerged in an RTE documentary entitled "Generation Sex" last night, on which some of today's newspapers have reported. It was indicated on the documentary that children as young as nine or ten years of age were viewing online hard core pornography and that shocked parents had absolutely no idea how to control what their children were viewing. Professor Roche of NUI Maynooth said young people were struggling to cope with the tsunami of sexual images in day-to-day life. The problem with the Internet is that it is instantaneous and now with Wi-Fi so easily available in public places, young people can view pornography on their phones. We should all be deeply concerned by this development and the effects it may have in the future. Will it contribute to greater child sexual abuse and violence against women? I am told that porn is highly addictive. This issue needs to be addressed with children in primary schools and need to educate parents on how to talk to their children about this issue. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on this issue with the Minister for Education and Skills because of the possible long-term implications for young people and society.

I compliment Senator Mark MacSharry on the introduction of his discussion document on suicide awareness. I have consistently said here that I do not think we are doing enough to tackle the issue of suicide. I said recently that we needed to set up a single authority to deal with the issue suicide alone, to be headed by somebody such as Mr. Noel Brett. He was head of the Road Safety Authority, on which he did great work in reducing the numbers of road deaths dramatically. That is what we need to do with regard to the incidence of suicide.

I also support Senator Marie Moloney on the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant. The reason we are in the position we are in is that it was found unconstitutional to deprive people over the age of 66 years of the mobility allowance. If we had to pay it to everybody over the age of 66 years, it would cost us too much money. Therefore, the decision was made to scrap it and the motorised transport grant. I was a community welfare officer for 28 years when I dealt with these two schemes which were a lifeline for many, particularly people living in rural and isolated areas. Without the motorised transport grant, many would not be able to connect with their local villages and towns. The purpose of the grant was also to facilitate people in getting to work. I know plenty of people who need a car to travel 40 miles or so to work. There is no alternative scheme that can provide transport for both the elderly and those living in isolated rural areas. We cannot expect elderly people to act like robots and take a bus provided at a particular time every day if they need to go to town to do their shopping. That simply does not happen in rural Ireland. The only way we can deal with this issue is to ensure they receive the money into their hands and have the freedom to come and go as they please. This issue requires to be debated. I agree with Senator Marie Moloney that we should feed our ideas into that debate. Because of my experience, I would like to be part of that discussion.

I want to raise the recent revelations about major price discrepancies in a number of clothing chains located in Ireland and the UK. It has been shown that retailers like H&M, Topshop, Topman, Monsoon, Warehouse, Zara and River Island charge up to 60% more in their Irish outlets than in their UK outlets. This is bordering on the criminal. It seems that the Irish consumer is getting a raw deal. Every euro that is wrongly added to the price in these shops is another euro that could be spent elsewhere in the economy. I have written to all of the outlets to try to get to the bottom of the matter. Everyone could understand slight discrepancies between the UK and Ireland, for reasons of travel, etc., but it is very difficult to understand this huge percentage difference.

I have written to our own MEPs to see if any work is being done on this at European level. I have also written to the National Consumer Agency to find out exactly what is going on and what it is doing about this issue. While many aspects of Irish life in 2007 are long gone, we can see that the rip-off Republic is still alive in certain shops. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to come to this House when he can find time in his schedule to debate whether we need to strengthen the legislation in this area. It is clear that large multinational retailers are ripping off Irish consumers. I would also like to hear from IBEC and Chambers Ireland on this issue, as many of their big retail members are ripping off consumers in this country.

I ask the Chair to indulge me while I briefly raise another matter. Many international nutritionists are converging on Dublin this week for a conference. The key message of the conference is that there is a clear connection between good nutrition and recovery from serious illness. The statistics show that if one has a good diet and is eating well, one has a much better chance of recovery from serious illness. That is quite apart from any prevention issues we need to be aware of. I am highlighting this in the context of the HSE's various hospital tenders. It has been shown in recent days that hospital patients are being fed chips, battered sausages, frozen pizzas, waffles, pies with 10% meat - God knows what meat - and fish products that contain just 50% fish. I have to agree with some of our leading nutritionists, including Professor Donal O'Shea, an endocrinologist who deals with obesity, who have said it is farcical that the HSE is buying such food at a time when a national task force is being set up to deal with obesity.

Approximately two years have passed since the Government was elected. The natural course of politics means it is likely that the Government's halfway line is approaching. It would be useful to invite each of the Ministers in the Government to come to this House over the next few weeks and up until the summer recess. We should ask them to debate their work in their Departments over the last two years and their plans for the next two and a half years. It would be interesting to get a Department-by-Department progress report on the programme for Government. I made a similar request in the previous Seanad, but unfortunately it was not accepted by the previous Government. It would be useful for Senators and Ministers to exchange views, delve into policy issues and consider the matters that will come before us over the next two years.

Senator MacSharry spoke about the launch yesterday of Fianna Fáil's document on suicide prevention. I commend Senator MacSharry and his colleagues on all their research and other work over seven months to put it together. I join the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, in welcoming the document warmly. Members on both sides of the House have commended it, expressed their support for it and called for it to be debated. As Senator MacSharry said, it is important that we take a cross-party approach to this issue. Everybody is united in seeking to find practical ways of implementing a structural policy of suicide prevention. The House had a debate on the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on 12 January 2012 but we could usefully have another debate more than a year on. We can certainly ask the Minister of State to come in for such a debate. As I have said, she has warmly welcomed the document.

As Senator MacSharry knows, the Government is strongly committed to suicide prevention strategies.

The Minister of State with responsibility for primary care, Deputy Alex White, will be bringing preventive proposals to Government shortly on alcohol abuse, which as the Senator noted, is another part of the issue. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health launched guidance on mental health and suicide prevention for post-primary schools on 31 January 2013. The commitment in the programme for Government of an allocation of €35 million for 2012 and 2013 was primarily to strengthen community mental health teams in adult and children's mental health services so there is an ongoing commitment to further developing suicide prevention initiatives. It would be a very good idea to debate the Government's actions and commitments alongside the proposals in Senator MacSharry's document, so I will pass that on to the Leader. I know the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health is a very regular visitor to this House and I am sure she would be amenable to coming in to debate that issue.

Senator Clune welcomed the Fianna Fáil document and the decision by the finance Ministers at EU level to ask the troika to come forward with proposals for the best possible options for both Ireland and Portugal for the EFSF and EFSM loans. Like Senator Clune, I very much welcome this. This arose out of the Eurogroup meeting yesterday and the ECOFIN meeting today which discussed the question of whether EU finance Ministers would ask the troika to consider this adjustment. It is very important that this agreement to ask the troika has been made. No final agreement was reached today but there were positive comments from Commissioner Rehn and the chair of the Eurogroup, Dutch finance Minister, Mr. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, on the issue last night so the Government is making progress on this issue. Like Senator Clune, I very much welcome that.

Senator Clune also raised the issue of the vacancies in IT jobs and made the point that this is not just an issue for Ireland, although we have about 5,000 vacancies in IT jobs despite unemployment levels, but an issue across the EU where there is clearly a skills gap in the IT sector. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has announced his intention to tackle this and make Ireland particularly strong in IT skills. There are a number of key measures in the recently launched Action Plan for Jobs 2013, which a number of us welcomed in this House, aimed at improving Ireland's record and strengthening our reputation for ICT skills. Since the Government took office, there has been an increase of over 10,000 jobs in the ICT sector so it is a key sector for growth that has been targeted in the Government's plan for jobs and growth. Like Senator Clune, I welcome the announcement of the creation of 150 new jobs by FireEye in Cork. We could have a debate with the Minister about that. I know colleagues will be raising it with the Minister for Education and Skills in the debate on Thursday on the Education and Training Boards Bill.

Senator Barrett spoke about the announcement in The University Times about the Church of Ireland College of Education. I am a regular reader of that excellent publication from Trinity College. Senator Norris expressed a view on the naming of that with which I would concur.

Bear in mind that it was ironic.

I am getting confused.

I am not talking about the name of Trinity College. I do not concur with Senator Norris's views on that.

We should call it a triad.

As long as it is not the troika.

The Acting Leader without interruption.

Has Senator Mullen joined the club?

This matter might be raised again with the Minister for Education and Skills on Thursday when he comes into the House to speak with us about the Education and Training Boards Bill. He has made clear his commitment to reforming the teacher training sector. There has been unnecessary duplication, as he has pointed out, in teacher training and the education of our teachers. He proposes to introduce important reforms in the same way as he is introducing reforms in school patronage.

It will be welcomed by DCU and kicked out by Trinity.

We will have a debate with him in this House on Thursday where we can raise these issues.

Senator D'Arcy commended Senator MacSharry's document and also paid tribute to Bishop Gerard Clifford.

Senator Cullinane raised the issue of IBRC employees, 800 of whom are awaiting a decision. We all hope they will be treated fairly. Senator Cullinane also asked for a debate with the Minister for Health on the HSE service plan. We have had a number of debates with the Minister on these issues, including a broad-ranging debate involving statements and a question-and-answer session on health on 27 October 2012. We can certainly look for a debate on the HSE service plan but the Government is committed to introducing the most comprehensive and radical reform of the health system since the foundation of the State. In that context, the HSE service plan is being rolled out with the goal of cutting the cost of services rather than the level or quality of the services, and to accelerate the pace of reform.

Impressive figures in respect of the reductions in waiting lists achieved by the HSE are already available. These have been highlighted in the House on previous occasions but it is worth reminding ourselves of what they entail. For example, the number of patients waiting more than a year for inpatient procedures is at its lowest level since records began. The position is the same with regard to the number of patients waiting more than a year for day-case surgery. Impressive work has been also done in reducing waiting times for children who are awaiting inpatient or day-case surgery. At the end of 2011, 1,759 children had been waiting more than 20 weeks for procedures but within a year this number had been reduced to 89. There have been already some striking outcomes from the structural reforms introduced in the health service.

Senator Hayden inquired about housing, repossessions and, in particular, mortgage arrears. I will ask the Leader to make time available for a debate on this issue which, in light of recent announcements relating to banking, is pressing in nature. We have engaged in a number of debates on this matter - in November 2011 and May and July 2012 - with the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, but it is clearly time for another, especially in view of the initiatives which have been taken since July of last year. The Cabinet committee on mortgage arrears has already driven real change. The Government has made the most significant change in insolvency laws in over a century. It was long past time that we reformed those laws. The Government has established the insolvency service, it has strengthened protections for mortgage holders who are experiencing difficulties and is working with the Central Bank to ensure that banks put in place additional restructuring options for these individuals. I am of the view, however, that we should engage in a debate on this matter in order that we might interrogate Ministers on the practical impact of these measures for those who are struggling with mortgage arrears and who are experiencing difficulties.

Senator Leyden referred to the judgment on surrogacy handed down in the High Court earlier today by Mr. Justice Henry Abbott. This matter was also raised by Senators Mullen, Norris and Healy Eames. I have only seen the headlines and without having read it, I would not like to outline my personal view of the judgment. I understand the outcome of the judgment is that the genetic mother will be able to have her name recorded on the birth certificate. The couple involved in the case have succeeded in what they were attempting to do, although I believe I am correct in stating that the birth mother was supportive of their actions. The circumstances in this case were very particular but the decision handed down is undoubtedly extremely important.

Senator Norris correctly pointed out that former Senator Mary Henry consistently raised this issue during her time in this House. She produced legislation in respect of it. Whatever one's view of the judgment and regardless of whether it is appealed to the Supreme Court, this is undoubtedly an area in respect of which legislation is required. It is not appropriate that we should be regulating through decisions of the High Court and the Supreme Court.

It is unfair on couples, parents and families to be obliged to take litigation. Many of us have been saying for a number of years that legislation is required in respect of IVF, assisted human reproduction and surrogacy. There is an excellent report on assisted human reproduction which was commissioned by a previous Government and the recommendations of which really should be implemented. I understand this is a matter for the Department of Health. I further understand that work on the preparation of legislation such as that to which I refer was done over a number of years within the Department. We should all press for that legislation to be introduced in order that we might regulate this area without delay. That is my view on the matter without having read the judgment.

I thank the Deputy Leader for her comprehensive response.

That is quite alright. It was a pleasure.

Senator Comiskey also welcomed the paper on suicide prevention produced by Senator MacSharry. He went on to refer to road safety issues. It is worth nothing that the number of road deaths has fallen year on year since 2006. Every road death is a tragedy, however. Senator Kelly also referred to road deaths. This is a matter we could debate in the House and I will speak to the Leader about it.

Senator Mullen also referred to surrogacy and the document on suicide prevention.

Senator Moloney welcomed the introduction of the youth guarantee at European level and the prominent role played by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, in bringing this about. I share the Senator's view to the effect that this is a very important initiative, particularly in view of the appalling figures on youth unemployment across the EU. Some of us raised that matter with Ms Emer Costello, MEP, when she came before the House last week.

Senator Moloney also referred to the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant. While noting that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has established a project group to review the issues relating to the allowance and the grant, the Senator suggested that the Seanad might find some way to put forward proposals for change in respect of this matter. Senator Moloney also noted that this is not a funding issue, per se, because the money involved continues to be ring-fenced. Rather, it is a legal issue arising out of the Ombudsman's correct finding that the schemes - as they previously existed - were not compliant with the equal status legislation. Clearly, the position in this regard must change but this needs to be done within budget.

I have been told the Minister has already established the project group, which is independently chaired. The project group met last week and both the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, attended. The group includes representatives of people with disabilities and others who can assist in designing a solution. The group, which is due to meet again this week, has said that broader consultation will be undertaken. Perhaps I can write to the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, as it falls within her remit, to ask how that consultation will take shape and whether members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children or Senators might have an input during the four months of operations. That is a very good idea.

Senator Norris raised the issue of the surrogacy case. He pointed out the role of the then Senator, Dr. Mary Henry, in developing legislation on this. He also raised the issue of road deaths, which I have dealt with.

Senator Healy Eames also raised the judgment in the surrogacy case and also called for a debate on assisted human reproduction. We should have such a debate and I hope it will be in the context of introducing legislation which is long overdue.

Senator Moran also raised the issue of the mobility allowance and supported Senator Moloney's call for input into it. As I said we can deal with that. She also raised the issue of the employment of retired teachers. The Senator might raise this with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, when he comes to the House on Thursday. This issue has been raised with the Minister before, indeed I raised the issue with him. We could raise it again with him.

Senator Mooney requested a debate on local authority funding. I can certainly ask the Leader for that. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, will be in the House this afternoon so the Senator will have an opportunity to raise it with him.

Senator Michael Mullins raised the issues of online pornography and Internet access which were addressed in a television programme last night, which I did not see. No doubt this can be raised with the Minister for Education and Skills as to what steps are being taken in schools to alert students to the danger of this. I know they are trying to build in references to Internet access to the really excellent and well-established Stay Safe programme that has been rolled out across primary schools. That might be the appropriate way to address this issue.

Senator Kelly also spoke in support of Senator Moloney's point on the mobility grant. He pointed out that the experience and expertise of many members of the House could well be used in the consultation process.

Senator Noone raised an issue, which I read with interest, about price discrepancies in retail outlets and differences in pricing between high street outlets in Britain and Ireland. I am not sure whether Deputy Bruton is the appropriate Minister to take this up with but I commend the Senator for raising it directly with the private retailers. She should also raise it with the consumer watchdogs.

To say nothing of the 20 times multiplier for generic drugs as compared with the United Kingdom.

That is a whole other issue.

Senator Norris, without interruption. I ask Senator Norris to allow the Acting Leader to proceed without interruption.

That is a whole other issue. That leads me nicely into Senator Noone's point.

Senator Norris, may I point out that your interferences are most unwelcome. This is your fourth since Senator Bacik started.

The Chair has told me that I can speak without interruption.

I think he is trying to be supportive, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Senator Noone also raised the issue of nutrition in hospitals and the issue of poor food being served. Many of us heard with concern the reports on malnutrition being a real issue. It was linked with lack of reference to good nutrition in the provision of hospital food. That should be raised with the Joint Committee on Health and Children, as it would be a good place to call in the relevant people and to have the matter discussed at length.

Senator Bradford called for each of the Ministers to come into this Chamber after serving a period of two years in government and give a report on performance. That is a good idea and I will certainly raise it with the Leader. The Leader's office has been trying to get Ministers to come before the Seanad on a regular basis to update us on aspects of their brief, in particular to respond to issues that Members have raised such as suicide prevention, health care reform or mortgage arrears. We have had quite regular debates with different Ministers in this House. Senator Bradford is calling for that process to be formalised so that Ministers will come to the Seanad on a very regular basis. We can certainly try to do that.

Order of Business agreed to.