Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 4 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes; and No. 57, motion No. 10, Private Members' business with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.

I welcome the tabling of the Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013. Will it be completed over the next few weeks? It is important legislation and, therefore, I am wondering whether the Leader knows the timeline for its passage.

Most of us agree the appointment of Mr. John McNulty, the Government's Seanad by-election candidate, to IMMA, which was debated yesterday, is a grubby little affair. There was no mention of this when I visited IMMA's website earlier.

This is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It is because appointments to State boards was the subject of a firm commitment by Fine Gael prior to the 2011 general election. The party stated it would do things differently. It rightly criticised previous Governments in respect of how appointments were made. Since 2011, Fine Gael has used State boards as personal fiefdoms or waiting rooms for party hacks and supporters in every area. I commend my colleague, Senator Byrne,on raising this matter yesterday. I am worried that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht did not answer any of the specific questions that were put to her when we debated the issue last evening. If Mr. McNulty did not apply to join the board, who gave the direction for him to be put on the board of IMMA? Is the Leader aware that, in 2010, the composition of the such boards was restricted to nine members? However, the Government has appointed two additional members and increased the number to 11. Was the chairperson, Mr. Eoin McGonigal, consulted about this? Who made the application and who gave the direction?

Mr. Curran, the secretary general of Fine Gael.

Senator O'Brien, without interruption.

Fine Gael may treat State boards like it owns them. This board, in particular, is important. IMMA's mission statement says: "The members of the board and the chairperson are artists and other people with an active interest and expertise in modern and contemporary art. They are appointed in their capacity as individuals."

This Senator did not complete the statement; he only read part of it.

I can read the entire statement into the record if the Leader gives me time.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on this issue?

I will get to that.

The Senator is running out of time.

Who gave the direction to appoint the Government's Seanad by-election candidate to the board? I commend Senator Bacik on having the guts yesterday to stand up and say this is effectively wrong. The Seanad by-election is coming up shortly and my Labour Party colleagues in the Oireachtas can make a decision as to whether this is wrong by not voting for this individual. I am sure the Taoiseach was gravely disappointed again yesterday that the Seanad was not abolished.

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

I have asked many questions. This appointment and many others prove that the manner in which individuals have been appointed to State boards by this and previous Governments has been wrong and we still have not got a handle on this. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht did not answer any specific questions yesterday evening. She did not answer how this individual got on the board or why he is on it. We know the reason is to put belts and braces on his candidacy for the Seanad by-election because his own candidacy does not stack up.

The Senator is way over time.

The guy has been appointed for three weeks in order that he get elected to the House with all the Government Members voting for him. Because the Minister did not answer questions directly, I propose amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht come to the House and answer the specific questions she was asked yesterday, which she did not answer". Who gave the direction for this individual to be appointed to the board of IMMA? I understand from reading media reports this morning that a discussion on this took place in the Fine Gael party rooms and involved people like Tom Curran and Mark Kenneally who decided that-----

The Senator can make these points during the debate he is looking for.

I will. Perhaps if the Leader has answers to these questions, we will not have to drag the Minister in here again today. This is serious. I formally propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister come to the House to address these questions once and for all and give the answers people are seeking. She did not use the opportunity yesterday to answer any specific questions.

Senator O'Brien has raised a number of valid points but some of his contribution was pure speculation at the end of the day. There is a wider issue regarding the governance of State bodies, which is the subject of a code of conduct. I am glad the Senator acknowledged a great deal of board fixing went on under previous Governments and I could name boards to which this happened. There is an openness and transparency issue regarding how people are appointed to State boards. There is supposed to be a skills matrix on which appointments are based but the appropriate forum for the debate the Senator is seeking is the joint committee with responsibility for IMMA's governance.

He has been appointed.

Senator Hayden, without interruption.

A proper list of questions should be prepared by the committee and given to the IMMA board and these should be answered in the normal course. There is nothing to be gained by dragging the Minister into the House one more time to seek answers to questions that are better answered at the joint committee with responsibility for IMMA.

Last weekend, Mr. Shay Cody, the general secretary of IMPACT put out a call for rent controls to be introduced, equating it to controls that were put in place by previous Governments on the price of a pint, which was an interesting observation.

SIPTU has also agreed to support rent controls. I have raised this issue previously and do so again because it is a matter of great urgency which merits a serious debate. Some 2,400 people, all of whom are unique cases, presented as homeless in the Dublin region in the second quarter of this year. We are in a major crisis.

I was disappointed with the response of the Irish Property Owners Association to IMPACT's call. It stated interference in the market, including the decision to eliminate bedsit accommodation, was the reason for the increase in the numbers of people presenting as homeless. I do not know if the IPOA is aware that the vast majority of the bedsit units that were closed down were firetraps which were no better than slum accommodation. If the association's attitude to the homeless is to suggest they be placed in such accommodation, it is an absolute disgrace.

I welcome the call made by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, that €250 million be allocated immediately towards the construction of social housing. While we all know such a sum would make little difference in dealing with the problem, it would cross the Rubicon in terms of the destruction of the construction sector and the economy. We need to debate ways in which local authorities can be facilitated to borrow money off balance sheet in order that they can again provide some level of social housing accommodation. I suggest €1 billion will be required in each of the next five to ten years if we are to make inroads into addressing the problem of social housing.

I extend good wishes to the new Ministers appointed to the Northern Ireland Executive yesterday. One of them, Mr. Jim Wells, is well known here because he is a member of the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association and has spoken in this Chamber at meetings of that body. He states in a newspaper that he was once listed as the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children because someone had mixed up the captions at a North-South meeting. I am glad that being chairman of a health committee is not seen as a deterrent to holding ministerial office, at least in Belfast. Mr. Mervyn Storey is the other new Minister.

The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications yesterday interviewed the chairman-designate of Dublin Bus, Mr. Ultan Courtney. Mr. Courtney has had a distinguished career. Having started his working life as a bus conductor, he subsequently worked as a driver. It was wonderful and most impressive to see someone becoming chairman-designate of a public company having worked in the day-to-day business of the company in question.

Given the recent surge in the property market, I propose to raise the issue of gazumping - where a vendor accepts a higher offer for a property after a sale has been agreed. This practice may not be illegal, but it is immoral. As we emerge from the recession, many people in Galway and elsewhere are trying to get their foot on the property ladder, while others are seeking to trade down. People should never be subject to this extremely unfair practice which feeds into the greed that dominated the housing market during the so-called boom. The Property Services Regulatory Authority does not have any statutory function in the matter. I request the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to the House to debate this issue. Given the need to build more houses, it is in everyone's interest to have a housing market that operates in an ethical manner.

I second the amendment proposed by my party leader in the House, Senator Darragh O'Brien. I also endorse the comments made by Senator Sean D. Barrett with whom I sit on the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. Yesterday's meeting of the committee was unique in that members of all parties and none unanimously welcomed the appointment of the chairman-designate of Dublin Bus, Mr. Ultan Courtney. Listening to Senator Darragh O'Brien, it occurred to me that we could further extend the system of having chairpersons-designate of State boards make a presentation before the relevant committees in which they inform members of their qualifications for the job in question. Those whom the Government proposes to appoint to State boards should appear before the relevant committee. While the Government could point to the large number of such appointments, it should be noted that these appointments are staggered. Appointments to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, for example, have been staggered in the past five years. It would not be beyond the capacity of the relevant committees to hear from people whom the Government was proposing to appoint to State boards. This would allow members of committees to establish the credentials, credibility and qualifications of Government nominees. It would also be interesting to establish whether, under such a system, some of those being proposed would withdraw from the process because they would come under scrutiny. I have no doubt that if the gentleman to whom Senator Darragh O'Brien referred, Mr. McNulty, were to come before the relevant committee, he would not last five minutes as all members would send the strong message to the Government that he was not qualified to serve on the board of the IMMA.

The Senator's point is not relevant.

It is relevant in the context of the proposal I have made.

Senators may not discuss the character of individuals, as it is grossly unfair to do so.

We are discussing the qualifications, rather than character, of the individual in question.

On a point of order, Senator Paschal Mooney has impugned a person's character and reputation, which is not fair.

I have done nothing more than what others have done, namely, question whether the gentleman is qualified to be a member of the board of the IMMA.

The Senator went further than that.

That is exactly what I did. I also referred to the possibility of him coming before a committee to be questioned on his qualifications. I do not know what would be the outcome of such a process, but I can surmise what it would be in the light of the debate surrounding the gentlemen in question. I am not in any way impugning his character but speaking, as Senator Darragh O'Brien has done, about his qualifications to sit on the board of the IMMA and the reasons behind his appointment to it. It would be worth considering, as part of a new process of appointing people to State boards, whether we should give committees of the Houses an opportunity to discuss with Government nominees whether they are qualified for the relevant position. I am not saying for one moment that a committee would throw out a nomination. As Senator Sean D. Barrett will concur, at yesterday's meeting all sides were so impressed by Mr. Courtney's curriculum vitae that members complimented the Minister on finding and proposing him for a very important job. I wish Mr. Courtney well in his new position.

Yesterday I spoke about soccer hooliganism. I again ask that the House debate this issue following the dreadful behaviour of Shamrock Rovers fans at the weekend when they caused physical damage in Dundalk and subjected people in the town to mental abuse. Today I commend a young Dundalk player, Keith Ward, who handed his medal to one of the children present at the game. His gesture was a sign of great sportsmanship and showed sport at its best. I am looking at the bright side.

As the new school year begins, parents and families are feeling the burden of back to school costs, which are one of my priorities as my party's spokesperson on education. The former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, issued a circular late last year in an effort to strengthen the role of parents in the decision making process on school uniform policy. The Department suggested schools send the questionnaire by February 2014 before deciding on the position to be adopted for the following academic year. As the new school year has started, I request that the findings of the survey be made available to the participating parents and the House for further discussion on how we could ease the financial burden on families. It is vital that we also examine how many schools participated in the survey. We should also be provided with reasons where schools declined to participate. I ask the Minister for Education and Schools, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, come to the House to discuss the issue of back to school costs, specifically the school uniform circular issued by the Department in December 2013. It is crucial that we establish consultation with parents in the education of their children, particularly in this area. I ask that the results of the survey on school uniforms be made available and that further consultation take place with parents on the issue of school costs.

Last week I requested that we have a debate on water charges. The Leader said yesterday that we had had plenty of time last year when the Water Services (No. 2) Bill was before the House to debate these issues. I do not accept that, because circumstances have changed since then, but also, during those lengthy debates, we were given an assurance by the then Minister of State that this House and the Dáil would be consulted on the pricing regime. The Leader will be aware that the Commission for Energy Regulation has put out for public consultation the water services plan, which includes the charges and the charging mechanism. Is he telling me that Members of the Seanad and the Dáil will not have the opportunity to question the Minister on this issue? We were told, as part of that debate, that we would be informed and consulted, yet it is not happening. What we do know is that households are now facing an even bigger charge than that proposed by the Government, and many people will not be able to afford to pay. The Leader might be able to give advice to people who cannot even pay their mortgages, put food on the table, pay utility bills such as gas or electricity or put heating oil in their tanks but who will now be landed with a water charge. What advice would he give those people? Which bills should they not pay? He should talk directly to his constituents in Waterford who, I am sure, will be coming to him asking him to explain how they can pay these charges. It is outrageous that the Government is pressing ahead with this measure without having a debate with the democratically elected representatives of the Seanad and Dáil. I again call for such a debate to take place as soon as possible, because not to do so would be to row back on the commitment given to all of us on this side of the House when we challenged the then Minister of State regarding the charging regime and how it would work out. We were promised that we would be consulted, and I hope the Leader will be able to follow through on that and allow those of us on this side of the House to have our input.

I listened with interest to the debate yesterday evening with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys. The Minister deserves credit for making herself available to this House, and I thank her for that, but there are always ways of improving matters. Senator Mooney's suggestion merits serious consideration. If an Oireachtas committee felt it necessary to call an appointee to a State board to come before it, as happens currently for chairpersons designate, I do not see much wrong with that process. It may be impractical to call every appointee to every State board before an Oireachtas committee, but there is nothing wrong with the suggestion that certain individuals should appear before an Oireachtas committee to give an account of their qualifications to steward on a board. The Leader might raise that with the appropriate authorities in due course.

I support my colleague Senator Hildegarde Naughton on the issue of gazumping. Gazumping was one of the most disgusting elements of our Celtic tiger period. It was certainly one of the most vulgar, and it should be outlawed, as it is in many other countries. Gazumping appears to be unique to Ireland. It does not happen in the United States or in the majority of European countries, and it should not happen here. It was one of the lessons we did not learn from the Celtic tiger period, and as yet we have not legislated to make gazumping illegal. I call on the Leader to request the Minister with responsibility for housing to come to the House for a discussion on gazumping with a view to assisting in the crafting of legislation to ensure unfortunate people struggling to purchase homes do not find themselves having to pay out an extra €10,000, €20,000 or, in some cases, tens of thousands of euro to greedy people.

The Senator is over time.

The Government parties campaigned on this issue in opposition and committed to making gazumping illegal. That commitment should be honoured.

I welcome one of the most distinguished journalists in the history of the State, Vincent Browne, to the House. He has just left the Chamber.

On the appointment of Mr. McNulty to the board of IMMA, there is a procedure in place regarding the qualifications, which are important, but would the candidate be qualified if he had not been appointed by the Minister to the position? That is an important point.

That is not a matter for the Seanad.

The approach regarding the qualifications, which we all go through and of which I am well aware-----

Senator, all of that is set out in the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947-----

But it is an excellent point.

-----and the Seanad has no role in it.

I understand that-----

It is overseen by a High Court judge.

I understand a High Court judge was an arbitrator regarding the qualifications.

It is overseen by a High Court judge.

I understand that, but I understand it is only in the event of a question mark over the qualification. I do not believe the High Court judge would be required if questions did not arise. It is a matter for the Clerk of the Seanad to decide on the qualifications of the person, subject to appeal to a High Court judge.

Senator Leyden, the Act sets out all the procedures, and the procedures as set out in the Act were adhered to.

Why was it necessary to appoint the candidate to the board-----

That is not an issue for the Seanad, the Clerk or the High Court judge.

It is a question, and people are talking to me about it.

It is a matter of public concern.

We are not discussing the appointment of people to State boards. We have no role in that.

I am not questioning the-----

It is not relevant to the Order of Business.

No, but I request that the Minister come to the House. She is getting a baptism of fire at last and is finding out that it is difficult being in Government, particularly when she did not decide on the appointment. She was told to appoint Mr. McNulty to this board.

Senator, that is speculation, and it is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It is one of many mini-scandals to affect this Government.

Senator, do you have a question for the Leader? You are way over time.

I think it will damage the candidate in the by-election in Roscommon-South Leitrim also.

I listened carefully to Senator O'Brien, as I always do, and all the Members who spoke earlier, but, with respect, the Senator is being unfair to both Mr. McNulty and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, who treated this House with courtesy and respect yesterday evening on the matter. This man is as well qualified as anybody else who is on that board. They are not all artists. It is not a requirement that one should be an artist. One must have an interest in arts, culture and heritage, and it is clear this man has that, as outlined to us by the Minister-----

We are not discussing this man's qualifications, Senator.

I accept that, but these people serve pro bono, and there are three others on that board who are suitably qualified. One is a barrister, one is a company director and one is a former councillor. I would not object to the appointment of any of them, but-----

A Senator

Particularly if they vote for you.

-----there is a more appropriate way of dealing with this matter. A committee of the joint Houses deals with these boards, under whose aegis this board comes, and if it is to be discussed anywhere, that is where it should happen. With respect, the Members opposite are being cheap on this issue; I am reading it from the smiles on their faces. They are milking it. They got one headline. I doubt if they will get many more.

If you put the cow into the byre you have to-----

They are playing the man, not the ball, and not for the first time.

Paul, your P45 is on the way.

The World Health Organization published its first report on suicide prevention this month. The World Health Organization speaks for and addresses 193 countries. In her personal introduction to the report on prevention of suicide, Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the organisation, stated:

Despite an increase in research and knowledge about suicide and its prevention, the taboo and stigma surrounding suicide persists, and often people do not seek help or are left alone. And if they do seek help, many health systems and services fail to provide timely and effective help.

Dr. Chan's words are addressed to the 193 countries around the world, but they resonate in local communities throughout Ireland. She offers hope because she says suicide can be prevented. A total of 550 people died from suicide in the Twenty-six Counties last year, which is over ten people per week. It is a frightening thought. We must prioritise measures to help the prevention of suicide in Ireland. Dr. Chan says that with timely and effective evidence-based intervention, treatment and support, both suicide and attempted suicide can be prevented. Ireland must update its national suicide prevention strategy to reflect the World Health Organization's recommendations. At its heart is the crying need for timely access for all citizens, rich and poor, with suicidal thoughts to medical and psychiatric help.

There is an emerging trend of slow change, with more openness in Ireland to talking about mental health and suicide and the emergence of community based initiatives such as Living Links, which provides support for families of those at risk. However, the bottom line is that we are a failed democracy. We live in cloud cuckoo land about our country. We will not have a true liberal democracy unless there is access for all our citizens, rich or poor. As was said yesterday, there are waiting lists for people with disabilities and for mental health and psychiatric services. The horror of the reality in this country is that in many towns in Ireland there is no psychiatric help available for people with suicidal thoughts.

The issue I wish to raise is one my colleague, Senator Colm Burke, has raised on many occasions, namely, the acute shortage of doctors in our hospital system and the dependency on agency doctors, at enormous cost. It was mentioned in the House yesterday that we have more medical colleges per head of population than any other country in the developed world and we are investing heavily in the training and education of our doctors. However, we are failing to keep them within the system or to attract them to work in the HSE. As a result, we are dependent on doctors from developing countries. That is wrong because we are depriving those countries of the skills they require to improve their health systems.

An urgent debate is required with the new Minister for Health on what steps the HSE is taking to address this crisis in the health system. As I am aware from my local hospital, every six months there is a crisis when the junior hospital doctors move on to their next assignment, as the HSE is having huge difficulty attracting doctors to work in many of the hospitals throughout the country. We must have a discussion about that with the Minister as a matter of urgency.

Too many questions remain unanswered about the appointment of Mr. McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA. What makes it appear more suspicious and shady is the fact that the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, when she graced us with her presence so promptly yesterday, did not answer any questions. That is appalling. The purpose of her coming to the Seanad was to clarify it for us. Until the questions are answered, this will continue to be an issue because a House of Parliament is being used and abused. As I said yesterday, what other job could one get without being appropriately qualified? If Mr. McNulty was appropriately qualified on his merit in advance, why make the State appointment, given that he will have to step down in two to three weeks once he is elected?

There are other worrying issues about this, for example, learning that five women were recommended for the position within the inner sanctum of Fine Gael. When do words mean something? No woman was appointed a Minister of State and now women have been overlooked again.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It is not relevant.

The Seanad has no role in any of that.

I stood on a ticket for Fine Gael in the last general election which promised we would do our business differently. In fact, Fine Gael in this case is worse than what went before us.

That is what was promised in the local elections.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Can the Leader get our questions answered? The House deserves this. The key question is who brought Mr. McNulty to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, for appointment.

The Taoiseach.

The House must get that answer officially.

All those appointed to a board are suitably qualified if they are self-employed and running their own business. It they are able to manage their business, they are well able to serve on a board of directors, regardless of what that board is for.

The issue I wish to raise relates to the health sector. I agree with the remarks made by Senator Mullins. The general doctors issue is getting quite serious and by this time next year we will face a major problem. For the last 15 to 20 years we have been relying on doctors from non-EU countries to come here and apply for the jobs in this country, but the number of doctors from non-EU countries will decrease by up to 50% over the next 12 months. Part of the reason for that is the introduction of the working time directive.

The basic salary of general doctors was reduced four or five years ago. Nobody questioned it at the time because people were getting additional hours of overtime and therefore were being suitably rewarded for their work. Now there is a restriction on the number of hours they can work. Everybody sought that and it is correct, but the basic salary has remained at the same level as five years ago. As a result, the number of doctors coming here from abroad will decrease substantially over the next 12 months, so there will be a major shortfall. We have done absolutely nothing about it. The MacCraith report was published in three separate reports over the last nine months and I submitted a question to the HSE on what is being done on its implementation. There is a serious question as to whether there is a commitment to the implementation of that report.

Another issue in the health sector relates to dieticians employed in hospitals. At present, dieticians employed by the HSE are not required to visit nursing homes. If a person in a nursing home requires a consultation with a dietician, he or she must be taken to attend the clinic at a hospital, at huge cost. Any new dietician who is employed should be required to visit nursing homes. The State is incurring a huge cost with the current procedure. This relates to Senator Mullins's request for a serious debate on all the issues in health with the new Minister. There are many issues we have not mentioned which must be examined and reformed. The employment of dieticians is one such area in respect of how they are employed and their responsibilities to a group of people for whom it is extremely important that they get proper care and back-up support.

Interestingly, I raised the issue of doctors yesterday and spoke about medical students, the huge tax implications and how it might be possible to overcome that in some way. Unless we solve that, we will be unable to reach a solution for the issues raised by Senators Mullins and Colm Burke. It is a big challenge but it is our responsibility to do something about it.

Some days ago I met a man from Australia who is now living in Ireland. He remarked that while Ireland wishes to establish itself as a leader in high technology, he had noted that our cars use the old fashioned method, dating from 1904 or so, of displaying tax, national car test, NCT, and insurance discs on the front windscreen.

He said that in New South Wales some years ago a modern method to do it was identified. Every police car is equipped with a scanner that can read the registration of every car in the country and they can immediately tell whether the owner has paid the tax, insurance or NCT. If we are trying to lead the world in technology, we are way behind if we do not remove all the old-fashioned ways of measuring compliance regarding cars. Britain is attempting to implement a modern method of identifying cars but is not getting there easily. It is in the interests of efficiency and of Ireland’s image as being involved in technology and we should do it immediately.

Much has been ventilated over the past 48 hours about the appointment of Mr. John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. I concur with those who suggest that appointees to all public boards should be subject to scrutiny by the appropriate Oireachtas committee.

It would be easy to do. Alternatively, a select committee of the Seanad could scrutinise them. Some mechanism should be introduced to deal with it. Recently I saw the Leader at his committee which was interviewing the chairman designate of the Port of Waterford. The chairman designate acquitted himself well and the process was good, and it should be extended to all boards. Given the importance of our public boards and the deficiencies which have been identified in many of them in recent years, it is imperative that people of the highest calibre who can make a contribution and have influence on boards are appointed.

The second issue I raise goes to the core of the undermining of our democracy, namely, the public cynicism which can only be fuelled when the Government appoints a person to a board whom it knows will, within weeks, be ineligible to serve on the board. It is an abuse of the process of appointing people and goes against all best practices of our democracy. It is no wonder people are disillusioned with politicians and the public service. There is no good reason why a by-election to the Seanad should be confined to a small portion of the electorate which is controlled by the Government, and we should take this matter up. Why would we not allow the full Seanad electorate to participate in deciding who will fill the position in Seanad Éireann?

Like any other election.

It can be done very easily, as the vote is done by post.

While the Government is diverting our attention to these peripheral matters, parents who are trying to get their children who have special needs into pre-school and school where they can enhance their prospects of playing a meaningful part in their lives and development, are not being supported as they should be. Everybody recognises that early intervention is essential in all these cases. There should be more support from the HSE for certain bodies. Resources are being curtailed, but these should be priorities. I ask the Leader to bring it to the Minister’s attention and arrange an early debate to focus on these important issues which affect a significant proportion of people who are doing their best in difficult circumstances to ensure their children are given a better opportunity in life. We should support it.

One year ago I tabled a motion asking that the Minister for Education and Skills implement the recommendations in the National Council for Special Education report of May 2013. I called on the then Minister to ensure his Department introduced a robust regulatory enrolment framework for schools to ensure that all children with special educational needs, particularly those with Down’s syndrome, would be protected from school enrolment practices or policies that would have overt or covert barriers that would block their access to local schools. The Government amended my motion to ask the Minister to "consider" taking that step. The amendment was supported by some of the same Senators putting tonight’s motion before the House. I assume they share my disappointment that nothing has happened to tackle the barriers some children with disabilities face when enrolling in certain schools. I will return to this topic this evening.

Many people will be nervous as they await their first water bill in January, charging for water from October. Given the meagre allowance, and the fact that people will be charged on a usage basis, Irish Water should allow people to see their bills on a monthly basis either with an online account, mobile text service or by calling a phone number.

This would mean that at least during the first quarter, October to December, people would get a sense of their consumption so as to know how much of their allowance remains and what their charge is likely to be in January. This would allow families to plan water usage and, hopefully, lessen the fear factor associated with yet another deluge of bills flooding into already struggling families. I would be grateful for the Leader’s response.

It is an excellent suggestion.

I concur with Senator Mullen’s suggestion, which was made here on Second Stage of the Water Services (No. 2) Bill last year. I hope it will be taken on board. I support what Senator Hayden requested regarding the very obvious housing crisis. It is a long-playing record among those of us who are interested in housing and I have frequently called for urgent debates on our housing policy. While I appreciate that there is a new Minister who is talking about spending a certain amount of money, we must reflect on how the money should be spent. Let us not rush to resolve our housing crisis and cause a further social crisis. We must ensure our house building programme and mix of housing is appropriate and allows people a future in a community, not just in a housing estate.

During the 1960s and 1970s there was a very urgent housing need and a rushed building programme produced third-rate houses and corralled people into ghettos where social problems emerged. We must be careful how we respond to the problem and ensure the Government sees housing as a social need rather than an economic activity. I am worried that, judging by the media headlines, people see the building of houses and the extraordinary increase in house prices as signs of economic progress. We saw the tragic consequences of this during the past decade. Let us see housing as a human right, a social need and something which must be provided for the common good, not for the good of millionaire developers. While I concur with Senator Hayden’s request for an urgent debate, we must think in much broader ways than previously. The solution is not "one size fits all". The building of huge local authority housing estates did not work previously and we need a good social mix. First, we urgently need a debate.

The longer one is in a place such as this, the more grounds one has for cynicism and despondency. As somebody who has consistently for 20 years espoused fundamental reform of our health system, who is prepared to blame successive health Ministers from the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael for the problems in our health system, who endorsed the candidacy for Minister for Health of Fine Gael and Labour Party candidates because we were promised reform of the health system, the waiting list figures reported in today’s Irish Examiner were way past depressing. Despite all the spin and claims that it had decreased, the number of people on waiting lists has increased from 309,000 to 360,000.

This is extraordinary. The number of people on nine-month waiting lists has gone up from 9,400 to 38,000. The mere fact that anyone in a civilised country would be on a nine-month waiting list for anything in the health service is just so profoundly abnormal that it says volumes about the normalisation of the abnormal to which we have become so numbed and accustomed in our society over the years. I am not singling out the current Minister, his predecessor or the current Government parties. This has been a systematic failure to reform the health system which has been going on for 20 years. The arithmetic is very simple; if a hospital is given an amount of money in January which must last it until midnight on New Year's Eve, regardless of how good or bad is the hospital, how many patients choose to come to that hospital, how many patients choose to go some place else, how good are the doctors and nurses at attracting patients, how bad are they so that it encourages patients to go somewhere else. The amount of money in the hospital's budget is set. The only way this system can respond to increases in demand is to cut back and to increase waiting lists.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business yet again today - "that the Minister for Health come to the House to clarify the extraordinary discrepancy in what we have been told over the past year by the same Administration on the actual numbers of patients on waiting lists and the numbers of patients on long-term waiting lists and to give the House an indication of the timeframe for health service reform or a commitment to such reform".

It is very regrettable we did not have an opportunity to ask all our questions yesterday evening and such questions as were asked were not answered. I refer to a couple of core questions which the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, needs to answer. Part of the qualification of anyone to serve on a State board - I would not dispute the qualifications of the gentleman, Mr. McNulty in terms of his life experience or career trajectory - but part of the qualifications for any job - I know because it has been asked of me when I have gone to interviews - is whether the applicant can actually do the job, whether he or she will be here in a year's time or in two years' time or whether he or she intends to leave. The hard question that the Minister needs to answer is if, when she nominated Mr. McNulty, she realised that it was overwhelmingly likely that this gentleman would become a Fine Gael Senator within a very few short weeks into his tenure as a member of the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. That is a key question which in my view was not answered and to which we need an answer.

I second Senator Crown's amendment to the Order of Business.

People in our business are advised not to question the media because it is akin to putting one's head in the lion's mouth and the media, of its very nature, will always have the last word. I ask for a debate on the online newspaper business, in particular, the manner in which online newspapers provide a facility for nameless, anonymous commentators to be very critical and sometimes quite abusive of politicians in general. We read many of these newspapers, the best-known being thejournal.ie, which I read regularly. It provides a very good service which is informative, interesting and has some very good articles by the main contributors. However, it also allows a facility for nameless, anonymous individuals to comment freely from the safety of total anonymity not only on politicians but on people in general. In my view there should be some form of registration and identification expected from people who want to contribute in this way. Print newspapers are quite happy to print letters from the public and this is to be welcomed by us all but no respectable newspaper will allow a letter to be printed which is critical of any politician or anybody else, unless that person provides a name and address. This is as it should be. However, I refer to these kind of anorak bloggers who appear all over the place on whatever is the issue of the day and sometimes their comments can verge on the abusive in their language and personal criticism of people's appearance and so on. I ask for a debate on this issue and I would like to have the publications in question participating in that debate and outlining their view as to the future of that type of anonymous commentary they seem to be facilitating.

Senator O'Brien asked about the Betting (Amendment) Bill. The Department of Finance needs to engage in further consultation with the European Commission on this Bill. It is most likely that it will be late next month before Committee Stage is scheduled. In any event, I have no intention of rushing this Bill through the House. The Second Stage of the Bill will be taken in the House today and, if not concluded today, will be resumed next week.

Senators Darragh O'Brien, Mooney, Leyden, Conway, Paul Coghlan, Healy Eames, Walsh, Crown and others, raised the issue of appointments to State boards. All appointments to State boards have been completed. Those appointed are very well qualified, including the person to whom speakers alluded yesterday when the Minister came to the House. The Minister outlined the qualifications of the gentleman in question. In my opinion he is well qualified for the position and for the cultural and educational panel.

Can I ask the Leader-----

The Leader without interruption.

One should not believe everything one reads in the papers. It has been suggested that in addition to the chairpersons of State boards being examined by Oireachtas joint committees that every member appointed would be vetted by the Oireachtas committee in question. I will put that suggestion to the Government. There will certainly be a queue for appointment to committees. If this is the view I will put that suggestion to the Government for its consideration.

Senators Hayden and Bradford raised the issue of housing. Senator Hayden made the point that in recent weeks several trade unions have called for rent control measures. She spoke about the need for imaginative policies to combat housing shortages. Senator Bradford said that housing should be regarded as a social rather than an economic need. He spoke about the need for a programme of house building with a good social mix. I have asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to come to the House as he is responsible for housing. He has indicated he will come to the House before the end of October for a comprehensive debate on the issue.

Senator Barrett asked for a debate on the changes in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He welcomed the appointment of Jim Wells who is a member of the British Irish Parliamentary Association. Senators Naughton and Conway condemned the practice of gazumping. We can have that debate when the Minister comes to the House.

Senator Moran asked for a debate on soccer hooliganism and the back to school costs. She referred to the survey on school uniforms. I will bring this to the attention of the Minister for Education and Science.

Senator Cullinane asked for a debate on the water charges and the Water Services Bill. The Government's priority is to make water charges as fair and as affordable as possible. The average bill will be €240 per year, as promised. The charge for water will include a free household allowance of 30,000 litres per year. It was always planned that children will go free. There will be a further allowance for households with children which will mean that water charges do not apply to them. We have also provided allowances for other vulnerable groups. A person living alone will have approximately 40% of his or her water needs provided by the allowance and the cost for such persons will be approximately €138 per year or less than 50 cent per day.

Financial assistance of €100 per year will also be provided to those in need who are eligible for the household benefits package, pensioners, carers and recipients of disability payments.

That is a draft-----

The Senator asked for an answer, which I am giving.

Thankfully, the Senator is here to listen to the answer, because when I gave it previously he was not here.

I am looking for a debate.

The Leader without interruption.

I was here, actually.

Charges will be capped for people who have high water usage due to certain medical conditions.

The Senator should answer the questions he was asked.

I am giving the Senator the answers to the questions he asked.

The Leader without interruption.

That is a draft for consultation.

These reforms are essential-----

(Interruptions).

The Leader without interruption.

The Senator obviously does not like what he is hearing, like his colleague in the other House yesterday in the context of Sinn Féin's lunatic policies on the economy.

The lunatic policies come from the Senator's party.

These reforms are essential for the future provision of high-quality water services following decades of a fragmented approach by Fianna Fáil Governments which have left us with a broken water system, as we all know. A total of 23,500 people are on boil-water notices, 40% of our water supply is lost to leakage, 16% of our water supplies are at risk, which affects more than one million people, and one-third of secondary wastewater treatment plants had inadequate effluent standards in 2012. There is virtually no spare supply capacity in Dublin, which threatens job creation. The establishment of Irish Water as a single utility company to replace the current 34 separate water authorities will result in more co-ordinated investment and improve water quality nationwide.

Fianna Fáil had one policy on water charges-----

That is not true.

That was the original deal with the troika, which would have resulted in an annual charge of €400 from last year, with no allowances for anybody.

That is not true.

As regards Sinn Féin, water is already charged for indirectly in Northern Ireland as part of the domestic rates regime, which includes a property tax. Sinn Féin recently deferred the introduction of direct charges for water until 2016.

There are no water charges in Northern Ireland, as the Leader well knows.

An average of €950 per household in domestic rates in Northern Ireland is already far in excess of the equivalent in the South.

Perhaps the Leader should stand in elections to the Assembly.

(Interruptions).

Allow the Leader to answer questions that have been raised on the Order of Business.

This is as comprehensive an answer as I can give. Obviously the answer is not going down well with Sinn Féin, because it does not want to hear the answers to the questions.

The Sinn Féin vote went up, not down like that of the Senator's party.

Sinn Féin does not want the policies it advocates pointed out.

Fine Gael got its answer in the local elections in Waterford.

The Leader without interruption.

Fine Gael will get it again in the general election.

Can we have the Leader without interruption?

We believe in democracy and listening to people. I have listened to everybody, but obviously the Senator wants to interrupt because he does not like what he hears.

I asked for a debate, which we are obviously not going to get.

Can we have the Leader without interruption?

Senator White spoke about the WHO report on suicide and made very important points. I am providing answers to some people who asked questions and then left the House, so they did not even show the courtesy of waiting for a reply. This is the case for quite a number of people on both sides of the House this morning and on many other occasions, but I will reply to Senator White. The Government is, of course, concerned by the recent data about the level of suicide in Ireland. Preventing suicide is a priority for the Government and, since coming to office, it has increased funding to this very sensitive area. The programme for Government contained a commitment of a special allocation of €35 million in 2012 and 2013, primarily to strengthen community mental health teams in both adult and children's mental health services and to further develop suicide prevention initiatives. The allocation of €20 million in ring-fenced funding in 2014 sought to strengthen and consolidate progress, and there has been an additional investment of €90 million in the past three years. Most of the recommendations in Reach Out: Irish National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention 2005-2014 have been implemented. A new framework document for suicide prevention for the period from 2015 to 2018 is being developed, and this will build on the current strategy. The objective is to have this framework completed by the end of the year and to reflect on the WHO report, as Senator White mentioned. A total of 890 posts were provided to develop our community mental health services in 2012 and 2013. With €17 million invested, more than 748, or 83%, of these posts are now in place, with the remaining posts at different stages of HSE recruitment or approval.

In budget 2014, the Government again committed to the continuation of the development of our mental health services in these extremely challenging times. This means that despite the serious resource pressures overall, funding of €90 million has been made available from 2012 to the end of 2014 which has been specifically earmarked for mental health and suicide prevention. The allocation of €20 million in ring-fenced funding in 2014 will enable the HSE to continue to develop and modernise our mental health services in line with the recommendations of A Vision for Change and will allow for the further recruitment of between 250 and 280 additional staff to further enhance our adult community mental health teams, our child and adolescent mental health teams and specialist mental health teams. That is a comprehensive update in respect of mental health services, which is a matter that has been raised in the House on several occasions.

Senators Colm Burke and Michael Mullins spoke about the importance of keeping our junior doctors and the problems associated with the EU working time directive. Senator Burke also raised the question of the employment of dieticians and argued that there should be a requirement for them to visit nursing homes, which does not pertain at present. I will certainly bring that matter to the attention of the Minister.

Senator Quinn spoke about the use of high-tech methods, eliminating the need for tax, NCT, insurance discs and so on, the advances that are being made in other countries, and the need for us to embrace this change.

Senator Jim Walsh spoke about early intervention in respect of children with special needs. These points were made by his Leader and other Members in the House yesterday on the Order of Business.

Senator Bradford spoke about the housing crisis. Senator Crown spoke about the significant increase in hospital waiting lists, as mentioned in one of the newspapers this morning, and the need for meaningful reforms of the health service and a timescale for reform. Finally, Senator O'Sullivan spoke about the online newspaper business and the need for identification of people making comments about other people. I share the Senator's concerns in this regard and I think a debate on the question of the media, which we promised some months ago, is probably overdue.

I do not propose to accept the amendments to the Order of Business.

May I ask the Leader to take a question?

The Senator is too late. We are on the amendments now.

It is not a Standing Order. I cannot quote a Standing Order for a point of order, but there is a point of information. I would like to know whether the Leader-----

There is no provision for a point of information unless it is a point of order.

For the record, my question remains unanswered.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to address questions regarding the appointment of Mr. John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided by electronic means.

As a teller, under Standing Order 62(3), I propose that the vote be taken other than by electronic means.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 21.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator John Crown has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the discrepancies in the numbers of patients on waiting lists and on his timeframe for health service reform be held today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 22.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Ned O'Sullivan; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 16.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

I propose to amend the Order of Business. I omitted to say the debate on the Bill would be adjourned at 2 p.m, if not previously concluded.

Is the amendment to the Order of Business agreed to? Agreed.