Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to adjourn at not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those from all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; No. 2, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn at not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, National Mortgage and Housing Corporation Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

We all condemn the attacks on our emergency services and front-line staff over the weekend, particularly the fire brigade and ambulance crews. The attacks became acute over the Halloween weekend, particularly in Dublin. Unfortunately, it happens all year round, and those staff are putting their lives on the line for us. Those front-line staff include gardaí, fire crew, ambulance staff, prison officers and nurses. Three years ago Fianna Fáil published legislation by my colleague Deputy Dara Calleary which would make it a specific offence in law to assault an emergency worker, with a minimum sentence of five years. That is something the Government should consider. It is a particularly grave crime if people who are there to assist the general public are assaulted and attacked by thugs. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality and ask her to look at the legislation produced by Deputy Calleary in 2012.

If the Government were to give an indication that it intended to work towards introducing measures similar to those proposed in the Bill, it would go a long way towards deterring some of the thugs involved in this activity. Attacks on ambulance and fire crews would stop if people convicted of such attacks were given harsh sentences. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The position in the health service has moved from crisis to catastrophe. We read in today's edition of the Daily Mail that a couple who are both 90 years of age waited for two days on trolleys in Tallaght Hospital. Figures from the trolley watch website show that in the first ten months of 2015, almost 80,000 patients admitted to hospital were left on trolleys. The health service is going from bad to worse and what is most frustrating for me and many of those to whom I speak is that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, appears to believe he is a commentator. For example, he speaks on radio about how terrible and awful the position is while it continues to worsen on his watch. There is no plan in place and no action is being taken. A supplementary budget of €800 million will probably be needed for the health service. The Minister is throwing money at the problem to pay for the introduction of additional temporary beds and staff over the winter months. People are suffering. It is disgraceful in this day and age that a couple in their 90s were left for two days on trolleys. In the week before last, Beaumont Hospital again announced that it could not admit additional patients. The number of outpatients waiting for an appointment has increased by 300%. The Minister is not doing his job.

This issue deserves immediate Government attention, rather than the current sticking-plaster approach. Incidentally, the current problems cannot be blamed on economic developments because the Government had four and a half years to address them. During that period, two Ministers have been responsible for a further degradation and drastic disimprovement in the health service. The Minister for Health must come before the House to make a statement and answer specific questions about accident and emergency departments. With that in mind, I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that he come before the House today to inform us of his plans to ensure that no one - particularly elderly senior citizens - is left on a trolley for two days. The current position is disgraceful and the Minister should be ashamed of his stewardship of the Department of Health. I am formally tabling an amendment to require the Minister to come to the House to answer questions.

All Senators will wish to join me in expressing sincere condolences and sympathy to Gillian and Ronan Treacy, the parents of the little boy, Ciarán, who was killed in a dreadful incident last year. It is worth speaking a little about the case, which involved an individual who had been driving while drunk and who was sentenced yesterday at Portlaoise Circuit Court. I commend Judge Keenan Johnson on his strong words, in a general sense, in condemning any tolerance of drink-driving. While driving drunk is already a criminal offence and the subject of strong moral disapproval, we have seen from the publicity surrounding this case a real strengthening of the culture of zero tolerance for drink-driving. If anything positive can come out of this awful case, it is that.

In calling for a debate on housing and rent certainty, I commend Senator Hayden on the strong and robust comments she made on this matter on "Morning Ireland".

Will they make any difference?

I also welcome the announcement that numerous new facilities will provided for emergency accommodation for homeless persons in Dublin city.

What difference will they make?

In particular, we heard yesterday an announcement of a welcome new facility on Thomas Street. I also welcome the proposals in respect of modular housing. Clearly, however, these measures are only part of the resolution to the homelessness problem. I am conscious that Senator Hayden has been calling for a comprehensive debate on housing and rent certainty for some time. I would like the House to have that debate in due course.

I also call for a debate on prisons in light of the report published yesterday by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, on the culture in Irish prisons. The report contains some serious and worrying findings regarding the gang culture that has, to some extent, been tolerated and allowed to develop in prisons. We also need to debate the report in the context of the comments made by Judge Reilly on a culture among Prison Service staff. While he commends most of them on the tough work they are required to do, the report makes some worrying comments on some aspects of conduct by prison staff.

I welcome the establishment of an interdepartmental task force to examine claims of exploitation in the fishing industry, about which Senator O'Keeffe and I spoke yesterday. We all note comments from representatives of the fishing industry in Castletownbere and other ports strongly disputing the claims made in The Guardian newspaper. It is clear that an investigation is required into the extent of exploitation and abuse taking place in the fishing industry and serious concerns that people are been trafficked into exploitative labour in the industry.

I congratulate Congressman Paul Ryan on his election as House Speaker in Washington. This is a most important part of parliamentary democracy. Congressman Ryan follows in a very proud tradition of Tip O'Neill and other Irish-American Speakers and I wish him well. I understand he visited Ireland a couple of months ago to reconnect with his Irish roots.

I also congratulate the Irish hockey team on qualifying for the Rio Olympics next year. Its achievement ranks it in the top 11 field hockey teams in the world, a feat not accomplished since 1908. This is an occasion for great celebration.

I raise the issue of injecting rooms, which drug users in Galway will be able to use from next year onwards, according to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. It appears that two sites are under consideration for housing these injecting centres. While I am not objecting to the plans per se, full consultation is required as opposed to having a decision taken and followed by supposed consultation. If it is the case that two sites are under consideration, the decision must almost have been made. I am not aware of any consultation taking place in respect of either site. It is unsatisfactory that it remains unclear where the proposed centres will be located. The lack of consultation is causing a significant amount of unease in Galway regarding the Minister of State's plan and the possible location of these centres. While I fully agree that it is preferable to have supervised injection rooms, proper consultation is needed in respect of this process. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State to come to the Seanad to discuss the issue of injecting centres.

There has been an interesting development in Britain regarding efforts to address absenteeism. I noted some figures from Ireland which show that the direct cost of absenteeism to small businesses, particularly those with sick pay schemes, is more than €490 million per annum. Under the radical new scheme introduced in Britain, anyone who has been sick for more than four weeks will face a fit for work test aimed at stamping out the sick note culture. A person who has been sick for four weeks will have to visit his or her doctor. Every year, more than 1 million people in Britain take sick leave for more than one month, costing the economy more than £9 billion.

The position regarding absenteeism in Ireland is similar to that in Britain, particularly in the case of small firms. It is a scandal to the extent that some doctors automatically give sick leave certificates to people who no longer wish to work. While I am not sure what is the solution to the problem, we should at least examine the British model to ascertain whether there is something we can do to address absenteeism. The ability of small firms to survive is affected when employees who take sick are not as ill as they maintain. I believe we can do something about this problem.

Last May, Senator Whelan and I tabled a Private Members' motion on the National Library of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland and so forth. I understand from media reports today that the National Library has indicated that a lack of funding is preventing it from fully carrying out its functions. When Senator Whelan and I raised this issue in May, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, acknowledged that additional funding was required and informed the House that she would endeavour to secure it in the next round of budget allocations. The budget has been announced in the meantime. Administration costs in the National Library account for only 20% of its income, which is probably one of the lowest ratios in the State.

It operates with a reduced staff and a massively reduced budget. The time has come to return its budget. The boat is lifting and the National Library, which holds all the national records, needs to be assisted. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House next week to discuss the proposals she has put on the record for the future improvement of the National Library?

We all welcomed the good news in the budget that road tax for trucks would be reduced to €900 from 1 January, but in recent days an issue has come to my notice with regard to hauliers who want to tax their trucks and whose tax expired on 31 October. A truck can be taxed for only three months, and one would imagine it could be taxed at the old rate for November and December with the new rate kicking in for January. Counties in the north west are not abiding by this rule and are charging the old rate for the three months. This is very unfair and must be clarified immediately. We are a few days into November and it is important that truckers are allowed to tax their vehicles and would not be running them without tax. It is unfair for the old rate to be charged for the month of January.

I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien on accident and emergency departments, but we need to examine how we deal with them. I spoke to a junior doctor who is now based in Perth where the system for dealing with accidents and emergencies appears to be totally different. Another person I spoke to recently was admitted to hospital through an accident and emergency department. The person was in the accident and emergency department for eight hours. Everyone knew what was wrong with the person and that a bed was available in the ward, but they had to wait for test results to come back from the laboratory before the person could be moved from the accident and emergency department to the ward. This sounds like a total lack of organisation and structure. We should look at how we manage accident and emergency departments. We also need to look at the times consultants are on. We need expertise on the shop floor, particularly at weekends, and this does not appear to be happening. This has gone through three or four different Ministers at this stage. We have had problems in accident and emergency departments but have not done any restructuring. Work has been done in one or two hospitals, in Kilkenny in particular, but in other areas we have been continuing with the same process for the past 20 years and we do not seem to have learned any lessons. It is time to look at this. There must be a better system. We should look at how other jurisdictions and hospitals deal with it and bring about the change required rather than leaving people there for 24 hours and 48 hours, which is totally unnecessary.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business. While I do not doubt anybody's commitment and wish to see the situation in accident and emergency departments throughout the country improved, how regular is this story? What is the problem? We seem to be investing a lot of resources but we are always running under budget. One wonders about the need to look to the future at all times. We need to look to the past in one way, which is in the context of the general management of hospitals. When we had a matron and a county surgeon, one individual was all powerful and reached into every department and facet, whereas these days administration is administration, domestic is domestic, clinical is clinical and management is somewhere else, and perhaps the solution is within this. There can be no excuses not to have a debate. We are at a critical stage. It is not about political blame when we face into January and February and the months which are traditionally difficult with flu and other illnesses.

I call for an urgent debate, as I did last week, on the development, or decline, of rural Ireland. The debate needs to be on the protection of our culture. When we look around our nation today, one item of news really captures what is going on, which is that Bank of Ireland will prohibit over-the-counter cash withdrawals under €700. Representative groups of the elderly community have said this is of serious concern. We are moving away from our entire culture. Rural Garda stations and post offices have been closed, but far from saving money we are murdering our very culture. Cultural decay and rural decline are endemic throughout the country. It is a paperless, cashless and, it would seem, a peopleless economy where Bank of Ireland is taking the lead and expecting people of all ages to make lodgements to machines. We need to look at the value of our culture and not just the cost. A debate in this regard is urgent.

I join Senator Bacik in welcoming the announcement this morning of the annual cold weather initiative which will be in place from now until the end of April, with 175 additional beds being provided. This is on top of the 250 emergency beds provided last year. There is a Government commitment that nobody who wants or needs a bed in this crisis will be without one over the period of this winter. This is a very important commitment.

The Government has failed miserably.

I commend the additional number of family units being brought into play. These are not short-term but long-term units, with 14 in Glasnevin, 25 in Ballymun Plaza and 80 at a location where Dublin City Council has acquired a number of units. An aspect of the plan which is most welcome is the fact the children and families homelessness action team run by Focus Ireland will raise its staff capacity by 25 project workers to respond to the needs of families living in emergency accommodation. Arrangements are also being put in place whereby Tusla and HSE public health nurses will provide services in emergency accommodation, where they should be provided. The aim is to provide a whole-of-State approach to the crisis. As everybody is well aware, I have my views on how the crisis can be prevented, but we must acknowledge we are where we are with the emergency situation and we must ensure the damage is limited to the greatest extent possible.

I congratulate the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on the serious achievement it has brought about in bringing these additional units into play in such a difficult crisis. It is also important to bear in mind that 739 families exited homeless accommodation in the first nine months of this year, which is a remarkable achievement in the current situation. A large number of organisations, including the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, Threshold and the four local authorities, should be congratulated on the achievement of bringing about this initiative.

Like Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

The public is being asked as part of this initiative that where they encounter somebody who is homeless or vulnerable, such as a younger person or somebody in need of medical care, they act by contacting the emergency services or the local authorities. It is very important that we all play our part in this crisis.

I was struck by a meeting we had in Galway City Council last Friday with Oireachtas Members where the city manager pointed out that he needs to find €2.5 million for essential developments. The reason I raise this is because we need an urgent debate in the House with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the funding model for local authorities. The way it is set up at present means 87% of funding to run our cities and counties needs to be raised locally through commercial rates and local property tax. What councillor will vote in favour of these against the local people? Our city is starved of resources, with only a potential 13% available from the Exchequer. The city is spoken about as being starved of human resources as it is down 100 people.

A person cannot be buried in Galway city on a Sunday because they do not have enough money to pay the premium rates for Sundays. They are starved financially. There are 20 presentations of families per week seeking homes. We are talking about an emergency. Mark my words, there is absolutely no recovery when it comes to the funding of local authorities. There is a murder machine because of the cover-up job, with people saying everything is okay because of the local property tax. Galway is a very important city and a counterpoint to the east.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?

We are talking about regional and western development. Neither I nor anybody else in the Chamber, I would wager, wants to see local authorities falling down because of the model of funding being applied by the Government. I seek an urgent debate on the issue. It is appalling that a person cannot be buried on a Sunday in Galway city because of the lack of human and financial resources.

If they do it on Monday, is there a problem?

I agree that we need a debate on the health services, if for no other reason than to give people some comfort by letting them know there is at least a plan and efforts are being made. I encourage the Leader to arrange for the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to come to the House at the earliest opportunity and go through the contingency plans in place to deal with the winter upsurge in the numbers of people availing of accident and emergency services. It is very regrettable that our fantastic nurses throughout the country feel they have no option but to take industrial action. I call on the Minister to engage with the nursing organisations to see if common ground can be reached to prevent this action. I know the Minister has significant good faith in the area and he is extraordinarily committed to resolving the issue. He has told me that directly.

It is also a pity that midwives and nurses in the maternity hospital in Limerick have felt it necessary to go on strike as well because of an absolute starvation of resources. Their industrial action will be on 27 November. Again I call on all parties, including the HSE and the Minister, if necessary, to engage and try to provide extra midwives. I know ten more will be appointed, if they have not yet been appointed, but that is clearly not enough. I have been in and out of the maternity hospital in Limerick, visiting friends with children on numerous occasions in recent years, and the staff is doing phenomenal work under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

This House has a role to play in engaging in discourse to encourage the finding of a path to resolution of these problems which affect citizens who find themselves unwell. I encourage the Leader to facilitate such a debate with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, at the earliest possible opportunity.

I raise the issue of debt investors or vulture funds. I am concerned about the activities of Pepper Asset Servicing and other credit servicing firms, particularly their activity since the onset of the financial crisis. I am sure Senator MacSharry will have heard much about these firms. We have heard from all the main banks on their management of people in mortgage distress, but we have nothing from these debt investors or vulture funds which have acquired a large number of bank loans at a discount. Often loans that are in distress will have had credit servicing firms appointed to them to have the loans managed on behalf of a bank. Thousands of home owners and businesses deal with these firms but we have not heard from their representatives. One entity, Pepper, has bought debt directly from banks and is a debt investor. It also acts as a credit servicing entity for other debt investors and may provide an insight from two perspectives. It was reported last May that one of these firms had a house owner committed to prison for failure to honour a court order relating to repossession of a family home. These entities have largely escaped any political review, which is not good enough, and that is why I raise the matter.

I congratulate and compliment our inspector of prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, for the very fine report he delivered yesterday, to which Senator Bacik referred. I echo the Senator's concerns about some of what he had to report. Perhaps when we are in a more reflective mood down the line, we could deal with the issue and it could be suitable for debate. I will leave that with the Leader.

I join my leader in requesting an urgent debate on the crisis in the health system. I very much hope the Leader will be able to accede to the request. I also support very much the comments from my other colleague, Senator MacSharry, on today's announcement from Bank of Ireland on restrictions to be put in place on the amount of money that can be withdrawn or lodged manually within branches. It is unacceptable and this is only the first bank that will make public such a decision. Anybody dealing with the other main banks can see they have not been people-friendly for quite some time.

This relates not only to the way in which they deal with customers and the serious position in which they landed the State but even their policies beforehand. They have not been people-friendly for many years in their customer service and it is only a matter of time before the other main banks make the same announcement.

I welcome that Senator Feargal Quinn has put together a Bill that would see this country introducing an honours system, meaning we would have the capacity as a State to recognise people who make a major contribution to their communities and other areas of society or life. This is long overdue but the issue raises its head from time to time. We have the opportunity - I hope Senator Quinn does not mind me mentioning it - to pass this legislation and send it to the Lower House. It would be appropriate that in time for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, we would, as a State, recognise our own citizens who have made a contribution to communities and society.

I also take this opportunity to welcome to the Gallery Dr. Keith Swanick, our candidate in the forthcoming by-election.

I join my colleague, Senator Bacik, in extending our sympathy to the Treacy family following their ordeal arising from the death of their son, Ciarán, in a drunk driving incident. I certainly hope that yesterday is a turning point in our attitude towards drink-driving. I applaud the very strong and emotional comments made by Judge Keenan Johnson yesterday. To continue highlighting this issue, I ask the Leader for a debate in this House in the coming weeks on road safety, with particular reference to drink-driving. It can no longer be acceptable that anybody would sit behind the steering wheel of a car and put the lives of people at risk, having consumed alcohol. We need zero tolerance in this regard.

I support my colleagues on the other side of the House who have called for a debate on the banking system and attitudes following the recent announcement by Bank of Ireland on plans to deal with customers. We all accept that technology is the way forward and we want to maximise the benefits in continually improving technology, but not everybody is comfortable using it. Those people want human contact in banks when they want to transact business, and that wish must be respected. On a number of occasions I have spoken about the attitude of the banks to small customers as well as to the business community with respect to lodgements and how they are accepted. We need to discuss the matter.

The only banking organisation that seems to have any interest whatsoever in serving customers is the credit union movement. I want to see that sector strengthened such that it is in a position to provide a broader service to the public.

That will not happen because of the regulations the Government has introduced for credit unions.

As far as I can see, the only service that will be provided to smaller customers such as elderly people will be given through the credit unions. That issue needs to be included as part of a discussion on the banking system.

I join Senator Barrett in extending my congratulations to Congressman Paul Ryan on his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives. His election proves once again the very significant influence of Irish people and Irish-Americans on politics in the United States.

I wish I could share the Senator's enthusiasm for that appointment. However, anybody who knows the newly elected Speaker will know he has set his face against any form of immigration reform, which is impacting Irish families and is contrary to consistent Irish Government policy. As such, I do not welcome Mr. Ryan's appointment one little bit, despite his Irish heritage.

I welcome Senator Mullins's call for a discussion on the credit union sector. The conversion of Members opposite to the credit union cause is rather belated considering that our spokesperson, Deputy Michael McGrath, has tabled several motions on the matter in the other House, each of which was defeated by the Government. We continue to seek a roll-back of the imposition on credit unions. Anybody who has a credit union in their area, as I do in my home town of Drumshanbo where an excellent new premises has just opened, agrees these restrictions are inhibiting credit unions' ability to expand their business. It seems crazy, at a time when we are talking about banks' failure to lend, that the billions of euro on deposit in credit unions cannot be used because of the new regulations.

Yesterday afternoon, thanks to the Cathaoirleach, I had the opportunity to raise concerns regarding the Gardasil HPV vaccination programme with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. Later in the evening, the Minister dealt with a similar motion in the other House which was brought forward by Deputy Michael Moynihan of my own party and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. To say I am surprised by the Minister's attitude on this matter and his response both to my motion and that tabled in the Dáil is to put it mildly. I am not referring necessarily to the content of his responses, but to the dismissive manner in which he, as a Minister of Government, treated my Dáil colleagues and me on this issue. It was very surprising, especially given that I had considered myself, at least on a human level if not on a political level, to have a good relationship with the Minister. However, he was absolutely hostile in his attitude and seemed resentful that I and Dáil colleagues were raising this important issue, which Deputy Fidelma Healy Eames has likewise raised in this Chamber.

This issue is gathering force and it will not go away. After the debate yesterday, I heard from some of the parents of the unfortunate girls who have suffered as a result of this vaccination programme. One of those parents pointed out that when the initial programme was rolled out, there were to be three stages of vaccinations but, in the past 12 months, the HSE has reduced the number to two because, apparently, a number of the girls who have suffered side effects did so after receiving the third round of vaccinations. I intend to inquire about this and I ask the Leader to do the same. The clear implication is that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has set his face against any form of investigation of the linkage between this vaccine and the trauma, physical, emotional and mental, tragically being suffered by girls within days of receiving it. He refuses point blank, as does the HSE, to accept there is any causal link. My colleague, the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, Senator O'Brien, has been instrumental in bringing this issue to the fore, initially because it affected people in his constituency. It has since affected people in my constituency and those of Senator Healy Eames and others. Notwithstanding my having raised this issue on the Commencement debate yesterday, I intend to discuss with my colleagues the possibility of putting a full motion before the House in order that Members on all sides of the House can be drawn out on the matter. It is an issue that is not going to go away.

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an bhfoireann náisiúnta hockey and wish the players every success in qualifying for Rio next year.

I welcome yesterday's Cabinet decision to establish an interdepartmental task force to examine the wide range of issues that have emerged regarding the treatment of workers on board Irish shipping vessels. The exploitation of workers must not be tolerated, irrespective of their nationality. All workers must be treated equally and fairly and paid a just wage. The task force includes representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as well as representatives from the Attorney General's office. The task force, to be chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, will formulate a co-ordinated and effective cross-Government approach to ensuring there is no exploitation of workers in this country. I wish the members of the task force every success in their deliberations.

I support my colleague, Senator Mooney, on the important issue he raised. I was in the Chamber for the Commencement debate yesterday and heard the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, responding to the matter raised by the Senator. To put it mildly, the Minister was very flippant in his response to the Senator and to an adjoining matter I raised concerning the health sector. That arrogance and flippancy are not going unnoticed. The Minister has an obligation to challenge the situation in the HSE rather than blaming that body. After all, he is ultimately responsible, as Minister for Health, for deciding the executive's budget. The escalation of waiting lists is another issue about which there is great concern. In addition, as referred to by the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, we have a crisis in hospital emergency departments. A constituent of mine had to wait 36 hours in the emergency department of a Dublin hospital after getting ill at the weekend. The Minister says there is no issue within the Department of Health but there clearly is. He must come to the House to respond to our concerns and I hope the Leader will agree to issue that invitation.

My colleague, Senator MacSharry, referred to an issue regarding Bank of Ireland. The problem is that regulation of the banks is not really happening at the moment. We have retail banks effectively going into corporate banking and being interested only in services on which there are high margins, like the mortgages for which they are charging over the odds. The regulator must challenge the banks on their actions. If Bank of Ireland gets away with this, all the other banks will follow if there is profit in it for them.

Eventually, we will be in a situation where elderly people who have small sums of money to deposit will have to keep that money in their own houses, which will encourage more burglaries. This problem relates not only to banking but also raises other societal issues. The culture of banking is changing, as Senator MacSharry noted, and is not being challenged or supported by the regulator. The Minister for Finance has a responsibility to protect taxpayers. The banks have been supported by the taxpayers. It is now time for the banks to provide a service to the taxpayer. That is not being done and it must be challenged. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Finance to the House to discuss the current status of retail banking in the State and what his Department is doing to support ordinary customers? The banks are riding roughshod over customers throughout the country.

I join Senators Bacik and Mullins in extending my sympathy to Gillian and Ronan Treacy, the parents of Ciarán. We are all appalled by Ciarán's needless death.

I join Senator Bacik in mentioning Judge Keenan Johnson, who spoke very eloquently and sensitively about this matter. He imposed as strong a sentence as we might have expected in this country but there is a need to go towards the position in the United Kingdom. We need to treat cases such as this much more seriously. I acknowledge that younger people, for the most part, do not even think about drinking and driving nowadays but, clearly, we still have a way to go because drink driving is occurring. For it to occur once is too much, as illustrated in the case in question.

In the United Kingdom, there is a mandatory period of imprisonment of 14 years where drink driving causes the death of another individual. There is also an unlimited fine in those circumstances, a ban from driving for at least two years - in Portlaoise, the driver was disqualified from driving for 20 years - and an extended driving test before the offender's licence is returned. While I commend Judge Keenan Johnson on his judgment, I believe that in Ireland, in general, we need to move towards a mandatory and more serious sentence for drink driving that causes the death of another individual.

Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the question of attacks on members of the emergency services, particularly fire brigade staff over Halloween, and also attacks on prison officers in their homes in recent months. He asked that a specific offence for such attacks be considered and that I relay this to the Minister. I certainly will do so. It is absolutely despicable that any member of our emergency services would be treated in such a manner. Strong, stringent sentences, mandatory if necessary, should be in place for people who attack members of our Defence Forces or emergency services. The word "respect" has gone from the vocabulary of so many people. There is no respect for members of the Defence Forces and emergency services among some people. The latter should suffer as a result of their actions. They should suffer a lot more than they are suffering currently. I will certainly bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.

Senators Darragh O'Brien, Colm Burke, MacSharry, Conway, Wilson and Ó Domhnaill referred to health services, particularly accident and emergency services. The latter point was raised by Senator Darragh O'Brien. It is totally unacceptable that a couple in their 90s would be on trolleys for a night or two nights. This applies to everybody, irrespective of age. Tackling emergency department overcrowding is a priority of the Government. The Minister convened the emergency department task force in December 2014 to provide focus and momentum in dealing with the challenges associated with overcrowding in accident and emergency departments. Significant progress has been made to date on the overall emergency department task force plan. Delayed discharges are reducing steadily. The waiting time for fair deal funding has been reduced from 11 weeks to between two and four weeks. Last year, this was a major issue raised in the House. Transitional care funding supporting almost 2,000 people who have been approved under the fair deal scheme is available to move them from acute and non-acute care while waiting for their long-term placement. Over 1,200 additional home care packages have been provided. Some 238 beds have been opened in 2015, including 149 additional public nursing home beds, 24 additional private contract beds in Moorehall in County Louth and 65 short-stay beds in Mount Carmel. Therefore, progress is being made on these issues.

No progress has been made on accident and emergency services.

It is getting worse.

These provide a mix of rehabilitation and transitional care for patients who require assisted convalescent care before returning home or entering long-term care. Additional funding of €18 million was provided in July for a winter initiative that will include the provision of approximately 300 additional hospital beds in November and December this month and next month. The first of these are being opened. For example, the Leben building in the University of Limerick opened yesterday. A further 137 beds, which were closed for refurbishment for infection-control purposes in 2015, are to be reopened by the end of this month. Some 34 have already been reopened.

The director general of the Health Service Executive, who is co-chairing the emergency department task force implementation group from now until March 2016, has taken the decision to take over this himself to ensure all relevant parts of the health services, including acute and social and primary care services, are optimising resources to deal with the challenges outlined by several Members. The task force held its most recent meeting yesterday. It reviewed progress on the implementation recommendations of the task force action plan. As I stated, significant progress has been made over recent months. Admittedly, there are problems, but everything possible is being done by the Minister to address them.

I am not accepting the amendment to the Order of Business but I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, to come to the House soon to address the issue of accident and emergency services.

If the Leader would not mind.

The Minister was present for a Commencement debate earlier this morning and he is to be here for a couple of hours to discuss the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill today. Let us be fair about it. I will certainly ask the Minister to come in, and I am sure he will accede to that request in early course, but the debate cannot be held today.

Senators Bacik, Noone and Mullins extended their sympathy to Gillian and Ronan Treacy, the parents of the young boy, Ciarán, who was killed tragically in a road accident. This highlights what Senators have said, namely, that drink driving is just not acceptable. I will not comment on sentencing in regard to the tragic event, but Senators have commented on the judge, who dealt with the family very sympathetically, as he should. Members have asked for a debate on sentencing previously. I have tried to have such a debate and I hope we can have it soon with the Minister for Justice and Equality. Given the number of justice Bills that will be taken in the House over the coming weeks, we will have the opportunity.

Senator Bacik referred to the report of Mr. Justice Reilly, the Inspector of Prisons. Senator Paul Coghlan also referred to it. I will certainly endeavour to have a debate on the report in early course.

Senators Barrett and Mullins congratulated Congressman Paul Ryan on his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Senators Barrett and Brennan congratulated the Irish men's hockey team on their qualification for the Olympic Games. As has been mentioned, it is more than 100 years since an Irish hockey team qualified for the Olympic Games. We wish the team every success in its endeavours.

Senator Naughton raised the matter of the injection rooms proposed for Galway and the need for greater consultation with the community and all involved there. While the Senator certainly recognises it is better to have properly supervised areas for injecting, she believes there is a need for consultation.

Senator Quinn raised the question of absenteeism and urged that the Government examine the UK system. In many workplaces, even in the public service, one must have a sick certificate if one is missing for two days. Whether doctors give certificates to their patients is another question but I do not believe doctors go out of their way to give certificates if people are not sick. It may have happened in the past but doctors have got the message in this regard.

Senator Landy referred to the current problems in the National Library of Ireland, which were highlighted on radio programmes this morning. I am confident that the Minister will take action to ensure adequate funding will be put in place for the library. I understand she will make an announcement to that effect soon.

Senator Comiskey highlighted an anomaly in road tax rates that apply to heavy goods vehicles. He pointed out that people who are taxing such vehicles for three months are not allowed to pay the new rate for January. It is something he should table for a Commencement debate or raise with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe.

Senator Colm Burke called for the reform and restructure of accident and emergency departments nationwide and Senator MacSharry said that the general management of hospitals should be reviewed. This is the same theme again.

Senators MacSharry, Wilson, Mullins and Ó Domhnaill spoke about Bank of Ireland's proposal to prohibit lodgments of less than €700 in cash. I have spoken about this previously. I think the banks have lost the run of themselves altogether.

I do not think they realise that many people in the population do not have computers or iPhones. I suggest that the banks do not want to serve people or speak to people anymore. It is an absolute disgrace.

Senators may be sure that other banks will follow. People have the remedy themselves. If their bank plans to do this and they are not happy with it, they can move to another bank.

It is not that easy.

They can make a point of telling the people in the bank in question why they are moving.

There is a lot of work involved in moving banks.

That might make others, and the banks themselves, think about this approach.

The Leader has made a fair point.

I do not have Internet banking. I should probably have it. I still like to go to the bank and do my business there by speaking to a person on the other side of the counter.

The Leader can always talk to the Chief Whip.

They can give out to me if they wish. Of course, I meet my constituents as well.

Senator Hayden welcomed the provision of additional cold weather beds. Indeed, more than 700 housing allocations have been made this year to assist people who were in emergency housing. The Senator complimented the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on its efforts and we would all join her in that regard. She made the important point that any homeless person who wants a bed will have one.

I note the point made by Senator Healy Eames about local authority funding and the whole local authority area. This has been the subject of several debates in this House.

Senator Conway referred to the need for extra resources at the maternity hospital in Limerick. He mentioned that significant resources have been put in place there already. The Senator, like other people, wants more. I am sure they will get more, but it is not going to happen overnight.

Senator Paul Coghlan raised the question of debt investors or vulture funds. I am sure the points made by the Senator can be reiterated during the Private Members' debate on the National Mortgage and Housing Corporation Bill 2015, in the name of Senator Barrett, which will be discussed this evening.

Senator Wilson mentioned Bank of Ireland and praised Senator Quinn on his proposed legislation, which I have not seen, regarding the establishment of an honours system. I am sure we will have a good debate on that in the House.

In speaking about the banks, Senator Mullins complimented and praised the credit unions and called for a wider service. As Senator Mooney said, they have billions of euro on deposit. They want to get into the mortgage lending area as well.

Senator Mooney suggested that significant side effects are associated with certain vaccines and made some comments on the Minister. I do not intend to get into any personal remarks that may have passed between Senator Mooney and the Minister when this issue was raised as a Commencement motion. I am sure the Senator got a good reply. I note his points and his belief that this is a matter that will not go away. It is obvious that a problem exists. There is no question about that. Young girls, in particular, are experiencing side effects. I cannot definitively say whether this is happening as a result of the administration of this vaccine. However, there is no question in my mind that there is a case that should be examined.

I thank the Leader.

Senator Brennan welcomed the establishment by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, of a task force to deal with the alleged abuse of migrant workers in the fishing industry, which is an issue that was raised by Senators Bacik and O'Keeffe yesterday. The Minister is to be lauded for his swift action in this regard.

Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke about banking and health services. I think I have dealt with those matters.

Senator Noone referred to the sentences that are imposed in cases of drink-driving causing death. She suggested that we should have mandatory sentences, as is the case in the UK. That is a debate for another day. It is certainly a debate we should have. In recent days, many people have spoken about mandatory sentences for various crimes. I would agree that there is a need for a debate and for a review of sentencing in Ireland.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on his plans to ensure no person, and especially no elderly person, is left on a trolley in an accident and emergency department for two days be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 29.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Is the Order of Business agreed?

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 33; Níl, 10.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Darragh O'Brien and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 12.56 p.m. and resumed at 1.02 p.m.