The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on mental health, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes each; No. 2, statements on EU-UK relations, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply to the debate; and No. 10, non-Government motion No. 3, motion re Waste Management (Collection Permit) (Amendment) Regulations 2016, to be taken at 4 p.m. and with the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I wish the boys in green the very best of luck against Italy this evening. The entire nation will be cheering them on and we are all hoping for success.
We are all familiar with the phrase "your health is your wealth". It is important that those in need of medical assistance receive it in an appropriate and convenient environment. It is in that context that I refer to primary care centres. In 2012 the then Minister for Health, now Senator James Reilly, announced 35 primary care centres throughout the country. The progress made, as outlined in a written reply in December 2015, in providing the primary care centres the Government had promised just three years earlier could be described as poor at the very best. One of the primary care centres which in 2012 the then Minister had committed to building was to be located in Crumlin-Drimnagh in my constituency. The reply received on that primary care centre was, "Planning not completed in timeframe for PPP". This explanation was shocking, that the Government would commit to building a primary care centre and allow a situation where the planning would not be completed in the timeframe for a public private partnership. That is unacceptable and the residents of Crumlin and Kimmage are not alone. A primary care centre was also promised in Knocklyon and Rathfarnham and, again, the explanation for the fact that the project had not progressed was, "Planning not completed in timeframe for PPP". When communities are promised something as important as a primary care centre, it should be honoured, or the basis in not proceeding should be much better than the fact that planning was not completed in a certain timeframe. It should not be the case that such announcements are made as a public relations stunt for the relevant Minister or Department and then forgotten about. I call on the Minister for Health to review the commitments made in 2012, provide for an honest appraisal of the progress made, say what progress he expects to be made in the coming years and which of the primary care centres announced in 2012 will be progressed.
I am disappointed that we continue to engage in debates by way of statements. Surely there must be some other work that we could be doing. The House has long been accused of engaging in hot air. We do not move anything forward much in making statements. Legislation has been lying there since the previous Seanad which we could probably examine. Yesterday morning I heard on the radio once again the prisoner class - the perpetual prisoners who pass through the revolving doors - talk about how they would not pay fines because they knew that they would be sent to Portlaoise or Mountjoy Prison and be able to get a taxi home after having lunch, having been sentenced to three months in prison.
We might, therefore, dedicate a little time with the relevant Minister to debate how we might find a solution to this outrageous problem. It is sickening for those who have had their houses broken into or been assaulted by the people concerned who are refusing to pay fines because they know that they will get three months in jail and be out in one hour. Surely we must be able to do something productive about this problem.
Ba mhaith liom chomh maith gach ádh a ghuí ar fhoireann na hÉireann agus iad ag imirt in aghaidh na hIodáile anocht. Tá údar misnigh agus dóchais againn agus tá súil againn go ndéanfaidh na leaids an-jab agus go n-éireoidh go geal leo san imirt anocht.
I draw the attention of the Leader to the motion we put on the Order Paper recently about the committee on Seanad political reform. We had hoped it would be moved on very quickly. We saw a Dáil committee being set up almost immediately to consider reform of the way in which the Dáil functioned. We have been calling for this to happen in the Seanad and for the 42 newly elected Seanadóirí to be part of that process. We understand, obviously, that other groupings have asked for different debates on Seanad reform, but the fact that we want a committee to be set up which would include not more than 20 other Members of the Seanad and the Cathaoirleach to consider this issue is extremely important. It is important that we be seen to take leadership on the issue of Seanad reform. It was never intended to be a committee that would go on ad nauseam. We envisage a finite timescale of a few weeks in order that reviews of Standing Orders could be undertaken. It is quite clear to me from speaking to everybody, all Senators, old and new, that there is a sense that we really need to review Standing Orders as quickly as possible to do whatever we can within our remit through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, etc. I will not, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business at this point, but I may do so tomorrow if we do not receive some clarification as to when the motion might be debated and moved forward.
I also call for a debate on the fishing industry in Ireland. I note that my colleague, Liadh Ní Riada, MEP, has met the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, on the issue of super trawlers. She has raised the possibility of banning them from our waters because of the impact they are having on the domestic industry and the fact that there is a sense that there is very little regulation and that they do not seem to be inspected as much as those in the indigenous industry. There was also an Oireachtas joint committee report on sustaining rural and coastal communities which made some fantastic recommendations on fisheries and the maintenance of rural communities. It had cross-party agreement and is something we could bring forward and discuss again. The issue of fisheries agus cúrsaí iascaireachta ar fud an chósta would, therefore, be the subject of a very important debate for us to have as soon as possible.
Yesterday the Select Committee on Arrangements for Budgetary Scrutiny met the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. It was interesting that there was a discussion on the commitment in the programme for Government to equality and gender-proofing of the budgetary process. In the commitment to new politics about which we have been hearing one of the key matters is reform of the way in which budgets are compiled, as well as the budgetary process, of which the commitment to equality-proofing and gender-proofing is part. I again ask the Leader to make sure this House will have a role to play in contributing to that new process and the shaping of a stronger commitment to equality and gender-proofing within the budgetary process. I am keen to know how he might see this House contributing to that process. I also ask him to recommend that the National Women's Council of Ireland which, of course, has key expertise in gender-proofing be involved in this regard. We have seen in the health sector which has been discussed in this House this week that pilot health schemes have shown positive outcomes for men and women when a gender analysis is brought to bear. Again, these measures would be very useful in the budgetary process.
I also urge the House to consider the role it might play in strengthening the application of the public duty on equality and human rights, something all Departments are required to implement, again as part of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission's founding legislation. I would like to see if it could be attached to the legislation. We have new legislation going through the House and it would be useful to see how it has been considered in terms of the public duty on equality and human rights. I echo what my colleague Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said about the idea that while statements were positive, we needed to move to deal with legislation.
We will be debating UK-EU relations later this week. I commend "our fans" who have done a lot to promote Irish-EU relations in the past few weeks and wish our team well in the match this evening.
The two issues I wish to address are of environmental concern and require legislation. I would welcome legislation to deal with both.
The first issue I wish to address is that of Japanese knotweed. It is a dire problem which has been encountered in Europe since the 1800s. It is an issue the Cathaoirleach raised in the House last year. The plant grows at a rate of 8 in. per day. Across Britain it has destroyed houses, causing 200,000 people to move out of their homes and making their houses worthless. In this country, in Kenmare Community Hospital, it cost €100,000 to have it eradicated. The cost of clearing it from the grounds of the London Olympics ran to an astonishing £70 million. In this country it poses a serious threat to the construction industry which is only getting back on its feet. It cannot be burned or eliminated by being cut. It needs a particular intervention, which we are not seeing. For the first time I have seen on the back of the product Roundup, a weedkiller, an application to tackle it. However, we need a national policy to deal with it. We need the Minister to come into the House to discuss the matter and legislate because, as matters stands, it is only due to the goodwill of people working in local authorities, hedge-cutters, etc., that the position is not worse. We also need an awareness and education campaign in order that people can recognise it and will know how to deal with it.
The second issue I want to raise is that of ash dieback, a disease which has only been present in this country since 2006. It is an aggressive disease which is easily spread by airborne spores. A survey in 2013 found that there were 46 cases in Ireland. By the end of 2015 there had been 200 discoveries. The disease is prevalent in two counties, probably the best hurling counties in the country, namely, Tipperary and Kilkenny. Funnily enough, it is also prevalent in County Leitrim, even though hurling is not played there. On a more serious note, the disease could spread across the country and without any intervention will destroy the hurley-making business. I was surprised to discover that 350,000 hurleys were made per year in Ireland, at an average cost of €30 per hurley. That makes it a €10 million industry. We, therefore, need to tackle the spread of the plant. Teagasc has done some work on the issue and held a number of awareness campaigns and public meetings, but the problem is that the Department's reconstitution scheme, as it is called, only protects forestry and foresters. There is no facility to assist the smaller guy who might have planted a small number of ash trees. Therefore, the problem is prone to spread across the country. Yesterday the Vice President of the United States, Mr. Joe Biden, began his visit to this country and, as is the norm, was presented with an ash hurley by the Taoiseach. This week in Limerick, in an intermediate hurling game, six of the players on the field used plastic hurleys. Therefore, if we do not do something about the problem, the next time a Head of State or a vice president comes to the country, it is a plastic hurley he or she will be given instead of one made of ash.
I raise the issue of obesity, a matter which has been the subject of much discussion. Someone approached me recently with a concern about vending machines in hospitals. In one case the machine was located within a short distance of a children's unit. Available in it were chocolates, sweets, etc. The message on obesity that we hope to send, in health care facilities in particular, is a positive one. The hospital's excuse for having a vending machine was that it generated money for it. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to ensure the HSE will conduct an audit of the number of vending machines in hospitals, the income they generate and assess how that income can be replaced? I am not saying we should rule out having vending machines completely, but they should at least contain food that is healthy and good for patients and visitors. It is of serious concern that, on the one hand, we are spending money in trying to educate people about obesity, while, on the other, there are vending machines that do not contain healthy food for those who need proper care and attention. I ask that this matter be given priority, now that there is a little more money available for the health sector. Hospitals should not have to depend on income from this source. If they insist on having machines, a directive should be issued to the effect that any money earned from them be paid to the HSE directly rather than retained by them.
I join colleagues in wishing our soccer team all the best tonight. It would also be remiss of us not to congratulate our friends north of the Border on their magnificent achievement in qualifying for the last 16. We wish them well. It would be fantastic to have the two teams in the quarter finals. I hope we will have two in them this time tomorrow. We look forward to the day when only one team will represent the island. The quicker that happens, the better. What has happened shows what we could achieve if we only had had one team in the competition.
I wish to say a few words about the overusage of antibiotics. Will the Leader use his good offices and invite the Minister for Health to address the House on the issue? Antibiotics were the medical miracle of the 20th century and used as an essential part of everyday health care treatment. Unfortunately, they have been overused in recent times, being overprescribed at GP and hospital level, often under pressure from patients. It has happened to such an extent that many bugs have become resistant to them. This issue must be addressed. It has been flagged by the World Health Organization which has set alarm bells ringing. We need an awareness or information campaign for the public.
I am loath to refer to my good friend and colleague Senator Ned O'Sullivan's seagulls, but I witnessed something on the way from Leinster House last night that must be mentioned.
Will the Senator speak up? I am sorry, but I have a difficulty in hearing him.
I am sorry.
I thank the Senator.
As I left Leinster House last night, I witnessed something opposite the corner of Molesworth Street and South Frederick Street and again on the left at the corner of St. Stephen's Green and Dawson Street. Seagulls seem to have a voracious appetite and can wreak havoc with their beaks.
Like some Senators.
Unlike other birds, they do not seem to understand it is bed time. It was late.
Does the Senator want legislation to be introduced?
Not yet, but I want advice to be given for business owners who are putting out bundles of plastic bags which the birds are destroying with their beaks. I witnessed it at both locations last night and the birds would hardly move out of one's way. They perch on ledges ready to swoop and litter is being strewn all over the place. We are discussing bin charges and waste management, but what is happening in our capital city is terrible. Senator David Norris must also be witnessing it. Perhaps a repulsive spray could be found if business owners are to continue putting out plastic bags or perhaps they should be encouraged to use wheelie bins, as litter from plastic bags is being left all over the place. What I witnessed last night was disgraceful, given that tourists were walking around the place after 11 p.m.
I have no doubt that this item will be covered on "Oireachtas Report". I do not usually watch it, but last night as I could not sleep, I did and there was no coverage whatever of Seanad Éireann. It was not mentioned and might as well not have existed. Will the Leader write to the television people to tell them that, however vapid they might consider our proceedings or regardless of whether they felt in their own judgment that there was nothing of interest, there remains an obligation on them to reflect what happens in the Oireachtas? The proceedings of Seanad Éireann should always be reflected and it is a serious matter when they are not.
It is a pity when we hear nothing but statements, as it indicates a lack of intellectual activity, but the House should not blame itself. The reason is there was an election, followed by a hiatus. For nearly six months, there was no effective Government and Departments took the opportunity to do nothing. No legislation has been generated by them. It is not, therefore, the fault of the Parliament. It is regrettable and the matter should be examined. Departments should be encouraged to continue to prepare legislation. Next week I will introduce a Bill on the direct provision system. Senator Michael McDowell has published a Bill on reform of the Seanad and here may be other Bills in the Independent pipeline. At least Members on this side of the House are doing their duty. I hope these Bills will be treated with respect when they are brought before the House.
I support the comments of my colleague Senator Colm Burke on the issue of obesity. It is similar to the eradication of vending machines in schools, particularly those that contain junk food. The idea that they are to be found in hospitals goes against the grain. The health service is struggling to provide good health care within relatively small budgets in many instances, but our approach to health promotion is ridiculous in many ways. We must consider the foundation years and take care of people when they are vulnerable. Children in schools could be looked after in using vending machines that dispense apples or the like. This would help them to realise at a young age that food is fuel and will keep them healthy. Vending machines that dispense chocolate bars, crisps and Coca Cola should not be introduced. Everyone loves to have these foods occasionally, but if they are eaten regularly, they create a significant problem. Senator Colm Burke was right. There is a problem with our general approach to the funding of hospitals. It is a major issue and I support the Senator in his call.
I raise the issue of alcohol consumption, harm and costs. Today, a new report by the Health Research Board highlights a large number of statistics that I have before me but which I will not go through on the Order of Business. The impact of alcohol-related issues on our health is serious, although I sound like a killjoy in discussing all of these issues on the Order of Business. The report highlights the fact that the rate of alcoholic liver disease trebled between 1995 and 2013. It makes various points about the impact on our health, of which I will mention a couple.
The number of patients discharged from hospital whose condition was fully attributable to alcohol increased by 82% between 1995 and 2013, from 9,420 to 17,120. Between 2001 and 2010 one in ten breast cancer cases was attributable to alcohol. Perhaps the impact of alcohol on the economy might get people to concentrate on the issue a little more. In 2013 alcohol related discharges accounted for 160,210 bed days in public hospitals. Alcohol related issues cost the taxpayer €1.5 billion per annum. I could speak about this issue for an entire day. Will the Leader request the Minister for Health to come to the House as soon as possible to progress the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015? Minimum pricing would help because there is a clear correlation between the price of alcohol and the amount people drink. Addressing the issue of price would be a step in the right direction.
Irrespective of the outcome of this afternoon's debate on the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion, a significant issue arises with regard to brown bins. Under the law, households located in urban conglomerations with a population of more than 1,500 have been required to separate waste since July 2015. As such, all households in such locations have been required for the past year to have brown bins for food and organic waste such as garden cuttings. However, tens of thousands of homes have not been provided with brown bins and cannot, therefore, comply with the law. When asked about this, the waste collection companies frequently state they do not have the capacity to provide brown bins. When they are informed that they are required to provide them, they ask householders to contact their local authority. Householders then discover that their local authority is not enforcing the regulations, which means that they cannot comply with the law. In one week from now many more households in many more towns with a population of more than 500 people will find that they are not in compliance with the law on brown waste. Notwithstanding the deal Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have done to kick this issue down the road for another year, will the Leader ensure the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will come to the House to explain how he proposes to address the non-compliance of a large number of householders with the waste regulations and the inability, from next week onwards, of tens of thousands more to comply with the law and make a contribution to our European and internationally agreed environmental targets? If, as appears likely, the Government side proposes to vote against the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion, will the Leader set out what the Government proposes to do to address this serious issue? Will it ensure the necessary infrastructure, including bins, is put in place as soon as possible or will it amend the statutory instruments from last year and this year to address the issue?
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur fá choinne díospóireacht a bheith againn. I request a debate on the location of the national children's hospital, an issue that has been raised previously in the House. While An Bord Pleanála has made its determination and granted planning permission for the hospital, neither House has debated the location of the new hospital which will require a public investment of €1 billion. The D'Alton report of 2012 suggested the cost of building the facility on the St. James's Hospital site would be 25% higher than building it on a greenfield site. These public expenditure issues need to be debated at the Joint Committee on Health. I suggest the Seanad also debate the location selected for the hospital. Many commentators and experts, including children's organisations and medical experts, have outlined their concerns about this issue and their voices should be heard because not only have they not been heard but they have also been diminished. The reason given by the Health Service Executive and the Department for locating the national children's hospital at St. James's Hospital is that it will deliver better clinical outcomes, but there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim. Major questions have been asked about this substantial investment of taxpayers' money. The alternative sites available would provide for comparable or better clinical outcomes and should be explored. I call on the Leader who is familiar with this issue from his previous role as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, to facilitate a lengthy debate on the issue in the Seanad and invite the Minister for Health before the House to answer questions.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, agus tráthnóna maith duit. Ní raibh mé ag dúil le bheith in airde chomh luath seo. Tá cúrsaí sláinte luaite ag a lán daoine le linn na díospóireachta seo ar maidin. Is léir gur ábhar thar a bheith tábhachtach agus thar a bheith leathan atá i gceist i gcomhthéacs na gcúrsaí gur féidir linn ardú anseo. I raised this issue yesterday when I had a brief window to do so during statements on health services. Given the severity of the issue, however, it is worthy of a much more substantial discussion. Many Senators have raised issues connected with the health service this morning. To be fair to the Minister and the Ministers of State at the Department of Health, they do not appear to be reluctant to come to the House. We should utilise this willingness to the fullest.
Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to the phrase, "your health is your wealth". My teacher at Meánscoil Feirste, Brendan Ó Fiach, had the saying written as Gaeilge - is fearr an tsláinte ná na táinte - on the blackboard of our classroom. It is very true, as was evident in some of the contributions we heard. The Leader will be aware that the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the North, Michelle O'Neill, MLA, recently lifted the MSM blood ban prohibiting gay men from donating blood. Many Senators will have heard the Irish Blood Transfusion Service appeal for blood donations over the summer when donations tend to decline. Given the many issues raised relating to what is, as everyone appreciates, a very broad field, one of the core issues at the heart of the health service is its ability to help people and save lives. This means enfranchising people by enabling them to give the gift of life through blood donations. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to come before the House to discuss this issue? The North-South Ministerial Council is due to meet soon. Given the evidence based decision taken by the Health Minister in the North, I hope the Minister for Health here will be able to make a similar decision as we move towards equality and better health care provision in the State.
I ask the Leader to respond.
The Cathaoirleach caught me on the hop.
I thank Senators for raising various issues and apologise to Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill for missing his remarks on mortgages and insolvency. I would be pleased to have a debate on those issues.
Senator Ardagh raised a health issue. It was announced recently that 14 new primary care centres would be built using investment secured through a loan from the European Investment Bank. Under the previous Government, 90 primary care centres came into operation and a further 82 are to be opened. We all agree on the need to expand primary care services because they are the most important element of the health system. The Senator will not find anyone willing to argue with her on the issue. She may wish to table a Commencement matter on the sites to which she referred. I will also raise the issue with the Minister for Health on her behalf. She is correct that primary care services are very important. We must shift the emphasis towards primary care services in regard to funding and resources and how the population view the issue.
A number of other Senators also raised health issues and I will refer individually to those raised by Senators Colm Burke, Catherine Noone and Robbie Gallagher.
Senators Gerard P. Craughwell, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and David Norris raised the issue of Seanad reform. This side of the House will not place any obstacle in the way of legislation to reform the electoral system or how the House does its business. I have had discussions with Senators on this issue and while we may disagree on the path to be taken to achieve reform, we should not erect roadblocks in its way.
I hope we can discuss Sinn Féin's motion at the meeting later, but I have no difficulty in discussing the issue of Seanad reform. I have made the point that we should establish a business committee, similar to the one in place in the Dáil, to run the business of the House efficiently and effectively. In that way Members would have their say and we could conduct our business in a better fashion. It is not an issue on this side. Sinn Féin's motion would put an added and unfair onus on the Cathaoirleach who is independent of us all. As constituted, it does not allow for this. A committee of 20 Members would be too cumbersome, given that one third of the Members of the Seanad are new. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is the vehicle and forum in which we can drive change and make amendments to Standing Orders. It provides for cross-representation of all the Members of the House, which is the way we should do things. We should not stipulate timelines that will not and cannot be met. The Manning report is one to which we have all subscribed and Senator Michael McDowell has introduced his Bill. I am happy to allow for it to be taken at a time when we can have a discussion that would bring about change. That is part of the reason Sinn Féin's motion is not the way forward. In saying that, this side of the House is willing to engage and be active on the issue of Seanad reform and how we do business. It is one on which we will all work.
In response to Senator Alice-Mary Higgins I will be happy to raise the issue of poverty and gender proofing of legislation with the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton. I hope he will attend the House for a debate on the issue.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to fisheries, an issue about which I have already spoken to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine who is happy to come to the House sometime in July for a broad discussion on agriculture. We can include fisheries in that discussion.
On legislation, if Members had listened to this morning's debate, they would know that our very first act in the House, apart from the election of the Cathaoirleach, was restoring Bills to the Order Paper. There is a deficit of legislation in the other House. When we talk about new politics, one of its by-products is, as mentioned by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, a lot of hot air, for want of a better expression. Whether it is positive or negative is a different matter. How we do our business and arrive at legislation is a matter that needs to be looked at by everybody, including the commentariat. One of the positives of pre-legislative scrutiny is that we engage in an in-depth analysis of legislation which, unfortunately, slows the process down. To be fair to Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, he was a very fine contributor at the justice committee in the last Dáil, but there is no kudos to be gained in being involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny process. It is, however, the way to go, as I know from the position I held on the Joint Committee on Health and Children. As a House of the Oireachtas, we must acknowledge that the volume of legislation dealt with may be less than before.
Senator Denis Landy mentioned Japanese knotweed and ash dieback disease. I am happy to invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to debate both matters, but I am not sure whether they come within the remit of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government or the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
Senators Colm Burke and Catherine Noone raised the important issue of obesity. In that context, they referred to the availability of vending machines. The health and well-being division of the HSE had an expert group on vending and calorie posting carry out work on the matter. The results are important in that they show that 37% of us are overweight, while 23% are obese. As a nation, we are in danger of seeing premature deaths as a result of obesity, as well as working hours being lost. Linked with this, the findings show that there is a risk that young people, children in particular, will be obese from a younger age and that they may never leave this category. The former Minister for Health Senator James Reilly introduced a policy on vending and calorie posting which is important in the context of the discussion Senators Colm Burke and Catherine Noone requested and which we should have. The Department and now the HSE are promoting the message that as this is about choice, we should make ours a healthy one. This extends to vending machines located in hospitals. The Senators were right to raise the issue.
Senator Robbie Gallagher referred to the overusage of antibiotics. I agree with him that we need to debate the issue.
Senator Paul Coghlan mentioned seagulls. I do not know who the appropriate Minister would be to invite for such a discussion. It would cover matters to do with health, the environment, tourism and economy, but I will be happy to include all of these elements in one discussion.
Senator David Norris referred to "Oireachtas Report". At the risk of causing a row, if we do not give the programme items to report, it may not necessarily report what happens in the House. I agree with the Senator that it should report what happens in all of the Oireachtas, including in committees, the Dáil Chamber and the Seanad. Yesterday we had a fine debate on health services and statements were also made. It was reported in some of the newspapers this morning that yesterday there was a minute's silence in the Dáil in memory of the late Jo Cox, but they failed to mention that the same had happened in the Seanad. That shows the need to have a discussion with the press office in the Oireachtas. The Senator made a fair point in that regard.
Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn made an interesting and valid point about brown bins. I suggest he raise the matter with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government during our debate tonight or else table a Commencement matter on the topic. He is right that it is an important matter.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill referred to the national children's hospital. We have been having this discussion since before Bertie Ahern's time. An independent review group was established and it outlined clearly its choice of location. In the last Dáil I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, of which other Members of this House were members. As a committee, we visited the hospital group and met the board of the national children's hospital. It was a very positive visit. The relevant issues have been debated and further issues have been raised. Independent planning was engaged in by An Bord Pleanála which refused to grant permission for construction on one site but has granted permission on the current site chosen. It behoves us, in Ireland's first digital hospital, to make sure the venture is a success. I am sure the Minister is happy to come to the House to debate the matter, but the Senator may not be happy with his response. The matter of the national children's hospital has been long debated. A policy decision was arrived at independently and a final location has been selected.
Senator Nall Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of blood donations. There has been a change in the policy on blood donations in the North, which is welcome. I hope the Minister for Health in the South will follow suit and make a positive change here. We have been involved with the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and the matter has been discussed by the health committee. It is important that be a change to ensure equality.
I join all other Senators in wishing the Irish soccer team good luck tonight. It is important that we get a result, not just for the team but also for the well-being of the nation. I also pay tribute to the fans who have been a source of pride for us all.