The Order of Business is No. 1, Heritage Bill 2016 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 2 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 4 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
I wish to raise the issue of climate change. I understand that a fantastic event was held yesterday in Buswell's Hotel to highlight the issue in a novel and practical way. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend due to unforeseen circumstances but I was very impressed by all the feedback I received. Fianna Fáil takes climate change very seriously and we have a strong record of introducing progressive measures to tackle climate change, which is perhaps the greatest threat to the future of our children and our grandchildren. We are fully committed to meeting the targets set out for Ireland in the 2009 EU renewable energy directive to meet 16% of our energy requirements from renewable resources by 2020. Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demands from renewable sources with 10% for transport and 12% for heat.
Fianna Fáil is committed to meeting our 2020 targets in these areas and has detailed steps to achieving this including, but not limited to, reducing carbon emissions in home heating, reducing greenhouse emissions in agriculture, supporting transport emissions reductions and increasing renewable energies. We also welcome the support of the Dáil for the UN Paris Agreement on climate change. The emissions reduction targets agreed at the COP21 Paris climate change conference present huge opportunities as well as challenges for Ireland. Ireland is not fully energy sufficient and we are excessively dependent on energy importation to power homes and businesses. Ireland should, therefore, focus on reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions rather than seeking to dramatically increase reliance on wind at a very high cost. Other alternative renewable energy resources must also be pursued, such as bioenergy, solar and other technologies, to provide Ireland with a diversified renewable generation portfolio by 2030. I call on the House to schedule an in-depth debate on the UN Paris Agreement on climate change today without further delay.
Having requested last week that the Minister for Health should attend the Seanad today to answer questions I am disappointed, but not surprised, that he has not turned up or given a positive response to my request. I repeat the request to invite the Minister to the House to debate the reduction of funding for mental health services and to question the misrepresentation of the €35 million for the budget, which we now know is over two years and not one. If I do not get a debate I will ask for the Order of Business to be suspended. Because of the lack of concern over mental health, I note that when Pieta House opened quite recently in Waterford, 485 people attended within the first few weeks, 40% of whom were children under the age of 13. The mental health budget must be questioned and the Minister for Health must be brought into the House to highlight how disappointing and disgraceful it is that mental health is once again the poor second cousin of the health system.
It is with great disappointment that I raise the trolley crisis in our hospitals again. Yesterday 588 citizens were waiting on trolleys and there were four in Mayo General Hospital, which is good and means they must be expecting a Minister again.
That is not correct.
That is what they did. When the Minister came on a Saturday they cleared the place, as they are ordered to do.
Repeating something again and again does not make it true.
If Senator Mulherin talks to the people there she will see for herself. In a response to a parliamentary question by my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, the Government has admitted that the much-hailed bed capacity review promised in the programme for Government does not yet even have terms of reference framed for it. Perhaps the Government Seanadóirí could answer this when they stop sniping at Sinn Féin. It is Government inaction, not complaints from the Opposition, that is the root cause of this crisis. The programme for Government was signed off last June, it is now November and such a delay in getting a vital scheme up and running shows either incompetence or a complete lack of understanding. We want the review to be started, staff morale to be restored and, ultimately, a free health service based on need.
Sinn Féin advocates an all-Ireland service free at the point of need. On such a small island there is no economic logic to having two separate health services, which results in the duplication of those services. Day after day the Leader, in summing up, talks about Sinn Féin's economic policies. Even this morning while speaking on "Morning Ireland", Dr. Hickey from Sligo said we had not had sufficient beds in the system since 1997, under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments separately and under the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Government together. That is what has been delivered by the centre right, to whom we cling desperately and are told to cling by media commentators. In more than 19 years of their leprechaun economic policies they have still not delivered enough beds - do they need another 19 years? I am sorry but they do not deserve another 19 years.
My colleague, the health Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, Michelle O'Neill, MLA, recently launched a vision for health which stresses the benefits of, and seeks to build on, already existing co-operation. We need an all-Ireland health service and a Government that will produce sensible economic policies to look after the most vulnerable in the country.
I support Senator Joan Freeman on the importance of funding for mental health services. In west Tallaght, there was a cluster of five suicides in a short space of time. One of those cases involved a 15 year old young lad. His mother's husband killed himself last year while her mother killed herself a few years ago. She is trying to access support services because she and her 15 year old daughter are now at high risk, given the impact of three suicides in her family. Services, however, are so under-resourced that she will wait weeks to access support services. The ripple effect from suicide clusters means the young girl in question is at high risk of suicide ideation.
Friends of the young lad who killed himself have set up a memorial with flowers at the wall near where he passed away. They gather there every night. This is their grieving process and they are trying to come to terms with it. However, there is a stigma around it. The other night a caller on FM104 and others in the media told these young men and women to get over it and stop hanging around this memorial wall. That is an absolute disgrace.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Skills to address the Seanad to answer concerns relating to Caranua, the State body which administers the fund for survivors of institutional abuse? This fund was intended to provide support, relief and training for those who suffered the worst treatment imaginable in the industrial schools. The legacy of the industrial schools is one of the greatest stains on our history. While I applaud the intention to provide State support to survivors, it is clear this fund, and how it is administered, is failing the very people it was intended to help.
It must be kept in mind that it is an ageing population which has access to this fund and how important it is they are treated with respect and dignity. Survivors have reported extraordinarily negative experiences when dealing with Caranua. They have contacted a number of elected representatives to express their dismay. They are a group of people who are understandably distrustful of engaging with any bureaucracy. It is unacceptable they are being dealt with so poorly. The delayed 2015 report of the appeals officer showed a State body being administered poorly which needs to be further investigated. Survivors have also reported the sudden erroneous closing of active cases by the body with no adequate reasons given. Will the Leader call on the Minister for Education and Skills to discuss this matter in the House?
I call Senator James Reilly.
Clearly, the issue of mental health-----
I apologise but I overlooked the Labour Party Member, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who was offering.
So did the last Government.
I will allow Senator James Reilly to go before me.
That was my mistake.
I thank my Labour Party colleague for his generosity.
The bed is still warm.
That is open to all sorts of interpretations.
Yes, it is but we are on the Order of Business.
They suffered for their generosity.
The bed is made.
On the serious issue of mental health, all sides of the House, and the other House, will acknowledge our Minister of State with responsibility for that area is hugely committed to it and has had a personal tragic experience of mental health issues in her own family. I have no doubt she would have no problem explaining how the moneys are being spent and the Government's commitment to this area.
However, we have limited resources. We have wage demands right across the public sector, which will compete with the moneys we have to put into services. We need to live in the real world. It is all very well for the Sinn Féin leader, who has since left the Chamber because she is not interested in the responses to her delivery here, to talk about people challenging her economics. Sinn Féin's economics seem to be everybody can have everything they want and somebody else will pay for it.
We will not subsidise the rich.
That is not the real world.
The Government gave €21 million in tax relief to the rich.
That is not the real world, as Senator Gavan knows as a trade unionist himself.
Order, please. Senator James Reilly has only two minutes left.
I want to end on a positive note. This week a new book on designing houses for people who face mental health challenges and how design can help them was published. I commend this book and I want to take the opportunity to advertise the fact that architects, builders and planners should refer to it.
Before I finish, there is another little bit of good news. In St. Ita's Hospital, a large psychiatric institution-----
The Senator is over time.
Well, if I had not been interrupted so much, I would have finished sooner.
The fine building of St. Ita's is being used as a film set with Sean Penn and Mel Gibson. I want to ensure the moneys which accrue to the hospital as a consequence of the filming are ring-fenced and used to the benefit of the clients who reside there, not for any other purposes.
What are they filming there? "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".
It is reasonable for Senators to request a debate with the Minister of the day. I was a bit taken aback that a request was made several weeks ago but it was not adhered to.
That is not correct.
We do not want to be having votes on the Order of Business to facilitate a debate on an issue and no Minister turns up. Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the interview on "Morning Ireland" with Dr. Hickey and what he is projecting for the winter months for Sligo hospital. I found it quite frightening.
Regardless of political persuasion, and before we get into arguments about how things should be paid for and using phrases such as "leprechaun economics", we should have a reasoned debate on where the health system is going, particularly over the coming months. In my area, there is a constant strain on the facilities at Beaumont Hospital. There has been a request from the hospital's senior management for a major investment of €45 million for a better accident and emergency department. That is the suggestion from people at the coalface.
It is only reasonable that when individual Senators, in good faith, make a request for the Minister of the day, be it for mental health or the overall health system, to come to the House for a debate in a non-partisan fashion, it should be adhered to and facilitated. In fairness, the House, across the board, has worked quite well on the many issues affecting people.
Last weekend, I led a delegation of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs with Senator Craughwell and our clerk and adviser to the committee to the COSAC, Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs, meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia. The great concern at this meeting was Brexit and the lack of any knowledge of what is proposed by the UK Government when it triggers Article 50 next year. All the implications of Brexit for all European Union member states are immense. However, one realises that for Ireland, this is very serious with a 499 km border with the United Kingdom - not of our making, but of theirs - and trade of €1.2 billion per week. The Slovakian Prime Minister made the point that 70,000 of his people live and work in the United Kingdom.
I regard the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, as the lead Minister as far as Brexit is concerned, as the Government has decided not to appoint a separate Minister to deal with it. Will the Leader ask him to come to the House to discuss this issue? We must examine what we can do in the meantime. We must plan and prepare. One area is in passports. There has been a massive increase in Irish passport applications from Northern Ireland, and rightly so. People in the United Kingdom who had Irish parents or grandparents are also applying for Irish passports. I welcome as many as is possible applying.
There is another side to the story, however. I am not advocating anyone to apply for a British passport. However, if one or one's parents were born prior to 1948, when Ireland was not a declared Republic, then one has certain rights.
Irish people working in England are worried about their status after Brexit.
I know that but the time is nigh.
The time is up and we have to be sharp.
I suggest that there be a special unit.
The Senator will have plenty of time to make the suggestions. I am sure the Leader will accede to his request.
I do not have as much time to write to councillors as the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
That is a separate matter and it is not relevant to the Order of Business.
Finally, I would like to say-----
Say it quickly.
-----the Department should have a separate advisory section in the embassy in London to advise Irish citizens-----
I think we hear you.
-----on their rights and opportunities.
We hear you. Thank you, Senator.
With regard to judicial issues, I am conscious that there is a separation of powers between the Executive and Judiciary. I am going to read what I have to say, and I will do so in the two minutes allowed. An issue arises over the judicial council Bill and there is much concern over it. The Government remains completely unaware of when this Bill will actually be published. The first motion I tabled in this House was on the establishment of a judicial council. In fairness to the Minister, she gave a very comprehensive response and said it would be published. Speaking in the House on 12 October, the Minister said the Bill would be published. The Taoiseach told the Dáil on 26 October that the heads of a Bill would be published in November. The Minister, however, said just a few days ago in the Dáil that she hopes the Government will be in a position to publish the legislation before the end of the year. We read in The Irish Times this week that the publication of the Bill is likely to be delayed until next year. I am not a lawyer but I am familiar with the well-known maxim, "Justice delayed is justice denied." What is holding up this judicial council? We hear on a daily basis a plethora of arguments, both inside and outside the House, on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and the appointment of judges. This is clearly a problem for the Government. It requires the Taoiseach to take action and a certain amount of discipline and control. The Government is required to clarify the position on the vacancies that currently exist. There are people queueing up in the criminal courts and there is a lack of judges. The issue is critical and it needs to be addressed. Is there a row going on? Clearly, there is. Does it need to be clarified? Yes, it does. Who should clarify it? In the first instance, the Minister for Justice and Equality should come back here and tell us whether the date for the Bill has been changed. It is my intention to issue a further and very detailed statement about this issue today.
I agree with Senator Freeman on the issue of mental health. I would be very happy to have a debate on it in this House. It was only last week that it was requested, in fairness. I am sure the Minister of State's diary has to be checked but I am sure, for the reasons outlined by my colleague, Senator Reilly, she will not have any difficulty coming to the House to explain the position. I agree with the Senator that this must be discussed urgently.
I wish to raise the issue of vaping. I am no fan of smoking, nor am I a fan of vaping, besides the fact that I believe it looks a bit ridiculous. I believed it could be a gateway to smoking for some younger people. I have misgivings about the content of the products. We are really just starting to discover what is in vaping products. The Public Health England review found that vaping is approximately 95% safer than smoking, based on the best information available to date. According to Vape Business Ireland, 99% of those who vape are ex-smokers. Among those who have successfully quit smoking, 32% used vaping products. This is a good indicator of how useful it can be. Therefore, it is fair to conclude, contrary to the notion that vaping is a gateway to smoking, which I believed, that it is in reality proving to be a successful aid to smokers. I raise this because the Government needs to clarify its position on vaping. If vaping is continually placed in the same category as cigarette smoking and regulated as such, its benefits will not be realised. It is imperative that we do everything we can to tackle smoking. We have been very successful to date. Clearly, however, placing vaping products in the same group as cigarettes is not helpful. While it is not ideal to have people vaping, it represents a much better option. I would be grateful for clarification from the Minister on the Department's position on it.
Yesterday, as Senators know, I brought up the issue of public service pay and stated how out of touch the Government is with how ordinary people are feeling. I wish to raise today another issue of which the Government seems blissfully unaware, namely, the time one must wait for State benefits. The average waiting time for the carer's allowance is 40 weeks, as we know from an answer to a parliamentary question. The overall waiting times for some other benefits are 27 weeks for a State pension and 21 weeks, on average, for an invalidity pension. I encountered an example of someone in Limerick who was waiting seven months to be awarded the carer's allowance. This person had to give up work to care for a sick relative who is terminally ill. The individual was at a huge financial loss as a result of the delay. Does the Leader have any idea of the hurt and hardship this is causing?
Who is in charge of this? It is none other than the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, hailed by many as the future leader of Fine Gael. He cannot run a tap, never mind a Government Department. He left the Department of Health having made a hames of it, and now he is causing chaos in the Department of Social Protection, yet Fine Gael wants him as its future leader. There are only two possibilities here: one being that Fine Gael does not know what is going on with regard to waiting times and the other being that it does not care.
In fairness, this is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It certainly is. Perhaps Fine Gael has calculated on the fact that people on welfare do not vote for its members.
The Order of Business is about what has been announced by the Leader.
I am asking the Leader to bring the Minister to the House.
That is legitimate.
The rest is extraneous.
Maybe Sinn Féin should let us know how to go about changing a leader.
That is not relevant.
When we talk about voodoo economics, let us talk about a Government that advocates cutting the universal social charge-----
The Senator is a bit giddy this morning. Calm down.
-----while people are dying in our hospitals. Let us talk about the economics that saw 66 people waiting on trolleys in Limerick just last week. Let us talk about Dr. Emmet Kerin, who declared that elderly patients with life-threatening illnesses are refusing to go to University Hospital Limerick because of the chaotic conditions. After six years in government, the best the Government can do is go from one crisis to another in health. It is out of touch and shortly it will probably be out of time.
Is the Leader aware of the amount of lobbying by the alcohol industry on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill? I am shocked by the amount of lobbying. I have seen it with my own eyes. I saw seven people from the industry standing around one Deputy in the coffee dock some days ago and I was absolutely horrified. I bumped into one Deputy who told me he had been lobbied five times in one day.
The Bill is about public health. It is a matter of health versus business. We are talking about saving lives here. Three people will die today because of alcohol. I am dealing with the families on a daily basis. It is shocking and I really cannot believe what is occurring. There are Members of the Seanad who are fighting against this Bill and trying to water it down. They have constituents in their own areas who have lost loved ones to alcohol. It is absolutely horrendous and something needs to be done about it. The lobbying really has to stop; it is ridiculous. We have to stop listening to the industries whose representatives are in here fighting against saving lives. Something has to be done about it.
Three years ago at one of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meetings, I met a professor of European history who forecast exactly what would happen after so many years of difficulty in Europe. He forecast that the United Kingdom and United States would opt for far-right leaders. He said that after times of difficulty, people look for a strong leader. I asked him what he meant and he said that in the 1930s - I am not assuming the United Kingdom and United States will go down this road - the people in Germany wanted a strong leader and they got one. We are facing very interesting and difficult challenges that arise every so many decades.
Yesterday, the National Party was due to set itself up in the State, representing the people who look at multiculturalism with dismay. It is their right to set up a party, with whatever views they have, but I see that the hotel in question withdrew its hosting of the launch. While we must be careful that we do not give the oxygen of publicity to a party that is against human rights, we must also allow them to effectively participate in democracy. I am not saying they are far-right or far-left, but we need to be vigilant that parties who wish to set up in the State represent the ideals of democracy, and whatever they do I hope they live up to those ideals.
I have spoken already with regard to the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, its failure to move to the Elm Park site to co-locate with St. Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin and the amount of money - over €150 million - being made available from the Government. There is frustration at this situation. The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, has reported that Holles Street hospital is an unsuitable location. Still we are frustrated. Each Sunday, in one of the national newspapers, we read that the situation is about to be resolved. Now 11 months have passed and we are still without a resolution. We now find that the Coombe Women's and Infants University Hospital has serious hygiene issues in its operating theatres.
What is going on in our national maternity hospitals? We have spoken about many health issues this morning but this situation is one issue that we need to address. The arrival of a baby should be a joyous occasion; Senator Frank Feighan and his partner have recently had a baby and I congratulate them. I know the staff are excellent but there is funding of up to €200 million available to be invested in our maternity services and yet it is being constantly delayed.
There are a number of issues that the Minister for Health needs to address in the House. I ask that the Leader of the House schedule this. We need to seriously look at our national maternity service and the dangers to which women and children are being exposed, not because of lack of investment from the Government but because progress is being blocked by management boards.
I wish to raise the issue of gender imbalance in the primary teaching sector and the message that sends out to our children. An interesting statistic that highlights this problem shows that in the early 1960s, nearly 40% of all primary teachers were male. Today that figure is less than 15%. We need to get a grip on this issue because what kind of message are we sending out to our school children? Are we saying that if a person wants to be a school teacher that it is primarily a female profession? I believe that is the wrong message and it needs to be addressed.
On a separate issue I welcome the fact the First Minister, Arlene Foster, MLA, was in Dublin to meet the Toaiseach this week. By all accounts, from reading and seeing media reports of the meeting, it seemed to go quite well. Perhaps the Leader could extend an invitation to the First Minister and to the deputy First Minister to address this House on the issue of Brexit.
Brexit requires an all-island approach in order to safeguard the interests of all the people who live on this island.
That has already been done Senator.
That is fine, but I would like to repeat the request because I have heard no progress in that regard.
I ask the leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss funding for third level institutions. It has been brought to my attention that some of those campuses that are attached to main colleges are in difficulty, particularly in Castlebar where the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, is going through a difficult period. This has consequences for staff and students; there are some 1,000 students and quite a number of staff on the GMIT campus. It has consequences for the courses, the accommodation and other aspects of the provision of third level education in towns and cities. The funding of third level education, with particular emphasis on the campuses attached to main college institutions, needs to be debated in the House.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was in the House yesterday. There are over 40 board appointments remaining vacant in the State, particularly in the area of harbours, etc. The Minister must be invited back to the House as I do not believe sufficient time was made available yesterday for people to discuss the issues with him. I ask the Leader to try and organise this as a matter of urgency.
The Minister answered those points yesterday.
Senator Leyden made reference to the COSAC meeting in Bratislava that he and I attended recently. The closer we get to Brexit the more concerned I get. I am very much aware of the work being done by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and by the Taoiseach. I am not so sure the rest of Europe is as concerned or as rapid and advanced in their preparations. It is regrettable that Ireland does not have a dedicated Minister for Brexit. We constantly talk about our relationship with Britain. I do not have a concern about our relationship with Britain but I have a concern about the other 26 member states and how they might look upon the Border, how they might want the Border to be closed and how they might want to dictate to us how things would be done. The Germans at the COSAC meeting were clear that they wanted no bilateral discussions whatsoever. They want all discussion to be done in a joint fashion through the European Union. As the Leader knows well, Ireland does not have a seat at that table when it comes to negotiations. It is regrettable that we do not have a Minister with responsibility for Brexit.
I understand that Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Kerry county boards have passed a motion condemning the GAA for selling the rights to some of the championship matches to Sky broadcasting. Senators in this House are very much aware of how difficult it is to get tickets for an all-Ireland final.
Not if the Senator buys them.
Based on the-----
-----moneys that the Oireachtas has made available to the GAA-----
-----I believe we should have some input into its decision to sell the viewing rights of championship matches and perhaps the Leader might find some time to debate that issue.
May I congratulate Senator Craughwell on his contribution to the COSAC meeting?
Senator Leyden may not, as he has already contributed. I invite Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile and I apologise for that interruption.
We were an excellent team.
It is not even an ordinary full moon this week, it is a super moon. A few weeks ago we had the privilege of the Taoiseach coming to the House and he committed to returning to this Chamber before the Christmas break. The Leader will recall that during the course of the Taoiseach's contribution I asked him again about the timeframe for presidential voting rights to be extended to Irish citizens who are resident outside the State. The Taoiseach dodged the question masterfully. It is no wonder he is the father of the other House. He did, however, commit to return here. Unfortunately, on Tuesday in the Dáil he indicated that there would be no referendum, as was indicated by the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and overseas development aid, Deputy McHugh. The Taoiseach said it was unlikely there would be a referendum on the issue before the next Presidential election, to be held in 2018. That is not good enough. The Constitutional Convention - the Leader and I discussed this via Twitter the other day - was very clear in demanding the enfranchisement of Irish citizens beyond the State. That includes people like me. I am aware that some Senators were a bit disparaging about having a Senator from Belfast in the House, but it would also include people like Senator Billy Lawless - who is in Chicago - and the people he stands up for and represents so eloquently and capably in the House. I would indicate to the Leader that in the North especially there is a lot of frustration, anger and hurt and it is not exclusive to Sinn Féin members or voters. It extends across the Nationalist family. At a time when we should be building and embedding bonds across the island we are seeing a delay and a hindrance to the ability to do that.
Right across the board people want the opportunity to vote for the President. I hope the Government will take this matter seriously and reflect on it as one of human rights and equality. It is past time it acted on it and if it does not act soon, it will hear the response from citizens in the North and among the diaspora.
Politics is very confusing and contradictory. We have Bugs Bunny in the White House, the Famous Five in 10 Downing Street and Inspector Clouseau in the Élysée Palace. I was quite surprised to hear the leader of Sinn Féin on the wireless this morning complaining about the lack of action on the system of direct provision. I raise this matter in the context of the fact that in the last Parliament, approximately 18 months or two years ago, I introduced a comprehensive Bill that would have dealt exhaustively with it. The Minister of State with responsibility for the issue at the time was my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin. He is passionately committed to dealing with it and it really looked as if he would move forward on it. He said something would happen within a month or two, but 18 months later, nothing at all has happened.
That is not true.
Very little has happened.
That simply is not true.
Very, very little has happened.
I can outline-----
I would welcome the opportunity to have a debate on direct provision. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on it in order that the matters in dispute between Senator Ó Ríordáin, whose work as a Minister of State I applaud, and I can be teased out. Very little has been done. The matter could and should be addressed and, with the impetus of Seanad Éireann behind it, perhaps it might be.
Two years ago the people were given an opportunity to deliver a resounding kick to the posterior of this House. They were urged to do so by almost all of the main political parties, with the exception of my own, Fianna Fáil, but did not take the opportunity. Less than 18% of the population felt this House should be abolished. One would imagine that, as a result, the media would have some respect for us. I have always been a subscriber to the maxim of Benjamin Disraeli who advised his colleagues, in the context of media comment, never to complain and never to explain. However, an article in today's edition of The Irish Times takes the biscuit. I am not sure if my colleagues have read it, but it is the most po-faced, cynical article I have ever read about this House. I will highlight just one aspect of the piece. The columnist suggests those Senators who live more than 150 km from the House make the round trip every day.
Yes. That would mean a round journey of approximately 200 miles a day. Given that many of us spend five full days in Dublin, it would amount to travelling 1,000 miles a week. Would the columnist be willing to travel 1,000 miles a week to clock in to receive his salary? The net salary for most of us is under €40,000 per year. I am breaking my own golden rule about never commenting on the media, but this article takes the biscuit. I ask the Leader to ensure the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission or some other entity will answer it.
There is a troubling report in this week's edition of the Farming Independent on possible abuses in the poultry sector. Following a complaint by a chicken farmer in County Cavan, Mr. Alo Mohan, Ms Marian Harkin, MEP, raised questions at EU level about possible VAT avoidance schemes in the Irish poultry sector. This appears to have been confirmed by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, before the European Parliament. If it is true, it is certainly embarrassing to have our dirty linen laundered at European level, but we should be grateful that it is being laundered. However, it is the human side which concerns me more. I am troubled by a line in Mr. Darragh McCullough's report that "Mr. Mohan ... contends that he lost out on €25,000 per year because he did not participate in various VAT arrangements". The report goes on to state Mr. Mohan ceased trading with his processor late last year and has since failed to find a new purchaser for his birds. Ms Harkin describes Mr. Mohan as a "law abiding man, concerned only with doing the right thing", yet his family business of 60 years is no longer trading. It is actually worse than this. This farmer is no longer able to earn a livelihood from what was a very well-kept and high-quality farm.
I should not-----
I am coming to my request to the Minister-----
I should not have to advise the Senator that he should not name individuals in the House.
I accept that, but so far I have only named individuals whose affairs are already public. I totally support what has been said and want to know what exactly is happening. Are we talking about an abuse of power? If the man in question and his farm family in County Cavan have done nothing wrong, why do they not have an outlet for their produce? Are they being blackballed by their previous processor who is not an individual but, I believe, Carton Brothers and Manor Farm in Shercock, County Cavan? Where are the other processors?
I am sorry-----
Where is the competition in the market for the produce of the man in question?
The Senator should not make an allegation about an individual.
I have not made an allegation. I am raising a matter of serious public concern and want to know what is going on. There is a smell and it is more than the smell of rotting chicken.
We have heard from the Minister for Finance, but now we need to hear from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There is something going on and I ask the Leader to ensure the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his Department will look into it.
The Senator is over time.
We may need to take steps to protect the livelihood of an honest broker and prevent or punish any possible abuse of power that may be ongoing or may have occurred in the past. Are the big corporate interests bullying the common man in County Cavan in the same way as they seem to be doing elsewhere in the world?
I refer to the disgraceful situation in emergency departments in hospitals across the country. Yesterday there were 416 individuals on trolleys in hospital emergency departments, the two worst culprits being Letterkenny University Hospital and Cork University Hospital. In the case of the former, 26 of the 45 individuals who were awaiting an inpatient bed were on trolleys. The HSE system within emergency departments is completely dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. A leading emergency medicine specialist, Dr. Fergal Hickey, raised awareness of this issue on "Morning Ireland" this morning. He stated categorically that, in his professional opinion, people would die this winter as a result of the dysfunctional nature of emergency departments in hospitals. To date, there has been no intervention by the Minister to deal with the issue. The HSE has its head in the sand. It is not dealing with the issue, which does not only relate to emergency departments. There are other factors at play, including the need to free up medical beds in hospitals. However, this goes against the HSE's policy of closing community hospitals which could provide respite care and step-down facilities. I call on the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Health on the issue. We must find out why the HSE is not meeting its own targets as set out in the winter initiative. We must discuss the issue before people die, particularly during the critical months of December, January and February. I appeal to the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter as soon as possible.
I echo the points made by my colleagues about the number of patients on hospital trolleys. Meetings have been cancelled in the emergency department at St. James's Hospital this morning because staff are being pushed to the limit. We are now at breaking point.
I again refer to the treatment of mothers and their children. One of the scandals that was allowed to occur in mother and baby homes in the 1960s was the carrying out of vaccine trials on women and children. The inquiry of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is the second State inquiry to investigate these vaccine trials. It has just been discovered, as reported today, that the files of residents were altered in 2002, just weeks after the commision had sought them. This is in keeping with the behaviour of the responsible authorities throughout various State inquiries. One of the victims, Ms Mari Steed, was born in Bessborough in the 1960s and is listed as one of the residents who had her records changed. She has taken legal advice and intends to make a formal complaint to An Garda Síochána and the Data Protection Commissioner.
The HSE and now Tusla are in possession of the document, which outlines the changes made to these records since 2011. It is unacceptable that they have lain there since and that no action has been taken. The Minister needs to come before the House to explain the shocking action, which is a further wrong carried out after the terror inflicted on Mari Steed and many others across Ireland.
The Senator cannot name individuals.
It is in the news so I can.
Whether it is in the news or not, we cannot do so.
This is about the treatment of our women, children and mothers across the country.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of climate change and the Minister will come before the House on 7 December for a debate on the matter.
Mental health was raised by a number of Senators and as Leader of the House I take the request very seriously. I try, on Members' behalf, to facilitate debates with Ministers and since the beginning of this Seanad we have had ten cross-departmental debates and a rolling debate on Brexit. We must balance the ministerial diary with passing legislation and Private Members' time. We have already had statements on mental health in the House but I would be happy for the Minister and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Helen McEntee, to come to the House to discuss this issue.
I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to debate health, the HSE and trolleys. Senator Gavan did not mention that the Minister for Health has secured the highest budget in the past eight years and has announced a winter initiative. He is dealing with the pressure on emergency departments and I agree that we need more beds. Senator Reilly asked about the role the design of houses could have in mental health issues. I would welcome a debate on the funding for that purpose. Senators Leyden and Craughwell commented on the COSAC meeting which they attended last week and I would be happy for the Minister to come before the House to discuss it, but the Taoiseach is the lead Minister for Brexit.
Senator Boyhan asked about the judicial council Bill but that is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality. I suggest he raise it as a Commencement matter. Senator Noone asked about vaping, which is an important topic. Given all we have done with plain packaging for tobacco it is something we need to address further. Senator Black asked about lobbying but I do not know of anyone who is trying to dilute the Bill. I am supportive of the Public Health Bill but people are entitled to lobby. They must be registered and meetings must be recorded. I met with Musgraves, I am happy to do so and it is recorded. We should focus on how we can diminish the harm done by alcohol in society and I will work with Senators in this regard.
Everybody accepts the Leader's good faith.
Senator Feighan spoke about the new far-right party but that is a matter for them. In answer to the point raised by Senator Humphreys, I would be very happy for the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss maternity as it is an important issue. Senator Gallagher raised the issue of gender in education and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House for a debate. The question of inviting Arlene Foster, MLA, and the deputy First Minister has been dealt with by the CPP. Senator Paddy Burke asked about third level education. The Cassells report has gone to committee and the Minister has already come to this House on the matter. He is committed to returning on the matter.
Senator Craughwell asked about the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. The Minister took an inordinate amount of time in his remarks.
He took 41.5 minutes.
It was unfortunate but he is committed to coming back to the House and I would be very happy for him to do so post-Christmas. Board appointments are a matter for the Department and the Minister, not for this House. It is a matter that has to be resolved, however. Senator Ó Donnghaile asked for the Taoiseach to come before the House but he will not be here before Christmas because we have a schedule of legislation to get through.
Another broken promise.
The Senator attends the meetings I attend every week.
The Senators can have their own discussion on this outside the House.
I am not going to get into a game of broken promises. Since I came into this position I have worked in good faith with all sides of the House.
I am not going to be accused of playing a game. I am giving an honest answer. We have legislation to pass and if the Senator wants to be here in the first week of Christmas that is fine. His colleagues do not, however,
We are not questioning the Leader.
I was a member of the Constitutional Convention and was one of only two people who missed none of its sittings.
On a point of order, we were not questioning the Leader but the Taoiseach. It was he who made the promise.
That is not a point of order. We will not have a debate about this now.
The real point of order is that we address the Chair. We do not address each other across the Chamber. The Leas-Chathaoirleach needs to enforce that rule.
The Minister of State for the diaspora and the Government are committed to exploring the issue. If it takes time so be it because we need to make sure we do it right. There is a profound implication in what is being proposed and we will work to make it happen. The Constitutional Convention does not have the power to instruct but to recommend.
Senator Norris raised direct provision and there is a huge amount of work being done on that. Senator Ó Ríordáin was the Minister of State and the working group is going through the 173 recommendations, of which 140 have already been implemented. Senator O'Sullivan raised the issue of the report in The Irish Times today. I have not seen the report but I would be happy to talk to the CPP about it.
Senator Mullen asked for a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed. It is more a matter for a Commencement debate. Senator Ó Domhnaill and others asked about health and whether I would be happy for the Minister to come before the House. The matter Senator Devine raised today was raised by Senator Boyhan yesterday. It is something we should talk about at a later date.
What about Caranua?
I think the Senator's matter is more suited to a Commencement debate.
I want to announce to the House that, from today, I am only going to reply to people who stay for the full Order of Business. A lot of Members have left and it is not fair to those who have stayed.
Everybody accepts the Leader's good faith.