The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance Bill 2016 [Certified Money Bill] - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned at 3.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, statements on climate action and low carbon development, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 4.52 p.m.; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Public Bodies Review Agency Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
It is not often an issue comes before the Oireachtas that is as clear cut, brutally simple and has life or death implications as the issue of organ donation and the provision of the drug Orkambi for people who suffer from cystic fibrosis. It is a life saving and life improving drug, but the Government has suspended negotiations on it. We understand that the Minister for Health was supposed to meet his European colleagues and try to secure an over-arching approach to this, but he has not managed to get a solution from them.
He is on his way to the airport.
I know, but he does not have a solution.
He had to be at the airport at 5 a.m.
He told us clearly months ago that he was going to write to them.
The Leader will respond. Will Senator Frank Feighan, please, allow Senator Mark Daly to continue?
In the meantime, people have been going in and out of hospital or spending months in hospital. There is no urgency on the part of the Government on this issue. Members attended presentations on the matter in the audio visual, AV, room yesterday and last week. The presentation yesterday was by Deputy Billy Kelleher, my party's spokesperson on health. It is particularly moving to hear about people whose families have suffered bereavement or whose children have had to be put into comas rather than suffer through the agonising pain of having their lung function decrease, and then to hear from those whose lives have been transformed and even saved as a result of this wonder drug. The issue is economics as much as anything else.
The organ donor system is a shambles. In 2013 the Seanad was recalled from its summer recess to discuss the organ donor system. We spend €325 million per year on kidney dialysis and on keeping people who are awaiting organ transplant alive. In this country 65 people die each year while waiting for an organ transplant. Then there are the people who are taken off the transplant list because they simply are not well enough to receive a transplant. They die quietly and are not even recorded as a statistic. A total of 650 people are awaiting transplants, be it a lung, heart or kidney, and it costs €325 million. We should have a system in which kidney transplants alone are carried out correctly. Croatia transformed its system ten years ago and it now has a surplus of organs to give to other countries. We do not have that system. The system simply does not work. It is not fit for purpose. A Member of this House, who was the Minister for Health at the time, signed the first legislative measure in the history of the State relating to organ transplantation, and it was signed on the last day required under an EU directive. It was described by organ donation organisations as something that would cost people's lives because it was such a shambles. It did not improve the system but actually made a bad system worse. It did not give power to one authority but to a range of authorities. If we had a functioning organ donor system that worked, the €325 million per year being spent on keeping people alive could be used to purchase the drug Orkambi and there would be a surplus left.
The Senator's point has been well made.
This is not about Orkambi as such because there is a bigger issue. People are dying on the waiting list and other people are taking up hospital beds when they would prefer to be at home and contributing to society. This is all because the organ donor system simply does not work.
We will press for an amendment to the Order of Business to have No. 12 on the Order Paper taken.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Yes, that No. 12 be taken today.
Is it to be taken before No. 1?
What item is it?
No. 27, non-Government motion No. 12.
I congratulate the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, for moving swiftly on the issue of pensions in Independent News & Media. That is the type of action one expects from a Government Minister. However, while he is to be congratulated for it, that should not be seen as endorsing him as leader of the Fine Gael Party or the like.
Senator Mark Daly spoke about Orkambi and I am aware that people are travelling from all over the country to protest outside the Dáil today. I will not get into the debate on Orkambi, as it has been well outlined by my colleague. However, recently I visited Spain where I met a former colleague who happens to be on blood pressure tablets. He told me that he had bought his year's supply of those tablets for €14.95. The same tablets cost him €1,100 here.
Ireland is a member of the European Union. Why, in God's name, are we not centrally managing drugs and drug purchases at EU level, rather than individual member states trying to manage it? The type of costs involved with Orkambi are absolutely massive. I accept that drug companies must be able to get a return on their investment, but why must this poor little country suffer every time when it is part of a much larger economic community? If the European Union can manage agriculture and manage fisheries, badly, for this country, with managing all sorts of other things, surely it should be able to manage the drugs industry and ensure there is a standard cost across Europe, instead of there being different costs in different places. People tell me it is cheaper to book a flight to Lanzarote, buy their drugs for the year there and come home with change in their pocket than to pay what they are being charged for them in this country. I am sure that is not all due to the chemists. I commend the people who try to negotiate a reasonable price for drugs in this country, albeit I am deeply saddened that the Orkambi issue has not been resolved as it is having a serious impact on families.
Yesterday the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport warned that Bus Éireann was facing insolvency within two years unless "difficult decisions are made."
This begs the question as to who will be obliged to make those difficult decisions. The Minister is talking about axing between six and eight of the least profitable routes and we know that Bus Éireann wants to separate the Expressway service from the rest of the firm. We also know who will suffer as a result. It will be the people of rural Ireland, for whom these bus routes are a lifeline. The staff will suffer through further job losses and pay cuts. This is part of a very worrying bigger picture when it comes to public transport. We know Iarnród Éireann faces insolvency unless it receives a much-improved subvention. All three public transport companies have seen the level of State subvention reduced by approximately one third in recent years. To make matters worse, last year the National Transport Authority unilaterally took €2 million from Dublin Bus because it deemed the company's profits to be excessive. I question the role of the National Transport Authority, which seems to be pushing for outsourcing and privatisation at every opportunity.
At the heart of the issues affecting public transport companies is the inability to plan their budgets, particularly their expenditure more than 12 months into the future. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport must commit to agreeing and implementing a multi-annual plan for the entire public transport system as a matter of extreme urgency. I find it very difficult to believe that nine months into his role as Minister, he is still floundering on the issue of subvention for public transport companies. At yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, we discovered that, nine months into his tenure, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has yet to meet his opposite number in the North, the Minister for Infrastructure, Mr. Chris Hazzard. I just cannot understand it. What is the man doing?
It is time to have an adult conversation about public transport. As my union, SIPTU, has pointed out, we can have a sustainable public transport system that provides a world-class service to the public and decent jobs for employees but this Government does not have the will to make it happen. Once again, it is down to ideology. We know Fine Gael has been the driving force behind the plan to hive off profitable routes from Dublin Bus and that it would rather continue to cut the subvention, outsource services to the private sector and undermine our public services in the process. Fine Gael Members then stand up in the Chamber and bemoan the fate of rural Ireland.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport back to the Chamber. Perhaps the Leader could persuade the Minister, when he does return, to spend less time speechifying and a little longer dealing with issues of concern.
I thank the Leader for the work he did in inviting the appropriate Minister to make a statement on climate action and low-carbon development. I hope and believe this will be a landmark day for the House, as we will see - for the first time - real and positive action on how Ireland can show leadership when it comes to climate change. I ask the Leader to ensure there is adequate time for the Minister to respond to contributions from Senators. When the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, came before the House recently, it was unfortunate that he spent too much time talking about rugby and not enough speaking about his policies. I ask the Leader to ensure that there is adequate time for responses to contributions from the Senators. I compliment the Leader and his staff on ensuring this debate is taking place today.
I join others in referring to Bus Éireann, particularly in the context of the Expressway service that seems to be under threat. It is important that the Minister comes before the House as a matter of urgency in order to deal with the matter. We can all jump up and down and the blame game has already started. Ultimately, we need solutions and something does not add up. In the past couple of years there has been much investment in a modern fleet for the Expressway service, providing Wi-Fi and toilets and so on. These are really brilliant buses. Bus Éireann has told us that there have been increases in passenger numbers. However, this may only be on certain routes and it, in turn, would increase the pressure in the context of other routes. We can all jump up and down, blame each other and politicise the matter but there is a window of opportunity in terms of doing something about this. Could we tweak the system, perhaps in rural areas? Could services be maintained with smaller buses rather than 53-seaters? We have all seen half-empty buses. There is also the issue of "use it or lose it", etc. We do not want to be here on a Wednesday, seeing strikes tomorrow or the next day. There is a window of opportunity to do something about this. We should work in a calm and collaborative fashion. In order to start that process, the Minister should come before us and outline his plans rather than just saying that the company will be insolvent in two years. What can be done in the immediate future to resolve this matter?
I second the proposal made by my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, in respect of No. 27 on the Order Paper.
It is No. 27, non-Government motion No. 12.
It relates to Orkambi.
Yes. Today is National Missing Persons Day and an event hosted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is being held at Farmleigh House with some of the affected families. Every year in this country, 9,000 people go missing but, thankfully, most are reunited with their loved ones. It is estimated that approximately 50 to 80 people remain missing and I can only imagine the heartbreak this causes for families. On radio this morning I heard a young gentleman from County Mayo outline how his sister went missing over 15 or 16 years ago and how his heartbroken mother and father passed away not knowing where their daughter was or what happened to her. He outlined the trauma and heartbreak that family went through. It would bring tears from a stone to hear him talking about that. We can only imagine the pain and trauma felt by that family, along with all the rest of the families where loved ones remain missing. I appeal this morning to anybody who has information that might bring the nightmare to an end for such families to come forward in order that they can finally have closure. There is a national missing persons helpline, of which the Leader is probably aware. It is estimated it takes approximately €35,000 per annum to fund this helpline. Unfortunately, donations are falling, and the State makes a contribution of €5,000 per annum to the helpline. I ask the Leader to ask the relevant Minister if the State could consider increasing its contribution to this very worthwhile cause.
I wish to highlight a good news story by welcoming the announcement at the weekend by the US Department of Transportation that it will grant a foreign licence to Norwegian Air, thereby facilitating the development of a route from Shannon and Cork to the east coast of the United States. I also welcome the 30 jobs announced this morning by Acacia Communications in Limerick. The company is from Maynard, Massachusetts, and in the announcement it was indicated that infrastructure and links were very relevant. It is most important for us to consider our airports in terms of job creation. This company is a provider of high-speed coherent optical interconnecting products and the headquarters will be in Limerick. It was most enlightening to hear the chief executive officer welcoming the links and the fact they can get here through Shannon Airport to Limerick, where the company will have its European headquarters. It is very important for us to create many links between different countries and our airports in order to benefit job creation.
I will briefly mention value for money in the context of medication and drugs. The UK Competition and Markets Authority has fined the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer £84.2 million for the 2,600% overnight price increase in respect of the drug Epanutin, which is used to treat epilepsy. This price increase cost the National Health Service and British taxpayers millions. I do not know if we have a similar watchdog but that is certainly a gold standard in asking companies to be more responsible. The profits some companies make are absolutely obscene.
For many years, constituents of mine who live in social housing have been contacting me due to damp, mould and condensation problems within their dwellings. The reason for these problems are almost always laid squarely at the doors at the tenants. The authorities carried out inspections time after time in various tenancies and always came to the same conclusion: tenants were causing these issues. Residents in my constituency, Dublin South-Central, living in Tyrone Place, Inchicore, took it upon themselves to commission architects to examine the reasons for dampness within their residences. The findings showed that the buildings were unable to provide adequate ventilation, making them very difficult to heat and, therefore, creating damp conditions. The problems were shown to be extensive and very serious. Despite tenants using mould remover and freshly painting walls on a continual basis, it was still happening. Local councils have been laying the responsibility for carrying out condensation repairs on the tenants. The finding of this report totally exonerates the tenants. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to ensure that funding can be secured from his Department to carry out repairs and makes these tenants' environment much healthier. I will submit this as a Commencement matter if the Leader cannot provide a sufficient response.
Christmas is approaching and it is in the spirit of that season that I raise the whole matter of shopping local. There are many local and national initiatives encouraging us to see what is available around us and to buy local. Last Saturday was Small Business Saturday. I was at our local Foxford Christmas craft fair, which has been going on for years. What is notable about it is that it sells all Irish crafts, produce and so on. I believe it is a very good time to look at small shops and businesses to see how we can support them.
I highlight a particular matter that I feel is flying in the face of this, which is An Post's promotion of the AddressPal card. In promoting the card, they are encouraging people to shop on UK websites. They are promoting it by way of a competition in conjunction with TV3's "Exposé". I am a fan of TV3's "Exposé" and I am a fan of An Post, but I question the timing of it. The advertisement encourages people to shop on UK websites, enter a competition and have the chance of winning a sterling currency card from An Post. Five people could win £500 sterling in cards. An Post is a State company. At this time of year, State agencies and all of us should be trying to look at what we can do for our local economy. I believe this flies in the face of that. I understand that An Post is in very difficult financial times. I understand that this initiative is to enable An Post to compete with couriers and try to reclaim some business. If people are shopping on UK websites, they might not have a UK address and therefore cannot shop.
We all like to see our home town and village looking Christmassy. The people who are making sure the lights are put up are the local businesspeople, in conjunction with the councils and local development groups. They are the people who sponsor the local football kit, who sponsor the local festivals and who give part-time jobs to people's sons and daughters. As I said, I know the difficulties of An Post but I do not think its timing is right. I also question TV3's part in it at this time of year. I think it may be slightly unpatriotic. We could all examine and look at what is around us in local shops by checking them out. Of course, we are all free to shop where we want. It is our money. However, perhaps that might give the extra boost that would help local shops and high streets to continue in business.
As part of Poison Awareness Day, I call on detergent companies to ban liquid detergent tablets. Half of the calls to the poison centre, which takes 10,000 calls a year, are about children swallowing liquid detergent tablets. Since 2011 in Ireland alone, there have been more than 700 children who have had serious problems after swallowing liquid detergent tablets. I call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to immediately engage with these multinationals to put a plan in place to scrap and ban liquid detergent tablets. I would appreciate if the Leader could talk to the relevant Minister. I believe it is an urgent enough matter. It is a simple measure that we could take. Children who evidently do not have the sense to know any different should not be exposed to these risks.
I welcome the hour of coding being run by many schools around the country and in 180 countries worldwide in which children have the opportunity to participate in coding and programming. Of course, one hour is not going to change the world, but it brings to the fore the need for urgent action to integrate programming and coding into the learning lives of young people and, indeed, not so young people. If we are to genuinely and earnestly prepare young people for the reality of the 21st century workplace, coding and programming must become as commonplace as breathing. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, into the House again to have a full debate on the integration of technology in our education system. In particular, I would like him to update us on his progress in tackling the ICT deficits affecting primary and secondary school coverage, including replacement of computer hardware, curriculum recognition and broadband connectivity, as well as updating us on the timeline for the full implementation of the computer programme developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in collaboration with Lero, the Irish software engineering research centre, in 2013. To leave coding and programming as an optional extra is doing an injustice to children. The Minister's background in enterprise makes him acutely aware of the urgency for computer science to be offered to leaving certificate students. We are already decades behind in affording our young people equality of opportunity when it comes to employment in which ICT skills are required. Given the uncertainty and volatility in the national, EU and worldwide economy brought about by the fragility of the banking system, Brexit and moves to address the use of corporation tax as a main element of competitiveness, it is imperative that we truly prepare the workforce of the future for the digital world.
In any discussion on the cost of drugs we need to look at the overall picture of what they cost in this country. Last year drugs and pharmaceuticals cost us €2.6 billion. That figure has consistently gone up. Despite making agreements with pharmaceutical companies on lowering the cost of drugs, we are still spending more per capita than any other country. Senator Mark Daly was going on about no action being taken. I think he must have forgotten that his party was in power for 14 years. On the issue of transplants, there was a recommendation-----
It is like this. They were here-----
There was a recommendation-----
There was an organ donor recommendation that was signed the last day.
Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?
It has been described as costing people's lives.
There was a recommendation-----
If the Senator wants to go on about organ donation, he must start with himself.
I am suspending the sitting for ten minutes.
To return to the drugs issue, it is important that we have an honest debate on it. We are paying out €2.6 billion on drugs and pharmaceuticals per annum. In the period from 2000 to 2010, the cost of pharmaceuticals went from €570 million to over €2 billion. It was as though we were writing blank cheques. If we want to have a debate on this issue, let us have an overall debate about why it is costing more per head of population for drugs and pharmaceuticals than in any other European country.
On the organ donation issue, we need to compare Ireland with Norway. There are about 2,000 people on dialysis in this country. There are only about 370 people on dialysis in Norway at any one time. That is because of the policy it implemented in the late 1990s and early 2000s of employing the necessary number of consultants. We can talk about organ donation all day but we have to have the necessary people there to do the work. That is where the fundamental problem arose in the last 15 years. We have not been able to recruit the people. We deliberately missed out. When we had money to do it, we did not recruit them between 2000 and 2010 and that is on what we now need to focus. If we want to bring down the number of people on dialysis, we need the experts to do the work. That is what should be the priority. Let us have a debate on that and on the cost of pharmaceuticals in this country.
I share Senator Mark Daly's concern about the Orkambi issue. I saw "Claire Byrne Live" last Monday night and all contributors, including taxpayers, doctors, and people waiting to get Orkambi, were very measured and very concerned. I saw a tweet from the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, at 5 a.m. While one might ask what he was doing at 5 a.m., the Minister was at the airport on his way to meet his European colleagues in Lisbon to discuss the Orkambi issue. We can try to address it across parties and across borders. However, Vertex, the company that produces Orkambi is holding patients and the Government to ransom. We can try to find a solution.
I share Senator John O'Mahony's concerns about bus services. The situation in the west has been raised with me by a number of people. There is an issue with the bus service from Ballyhaunis through Castlerea to Dublin. We need to bring the Minister into the House to have a debate on the current position in Bus Éireann.
I praise the Garda for arresting four men over the kidnapping of the fastest dog in Ireland, Clares Rocket.
A Limerick dog.
It is a Limerick dog and one that has won huge prizes and is seemingly worth over €1 million. It shows the complexities of crime in the country when the Garda must arrest four men with guns over the kidnap of a dog. It sounds like something out of a comic strip. I praise the Garda and all concerned in ensuring it was stopped.
Tá an Cathaoirleach iontach foighneach liom agus tá mé buíoch dó as mé a ligean isteach le labhairt. Yesterday the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, and Minister for Infrastructure, Chris Hazzard, travelled to the Houses of the Oireachtas to address the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, to come to the Chamber to address us on the issue of cross-Border infrastructure, particularly transportation infrastructure. If anyone needs a lesson on how to commit to being a responsible leader on this issue, they should listen to Chris Hazzard's contribution at the committee yesterday. There is a growing consensus around the need to connect both main cities on the island. It would bring economic, social and cohesive benefits to the country as a whole. In all of these discussions there is the need to consider areas that are underprovided for, in this instance, in terms of transport infrastructure. It is unfortunate that thus far, the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, has been unable to meet his counterpart in the North for whatever reason. In the absence of that, we should have the Minister in front of us here for a specific discussion. In the past, my colleague, Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, and I have raised the issue of connectivity to the north west and support for the City of Derry Airport. There is growing consensus, with the passing of motions in Dublin City Council and Belfast City Council, on identifying funding from Europe for the adoption of a high-speed rail link connecting both cities. Deputy Gerry Adams and I met a campaign group from Newry yesterday which is concerned about the provision and frequency of rail services through Newry connecting Dublin and Belfast. The Leader will know that as part of the Fresh Start agreement agreed 18 months ago, the Irish Government committed itself to looking at this issue. Within that context, this is a very opportune and, in the light of the Brexit vote, critical time for the Minister to come and discuss how this can be advantageous to the people as a whole.
Will the Leader consider asking either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste, whoever feels so inclined, to come before us and explain how it is that the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, who has just been mentioned in a different context, is permitted to write articles in newspapers so charged with inaccuracy and misleading content, as he has done this morning in today's edition of The Irish Times? He has yet again suggested that somehow, the Judiciary is against reform. That flies in the face of the fact that the current Chief Justice authored the Bill which provided for a judicial council to be established. It also flies in the face of the fact that members of the Judiciary have on many occasions asked for reforms to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and that has not been granted to it. It is serious because Deputy Shane Ross is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. With the buses about to evaporate across Ireland and with train lines being closed down, not to mention some of the sporting debacles in Brazil, it seems the Minister is finding it very difficult to discharge his own functions. It also appears he cannot even make appointments in his own Department to semi-State boards but the one thing he is apparently absolutely concerned with is the making of judicial appointments. The House should know, because eventually some legislation will come before us, that in 2013 he proposed that the committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas should make nominations for people to be judges. He said that would stop cronyism. How ignorant and crass is that as a suggestion?
He has only a distant connection with the truth.
The other point is that he has on many occasions suggested the appointment of judges is a matter of political cronyism. I held the position of Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform from 2002 to 2007 and the late Rory Brady was the Attorney General at the time. I am absolutely satisfied that if one looks at the appointments we made to the superior courts of Ireland, the great majority of them were not supporters of either of the Government parties.
It is about time that the Houses of the Oireachtas showed that a Minister who is not doing his job and who is failing badly to carry out his functions by leaving semi-State boards without appointees because of his own inadequacy and weakness allows the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Attorney General to be the point of contact with the Judiciary. The suggestions made in the disgraceful article in The Irish Times today, talking about the Chief Justice being first out of the traps to rubbish the Minister's views, are completely untrue and to call intemperate the remarks of the President of the Circuit Court who appealed recently for vacancies in his court to be filled in order that he could carry out the laws which these Houses had put in place is a cheek on the part of the Minister. I ask that the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste come to the House to tell us when they will muzzle their dog.
As they did the greyhound.
Can I say a word?
No. Twenty minutes ago Senator Frank Feighan was the last speaker but others were let in.
I wanted to make the point that Senator Michael McDowell was quite right about the eminent appointments.
Senator Michael McDowell has made the point well.
I thank the 15 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business. On the amendment proposed to the Order of Business by Senator Mark Daly, the Orkambi issue will be discussed in the House tomorrow. The Minister for Health is in Lisbon meeting his EU counterparts, with whom he will discuss it, among other matters. I hope, therefore, that, rather than divide the House, the Senator will withdraw his amendment. At the request of his party leader last week, the matter has been placed on the Order Paper for tomorrow. New politics is at work. If the Senator withdraws his amendment, we will see even better politics.
The Senator is correct about organ donation. There is a need for a gargantuan change in how we look at it. That is why the Government is and the Minister in the previous Government, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was working on legislation for an opt-out system. It is also why the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, of which I was Chairman, worked on the issue of organ donation. I appreciate that the Senator has the Irish Kidney Association as a nominating body and that he is representing it in the House. He is right to put the issue on the agenda because it is important, not least to those who are on dialysis and awaiting an organ donation and their families. It requires a sea change of opinion across the board. Senator Colm Burke is also correct. For a decade there was a missed opportunity when we did nothing, but now we must move forward and put things right.
I again refer to the Orkambi issue which was raised by Senators Mark Daly and Frank Feighan. This morning I met representatives of the drug company in question. They met Members in Leinster House yesterday and will do so again today. It is important that Vertex and the HSE which negotiates on behalf of the Government - the Government does not negotiate directly - engage meaningfully. I understand six meetings have been held in the past five months. We are talking about people's lives and their quality of life. There must be engagement and a willingness on the part of both Vertex and the HSE to enter into negotiations to present workable proposals to benefit those who need this much needed drug to improve their quality of life. I hope that, as a result of the statements to be made tomorrow, the visit of the Minister for Health to Lisbon today and the traction the issue has gained in the media in recent days and weeks, we will see movement on it. I must admit that I expected a different outcome to my discussion this morning with the representatives of Vertex. For what it is worth, I found them willing to engage and prepared to go to the table. I hope all sides can come to it and that we will see people's quality of life improve. Tomorrow afternoon we will have statements for an hour on the issue in order that we represent people's views to see if we can bring the matter to a resolution.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell also referred to the Orkambi issue. I thank him for the remarks he made on the amendment made by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in connection with Independent News & Media.
Senators Paul Gavan, John O'Mahony, Frank Feighan and Niall Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of transport. I will be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, come back to the House to discuss it. The issue of Bus Éireann is important. It is one we need to see resolved in the context of the provision of services for people living in both rural and urban areas. It transcends the urban-rural divide. The Minister has a duty to represent the taxpayer, as he is doing in highlighting a potential crisis in Bus Éireann which is loss-making. It is equally important that he come to the House to outline his plans in that regard.
I agree with Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. As a former Chairman of an Oireachtas committee, I am conscious that there was significant benefit in engaging with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont and equally at North-South Ministerial Council meetings. It is by working together that we can improve connectivity and outcomes for people, whether in health, as I had the pleasure to do in the previous Oireachtas, or elsewhere. It is important that we work on the issue. I will certainly be happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss it.
I thank Senator Kevin Humphreys for his remarks on the statements to be made today on climate action and low carbon development. I hope it will be the first of a rolling series of statements on what is an important issue that will not go away. We have responsibilities that we must honour, irrespective of who is in government.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised an important topic - Missing Persons Day. I thank the groups which are highlighting a situation that is an absolute tragedy and heart-breaking for many families who are literally hoping every telephone call or turn of the door will lead to their loved one coming back. I commend the Senator for raising the matter in the House. I will certainly be happy to ask the relevant Minister for funding for the missing persons helpline.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the matter of flights from Shannon and Cork airports. As a representative from the Cork region, I welcome Norwegian Air's decision to commence flights between Cork and Boston. I am sure the Cathaoirleach will join me in doing so. It is an important development for Cork, one that will open up and be of considerable benefit to the region. I also welcome the announcement today of new jobs in Limerick.
Senator Máire Devine referred to the fine imposed on Pfizer. While the company refuted this in a statement this morning and it is the subject of an ongoing appeal, it is an issue on which we need to keep abreast of developments.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the cost of drugs. There is an agreement which, in many cases, will lead to a reduction in the price of drugs. While the cost of a basket of drugs has come down in recent years, I accept that we still have a long way to go.
On the issue of dampness and the provision of funding for housing, I will ask the Minister responsible to come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Michelle Mulherin, rightly, mentioned that last Saturday was Small Business Saturday. I hope small local businesses can be supported.
The Senator also referred to An Post and the AddressPal card. It is worrying that An Post is advertising through a UK link when the same value for money can be achieved through small and medium enterprises and businesses in local towns. It would be far better for An Post to engage in a strategic plan with local businesses in order that it can remain relevant and focused on small local towns. I hope it can do this in the future. The Senator is correct. I will be happy to have the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Aidan Davitt mentioned Poison Awareness Day and the use of liquid detergent tablets. He highlighted the fact that 700 children a year were affected by taking such tablets. I will be happy to have the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katharine Zappone, or the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the issue of coding. I am glad that she has welcomed the action plan for education which was discussed in the House recently with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton. I commend the former Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, who did a significant amount of work on the issue and the Minister for including coding in the curriculum. I will be happy to have him come back to the House to update us on the issue.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the cost of a basket of drugs. He also referred to organ donation, an issue on which I have touched.
Senator Mark Daly praised the Garda for its involvement in the locating of the greyhound Clares Rocket. I am pleased that it was found. It is a source of concern that, for whatever reason, people think they can apprehend a greyhound, a horse or a person. It is important that we recognise that the Garda does a considerable amount of work in communities and that its members put themselves at risk in doing so. I commend them for their work.
As I mentioned, Senator Mark Daly raised the issue of Orkambi.
It would be better if the drug company went on the public airwaves to explain the position, rather than hide behind a press statement. We are all receiving emails and telephone calls from patients and their family members and want to see all of them achieve a better outcome.
Senator Michael McDowell referred to an article in today's edition of The Irish Times. I have not seen it, but the Senator has the right of reply to the newspaper. He could put pen to paper which he is very good at doing and write to the editor.
The Leader should not worry. I will get around to doing it.
I sent a letter this very morning.
Yes, I saw it. I commend the Senator for his very fine letter defending the Seanad. To be serious, we have been very well served by the members of the Judiciary.
They are independent and have been fair and balanced in their willingness to judge and impart their decisions. It has always been about the case in question, not their viewpoint or whatever else.
It is important that we have a period of calm and do not engage in hyperbole. We must not transcend the line between the Executive and the Judiciary, which must remain clear. The programme for Government is committed to making significant reforms in the process used in the making of judicial appointments, but it is my personal view that the Chief Justice should play a role in that regard. It is important that we allow for an input into the changing of the process. I would not like people to hold the view that members of the Judiciary are appointed on the basis of political cronyism. It is my experience that they are appointed based on their experience, expertise and competency. We should not engage in a war with them on the issue. I hope we will see that process being undertaken in the new year.
I hope Senator Mark Daly will withdraw the amendment he proposed to the Order of Business because we will have a debate on the issue to which he referred tomorrow afternoon.
Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 27, non-Government motion No. 12, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
No. I withdraw the amendment.