Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 17 Apr 2018

Vol. 257 No. 4

Commencement Matters

Medical Card Eligibility

I wish to raise the need for the Minister for Health to explore the possibility of reviewing medical card guidelines for people with spinal injuries who wish to take up work but who see the potential loss of their medical card as a significant disincentive to taking up employment. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, for taking this matter today.

This important issue has been raised with me by several constituents. From my discussions with them, it is evident that those who have suffered spinal injuries face ongoing medical challenges for a lifetime which come with a high cost. Those medical challenges can include pain, urinary tract infections and pressure sores which need to be kept in check by doctors and nurses. These can also present significant financial challenges. Without a medical card to help offset significant medical costs, people with spinal injuries may not receive the vital care and attention they need.

In the context of this discussion, it is clear many people with spinal injuries are caught between a rock and a hard place. Currently, those who want to seek employment fear losing the medical card. If they are not working, they face being caught in a poverty trap. It is not just about the cost of living, keeping food on the table, a roof over their heads and paying the bills. Associated health supports and services, essential to their everyday living, also need to be considered. Without a medical card, there are many costs to be covered such as medicine, physiotherapy, wound dressing, regular visits to the GP and the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, along with medical equipment such as wheelchairs, shower chairs and having this equipment serviced. As one person with a spinal injury said to me, they are nervous about taking up employment because they fear losing the medical card. This can be a great cause of stress.

A spinal injury, unfortunately, is an injury for life, presenting ongoing challenges which I have outlined. These concerns relating to employment and holding on to a medical card were highlighted in the 2017 Government report, Make Work Pay for People with Disabilities. The report identified the main barriers which impede people with disabilities from fulfilling their employment ambitions. Not surprisingly, the potential loss of a medical card was identified as the single most significant disincentive to taking up employment. While people on a disability payment for at least a year can retain a medical card for a further three years when they return to work, the report confirmed that those with lifelong conditions generally do not see this temporary retention as sufficient in that it does not offer security of continued access to the medical card and the vital supports it brings.

I strongly believe we must explore the possibility of reviewing the medical guidelines for people with spinal injuries. These are people who want to work and to contribute economically. However, the potential loss of the medical card creates a significant barrier for them to take up employment.

I thank Senator Feighan for raising this very important issue because the Government and I are very committed to ensuring that persons with a disability are supported in order for them to fulfil their employment ambitions and to address those barriers that might prevent them from doing so. I visited the headquarters of Spinal Injuries Ireland two weeks ago on foot of an invite to open its new office and centre. It is something of which I must be supportive. The issue of medical cards arose with all the residents and patients there. They were all very enthusiastic about getting into the workplace. There were a lot of talented people in that room and it had a lasting impression on me.

The Senator will be aware that an interdepartmental group was established under the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities to address the issue of making work pay for such people. The group's Make Work Pay report, which was published in April last year, found that the single most significant barrier to taking up employment or increasing the number of hours of employment for people with disabilities is the potential loss of the medical card. Essentially, there is agreement on that particular issue. To address this, the report contained two key recommendations relating to medical cards. First, it recommended that the medical card earnings disregard be increased from its current level of €120 for persons in receipt of disability allowance or partial capacity benefit. To that end, the Department of Health, the HSE and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection have been examining proposals to give effect to this recommendation. Officials are working to finalise the proposal and the Minister for Health expects to be announcing details of how this change will be implemented in the coming weeks. The second recommendation regarding the medical card was to remove the requirement that work undertaken for the medical card earnings disregard must be of a rehabilitative nature. I am happy to confirm that this measure was implemented by the HSE last year.

Implementing both of the measures to which I refer will ensure that persons in receipt of disability allowance will now be in a position to have greater earnings capacity and can do so safe in the knowledge that their medical card, which enables them to access many vital health services, will be retained. Support is also provided for persons who have been on a relevant welfare payment for a year and who then take up employment. Such individuals can retain the medical card for an initial three-year period after taking up employment. That is another important feature. At the end of the period, cardholders will be assessed under the normal rules of the medical card scheme. Should a person's income be above the relevant limit, he or she will be considered for a discretionary medical card, or a GP visit card, which takes account of the extra costs that arise from an illness or a disability.

The Make Work Pay report contained a range of recommendations right across the span of Government, all of which are all intended to help those with disabilities to fulfil their employment ambitions. Working together, we will ensure that persons with a disability are afforded every opportunity to maximise their employment potential, which will be beneficial for their own lives and society generally. I feel very strongly about spinal injuries and I am completely in agreement with what the Senator said.

I thank the Minister of State for his interest in this very sensitive, complex and difficult subject. I welcome the recommendations. I am anxious that the increase in the medical card earnings disregard from €120 would be quite significant but, obviously, we will know in the coming weeks. I also thank the Minister of State for the work that has been done. Our job is to ensure that persons with disabilities are afforded every opportunity to enter the workplace and maximise their employment potential. With a growing economy, everything should be done to ensure that this will happen. Once again, I thank the Minister of State for his interest and reply and I wish him well in the coming weeks.

I thank Senator Feighan for his comments but note this is a serious issue and I absolutely take on board his views. On meeting people with spinal injuries, one hears some of the personal stories about how their lives changed in a matter of seconds, whether they fell off a ladder on a building site, had a car crash or had some sort of injury. All of a sudden, these wonderful people who were active find themselves disabled. That is the tough side. It undoubtedly is a tough disability to have but the thing that blew me away that evening two weeks ago in Dún Laoghaire was their courage, positivity and determination to get back to work. They wanted to contribute to society and some of them had very valuable skills. That is something I will be pushing because if we are talking about making work pay for people in any kind of report, we must ensure that people with spinal injuries are included in that group.

Services for People with Disabilities

From one Roscommon person to another, I now call on Senator Swanick.

I thank the Minister of State for taking the debate. I am sure that as Minister of State, he has visited many nursing homes. As we know, they are fantastic institutions operated by dedicated individuals who selflessly work night and day to take care of our loved ones. Nursing homes play a key role in healthcare delivery in Ireland. It is never an easy decision for families or individuals to make to enter a nursing home. I have heard many fabulous stories of fantastic care received in nursing homes but my issue concerns people who are placed in these settings for no reason other than there is nowhere else for them to go. The case of Julia Thurmann was recently brought to my attention by Councillor Cormac Devlin. Ms Thurmann was 34 when she found herself moving into a nursing home in 2008. Ten years later, she is still there and her attempts to live independently have come up against repeated obstacles. Ms Thurmann resides in a nursing home in north County Dublin with 120 other residents, some of whom are suffering from dementia. While her placement in the nursing home costs the State more than €62,000 per year, independent living would cost the State significantly less. Her placement is inappropriate. We are trying to get away from congregated settings to community settings and we need integration, not segregation. I implore the Minister of State and the Government to redouble their efforts to support individuals with disabilities who are living in nursing homes, to bring to an end the congregated settings in which they are living at present and to afford them the opportunity to live in dignity.

I thank Senator Swanick for raising this important issue. I acknowledge, from working with him over the past two years, that he is very supportive of all people with disabilities, as well as of the rights of the person with a disability who is in a nursing home and who I firmly believe should not be there. I will respond to that in detail. It is important that we have this discussion because I wish to make clear that my position, and the Government's ongoing priority, is the safeguarding of vulnerable people in the care of the health service. We are committed to providing service and support for people with disabilities, which will empower them to live independent lives. That is the plan and the vision.

The health service provides specialist disability services to enable each individual with a disability to achieve his or her full potential to maximise independence, including living as independently as possible. Services are provided in a wide variety of community residential services, in partnership with service users, their families and carers and a range of statutory and non-statutory voluntary and community groups. These services are provided within the available budget. Although most families would prefer to be able to care for their loved ones at home, for various reasons hospital or nursing home care is at times necessary to meet their care needs and therefore forms part of their continued care. In addressing the needs of adults with a disability, the full range of community services available are tailored to meet the needs of the individual. The health service works with local authorities, Departments where applicable and other public services, as well as the voluntary sector, in seeking to tier the services to best fit the needs of the individual. There are now fewer than 2,400 people living in a congregated setting and each year, more people are being supported to move into the community and independent living. This year, we expect another 170 people to move on. However, the Health Service Executive is aware that many people with disabilities reside in nursing homes. We accept that point of Senator Swanick's argument. In some cases, people may have enhanced support in respect of their disability support needs.

The review of the nursing homes support scheme published in 2015 states that only 5% of long-term nursing home residents are aged under 65 years. However, it is recognised there are a small number of younger people who require full-time nursing home care, such as those who have had a stroke or perhaps an acquired brain injury. To establish which places are inappropriate and which are appropriate based on the primary needs of the individuals, an expert working group, led by the Disability Federation of Ireland, is currently carrying out a review of all those with disabilities aged less than 65 years of age that live in nursing homes.

The nursing home sector is used to develop options to meet the needs of some adults with a disability where no other alternatives are possible. We need to regularly review these individuals to see if, through their care plan, a more appropriate option might be available. In this particular case, it appears that one is. In the longer term, the policy is to develop a more tailored service suitable to meet the needs of these service users.

In 2018, funding of some €1.772 billion in total is being provided for health and personal social services for a wide and complex range of services and supports for those with disabilities, an increase of €1.9 million on last year. This year, through the HSE, we will provide over 8,300 residential places, as well as emergency supports for 385 persons. We will provide over 82,000 respite nights and 42,500 day respite sessions to families in need right across the country. I assure the House, as I have done on many occasions previously, that my ongoing priority is the safeguarding of vulnerable persons in the care of the health service.

As Senators will appreciate, I cannot comment specifically on an individual case. However, I can confirm that my office has been in weekly contact with the person to whom Senator Swanick refers in his question in an effort to help secure more suitable accommodation from that which the person is currently in. I can assure Senator Swanick and the House that we will continue to support the person concerned until such suitable accommodation is found. In addition, I am informed that the HSE has been engaging with the person concerned and the family, and will continue to do so.

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed response. It heartens me to hear that he is in contact with the individual concerned.

As the Minister of State will be aware, the population is getting older. In the next 30 years, the number of people over 65 will double and the number of people over 85 will quadruple. Of course, that will put extra pressures on the health system, especially residential units. I hope and pray that we will not be forcing people to live in inappropriate accommodation when that happens.

I thank Senator Swanick for raising this particular case, but also the broader issue because we have to deal with that issue when it comes to institutional settings.

I emphasise that we have been dealing with the particular case the Senator raised. Two of the advisers in my office have been on to the Housing Agency and Fingal County Council. They have also been working closely with Senator Dolan on this issue to secure a specific house that would become available. We will continue pushing that issue.

On the issue of those with disabilities having the right to live in their own settings and in their own homes, it is an important right. When I took over as Minister of State nearly two years ago, at one of the first institutions I visited I remember a young man in a wheelchair coming up to me who had been in an institution all his life. He was very disabled physically but, intellectually, there was not a bother on him. He said to me that he would love to have his own place, his own telly and have his meals when he wanted and do it on his own terms, not to be staying in an institution where he had set times and set menus. I get the message strongly.

We will keep following up on this issue.

Special Areas of Conservation Designation

I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this topic for debate. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. People have raised concerns with me about possible changes to the designation of raised and blanket bogs, or the extension of designation under the habitats directive, which previously resulted in a debacle around turf cutters and their rights. It is not an issue which ran smoothly although ultimately it was resolved.

The designation of lands under the habitats directive involved the National Parks and Wildlife Service drawing up a map and a list of our best examples of natural heritage and presenting it to Europe. That happened at least 20 years ago and there was no real debate on the matter. It was in the realm of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, its scientists and so on. There was no engagement with the public and politicians did not grasp the nettle. I compare it with similar obligations placed on the Northern Ireland Executive which also had to ask people to stop cutting turf on their bogs. However, there was none of this carry on because from the outset, the executive had taken steps to address the issue. I ask that if there is anything coming down the line on this matter, the Minister would set it out here today. I am concerned that there should be proper public engagement while the scientists do their work. There are reasons why there is designation and benefits from it and there are ways in which we can mitigate the impact on humans. However, if there is no dialogue, the same thing will happen again regarding our bogs and the objections of turf cutters.

In a similar vein, under the habitats directive, most of the western seaboard is designated a special area of conservation or some other environmental designation. In County Mayo, 50% of our land is designated. I believe the chickens are coming home to roost; every time there is a twist or turn or an attempt to develop infrastructure or housing, we are met with the habitats directive. For example, phase 2 of the N26, from Ballina to Bohola, a much-needed primary road, was refused because it was overdesigned and because of Whooper swans. There is an ongoing situation around the replacement of a much-needed new bridge at Cloongullane outside Swinford which is also part of the N26. Once again, an issue has been raised under the habitats directive on account of the presence of alluvial woodland.

When we try to clean out streams and rivers we have issues with pearl mussels. The list goes on. I believe we have to make our peace with our environment because we require it to live, prosper and thrive, which is why we equally must tackle climate change, but there must be a balance between humans and our natural environment. The way things are drafted and the way in which the habitats directive operates, it seems that in a special area of conservation, humans can never win and the environment has priority. I believe there is a means by which this can be overcome and there can be a plan for co-existence, namely, management plans under the habitats directive. I understand that we do not have any in Ireland but it is how other member states operate their habitats. It is high time we did this. We cannot keep running into brick walls with An Bord Pleanála telling us that we cannot develop in the west, especially with Project Ireland 2040 and ambitious plans for the western seaboard which could come a cropper unless this very critical and overarching issue is addressed.

I thank Senator Mulherin for raising this issue. Ireland, like all EU member states, is bound by the requirements of the habitats directive and the birds directive.

These directives aim to ensure the protection of habitats and species which have been selected for conservation within special areas of conservation and special protection areas.

The State has made significant efforts to resolve the issue of the protection of Ireland’s raised bog special areas of conservation within the framework of the habitats directive. This has included intense and ongoing engagement with turf-cutting interests, the farming community, non-governmental organisations and the European Commission, as well as the establishment of a long-term compensation scheme, including relocation, where feasible, to compensate cutters for their loss arising from the cessation.

Over 14,000 annual payments and over 900 deliveries of turf have been made in respect of applications received under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme for raised bog special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas. In addition, over 1,800 once-off incentive payments of €500 have been made under the scheme.

Relocation of turf cutters to non-designated bogs is a complex process. Notwithstanding this, progress in relocation has been achieved in a number of cases. In addition, my Department is moving forward in the relocation process for a number of relocation sites. The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022, published in December 2017, sets out how the raised bog special areas of conservation are to be managed, conserved and restored, and how the needs of turf cutters are to be addressed, including exploring the options in terms of certain provisions of Article 6 of the habitats directive.

As stated in this plan, in order to compensate for permanent losses of active raised bog from the special area of conservation network, it is proposed to designate two new special areas of conservation. These sites are more than 50% owned by a State body.

The Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network, published in January 2014, concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitat through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network. This will entail: the retention of 36 existing natural heritage areas including seven sites to be divided; the designation of 46 natural heritage areas, including the relevant areas of the seven sites to be divided; and the designation as natural heritage areas of 25 currently undesignated raised bogs that are in public ownership or in respect of which there is reduced turf-cutting pressure, so as to compensate for the loss of habitat within the sites where it is provided that turf cutting may continue.

Arising from this review, the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 has been presented to Dáil Éireann and is currently proceeding through the necessary Stages in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Its purpose is to provide for the implementation of a reconfiguration of the natural heritage area network arising from the 2014 review.

I do not propose to identify the 25 sites until I am in a position to apply the relevant legal protections to them. Compensation will be available to affected turf cutters from these sites. A total of 50 sites have been selected as blanket bog special areas of conservation. A further 73 sites have been designated as natural heritage areas for blanket bog protection. The national peatlands strategy states that, under the habitats directive, Ireland is obliged to devise and implement a system of management that will ensure that turf cutting on blanket bog special areas of conservation continues in such a way that will not threaten the integrity of these sites. Any system of management for blanket bog sites must be drawn up in consultation with local communities to ensure that these important peatlands are managed in a sustainable way for the benefit of the community and in compliance with EU law.

Consideration is being given within my Department to how best a system of management for domestic turf cutting on blanket bog sites might be introduced. I want to ensure that appropriate consultation takes place with local communities, following which the necessary scientific work can be carried out to underpin sustainable management of these sites in the future.

We are already well over the limit.

I am concerned that the Minister's public consultation seems to be taking place after she has already decided upon two new SACs and 25 natural heritage areas. We need to engage properly with people who are affected and who value their turf-cutting rights.

The sooner this is laid bare so people know where they stand, the better. People in these areas have a very heavy burden placed upon them. On another occasion, perhaps outside this forum, the Minister might deal with the issue of how designation under the habitats directive is affecting construction of roads and vital infrastructure, given that on the one hand, we are making national plans while on the other, An Bord Pleanála is telling us we cannot build because of the environmental sensitivity of the areas.

On the N26, my Department is working with Mayo County Council on all the matters raised by the Senator. We have a management plan for raised bogs and the pre-planning consultation is essential. There will also be consultation with those affected.

The Senator referred to peatlands and climate change. As a long-term carbon store, peatlands are very important in climate change mitigation, removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the peat under waterlogged conditions. Drained peatlands, on the other hand, are a significant source of carbon emissions. Restoring drained peatlands by re-wetting has been demonstrated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and this is now an accepted climate mitigation activity under international climate change agreements.

A Programme for a Partnership Government outlines that the Government recognises that domestic turf cutters have a traditional right to cut turf, a right which is balanced with the conservation objectives and legal obligations of the State. This is reflected in the national raised bog special areas of conservation management plan which was developed arising from a motion in Dáil Éireann in March 2012, put forward by the Technical Group and unanimously supported by all Members. A final resolution of all issues in regard to the protection of Ireland's protected raised bogs will only be brought about by everyone working together within the law, with my Department and with the Peatlands Council, which was established for the purpose of ensuring input from all stakeholders. Similarly, I want to ensure that any system of management for blanket bog special areas of conservation sites is drawn up in consultation with local communities.

Middle East Issues

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Coveney. On 27 March, the Government took the decision to expel a Russian diplomat in what could only be described as an act of sycophantic fawning over its British counterpart. The Government asked us to trust British intelligence, the very same intelligence agencies that provided us with false information regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the same service that refuses to this day to release information on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Three days after the Government took that decision, 750 innocent Palestinian protesters were wounded by Israeli soldiers at a peaceful planned march in Gaza and 15 civilians were murdered that day. Over the two weeks which followed, the death toll reached 31 civilians, with more than 1,000 injured. Not one Israeli diplomat has been expelled. This was a predetermined, careful attack, which included sniper gunfire, drones, artillery and tear gas attacks on peaceful protesters. One of those innocent Palestinians was a journalist and since his murder, a video has been leaked to the press revealing Israeli soldiers cheering and celebrating as they used Palestinian protesters as sniper practice. Has the Minister seen the video? It is truly grotesque.

On 28 March I received a letter which highlighted the regular arrest and detention of Palestinian political representatives, concentrating lately on the Palestinian Legislative Council, PLC. Right now, 12 members of the PLC are being held in Israeli prisons, nine under internment without trial. Not content with arresting Palestinian parliamentarians, the Israeli Government also wanted to prevent the Lord Mayor of Dublin from entering occupied Palestine. Did the Minister consider summoning the Israeli ambassador to explain the hostility to the elected Lord Mayor? As he knows, Israel operates an apartheid state in occupied Palestine, where it is illegal for Palestinians to be a member of any political party. It is fine for Israeli citizens to be members of political parties and they have access to civilian courts but this is illegal for Palestinians, who are dealt with by military courts. I am sure the Minister already knows this; that is how apartheid works.

On 28 March I received a letter which highlighted the regular arrest and detention of Palestinian political representatives, concentrating lately on the Palestinian Legislative Council, PLC. Right now, there are 12 members of the PLC held in Israeli prisons, nine under internment without trial. Not content with arresting Palestinian parliamentarians, the Israeli Government also wanted to prevent the Lord Mayor of Dublin from entering occupied Palestine. Did the Minister consider summoning the Israeli ambassador to explain their hostility to our elected Lord Mayor? As he knows, Israel operates an apartheid state in occupied Palestine, where it is illegal for Palestinians to be a member of any political party. it is fine for Israeli citizens to be members of political parties and they have access to civilian courts, but it is illegal for Palestinians, who are dealt with by military courts. I am sure the Minister already knows this; that is how apartheid works.

This is why 400 Palestinian children are languishing in Israeli jails right now. It is why Israel is in contravention of its commitments under the fourth Geneva convention, the international covenant on civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights covenants, the UN convention on the rights of the child, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the convention against torture and the convention for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. Unlike Russia, we have proof of Israel's crimes. The proof is the dead bodies being buried each week in Gaza, the leaked online videos of unarmed protesters being shot while they pray, the children in prison who were sentenced to ten years for throwing stones and the political representatives incarcerated in Israeli jails for simply representing the Palestinian people. Is it not time that our Government really stood up for human rights and not just with words? Is it not beyond time the Minister personally took a stand against apartheid and expelled the Israeli ambassador? I do not know what more evidence the Minister needs to take decisive action to expel the Israeli ambassador. His track record on Russia suggests he does not need any evidence, just a nod and wink from Boris Johnson.

That is not exactly a balanced view on Irish-British relations coming from Sinn Féin, and not for the first time. With regard to the issue of substance the Senator has raised, I made two statements on behalf of the Government, on 31 March and on 9 April, on the recent violence on the Israel-Gaza border. I called on all parties to show restraint, in particular on the use of force by Israel against demonstrators. Any country is entitled to defend its borders, but use of force must be proportionate to any immediate threat. The number of people injured by live ammunition has been very troubling, and I support the calls by the EU and the UN Secretary General for an independent and transparent investigation into these events.

Events and images such as we have seen in recent weeks from Gaza are of great concern to many people, including myself, and I understand that there are very strong feelings that something must be done. I agree with those feelings. The situation in Gaza is unsustainable. I was there a couple of months ago, and I have been to Gaza on more than one occasion. I know the tension on the Israeli-Gaza border. I have witnessed it and spoken to people on that border. The issue here is how do we change all of this. How does Ireland influence and understand the perspective of Palestinians and Israelis with a view to trying to see a political solution which, ultimately, is the only way in which Palestinians living in Gaza will find some hope for the future and will allow them to turn away from demonstration, violence, frustration and tension because of the circumstances they find themselves in and the conditions in which they are currently living within Gaza, which are totally unacceptable?

Every time I go to Gaza and meet people, or meet people from there, they are educated people who understand exactly what is going on in the world. As a result of this, the depth of their frustration in terms of the restrictions they live under in Gaza is unbearable. That being said, what we need to focus on as politicians and as governments is to look at ways in which we can change that. Rather than simply gestures and actions of protest, we should be finding a way to ensure we contribute to political dialogue that brings about change. That is what I am about. The idea that by expelling an Israeli ambassador and, therefore, shutting an Israeli embassy in Dublin actually helps the efforts to find political solutions to problems that have been going on for decades simply does not stack up in my view. In diplomatic language, expelling an ambassador essentially means one is no longer interested in dialogue, and certainly that is not the approach of this Government and it is not my approach either. With respect, in my view, to take that approach would do nothing except offer a gesture of solidarity to Palestinians in the short term, but then we would be unable to help them in the medium term, which is what I would like to do, in our quest for a two-state solution that is fair to both Israelis and Palestinians.

I intend to continue to talk to the Israeli Government and to the Israeli ambassador in Dublin, as I have done, on these issues and to the Palestinian ambassador here. I will continue to talk to Palestinian political leaders as well, as I have done on numerous occasions since becoming Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I am interested in political solutions to very difficult problems that result in violence, discrimination and the totally unacceptable conditions within the occupied territories that Palestinians find themselves living in. I am afraid that the approach suggested by Senator Gavan would take Ireland's efforts in terms of changing that backwards rather than forwards.

I thank the Tánaiste for his response, with which, I am sure he will not be surprised to hear, I am disappointed. He spoke about gestures and actions of protest. Unfortunately, what he has done to date amounts to just that. It is just words; and words are empty vessels at this point. This is an apartheid state with which we are dealing. I am a little older than the Tánaiste and I remember the same attitude among Fine Gael members in the 1980s to the situation South Africa at that time. The view then was that we needed to keep lines of dialogue open and that we should not take action. It was the Dunnes Stores strikers who helped change that situation. We are now all agreed that sanctions worked against the apartheid regime in South Africa. This is the road we need to travel. The Tánaiste need not take my word for this. Rather, he should take the word of the Palestinian people because this is what they are seeking. The time for empty gestures and words is long gone. The Tánaiste was in this Chamber a few months ago speaking about a potential peace process. There is no potential peace process, there is just more slaughter on the streets of Gaza and throughout Palestine. When will the Tánaiste recognise that Israel is an apartheid State? When will he recognise that fact and act accordingly?

The Senator does not have a clue what I am doing. The only time he ever talks to me about this issue is when motions like this are tabled. Unlike many others who have a deep interest-----

The Tánaiste is resorting to personal abuse.

With respect, that is what is coming towards me from Senator Gavan. He said that I am doing nothing but he has no idea what I am doing.

The Tánaiste should tell us what he is doing.

The Tánaiste has already given his reply to the Senator.

I am responding to the Senator's suggestion that we advance Israeli-Palestinian relations and the pathway towards a negotiated solution by expelling the Israeli ambassador from Dublin. I think that would be counterproductive. In fact, I know it would be. That does not mean that we should not speak up and be critical of Israel's actions. I do that all the time. I speak directly to Israeli representatives and my counterparts in that regard. The Senator's approach that we should shut off Israel, not engage with it and take a one-sided view of this issue will not deliver an outcome that is lasting and peaceful and that makes sense for Palestinians in the medium term. That is why I totally reject it.