It is good to see the Seanad back to its full complement of 60. The new Senators are very welcome. They will have an opportunity shortly to say a few words.
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. a1, motion regarding the seventh report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 1, motion regarding joint meeting of three joint committees, to be taken on the conclusion of No. a1, without debate; No. 2, statements on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, statements on the Defence Forces, to be taken at 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I congratulate our two new colleagues, Senators Ian Marshall and Anthony Lawlor. I welcome both to the 25th Seanad. I wish my former colleagues Denis Landy and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh well in their new endeavours.
I would like to mention the CervicalCheck scandal. I commend Vicky Phelan and her family on their bravery in shining a light on this and on following through with their case against the State and the screening company in the High Court. It is no mean feat taking on the State and large companies backed by resources and insurance funds, especially when liability is contested from the outset and up until the very end. Listening to Vicky Phelan on the radio, I was amazed at her strength and composure. She has done the women of Ireland a huge service. For that, I am very thankful. I can only imagine the anger she and her family feel owing to her treatment and the failure of the State, via the CervicalCheck programme, to disclose adequately her test results to her on time. Had it disclosed her results to her when they were available to the programme, her clinical outcome would have been very different.
The cervical cancer screening programme was first implemented in the summer of 2008 by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. It was a major step in the provision of health care, particularly women's health care. It is a screening service that has saved hundreds of lives to date. At the time the programme was implemented, there were almost 2,000 people waiting to be screened in the country. We have also learned that the national screening service was responsible for choosing the service providers. At the time, an American provider was awarded the tender. Since then, and as confirmed today by An Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, in the Dáil, Irish and American service providers are now used to provide the screening service. However, Vicky Phelan's case in the High Court and the request of her to sign a non-disclosure clause was, in my opinion and that of the women of Ireland, shameful. What is more shameful is that the State, including the Minister and Department of Health, have adopted a hands-off Bart Simpson-type approach to its knowledge of the court case. The Government, from my understanding, states that the National Claims Agency did not discuss this matter with the Department officials or the Minister, or both. I find this very hard to believe.
Yesterday, the HSE confirmed that 17 women whose test results were viewed as part of an audit of the service have, sadly, died. We have learned that, of the 208 whose results were scrutinised, only 46 were informed about the history of their smear test. This non-disclosure by the State and medics working for the State is unconscionable. Why would their results not be disclosed to them? The Government has breached the trust of the women of Ireland. This mismanagement has justifiably frightened the women of Ireland who have put their trust in the CervicalCheck programme.
Confidence in this programme is gone. We need to get to the bottom of all the facts about the CervicalCheck programme, including when exactly the Minister and his officials were aware of this particular and other such cases. We learned today that a memo was produced. Was this the first time the Minister was made aware of this case? Why is there secrecy and a failure to disclose test results on a systemic basis? We need an independent inquiry to be established without delay to get to the bottom of the facts. We also need to ensure all the actors involved in this matter are able to contribute to such an inquiry, even if those actors happen to retire before it is established.
As a woman and a Senator, I urge the women of Ireland to make sure they get their smear tests as it is the best way, along with a cervical vaccine, to prevent cervical cancer. With this controversy under way, I urge women to ensure their tests are up to date and not to delay in getting screened. Cancer screening saves lives. We need to improve these programmes, not abandon them. Will the Minister attend the House to have a debate on this matter?
Today is World Asthma Day. Many of us who suffer from it know there is a heightened alert regarding pollen and hay fever. If someone feels they have the symptoms of asthma, I urge them to attend their GP for a diagnosis. Many people have asthma without knowing it and it can be fatal if unchecked.
I also welcome our two new Senators, one of whom was previously a Member of the Oireachtas. I wish them the very best in their work in the Seanad and it is great to have them among us.
I join Senator Ardagh in reflecting on the issue of the day, namely, the scandal around cervical cancer checks. I express my admiration and respect for Ms Vicky Phelan and her family.
Listening to the incoming head of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on the radio this morning, I did not feel confidence. Instead, I felt there was a tension and a guardedness which was regrettable. I do not feel confident that the higher echelons of our health service have been dealing with matters as they ought. I believe there is a long way to go with learnings. Senator Ardagh just referenced the issue of disclosure. Why were there non-disclosures with regard to settlements with the State? Why was there non-disclosure by senior medics to patients of information which was relevant to their situations?
It is common case that nothing we say should ever discourage women going for a smear test or, indeed, people going for any kind of cancer screening. That goes without saying, yet it always has to be said. Whatever criticisms or hard findings there may be to make, whatever hard statements are made or whatever consequences there are for people high up in the health service, people must know it is always in their interests to go for screening and, in this case, smear tests. People are entitled to ask why certain decisions were made. They are also entitled to ask whether HIQA is capable of delivering the answers. The uncomfortable question at the heart of all this is if it was about money. Despite people being in a position to know and warn about farming out certain services to the United States, was a financial consideration in mind? What do we think about that, if that was the case? If it is the case that the decision was made to use services abroad instead of services here, has that run down our ability as a country in the near term to provide a higher quality service?
There is too much at stake for people to speculate wildly about the facts. We can only ask questions at this point but ask them we must. I hope there will be no hedging but a straightforward frankness, respectful of people's dignity. If the answers have implications for people in high places, so be it.
As Senator Ardagh said, it is World Asthma Day.
We have a great and a growing understanding of the importance of clean water, but equally as important is the quality of the air we breathe. This has huge implications for thousands of people with asthma. A small number of people pass away each year because of the effects of asthma but the great majority can live. What is important for them is that we protect the quality of our air both internally and externally.
It is important this morning to mention our two new Senators, Senators Lawlor and Marshall. In terms of agriculture, that brings me to the two letters - AI - but we will say no more about that. On behalf of the Civil Engagement group, I am very happy to welcome both Senators to the House. They are on the agricultural panel. The only thing I would say to them about an issue close to my heart is that agriculture, agrifood and all those issues are also part of rural Ireland and rural development. Looking over the farm gate into the farm is one activity. Looking from the other side out into the rural community is the other side of it. Certainly in the Republic of Ireland, there are more people with disabilities in rural Ireland than there are farm families so there are issues about social exclusion. There are many elderly farmers who are often single men who face issues like loneliness and mental health difficulties. There are issues around agriculture that are not purely agricultural. It is important to keep those in the story as it unfolds.
I note the Seanad motion before us today that seeks to alter Standing Order 74 to some extent. This is something in which I was involved to make sure that three Oireachtas committees could meet regarding a shared interest in people with disabilities. Whatever about new politics, it is important that we find reformed ways of working. I was surprised to find that there was no way without this device that more than two Oireachtas committees could meet to discuss a subject. With regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, joined-up efforts of a range of committees and Departments will be increasingly required.
Before I address my substantive issue, I wish to state that I wrote to the Cathaoirleach yesterday to ask that the Minister for Health come before us today to address the serious concerns we have, a request which was passed to the Leader. I propose that the Order of Business be amended to facilitate the Minister coming to the Chamber. We will then address the main issue of the cervical smear test scandal.
Is the Senator proposing that the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue of cervical cancer screening?
Yes. I commend Vicky Phelan on the wonderful service she has done the State and her courage. It really alarmed me yesterday when the Minister said that this is a communications error. I could not believe what I was hearing. It is not a communications error. It is a systemic cover up, nothing else, so let us get that straight from the beginning. I could not see how any woman across this country could have confidence in the head of the HSE, Mr. Tony O'Brien, and I ask him to reflect on his position, the decisions he has made and the distress they have caused people, including women. With regard to the 208 women affected, I have no doubt numerous women are yet to come forward.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin group in the Seanad, I extend a warm welcome to the two new Senators taking their seats for the first time today.
It is a proud day for the families of Senators Ian Marshall and Anthony Lawlor, whom I welcome to the Gallery. I look forward to working with both Senators in the time ahead. Our opinions will diverge on some subjects but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Much has been made of the election of Senator Marshall and the fact that Sinn Féin made the decision to support him. Some even questioned if he is a real unionist, which made me wonder what constitutes a real unionist or a real Irish republican. Perhaps those who pose such questions should reflect on what they need to do to create an environment of mutual respect and equality in which we are all free to be whoever we are and to create a society in which no human being is less equal and in which other individuals or communities do not have to be put down in order that we might elevate ourselves.
The journey that began with the collective overwhelming support for the Good Friday Agreement has some way to go. There have been disappointments and frustrations on the pathway to the agreement's full implementation, most recently when the DUP was unable to close the deal agreed to get the institutions back up and running. However, we must not let these setbacks stop us on the journey to lasting peace and reconciliation. No problem is insurmountable. We have had to overcome problems in the past and we will do so again. Sinn Féin wants the institutions back up and running and I welcome the unionist perspective that Senator Marshall will bring to the House. After all, we only learn from those with a perspective that deviates from our own. We agree on many important issues, most glaringly on the potential negative impact of Brexit, North and South.
-----as well as the need to promote vibrant, sustainable rural economies, innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. We both know that agriculture, North and South, will be the most challenged sector during and after the Brexit process. Threats of customs checks and tariffs, combined with a cut in the CAP budget, mean it is vital that we all work together. The perfect storm that has been created by the combination of Brexit and CAP reform next year means we do not have the luxury of sitting back on our Irish republican or unionist laurels. Those who question why Sinn Féin supported a unionist candidate in the Seanad election need to wake up and get with the programme. Our vision is for an inclusive Ireland and a new and united Ireland in which it is okay to be British, Irish, both or neither. That is the Ireland we want to build for the future.
Can one be a unionist in a united Ireland?
We have a responsibility to be secure enough in our own Irish republicanism or unionism to show leadership and foster a multidimensional approach to finding sustainable solutions that serve all communities. I look forward to working with the two new Senators in the time ahead.
I thought the Senator was going to tell us why she voted for Senator Lawlor as well. That is for tomorrow.
I was just about to tell the House.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach should have given her more time.
We would have all waited to hear that.
I was getting worried about the time and that the Senator would take too long.
The Chair might have allowed her to continue.
I welcome our two new colleagues and I look forward to working with them. On behalf of the Labour group, I extend our congratulations to them and their families who are with us today. It is a proud day for them.
Like previous speakers, I call for a debate on CervicalCheck and request that the Minister come to the House. The Leader is making attempts to get the Minister here, which is important. While he will speak in the Lower House, we also need the opportunity to debate the issue with him and to seek more answers to the many questions being raised with us by women from all over Ireland. I pay tribute to Vicky Phelan-----
-----and her family for the huge courage they showed in pursuing the case against robust opposition and defence by the State to the point where she was forced to give evidence in the witness box. The judge commented when the case was settled that she was one of the most impressive witnesses he had ever heard. I commend her tenaciousness in pursuing this issue. It is appalling that many other women may have been affected and that 162, 17 of whom have since died, were not notified of the audit.
It is also appalling that we have had such a drip feed of information on the issue of miscommunication, which is coming out so slowly. It appears the Minister is not fully apprised of exactly what was going on.
We need answers and the women of Ireland need answers. In particular we need to know how many women should have concerns. Thousands of women are ringing the helpline. As of this morning more than 6,000 women had already contacted the helpline. We need to know if the resources will be put in place to address the concerns of the many thousands of women who have gone through CervicalCheck. We also need to ensure that women continue to attend for screening because many women have routine appointments for screening already scheduled.
I note that the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has stated that it is essential women continue to have smear tests when called and that screening remains the best way to detect cervical cancer. It notes that the combination of HPV vaccination and a well-resourced national screening programme is the best way to reduce the incidence. Of course, it should not be forgotten that we have seen a 7% decrease in cervical cancer per year in each year of the programme. I think all of us know women and families who have been affected by cervical cancer, and we recognise this is a deadly killer. It is vital that we ensure we have a robust screening programme and a robust vaccination programme. The Minister and the head of the HSE need to move very swiftly to allay people's concerns.
As my party's health spokesperson in the Dáil, Deputy Kelly, has pointed out, we, along with everybody else, support a review. The key question is over the appropriate body to undertake a review. Does HIQA have sufficient statutory powers to enable the sort of investigation to be carried out that we desperately require? Should HIQA be further resourced or should the matter now be put into a commission of investigation or, indeed, a tribunal? The first priority, before we descend into political discussion or questioning on it, is to ensure women's health is protected.
On a happier note, I welcome today's introduction of the sugar tax, which has also been welcomed by the Irish Heart Foundation. I know colleagues, notably Senator Noone, have been campaigning for many years on the issue. I very much welcome that introduction.
I commend yesterday's launch by President Higgins of a new four-volume series, The Cambridge History of Ireland. I note our colleague, Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, along with her colleagues James Kelly, Brendan Smith and Thomas Bartlett are the editors of the four-volume series. It is very important. I note that the President took the opportunity to remark on the importance of history as part of the secondary school curriculum. It should not be in any way downgraded or reduced in importance because it is so vital for all of our citizens to understand our history.
With the House's indulgence, I exercise the Chair's discretion to call on the two new Senators in the order in which they were elected. I first call Senator Marshall. He can tell us how he did it so well.
I wish to take a few moments to address the Chamber. It is an honour and privilege to have been elected to serve in the 25th Seanad. I extend my thanks to the Taoiseach for his invitation to allow my name to go forward as a candidate for this seat and for that vision. I express my gratitude to all the Deputies and Senators across all the parties who backed me and my campaign, to Queen's University for giving me its unconditional support in this venture, and to my wife and family without whose support none of this could have happened.
I also thank the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association for its nomination. I will endeavour to represent its interests and ambitions in Seanad debates and discussions. I will work tirelessly and use my knowledge and expertise to ensure that the agrifood industry is represented and its opinions articulated within this building.
I have been overwhelmed with the support, and the trust and faith Members have placed in me. I will not let them down. I am humbled to be considered worthy enough to sit in this seat, to take this responsibility and to serve in this House as an Independent Senator.
It would be remiss of me not to pay thanks to all those who helped me secure this seat in Leinster House and those in the wider community across Ireland - North and South - and to those individuals in Brussels without whom this would not have been possible.
It is a truly historic day, both for this House and for myself. As the first Northern unionist elected to the Seanad to represent the views and opinions of the people of Northern Ireland and to give their perspective, this position carries with it significant responsibility and many challenges, but presents countless opportunities for all concerned. The time is right and public opinion supports this across Northern Ireland and across the Republic of Ireland.
Born in 1865, William Butler Yeats was one of the most famous pillars of Irish and British literature and one of the first Senators in this House in the first Seanad in 1922, serving two terms until 1928. Yeats was acutely aware of the importance of taking action when the time was right when he made the following statement: "Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking." I firmly believe that the time to strike the iron is now. I will strive to add to discussion and debate and to offer a different perspective. Most importantly, I will listen and I will learn, I will offer my opinion and I will respectfully challenge the discussion. My biggest strength is my passion for my work and the industry and the country I represent, and my biggest weakness is my passion for my work and the industry and the country I represent.
Northern Ireland and its relationship with Ireland has changed and is evolving, evidenced notably more than 20 years ago with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. This momentous event in history was celebrated at Queen's University a couple of weeks ago and many of those involved were present at the university, including the Tánaiste, who told the assembled that the Good Friday Agreement is as relevant now as it was then, something which I firmly believe. Thanks to strong leadership in 1998, vision and an appetite to deliver, my children and all the children across Northern Ireland are growing up in a peaceful, progressive, shared society, cognisant of cultures working together for tomorrow.
Many wise words were spoken at Queen's by the assembled dignitaries that day. Bertie Ahern spoke, as did Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and George Mitchell, to name a few. However, the most touching sentiment actually came from an Armagh man who has lived in a village three miles from myself for as long as I can remember. Seamus Mallon was one of the key negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement and was highly respected in political circles. His words that day were so profound that I felt I should visit him after the 20th anniversary event to ask permission to share his words with the Chamber today. He talked of identity in Northern Ireland, whether British or Irish, and the continual struggle of those laying claim to the title or label placed upon the Six Counties. Making reference to competing cultural claims on the land, he said: “I don’t care what they call it, as long as it has one name: home.” It was a truly Heaney-esque quotation and he was correct, because for all of us, irrespective of our culture, it is home. To quote another Member of these Houses, whether one considers oneself Irish or British, both or neither, one should feel comfortable in Northern Ireland.
I had not planned to speak on Brexit as my thoughts are well documented, except to say that, very often in life, you do not know what you have got until it is gone. Europe is not perfect and it has flaws, but to quote one of the panel members in Belfast two weeks ago, leaving is a profound mistake.
Northern Ireland has a silent majority and there are only a few things we know about them: they are silent and they are the majority. They cannot be ignored and their fears and concerns must be addressed and their questions answered.
In closing, I would like to quote a verse that my sister shared with me yesterday. John F. Kennedy claimed that he walked around every day with this poem by Domingo Ortega tucked into his wallet. Domingo Ortega was a farmer's son who became a bullfighter. The poem deals with all the critics who stand on the sidelines. It goes:
Bullfight critics ranked in rows
Crowd the enormous plaza full;
But only one is there who knows
And he is the man who fights the bull.
And now we will have the other poll topper, Senator Lawlor.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It is an honour for me to be here today. I thank my Fine Gael colleagues for nominating me in the first instance and for their support. I also received great cross-party support. I thank all of those who not only supported me but who gave of their time during the campaign to listen to what I had to say and who respected what I said. The great thing about the Seanad and the Dáil is that, regardless of whatever controversy or fight takes place in the Chambers, we are all equal once off the playing field and everyone treats one another with respect. That is commendable.
I congratulate Senator Marshall on his speech, which was poignant and reflective of where we, as a society, are in Ireland and on his significant achievement in gaining cross-party support in the Dáil and the Seanad.
It is a poignant day for me, as my late mother stood in this Chamber and spoke on a number of occasions. She was only here for a short time but she was more of a national politician than I have ever been. She served as president of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, ICA, and should have graced the Dáil at some stage in her career. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way for her.
I thank my family and my partner for giving me their support. This was a quick decision, but I rang and consulted them. Wherever possible, they will help me whenever I need them.
I will not be a silent Member of the Seanad. I will take an active part in debates. I was vociferous in the Dáil on occasion and I have spoken out on a number of issues since losing my seat. I will be strong and vociferous on matters, so the Leas-Chathaoirleach will have difficulty in trying to control this new Senator.
That is the last thing he wants.
The Cathaoirleach will return and Senator Lawlor will have to deal with him then, but perhaps both new Senators have a few things to tell us about how to unlock some votes.
Or how to throw across a few votes.
I congratulate our two new Senators and look forward to working with them. This is an historic day for both and I wish them all the best for the rest of the term.
I join other Senators who raised the plight of Ms Vicky Phelan and discussed how brave she has been. As the House knows, Vicky comes from Limerick. I compliment her and her family on the strength and power shown in interviews. Were it not for her, many of us would not be calling on the Leader to arrange for a debate on the importance and future of CervicalCheck and to find out what went wrong. The Minister has been encouraging people, but particularly women, to proceed with the various checkups that are available. I support Senators' calls for the Minister to be invited to the House to debate the CervicalCheck situation.
I attended the inaugural apprenticeship awards ceremony last night with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton. The competition was sponsored by the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, and the ESB. I congratulate the hospitality section of the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board and the Limerick College of Further Education, which jointly submitted a culinary skills entry. It was wonderful for them to reach the last seven.
I welcome the two new Senators. We often have a few battles here but overall, everyone gets on extremely well.
I echo what has been said regarding this disturbing information dripping from the HSE in the past few days. Thousands of women across Ireland have been on tenterhooks in case their telephone will ring to inform them that they are among those women who are walking around with something that could kill them. The HSE put them in this position when it was revealed that it had not been able to contact all those affected. The cervical screening programme is extremely important. Early intervention, this type of screening and initiatives like the HPV vaccine are vital in reducing cervical cancer rates in Ireland. Everyone now has devastating doubts. There has been a breach of trust yet again. Yet again, the women of Ireland are not being looked after and there are questions to be answered here. I heard the briefing from the HSE yesterday and was sickened to learn that women still are being contacted today. Those women and their families must be in hell right now. Some women still cannot be located because no one can tally their records. This is beyond belief and it appears as though we may not have the whole truth. Women have died.
The chairperson of the HSE serious incident management team stated that 162 out of 208 women affected by the screening were not told that a review had been conducted by CervicalCheck or of the outcome. As a matter of urgency, the HSE must be held accountable. As far as I have seen, the HSE is like the wild west: anything goes and there are no laws, which is unacceptable. The Minister, Deputy Harris, must rush in to provide independent scrutiny in this regard. It must be efficient and fast and an outcome is needed because women are suffering. There must be a reason for someone to make a mistake and there needs to be a better system for concerns to be raised and heard. First and foremost, women must be told as soon as anything like this happens. I believe the Minister needs to come in and address this issue.
That has already been proposed.
I appreciate that. This is a major issue for the women of Ireland.
The point is taken.
I join colleagues in welcoming two fine Irishmen to the Seanad, namely, Senators Anthony Lawlor and Ian Marshall. They are more than welcome. I am sure we will hear from them and do battle over the coming months. The one thing I would say to them is, "Enjoy it."
We have heard many Members today speak of Vicky Phelan. There are few words that can describe what must have gone through that woman's head. However, there are questions that have to be asked. I am afraid it is all too easy to drag Ministers before different Houses and have them flogged over something that happened. Senior people in the HSE, in the State's defence, took decisions and took the most vicious and aggressive approach to this woman. They have now been beaten into a corner where they are talking about finding some sort of solution for the other women. We must remember sitting in here that there are over 100 women who do not know. Bringing a Minister into any House in order to have a go for the sake of it is wrong. I am not saying that he should not come in and answer questions.
I would like to see the senior people that made decisions. Decisions are made by the administrative side before a Minister is ever contacted. I would like to see what decisions they made, when they made them and from where they took their advice. I would like to know what legal person gave the advice to take this absolutely aggressive approach against a woman who was facing death. That is the question we want to ask. We do not want politicisation of this issue. We want to get to the bottom line. We do not want some long, goddamn inquiry. We want answers now.
The Minister does not get off the hook either. I spoke to some women today who rang the helpline who naturally are beside themselves with worry. One of the statements that has been repeated over and over again is that any woman who wants a repeat test can have it straightaway. I spoke to a number of women today who asked when they could book their test and the answer they got was, "The Government has made that statement but we know nothing about it."
We need to get to that answer. Let us not go out of our way to flog a Minister. There are certainly questions and the Minister has responsibility. That is the nature of politics, one takes political responsibility, but there are also administrative people involved. I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh that the head of the HSE needs to consider his position as do several other people, including individuals in the State Claims Agency and so on. It is outrageous bloody behaviour.
I join in the congratulations to our two new colleagues, Senators Lawlor and Marshall. I wish them well in their tenure in this House and look forward to engaging with them in that regard. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to address an issue with which hundreds of rural primary schools around the country are struggling. These are small schools located in rural areas. Many of their buildings are old buildings, which have usually been upgraded. Perhaps they might have an extension or something similar. In many cases, there are narrow and dangerous roads leading to these schools. Many of those schools were built at a time when the only traffic going to school was on foot. The students walked to school. That is the reality. There is a lot more traffic on the roads now and many of these schools struggle to provide proper traffic management and parking. A case in point is a school in my area at Barr na Caóige near Swinford.
The principal, Lorraine Bullard, has written to me and has set out the case very clearly. It is a case which would be repeated in many schools I know of. The school is on a narrow country road which has got busier because it leads to Ireland West Airport Knock. It is a two-teacher school. The only option for the staff is to park on the road. The only option for parents dropping off kids is to do so at the roadside. Cars are whizzing by on what is a substandard and inadequate road in any event. The Department will not assist the school in the provision of parking or traffic management and the local authority does not want to help either. In my view, road safety and traffic management should be the concern of both the local authority, in this case Mayo County Council, and the Department of Education and Skills. The reality is that if these students were fortunate enough to be getting a new school, the Department of Education and Skills would require traffic management and provision for children to get in and out of transport - cars or buses - safely. These schools cannot afford that because they are small. There needs to be co-operation.
The Senator should raise this as a Commencement matter.
Well I think the Minister should be invited in here to discuss this as an education issue because-----
The Leader can deal with that.
-----it is a policy. There should be co-operation between the local authorities and the Department of Education and Skills. Hard-pressed parents do not have money to buy land and to construct parking areas. It is a very serious issue. We do not want to see any accidents happening and there is a danger that they will.
I join colleagues in welcoming our two new Senators. I am breaking the secrecy of the ballot in saying that I voted number one for both of them. It is really a lovely feeling to have two winners on the same day. They are both very talented people. Of course, we already know of the Lawlor family with its great tradition of hospitality in County Kildare. I would like to speak particularly about Senator Marshall because I think he made a very important point. There have been unionist voices here before and I remember them with great affection and admiration. They included Gordon Wilson, John Robb and people like that. They added a great deal, but they were Taoiseach's nominees. This is the first time that a unionist from Northern Ireland has been elected to this Seanad. This is a wonderful and historic day.
The next issue I wish to raise is the very obnoxious habit some people have developed of putting these vast photographs of aborted foetuses up against the walls of Leinster House. It does not bother me. I remember during a previous referendum campaign a woman came up to me, stuck a photograph under my nose and asked what I thought of it.
I said "I think it is perfectly charming madam, I presume it is a family photograph".
I mention the intrusion of these sort of people. Today I gather they were at the Rotunda Hospital-----
And Holles Street.
-----and Holles Street. I mention very vulnerable women. There was a woman who was voting no and she was devastated by this. It is absolutely disgusting and it should be stopped. The person promoting it was a fellow with a very strong South African accent. One could put up a photograph of an open heart operation at a heart clinic but it would not do much good because all of these surgical procedures are pretty disgusting.
I want to raise an urgent matter and I would like to ask the Leader if he could clarify something for me.
The Senator is practically out of time.
Only practically. I will be very quick.
Now he has just gone over it.
The Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion, Deputy Catherine Byrne, talking in the Dáil about transgender issues said "transgender specific guidelines developed by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, WPATH", internationally recognised best practice people, would provide the framework for the situation. Full implementation of this would lead to a great widening of the number of clinicians involved and really attack the terrible waiting lists she said. However, and this is the conflict, Dr. Paul Moran, a liaison psychiatrist who plays a central role in treating people in the Dublin clinic says that these guidelines "as they apply to assessment and treatment recommendations are not part of our model of care, are clinically unsafe, and unsuitable for use". Professor Donal O'Shea says that these guidelines are "very lax... their application would lead to a significant regret rate" and this statement completely contradicts Deputy Catherine Byrne's assertion. He goes on to say, and this is my final comment: "We don't intend to run the service in line with WPATH guidelines." Who is telling the truth here? Is it the Minister of State who is politically in charge or will it be at the whim of clinicians? We really need to clarify this. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an fáilte a fuair an beirt Seanadóir úrnua inniu agus cur leis fosta. I want to welcome and add to the words of welcome to our two new Seanadóirí. It is particularly good to hear another Northern accent in the Chamber from Senator Marshall, albeit a very different and diverse one from me I am sure. He is from Markethill and I am from Belfast.
The Senator will have to explain that some time.
It is very nuanced.
Like Kildare and Killarney.
It is very nuanced Leas-Chathaoirleach.
I understand that.
To more serious matters a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I have written to the Cathaoirleach seeking that he convey our dismay, disgust and offence at remarks published online last night by a Member of the British House of Lords, Lord Kilclooney, on An Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar. I do not do this either to be a cheerleader for the Taoiseach or to elevate Lord Kilclooney to any position within the public discourse. I do this from a sincere and genuine perspective that where racism raises its ugly head, regardless of where it comes from, who it emanates from or where it is directed towards particularly when it is those in political office, we should collectively and politically respond to that. I have asked that the Cathaoirleach write to his counterpart-----
The Senator is right.
He should write to his colleagues in the House of Lords, many of whom we have worked with very positively through the House of Lords Brexit committee and indeed our own Brexit committee in the Seanad, to convey our horror at what seems to be an ongoing litany of insults with a racist undertone, sometimes more overt than that, directed by Lord Kilclooney to the Taoiseach. I hope with the agreement of the House we can all share in the expression of that condemnation. The Cathaoirleach should convey the message that we are insulted, that we do not tolerate that kind of expression and that we will face it down. That message should be conveyed very strongly to the Speaker of the House of Lords and to all of his colleagues but in particular those who would express such ugly and horrible sentiments.
Might I begin where the last speaker left off and support Senator Ó Donnghaile in those remarks?
The behaviour of Lord Kilclooney, who is a very experienced politician of many years standing, was infantile, racist and wrong, and beyond what should be done by an experienced politician or indeed by any person of mature years or of any cop-on.
I join in the universal welcome for our two new Senators and congratulate them on their great achievement in polling extraordinarily well and being elected. I wish them both well. It is clear that they will be making an enormous contribution. I had a wonderful day yesterday when I attended the civic forum on Brexit in Dundalk. It was a very heartening occasion. It was wonderful that at the outset, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and all of our party leaders were there making excellent presentations. Many young people made presentations of high quality and there was genuine civic engagement. The most important thing about the day was that Michel Barnier was present. Yet again, on at least three occasions in response to three different questions and various curve-balls, he unequivocally stated European solidarity with Ireland. That should be acknowledged and applauded in this House. We should be very proud of our Government, diplomatic service and permanent Civil Service in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Since the beginning of the Brexit issue, they have achieved a European awareness of our situation. There is a European consciousness of it and support in virtually every European capital. I had the privilege of attending the Council of Europe last week with colleagues from this House, including Senator Hopkins, who is on my right. I met delegates from every country and raised the Brexit issue with them informally and, in one or two instances, formally. In all cases, they had an extraordinary awareness of our problem and support for it. The Irish Government, our permanent Civil Service and our diplomats abroad should take a bow. This matter is so important to me because the people in my community, along the Border in Cavan-Monaghan, stand to experience economic and social devastation and potentially a breakdown of all societal norms if we do not avoid a hard border. I offer the House's appreciation of Michel Barnier's stance and ask our Leader to endorse it and to give us an assurance that it will be continued.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, "That item 19a on the supplementary Order Paper be taken today".
Is the Senator proposing it be taken before item 1?
Yes. I congratulate both new Senators to the House, Senator Marshall from the North and Senator Lawlor, who moves from the Lower House to the Upper House. I wish them very well and every good success in their time here. They both have a lot to offer and great contributions to make.
On the issue of the smear tests scandal, I wish to raise the manner in which women have been treated by our health services. People go to the health service to seek support, compassion, help and reassurance. Unfortunately, none of that has been provided. Women in Ireland cannot feel reassured by recent events and nor, indeed, can men. The most recent scandal and the highlighting of it over the weekend has brought into stark light the fact that the State has to drag people screaming to the courts where they seek vindication.
Any reading of the State Claims Agency, which is the insurance group for the State, shows that follows through. Between 2010 and 2014, the State Claims Agency's costs amounted to €289 million. Some €177 million of that was awarded to the victims, but over €100 million went to the legal profession. There is a real issue here that the State needs to address. I agree with Senator Craughwell that this is not done with the intention of seeking ministerial retribution. We are talking about senior Civil Servants who must be held to account.
Could Senator Ó Domhnaill repeat the order? I cannot find what he is referring to.
I referred to the supplementary Order Paper.
It states that item 19A be taken before item 1.
I join my colleagues in congratulating and welcoming both Senators Lawlor and Marshall to the House. I particularly welcome Senator Marshall; it is good to hear another Northern accent in the Chamber. He is from the Orchard County, and I have no doubt that his appointment will give confidence to members of the unionist community in terms of the bone fides of this State on a large number of issues, particularly Brexit. I wish both the Senators well in their new roles.
I wish to raise the issue of Government Departments and agencies and their use of 1890 numbers for citizens to contact them in relation to queries they might have. It is not common knowledge that if one is ringing a Government Department on an 1890 number, it is not a cheap call. If one rings from Three mobile or Vodafone and happens to be on the line to a Government Department for up to 30 minutes, it will cost between €9 and €13.50. This is an issue we must grasp. I am confident that certain elements of Government are aware of this because when the local property tax number was advertised, the Department was aware of the problem and changed the criteria to accommodate it. Revenue Online is an example of where people are provided with an 1890 number and believe that they are speaking to someone on the other end for the price of a local call. We need to be aware of that issue, and the message needs to be brought back to Government that we should desist from using such numbers and find a number that will not cost much for those who take time to ring.
We are running way over time. I should be calling the Leader now, but there are seven speakers left. I ask that each speaker is very brief and takes no more than a minute each. Is that agreed?
With due respect to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, people were given a huge amount of latitude this morning. I have been here since the start.
We have new Members that we had to welcome, and the Brexit debate is scheduled next, which is very important. I do not want to eat into its time.
I want to raise an important issue-----
The Senator should raise it as quickly as he can.
-----in relation to the cervical cancer issue. A statement was issued by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists today which we should welcome. We need to deal with this in a very careful manner. We have to acknowledge Vicky Phelan and her family for bringing this to the fore and highlighting the difficulties she has gone through and what she has to face into in the future. It is wrong that it had to go down that road. It is also wrong that information which patients should have had access to was not provided to them. As someone who is in the legal profession, it is appalling to think that a senior person at a senior level in any organisation should deny extremely important information to people. It is also important, in raising this issue, that we identify the good work that has been done. More than 3 million smear tests have been done since the programme was put in place.
Some 50,000 people have had treatments. There has been a reduction by 7% every year in the level of cervical cancer. However, it is important to remember that 100 women a year are still dying from cervical cancer. That is 100 people too many-----
There is already a proposal from Senator Conway-Walsh, which funnily enough has not been seconded. I will let the Minister come in. Is Senator Burke seconding that? I am sure we will be debating this item.
In fairness, I want to make a point on this.
I know, but the Senator has now used up his two minutes.
In fairness, I think it is an important point to make, and that is about-----
Every speaker has two minutes during the Order of Business.
A Leas-Chathaoirligh, I think it is important to emphasise-----
I am not doubting that. The Chair is ruling now. It is important that we all-----
A Leas-Chathaoirligh, I am making a point-----
Yes. Will Senator Burke finish it?
I am making a point, and I think it is important-----
He is, and I am asking him to finish making the point, if he would.
I am making the point that a lot of good progress has been made on that issue.
It is important that we now deal with the issues that have arisen, and deal with them in a very transparent and upfront manner. That is what our debate should be about.
I would like to make that point.
I thank the Senator. Let us speed it up.
I will speed it up for the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I would like to second Senator Conway-Walsh's proposal to bring the Minister into the House. Secondly, I would like to second the proposal by Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill to amend the Order of Business today to deal with 19a of the supplementary Order Paper-----
The Senator cannot second both. He can second one.
In that case I will second Senator Conway-Walsh's proposal. Finally, I would like to formally welcome the two new Senators and congratulate them. I think it is a remarkable day. I also want to remember the other candidates that did not get elected. They were members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. There was only one independent candidate. It was an important day. I always welcome elections and competition. I think it is a good thing. It was a very difficult choice. I think it is a particularly important victory for both Senators as only TDs and Senators voted for them. It is a great honour. I particularly want to welcome Senator Ian Marshall. I am delighted that he has joined the independent group and the independent bench. I acknowledge the role of the Taoiseach and Commissioner Phil Hogan in sourcing and identifying this very able and capable man, and I look forward to contributing further to this debate tomorrow.
I would like to welcome my colleague Anthony Lawlor into the Seanad today. He follows in the footsteps of his mother, Senator Patsy Lawlor. I also want to welcome Senator Ian Marshall. On 14 February this year, I spoke in the Seanad Chamber to call for one of the vacant Seanad seats to be filled by a unionist voice from Northern Ireland. I am delighted that my fellow county man is here. The Feighans all come from Cullyhanna in Armagh, only 13 miles from Markethill. We come from different traditions, but we are united in one thing - peace and friendship on the island of Ireland, and indeed between our two islands.
Last night I gave an answer to Lord Kilclooney, who is a colleague of mine in the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. He is formidable and robust. I asked him to withdraw the racist remarks. I believe this is a pattern, but it does not reflect the honourable members of the House of Lords, many of whom come from an Irish tradition, and many of whom have a keen understanding of Brexit, but also huge compassion and generosity towards the island of Ireland.
Any day that a new Senator comes to the House is always a great day, and we should celebrate it. I am delighted to see my good friend Senator Anthony Lawlor here. When Senator Lawlor was in the other House, he spoke and worked for people from underprivileged backgrounds in Africa and other countries. What he did in the other House emulated what we like to think we do here, and what we do here on a regular basis, namely, speak on behalf of the most vulnerable people in society. I know that Senator Anthony Lawlor will continue that work now that he is back in the Houses of the Oireachtas, where he can and will wield an influence and continue to do the work he has done.
I have gotten to know Senator Ian Marshall over the past number of weeks. He will bring new enthusiasm to this House and not just a knowledge of the situation in Northern Ireland and the tradition and culture from which he comes, but an immense amount of knowledge and information about agriculture which will be very useful.
It is amazing that all the major health scandals in this country have involved women, something to which Alison O'Connor referred last night.
I have not finished.
I know that, but the Senator's time has finished.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach can shout me down all he likes but I intend to finish.
I do not want any Senator to be unruly. I want respect for the Chair.
All the scandals in this country have involved women and we have a very important poll on 25 May which affects women.
It affects every citizen.
I ask that people take cognisance of that.
I add my congratulations to the two new Senators and wish them well. I listened to their maiden speeches online and I was very impressed by them both. I had not made the connection between Senator Lawlor and his illustrious mother, who came into the Seanad on the same path as a cousin of mine, Kit Ahern, who was also president of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, ICA. She finished up in the Dáil subsequent to being a Senator. I congratulate Senator Marshall on his success, on accepting the nomination to contest, then canvassing and being elected and, most important, coming down here and taking his seat. It is groundbreaking for us.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh was very forthcoming on the rationale for Sinn Féin's vote in one of the papers but not so forthcoming as regards the second paper, on which Sinn Féin supported Fine Gael in the ongoing love that dares not speak its name. I repeat my call to Sinn Féin to take a leaf out of Senator Marshall's book by taking their seats in Westminster, at a time when Ireland needs a nationalist, pro-Europe, anti-Brexit voice. A number of people are sitting on their backsides instead of going over there and working for the people who elected them.
There is little else to talk about today other than the cervical cancer scandal. What has happened is incredible. We cannot underestimate the fear that women all over this country and their families have been living with since the weekend, and which will continue into the future. The State Claims Agency is a Government agency with an embedded culture of dismissiveness. It is autocratic and its only intent is to demean women by putting the blame on them. A total of 17 people have died following the audit.
As Senator Conway asked, what is it about this country that, for generations since the formation of the State, it has been women who have been targeted, neglected and dismissed from society by patriarchical attitudes? When the HSE formed a panel yesterday, it had to apologise for the fact that every single member of the panel was male. Women's voices need to be on every patient policy group and steering group because we cannot trust the HSE or the Government.
I welcome Senators Marshall and Lawlor and I look forward to working with them. Senator Marshall represents one of the traditions in the North, namely, the farming tradition, and he will have a baptism of fire as we will be having a Brexit debate a little later.
I condemn the comments of John Taylor. Some people said it was underlying racism but it was actually racism.
His comment was "typical Indian" and that it would not be something that a native Irish Prime Minister would do. Leo Varadkar is a native Irish Prime Minister. It is racism and I hope we hear condemnation of it from the House of Lords.
In the context of the ongoing cervical cancer issue I refer to the Corporate Manslaughter Bill 2016, which was voted down in 2013 by the previous Government. During the Committee Stage debate we had on the Bill it was decided to remove section 3. That was the last debate we had on the Bill.
I will outline what section 3 would have done to the people who are responsible for deaths of women in this country because of the cervical cancer debacle, which is effectively killing people. It introduced an offence of grossly negligent management causing death. Section 3(1)(a) refers to persons who "knew or ought to reasonably have known of a substantial risk of death or serious personal harm" and section 3(1)(b) refers to where people, "failed to take reasonable efforts to eliminate that risk". What would that have carried as a sentence if we had passed it in this House in 2016? It was 12 years in jail.
It was not passed. Do Members know who wanted section 3, in its entirety, removed? It was the Government. No one will go to jail. No one went to jail.
The reason we brought in that Bill and the reason the Law Reform Commission wanted the Bill introduced - that is its Bill - is the hepatitis C scandal where 1,200 women were infected knowingly with hepatitis C and women died.
That Bill was to make sure it would not happen again. What will we have? We will have inquiries, tribunals and people getting paid off and fellows going off on their pensions and women dying. Why?
The Senator has made his point.
It is because that Bill has not been passed and no one will go to jail as a result.
In view of the special nature of today I appeal to the Leader to keep his response very much to the point. He does not have to give his usual great detail.
We are not the only ones who see it.
Order, please. The Leader knows the rest of the business we have today.
Your impartiality in the Chair, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, is only reflected in your treatment of the Government Members as opposed to the Opposition Members.
I hope I am impartial at all times.
I assure you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, that I will respond to all contributions on the Order of Business.
I did not say the Leader could not respond to everybody.
On this very auspicious, historic and important day ar mo shon féin agus ar son an Rialtais cuirim fíorfáilte roimh na Seanadóirí nua, an Seanadóir Marshall agus an Seanadóir Lawlor. I welcome them to the House. I pay tribute to them on their historic victory and wish them every success in their tenure in this House. I welcome the new Senators and commend them. Today is a very special day for them and their families, one they should cherish and look back on but they should also look forward. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach said, their achievement is one we all look forward to hearing about as both Senators managed to top the poll.
They bring to this Chamber and the Houses of the Oireachtas their own personal, individual experiences, characteristics and skills, not weaknesses as Senator Marshall said, but positivity. His opening speech is to be admired, as was Senator Lawlor's, who remembered and reflected on his mother Patsy and how proud she would be today that he is here.
I welcome Lisa and Sarah who are in the Public Gallery and thank them for giving us their Dad and husband for whatever length of time he will be in this House. They have made sacrifices and they will make more sacrifices, but it is great that they are here to join in Senator Marshall's great day.
I join with Senator Ardagh in remembering Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Landy and thank them for their civic duty. Today is a very proud day for all of us in this House. As Senator Marshall said, it is the first time a member of the unionist community has been elected to Seanad Éireann. It is a day on which we can all celebrate and rejoice.
I also thank the former Senator, our colleague and friend, Senator Jim D'Arcy, for his stewardship and minding Ian during the course of the campaign. I remind Senator Conway-Walsh that, as Senator Feighan said, the Fine Gael Party is the united Ireland party.
When did Fine Gael members first notice that?
We very much welcome Sinn Féin's support for Senator Marshall and commend the party members on that.
The Leader should leave them alone. They do not want the praise.
I welcome the Tánaiste to the Chamber. He is present for a debate. I thank him for the work he is doing on behalf of all of us on the island of Ireland on the Brexit issue.
Today is a great day for our new Members and I salute them and welcome them. We will put the swords back into the scabbard today but after today we will resume hostilities.
The new Senators are very welcome and I hope they enjoy the day.
Fourteen Members of the House have raised the issue of cervical cancer. As Leader of the House and leader of the Fine Gael group, I join all Members in condemning the treatment of all the women involved. This should not be happening in an Irish society that is supposed to cherish all equally. There are 70 women who have died and 160 are waiting for answers. As some Members of the House said, the latter are living in fear and petrification. Senator Conway-Walsh should note I intend to have the Minister come to the House. Unfortunately, he is in the Dáil Chamber today. I hope to have him here either tomorrow or Thursday. I will have him in at the earliest possible opportunity. It is critical that all of us, particularly the affected women and their families, receive the full facts and all the information. It beggars belief that the Minister for Health did not have all the information and was not given it by the people we charge with the administration of the health service of our country. It is time people were held to account. Let us do so when we have all the facts and the full facts, and not just some of the facts.
All of us in this House are angry, dismayed and sorry, and we are sickened and appalled by the treatment of Vicky Phelan and the women involved. I commend Vicky Phelan on her bravery and courage. There should be no withholding of information from patients, their doctors or a Minister. No longer can we accept it. It should not be accepted. Senator Conway and others are right that there are those who must be held to account who have to be held to account. It is time that we, as a society, held to account those charged with the administration of our health system. I will await the full facts. I speak as a Chairman of a committee that engaged in pre-legislative scrutiny regarding open disclosure and medical indemnity. Senator Burke was a very strong part of that committee. We must get the full facts, whether it is through HIQA or a statutory inquiry. I do not mind once we get all the information and the facts for those involved.
The Minister said the re-checks will be free. I heard Senator Craughwell's remarks on that in terms of the telephone number. I do believe what is advocated will be done by the Minister. It is a matter of giving out the information. As the Taoiseach said in the Dáil regarding open disclosure, it is the Government’s intention to bring forward legislation to provide for open disclosure and to make it mandatory.
It is also worth noting that we had an all-party committee dealing with the issue of open disclosure that opted to propose the voluntary route first and the mandatory route second. That is what the Government is following and it is in the programme for Government. The Taoiseach asked the Attorney General, on behalf of the Government, to examine the early settlement of similar cases to avoid, as many Members have mentioned, lengthy, unnecessary, costly legal cases and actions. It is important that we see that action followed through. The duty of candour is contained in the Medical Council guidelines, which must be followed.
It is important that we establish all the facts. The statutory inquiry or investigation is not being ruled out. What the Government will do next will be based on getting the full information and all the facts. We must restore confidence in the cervical cancer screening programme. It is important that we state today that the screening programme saves lives, as Senator Burke and others have said. The HPV vaccine does prevent the loss of life. It is worth noting that our cancer care has improved.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' statement. I ask him and all Members to read it because it is about urging women to have smear tests and calling for a thorough investigation. It is important to remember that screening for cervical cancer is an important, cost-effective public health initiative but, more important, it saves lives.
I will have the Minister come to the House as soon as possible. As I said, that is my intent. I hope Senator Conway-Walsh will accept my bona fides on that as she knows I have always endeavoured to have the Minister attend as fast as I can.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of World Asthma Day. It is an important day. Four hundred and fifty thousand people in the country have some type of asthma.
That is one in every ten people, and 21% of children are affected. I commend the Asthma Society of Ireland on its role.
Senator Bacik referred to the sugar tax. I commend Senator Noone and the Irish Heart Foundation on their work in this regard. I hope Healthy Ireland will be the umbrella under which we can reduce the risk of obesity. I commend all at Trinity College, as Senator Bacik said, for The Cambridge History of Ireland. I note the words of an tUachtarán, who has taken up Senator Conway's Private Members' motion about having history as a core subject on the curriculum. It is important that we commend that.
Senator Byrne referred to apprenticeships. We will have a debate on that issue in due course.
Senator Mulherin referred to education and the plight of old schools. She specifically referred to Barr na Caóige. I agree with the Leas-Chathaoirleach that raising this as a Commencement matter would, perhaps, be a more expeditious route in the context of obtaining a response. However, there is a need for local authorities, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and schools to work together.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the posters being put up during the current referendum campaign. I reiterate what I said last week, namely, that I hope the Referendum Commission will have a role to play in the way in which posters are, first, being placed outside maternity hospitals, which is despicable and which we should all condemn-----
-----and, second, the misinformation that is contained in some of them. This matter highlights the need for an electoral commission to tackle such misinformation.
Senator Norris also raised the transgender issue. I do not have clarity for him on that matter but I will endeavour to obtain it. I beg his indulgence in that regard.
Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to Lord Kilclooney, as did Senators O'Reilly and Feighan. I thank Senator Ó Donnghaile for his email to the Cathaoirleach and to me. I concur with the comments of all three Senators and condemn Lord Kilclooney for his remarks. They were racist and inappropriate. Like other members of the unionist community, he should engage in the debate in a real way in order that we can protect the island of Ireland, North and South - green, white and orange - and work together to minimise the damage of Brexit. Lord Kilclooney's contribution was not helpful and he should apologise for it. All of us should stand united in condemning his remarks. The important point is that the comments of our new colleague, Senator Marshall, are those which we should reflect upon rather than the ill-timed remarks of Lord Kilclooney.
Tá an ceart ag an Seanadóir Buttimer.
I am happy to accept Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment to the Order of Business.
I join Senator Gallagher in asking that the 1890 telephone number be reviewed. It beggars belief that when one calls a Department, one is charged an astronomical amount of money. As Senator Feighan said, it is an outdated model of delivery. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter in the House.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the by-election and the love fest. The Fianna Fáil Party was trying to get Sinn Féin votes too but it fell short in that regard. As Senator Conway-Walsh would say, "Why would they anyway, given the hostility of Deputy Micheál Martin to them?" It is important to recognise that today is Senator Marshall's and Senator Lawlor's day.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence. I apologise to the Tánaiste for the delay. We have two new Members who spoke very eloquently. Again, I formally welcome them.
Two amendments have been proposed to the Order of Business. Senator Rose Conway-Walsh has moved: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the matters which have come to light in relation to screening for cervical cancer be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
No. I accept what the Leader said and I hope the Minister will be before the House tomorrow or Thursday, but certainly at the earliest opportunity.
I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House as soon as is possible.
I thank the Leader. The amendment is withdrawn by leave of the House. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill has moved an amendment: "That No. 19a be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is agreeable to accepting the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.