The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion re address to the House of the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Deirdre Hargey, on 8 November 2018, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, statements on accessibility issues for voters with disabilities, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, which time can be shared, and the Minister to have not less than four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and to adjourn at 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 5, statements on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken at 7.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 9 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 not less than five minutes to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
During last week's recess, a serious issue arose in the Department of Employment Affairs Social Protection as a result of which those who were meant to be in receipt of illness benefit either did not receive it at all or only received partial payments. The Minister updated the country on the "News at One" and stated it was a technical issue related to a transitional arrangement while the Department moved to a new system. Ultimately, recipients or potential recipients were the ones who were negatively affected. People had mortgages to pay and direct debits which were failing. They had to meet credit union and other loan repayments and their credit ratings were going to be affected. It was not acceptable. People make PAYE contributions and may, through no fault of their own, fall ill and require illness benefit. When they needed it, however, it was unavailable. It is a disgrace. I am appalled that people had to go through this at their time of need. We do not know exactly how many people were affected and whether it was 5,000 or 50,000 but while the Minister made a statement to the Dáil, she should come to the House to explain exactly what happened in relation to this malfunction. There was meant to be a dedicated phone line but this was not open and people had to wait on hold for hours, notwithstanding the fact that they were sick. At one stage, Government spokespeople directed people to the supplementary welfare officer, which is completely unfair. When one is sick, one should hardly have to go to someone to beg for money, especially when it concerns a payment to which one is entitled.
There has been a recent rise in convictions of people who have been out on bail, some in relation to sexual offences. We need to strengthen our bail laws given the massive increase in the number of people committing offences while on bail. It poses a serious risk to the public when people are at large who have huge numbers of previous convictions. Individuals appear to breach bail conditions without sanction and there is no enforcement. We need to introduce legislation as directed by my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, to ensure we have strong bail laws. At the moment, we do not seem to have any.
There are 100,000 people on trolleys in hospitals nationally. There are 10,000 people aged over 75 waiting over 24 hours on hospital trolleys.
Did the Senator say 100,000 people were on hospital trolleys?
Yes. That is over the past year. I apologise and correct the record. More than 10,000 people aged over 75 have had to wait more than 24 hours on hospital trolleys. We know the cold is coming; it comes every year. The number of people in need of emergency department services increases during cold spells but an emergency department winter plan does not seem to be in place.
One was expected at the end of July but was not forthcoming. It is an issue which affects every county every year. We need to have a plan in place to deal with it. Otherwise, we will be here again discussing how people have needlessly died in hospitals without having received proper care. We should have a decent plan in place to ensure that when people attend hospital over the winter period that there is a proper service available for them and they get the right treatment.
It is nice to be back. I thank my Seanad colleagues for some of the lovely messages of support during the recent presidential election.
Besides encountering incredible community initiatives around the country during the campaign, the night before the election, my family presented with me with a medallion, on the back of which was inscribed, "Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the determination to do something in spite of fear."
That is why I was so delighted I had the opportunity to run in the presidential election.
I was also proud to have brought the issue of mental health to the fore of the national conversation during this period. This is an issue on which I have worked for decades and one which could not be closer to my heart. I look forward to continuing this work in the House. I will never tire of highlighting this crisis and the lack of adequate services available to tackle it.
There are actions we can take now, however. For example, the Joint Committee on Future of Mental Health Care finished two weeks ago with the publication of its final report on mental health services. It was set up for the purpose of seeking cross-party agreement on a single long-term vision for mental health. The Taoiseach has undertaken to give consideration to making the committee permanent. I ask Members and the public to voice their support for this. A permanent committee will ensure that the budget and services for mental health will not disappear.
In recent years, the mental health budget, as a proportion of the total health budget, has amounted to approximately 6% per year. We allocate half the funds to mental health that other countries, such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, France and the UK, do. We are also far behind in so many other ways.
For example, the UK's mental health budget received an additional boost recently with approximately £2 billion to be allocated to mental health services between now and 2023. The UK is miles ahead of us, not just in terms of budget allocation. It has committed to creating children and young people's crisis teams in every part of the UK through schools and to help pupils with mild and moderate mental health problems. The UK Prime Minister has appointed the first Minister for suicide prevention as part of a £1.8 million push to reduce the number of people taking their own lives. We should consider making a similar appointment. The UK also has investment in community services such as crisis cafés and an expansion of specialised employment support for people with severe mental health illness, along with an announcement of a further £10 million support for veterans with mental health needs.
Ireland must be more ambitious. We are closing hospital wards rather than expanding services. At any given time, we have approximately 50 beds for acutely mentally ill children when more than 2,800 children are on waiting lists needing a timely service. The latest figures show that, at the end of August, 6,340 children were on a waiting list for primary care psychology.
Will the Taoiseach confirm the creation of a permanent mental health care committee in order that we can expand its terms of reference and that the specific recommendations made in the recent report can be finalised?
I welcome Senator Freeman back.
I, like many in this Chamber and around the world, was shocked by recent announcements coming out of Tanzania. Last week showed us that it is still not safe to be gay in our world.
Homosexuality remains a crime punishable by 30 years imprisonment in Tanzania and, last week, Paul Makonda, the governor of Dar es Salaam - the country's economic hub - established squads dedicated to rounding up and imprisoning members of the LGBTQI community. This is a reprehensible and draconian practice. While it is not supported by the Tanzanian President, it bears all the hallmarks of a regime that is by no means committed to human rights. Tanzania was openly anti-gay under the leadership of President John Magufuli but matters have truly intensified in the past year with lawyers being deported for defending homosexuality, the closure of HIV and AIDS clinics accused of promoting homosexuality and threats to publish lists of those accused of being gay by the then Deputy Health Minister, Hamisi Kigwangalla, as if being gay is a crime.
In 2018, a governor close to the Tanzanian President is creating an ad hoc group that will identify and carry out mass arrests of members of the LGBTQI community. Too often in the past, appalling acts of violence, discrimination and deep-rooted prejudice have been perpetrated against vulnerable communities in society. The LGBTI community in Tanzania is crying out for help on this occasion. Ireland must do everything in its power to act in solidarity and to support the group being targeted. The Government and Irish Aid need to use whatever influence is at their disposal to deter the disgraceful actions taken by the governor of Dar es Salaam and to implore the Government of Tanzania to respect and protect vulnerable groups, such as the LGBTI community, in Tanzania. How will Ireland respond to the latest in a swathe of viciously anti-LGBTQI attacks by the Tanzanian Government and how does the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade hope to address this matter? Could the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to outline his approach in respect of these appalling violations of human rights and worrying trends?
It was with dismay I saw that there are 180 Committee Stage amendments to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. There is public disgust about these amendments. I am also disgusted about them. Let us take one in particular. It is impossible to carry out a burial of remains before 12 weeks. There are no remains. It is just menstrual blood. Are we going to follow women around? What will happen after 12 weeks? After that amount of time, the overwhelming majority of women really want children and now eight Deputies have put down 180 amendments to delay the Bill.
The Deputies have that right. The legislation is before a select committee of the Dáil. In due course, it will come before this House and the Senator can make her comments appropriately. The select committee is sitting as we speak. It will also be sitting tomorrow and the day after. The legislation will eventually come before this House and I will allow Senator Devine to comment as much as possible at that point. However, it is not right to interfere with the work of the select committee or to denigrate somebody's well-intentioned amendments.
I am speaking for the public. I am speaking about the dismay and the last sting of eight dying wasps-----
This Bill is not before us. It is before a select committee made up of Deputies, not Senators. I suggest that Senator Devine allow them to do their work. When the Bill comes before us in due course, she will have ample time to speak on the issues that are close to her heart.
I will leave it there. I also wanted to raise the statement issued by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, earlier to the effect that the nurses and midwives will be balloted on all-out strike action, commencing with a 24-hour all-out strike and building up over time. The ballot will be held over the next few weeks. At issue here are understaffing in the health service and the failure of recruitment and retention efforts. The decision to ballot followed a rejection by 94% of the INMO's membership of the recent Government proposal on pay.
There are 2,600 fewer nurses in our health services. They feel as though they have been forced down this path. I hope the Government will listen and that the pay commission will step in as soon as possible to prevent this from happening to our patients and our nurses who are trying to run this chaotic service.
I also wish to raise the report by the National Women's Council of Ireland, Out of Silence, which was published today. The report represents research and reflection on women's health from their own perspectives and in their own words. It is quite lengthy. It features the astounding information that child suicide among girls in Ireland is the highest in Europe. I knew the level was high, but I did not realise it was the highest. After everyone has read and considered the report, we should, as Senator Freeman said, include it on the agenda of the Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care once that has been made permanent.
I thank the Senator for respecting my ruling and call Senator Norris.
I send my congratulations to the President, Michael D. Higgins, on his re-election. He has been an excellent President. I just hope that the media will not turn on him and make flitters out of him, because that is always a possibility. It is a moment when we should consider the presidency because we are quite a distance from the next presidential election, and we should reflect on it. I ask the Leader if we could have a brief debate on the matter to put forward a resolution that we should look at the presidency. If an incumbent President runs for election, he or she should withdraw from that role and a presidential commission should be brought in, because otherwise a sitting President has an unfair advantage.
The rules should be looked at. They were made in a period which I remember very well when there was only ever two candidates, one from Fine Gael and another from Fianna Fáil, and nobody else. These days there are six to eight candidates which means that the last three or four have no chance whatever of getting any State funding. That means we are making the presidency the preserve of the rich and I do not think that is what we need in a democracy. It should be open to everyone.
The nomination procedures need to be examined. I raised this during the Convention on the Constitution. It was by far the most popular resolution of the entire convention despite the Government doing everything it could to frustrate it. It was passed by 98%. That is how strongly people felt about the presidency. However, the Government has sat on its backside and done nothing whatever. We must also look at funding arrangements which greatly favour the political parties. This is a republic and everyone should be equal in it. The political parties should not have any advantage over an individual member of the public. I am calling for a debate on the presidency and a re-examination of the rules and procedures to make it more democratic. We have been extremely lucky in the Presidents we have had. There has been a series of excellent people, but we should ensure that the broadest number of candidates possible are able to run.
I congratulate those who put their heads above the parapet and ran for the presidency. They did us all a favour, despite the three parties having supported the incumbent which throws his victory in a certain light. The election had the lowest turnout ever, despite three political parties supporting one candidate. There is room for Independents and we should make room for Independents in an independent republic.
I very much welcome today's announcement by the Minister, Deputy Ross, that-----
That he is vetting-----
The Senator will have his fun. I agree that Michael D. is a wonderful President and I also congratulate him.
Senator Coghlan should not be distracted.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for that timely warning. I greatly welcome the announcement relating to motorised rickshaws and the new licensing scheme and Garda vetting which is to be rolled out for all other rickshaws because they are a danger.
Some Members will have experienced it strolling around the streets of Dublin at night. I had a bad experience six months or more ago and I had correspondence about it with the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Attorney General, Mr. Woulfe. These people race about without hindrance on pedestrian streets and footpaths without regard to the pedestrians strolling around leisurely in the evening, perhaps taking a break. It is only anecdotal but I believe one can be supplied with drugs if one needs them from some of these people. Allegedly, they are engaged in criminality as well. It is very important that the gardaí are involved in vetting these people and that they are licensed. I would restrict it more. It is only the motorised vehicles the Minister is proposing to ban. I would have gone further. I welcome it. It is a move very much in the right direction. It should be done in the interests of safety. On streets, pedestrianised streets or pathways, they race past pedestrians without regard for them. It is very bad in our capital city. I welcome the proposal and I hope it will lead to a good improvement.
I welcome our colleague, Senator Freeman, back to the House. She played a very important role in the presidential election. She highlighted Pieta House and mental health and all the work she is involved in. She has done the State some service. She came back with her dignity intact. She was an excellent candidate. As Senator Norris did, I congratulate President Michael D. Higgins. He has been an excellent President. I had the benefit of him lecturing me for two years in an extramural course in the 1970s. He was very inspirational. He was so inspirational that I got into the Dáil four years before him. That is a great achievement for him.
I compliment all the candidates, Peter Casey, Liadh Ní Riada, Seán Gallagher, Senator Freeman and Gavin Duffy who participated in the campaign. It was a tough campaign. I had sympathy for Peter Casey on "The Late Late Show" on Friday night because he was up against one of the most seasoned broadcasters, Ryan Tubridy. Perhaps politicians should not go into that arena because it is not a current affairs programme, it is more of an entertainment programme. He put his case forward. It is fair enough. It was an election. It is democracy. We should be very proud that we had an election.
We should express our thanks to Senator Craughwell who led the campaign to have an election. It is better all round that there was an election. It puts President Michael D. Higgins in a much stronger position. He was elected with nearly 850,000 first preference votes. Next Sunday when we all go to his inauguration in Dublin Castle, we will see a man who went before the people and was elected. All the candidates put a lot of effort into the campaign and deserve our appreciation.
People do not realise the contribution the President has made in the past seven years. He was the first Irish President ever to go on an official state visit to the United Kingdom. He addressed the Council of Europe. He was extremely good. Senator Norris, who campaigned in 2011, also did the State some service and got a tremendous vote in that election.
I join with Senator Norris. We need a debate now that the campaign is over. I congratulate President Higgins on his re-election. It is right and proper that he was re-elected by the people, not by the people in this House alone.
Tony O'Brien was reported to have made some horrendous statements about the Minister for Health over the weekend. If he had something to say about the Minister for Health why the hell did he not say it while he was in office? Why did he let the Minister approach the doors of the Dáil in the debate on the cervical cancer scandal and leave him with certain information at the last moment? Mr. O'Brien should have taken his package and walked away quietly and left the Government and the Minister alone.
I am no spokesman for either but I cannot abide people who stab others in the back on the way out. That is precisely what Mr. O'Brien did at the weekend in his interview with The Sunday Business Post.
It is not all good news for the Government. What right does the Government of Ireland have to instruct Óglaigh na hÉireann to use the Government logo on any promotional video produced? An excellent letter by Michael Heery from North King Street in Dublin deals with this issue. He deals not only with the illegality of it but with how it is in contravention of the Geneva Convention to mix the civilian and military logos. Somebody somewhere needs to sit down and have a look at this. What we are seeing here is a display of utter ignorance on the part of the civilian secretariat of the State with respect to the importance of the military logo versus the Government logo. This has to stop. Óglaigh na hÉireann is not there to represent the Government in any way. It is there to serve the country and its people. I would like the Leader to convey my dismay, and the dismay of many people in Óglaigh na hÉireann, at it being forced to use a logo that has no place in its promotional videos.
I call for a debate in the House with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, on the HSE's winter service plan. We are now at the start of November and there are already capacity problems in our emergency departments. The figures for yesterday show 308 people were on trolleys nationally, at least 12 of whom were in Portiuncula Hospital. I raise this because this afternoon I received a phone call from a family member whose relative in her 90s was taken to the emergency department last night. The details of the case have caused me significant concern with regard to the wait time before the person was seen and the extreme pressure the healthcare professionals in our emergency departments are under.
In outlining the need for a debate, I also want to reference a new HSE report on winter planning. It states additional Government funding to address the pressures on the health service last winter, which saw record numbers on trolleys, effectively came too late to be of optimal use. We need to learn from these reports. The challenge at present is we are now in November and we are being told a final plan for dealing with additional pressures on services, in respect of the winter plan, will be submitted to the Department in the next number of days. Clearly this is not a good way to plan for the additional pressures we face. I feel very strongly about this. We know that at this time there are additional pressures and we need the HSE and Department of Health to plan for them. In its report, the HSE stated this planning should be finalised and agreed in the summer. It is extremely important to discuss what has been found in the report and put it into practice to try to deal with phone calls such as the one I received from a relative this afternoon, and ensure we have better wait times and greater resources in our emergency departments to support these individuals.
I also give full congratulations to President Michael D. Higgins on his success in the presidential election and I wish him well for the next seven years.
I welcome the statement this afternoon from Show Racism the Red Card in Ireland and England, both of which have joined with the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland to support James McClean and call on the English Football Association, FA, to investigate all incidents of anti-Irish discrimination. Members who have seen the videos from the weekend will be aware of the horrific treatment meted out to James last Saturday during a football game. In that context, it is probably time to call for a debate on commemoration in light of the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Hopefully, there is a great deal on which we can all agree. The first is that the 35,000 to 40,000 Irishmen and Irishwomen who died should be remembered. They have been written out of the history of this State for too long. I hope we would also be able to agree on the nature of that war, a pointless, futile exercise with needless deaths and a generation butchered and damned, as the song says. The conflict was a war of empires. We could at least agree on that. Indeed, we could perhaps reflect on the role of John Redmond in encouraging so many Irish men to pointless and horrendous deaths. Where we would disagree, I suspect, is on how to commemorate them. I would not wear a poppy. The reason is what the poppy symbolises. It is on the Royal British Legion website that it is to commemorate the dead of all wars including colonial wars, which the site lists as including Iraq, Afghanistan, the Falklands, Kenya, Cyprus and in our country. People will say they are wearing the poppy only to commemorate the Irish dead. That is fine, but it is not what the poppy symbolises. That is the reality, not an opinion. People can look up the Royal British Legion website. The other problem is that the Royal British Legion, unfortunately, has been and continues to be a cheerleader for British wars, both past and present. That is a fact.
We must find a way to commemorate the poor people who suffered horrendously in that war. We should be able to do that as an independent Irish nation. It is important we do so and have a mature debate on it. I recognise Senator Feighan's genuine attempt to do that. However, it is flawed for two reasons. First, it still represents the poppy and, second, the Royal British Legion is attached to it. I do not wish to commemorate the men in Afghanistan today or the British soldiers in Iraq, and I do not believe the Irish people wish to do so. Let us have a mature debate on this and, hopefully, reach a positive consensus.
I join colleagues in congratulating Michael D. Higgins on his re-election as President of Ireland. It is also appropriate to thank the other candidates, including our colleague, Senator Freeman, who took part. I do not necessarily agree with the views expressed by some of the candidates but this is about democracy and people who put their heads above the parapet should be given recognition for doing so and be thanked for allowing their names to go forward in the democratic process. It is the electorate - not this or the Lower House - that decides how it will vote. The electorate is extremely independent and it gives what it considers to be the appropriate decision. On this occasion it gave its decision in favour of Michael D. Higgins.
I wish to refer to the facility in Cork that was purchased by Cuan Mhuire for €2.1 million in 2007. It was refurbished but has been lying idle for the past eight years. It has the capacity to cater for 18 people at any time but there appears to be a disagreement between Cuan Mhuire, the HSE, Cork City Council and various Departments on how the facility should operate. We are facing into a difficult period in the run-up to Christmas, with people trying to access accommodation. However, this extremely good facility is lying idle because people cannot come to an agreement. Cuan Mhuire set out a careful plan for how it wished to use it, but it appears that some people in the HSE have not come to the same view. In fairness, Cork City Council is prepared to come on board and offer assistance provided agreement can be reached.
It is wrong that where money has been invested by an organisation and where it needs the support of the health service and the local authority, we find the facility lying idle. I ask that this matter be brought to the attention of the Minister. I also hope that we might have a debate about value for money within the HSE and about facilities like this being left idle when they could be put to good use.
First, I acknowledge the announcement by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in respect of the proposed legislation on short-term lets. It will have a substantial impact on the housing crisis in the short term. I suggest that the House offers to commence the legislation to endeavour to pass it speedily. I would certainly like it to be passed much earlier than the Minister is proposing. He proposes that it be implemented in June 2019. I would much prefer to see it being implemented in January 2019.
I have raised the issues of climate change and the challenges we all face on many occasions. We have seen the announcement by Bord na Móna regarding bogs. Most of us would have realised this was coming. It is certainly going to present a significant challenge in respect of employment for the midlands. If we want people to buy in to the changes we have to make to reach our climate change targets and to buy into changes to production, industry, transport and farming to try to tackle the growing emissions in this country - and unfortunately they are growing instead of diminishing - how the midlands and the workers in Bord na Móna are treated will be seen as a benchmark. We have to endeavour not only to ensure that the workers in Bord na Móna are treated well and that they get a good package, but also that a special effort be made in respect of the generation of employment in the midlands. For decades Bord na Móna has been a good employer and has been the linchpin in many towns across the midlands as far as employment and careers for people living in that area are concerned.
If we want the citizens to buy in and if we want to take away their fears in respect of the changes to production, employment, farming, and transport, we must remember that how we treat the midlands and how we assist in ensuring adequate employment and opportunities for people within the midlands will set a benchmark. I ask that we consider a debate on the options for people who will have to move out of turf production and on the alternative employment opportunities for those people in the midlands.
All of us in this House will be aware of, and fully appreciate, the importance of the ambulance service, particularly in places like County Monaghan where hospital services were downgraded. Such places depend on the ambulance service more than other areas. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a delay in ambulances arriving at the scene which can have, as Monaghan knows too well, devastating consequences for the families involved. The National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, was set up to act on behalf of its members as a branch of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, which is a union with negotiating rights with the HSE. The HSE and the national ambulance service, NAS, have provided a number of facilities for members of the ambulance service, including deductions of union payments and an avenue or channel for representing the views of the members of the association.
I am disappointed to learn that NASRA is now in dispute with the HSE and the NAS on two issues. The HSE has now decided to take away the facility whereby subscriptions were deducted from members' salaries. It has stopped this after a period of eight years. They have also refused to allow representatives of NASRA to represent its members, which is a regrettable development.
The next phase in the dispute is a work to rule that will begin tomorrow. In effect, this means there will be a ban on overtime, which staff members are not obliged to do at any rate. This could have serious implications for places like County Monaghan and certain other parts of the country. Although there are 16 rostered staff members in County Monaghan, there are just 11 permanent positions there at present. The other positions are filled through overtime and are covered by unrostered staff. This could have serious implications for the health and safety of people in County Monaghan and throughout the entire country. If it is not possible to fill shifts, this could result in delays. As we know to our cost, unfortunately, this could have devastating effects on the people of this country. I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to engage with National Ambulance Service personnel immediately and as a matter of urgency in order that this dispute can be brought to an end as soon as possible.
A lacklustre presidential election campaign has come to an end. It was occasionally bitchy in the non-gender-specific sense. Nobody's good side came to the fore.
That is unfair.
I hope we never have to endure the likes of it again. At least Mr. Casey kept it from being boring at the end.
Does the Senator support him?
I want to raise-----
Did the Senator support him?
I support my President.
Who did the Senator vote for?
I want to raise two separate but connected issues of human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religious expression that have hit the headlines in recent weeks.
I ask the Leader not to antagonise Senator Mullen.
I am talking about something important now. The Irish political class often seems to talk tough about fundamental human rights in an abstract sense, only to be reluctant to step up to the plate when specific violations arise. Two particular issues challenge our sincerity on this issue. As we all know, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in a very brutal way in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey last month. Although my colleague, Senator Norris, raised this case a few weeks ago, the overall Irish response to this murder has been extraordinarily muted. I would hope this has nothing to do with Irish trade with Saudi Arabia. I know we export €700 million per annum to that country. I know additional beef exports to Saudi Arabia were agreed last year. As a farmer's son, I welcome anything that helps agriculture. I would hope that economic ties are not blinding us to the seriousness of this situation. IBEC is to be commended for its courage in cancelling a conference on Saudi trade recently. I know the Tánaiste met the Saudi envoy a few weeks ago. It would be good to get an update on what ongoing contacts there are. What is the Government saying about this issue? As we all know, we have had sad experience of journalists being killed for their work in our own country. I think that creates an additional onus on us to speak out.
The second extraordinary case is that of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was recently released from prison having been charged with blasphemy some years ago in Pakistan, where the crime of blasphemy is seriously a problem. I first raised the case of Ms Bibi in 2014. She spent eight years in solitary confinement before being released into virtual house arrest. She is a prisoner in her own country because of a deal that has been done to appease Islamic groups. As I said in 2014, Ms Bibi is an ordinary person who dared to speak for her Christian faith. She has been put through hell as a result. Ireland should speak loudly on behalf of people persecuted for their faith and their beliefs, regardless of what they are. It should take a particular interest when such cases involve Christian minorities, firstly because of our own proud Christian heritage but also because Christian minorities are under particular assault around the world today. They have very few places of safe refuge. The leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Howlin, has rightly called for Ms Bibi to be offered asylum in Ireland. I absolutely support that call. I would welcome a ministerial response on this. During the recent blasphemy referendum campaign, it was wrongly claimed that Ireland's mild blasphemy laws had given some kind of comfort to countries like Pakistan which abuse blasphemy laws. If the Government really believes that Ireland has truly been some kind of obstacle, the obligation on this country to express loudly, clearly and in practical terms its support for and solidarity with people like Ms Bibi, as well as others who are suffering as we speak, is all the greater.
I commend those from the civic nationalist group who organised an open letter to the Taoiseach. The previous letter was signed by 200 people but this one was signed by 1,000. The increase in the number of signatories is not only an indication of the welcome support of a broad range of nationalists in the North but also a sign of the growing concern that their rights are threatened by Brexit. It is important that the letter outlined the threat to specific rights such as that relating to healthcare. In the context of North-South medical treatment, a person travelling from the North to the South for medical treatment is currently covered by the EU health card but that will no longer be the case after March of next year. These issues need to be discussed in a very real way. There are fears regarding what Brexit will mean in terms of access to housing, the mutual recognition of educational qualifications and access to educational grants and other matters. The big concern is that in spite of the very positive response of the Government to those who feel threatened, those people feel more threatened today than when they signed the first letter.
I commend the public responses from the Taoiseach to the letters. It is very important that these issues are highlighted. It would be worthwhile for the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House to address some of those issues, specifically those regarding health, education and so on. While I very much welcome that the Taoiseach guaranteed that Irish citizens in the North would not be left behind and that there would be no hard border, we need to see the practical steps he will take to underpin that promise. I thank those who signed the letter and I thank the media for the way they have discussed it. This is a very important issue. It is not good to have a vacuum or to have people in fear of losing their lives.
I was present for the enactment of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 in spring 2015. Parts 2 and 3 of the Act govern family relationships arising from donor-assisted human reproduction, that is, the use of donor eggs, sperm or embryos to conceive children. They create a legal structure whereby the commissioning or social parents of children born through donor-assisted human reproduction would be rightly recognised as the parents of those children. The Act also prohibits the practice of anonymous egg, sperm and embryo donation and creates a legal regime to ensure that children born through such a process will be able to find out the contact details of the donor and try to make contact if they so wish. The ultimate purpose of the provisions is to vindicate the child's right to identity. However, Parts 2 and 3 have not yet been commenced. There has been a delay of almost three and a half years between the passing of the Act and the commencement of those parts. The commencement of the Act is the responsibility of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. In a press release on 6 July, the Department of Health stated that commencement would take place in the autumn. I ask the Leader to clarify whether commencement is imminent and, if it is not, whether the Department will indicate the reason for the very lengthy delay. This is an important issue which relates to the assisted human reproduction that takes place openly in other countries and in private in this country, adoption tracing bills that will be coming before the Houses and, of course, the remains of bodies at mother and baby homes, which is a different but connected issue. Parts 2 and 3 of the Act have not been commenced some three and a half years after the Act was passed. Anonymity regarding egg, sperm and embryo donation should be prohibited in Ireland. This is a very serious matter. I ask the Leader to provide clarification on the status of the commencement of Parts 2 and 3.
I am aware that the Minister is busy but perhaps he could come to the House and let me know.
Cuirim fíor-fháilte roimh gach duine ar ais. In welcoming everyone back, I join Senators in congratulating an tUachtarán Micheál D. Ó hUigínn on his election. Fuair sé vóta an-láidir. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis agus tá mandate agus údarás láidir aige don dara téarma. In congratulating President Michael D. Higgins, we wish him and his wife, Sabina, well for his second term in office. We commend him on his election and thank the other candidates for their participation.
I disagree with Senator Mullen on one point; we did see the good side in many of the candidates. I disagree with the Senator profoundly in that regard. To be fair to our colleague, Senator Freeman, she showed great civility in not allowing people to descend into a rat race of an election by her constant positivity in her campaign. I commend all the candidates on their participation in the election.
We will have a debate on the election in the fullness of time. The one thing we should take away from the election - I have said this in the House previously - is that what we say and how we say it matters. This applies on social media, in the House, on the airwaves and in written form. I would very much love to have a debate on the Presidency, whether it is on the nominating process, the term of office or whatever. I do not think that Mary McAleese's term as President was diminished by the fact that she did not have to have an election for her second term. Having said that, the people spoke in their hundreds of thousands to endorse the candidacy of Michael. D. Higgins. We wish him well for next Sunday when he will take the oath of office for the second time.
Our democratic process is well served by those of us who go out and vote. We have to vote and we should vote. Regardless of whether it was, as Senator Mullen stated, the paucity of the campaign - and I know he did not use that word - there must be a reason people did not vote. Perhaps it was because the opinion polls and the political commentariat suggested that it was to be a landslide that people felt they did not need to vote. However, I am not sure. As Senator Mullen stated, Michael D. Higgins is our President and we will support him in his endeavours. We wish him well.
Senator Ardagh referred to the illness benefit processing issue, on which many Members had to engage with the Department in recent weeks. The Department has committed, and has outlined to us, that a normal level of payment will issue to illness benefit customers this week, and that no customer will miss out on payments. Senator Ardagh alluded to the transition to a new IT system that led to a number of people on illness benefit receiving either some or no payment. Thankfully, action has now been taken to ensure that payments have returned to normal. We should apologise to the people who have been affected. It is unacceptable that people are in arrears in their payment and that they have no money. Thankfully, that glitch has been ironed out and I welcome this.
The Senator also referred to the bail laws and electronic monitoring, which is part of the whole issue. Members are aware that the Garda Commissioner is the person charged with operational matters regarding bail. On foot of the case that is currently in the public domain, the Garda Commissioner has ordered a review to examine any policing issues in that regard. The review will seek to establish any lessons that may need to be learned, and if there are any changes needed in procedures or processes with regard to that case. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, has also said that if a review concludes the law needs to be changed he will act. It is also important to let the review take place. All of us who are living in our communities are concerned about the bail laws and the application of bail.
We need more often to see why and how bail is granted. Last year the laws around bail were strengthened under the Criminal Justice Act 2017 but I will be happy to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality back to the House pending the review to respond to the issues raised.
Senators Ardagh, Hopkins, Devine, Colm Burke and Freeman raised the issue of mental health and trolleys. I remind Members that in the recent budget €17 billion has been awarded to the Department of Health of which €75 million has been given to the National Treatment Purchase Fund which is tasked with driving down waiting lists, which will assist thousands of our fellow citizens. I commend Senator Freeman on her work for mental health. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has secured a budget of €55 million for mental health services. He is also moving to online or telecounselling. The Cathaoirleach might correct me on this point but I think Senator Freeman's call on the Taoiseach regarding the committee is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas. As a former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and having seen the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Healthcare do extraordinary work, in this and the previous session, I do not see any reason we should not have a committee specific to mental health. We could consider that but it could be done at a later stage.
We had a very good public consultation on it.
Indeed, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee held a debate on mental health services, chaired by the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
Senator Freeman was the rapporteur.
It was set up by the Taoiseach's nominees.
I will not get into that debate now.
I had to accept chairing it which I was happy to do.
It was set up by the Taoiseach's nominees.
I allowed it through.
Senator Kelleher raised the issue of the ongoing deprivation of rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community in Tanzania. All of us in this House would join Senator Kelleher in condemning the activities of the governor of Dar es Salaam in effectively rounding up members of the LGBT community and incarcerating them. The Government must do more than write to the Tanzanian Government outlining our concerns. In the past we have had a good relationship with Tanzania and supported it. There is now a need to ensure that the Tanzanian Government understands that we are serious about this and attributing the activities to the personal view of the governor is unacceptable. A 17 person task force rounding up members of the LGBT community is more than a personal view. We must condemn it and work to ensure that members of the LGBT community receive full and just treatment in Tanzania.
Senator Devine raised the issue of the all-out strike by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO. I certainly hope it will not go out on strike. The Minister for Health will be in the House tomorrow and I am sure we can have that discussion then. I have not seen or read the report Out of Silence but it is one that we might debate in the future.
I join with Senator Coghlan in commending the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on his legislation for the licensing of rickshaws.
It is timely if not overdue.
It is timely and overdue, in particular the licensing scheme and the vetting. We need to have-----
It is refreshing to see him deal with something.
It is refreshing to see that Members of the Seanad are supporting the Minister instead of condemning him which has been the practice up to now.
It is nice of him to give us an opportunity to be able to do so.
To be fair, if Senator Gallagher looks at the Minister's record he has been a very regular and willing visitor to the Seanad for debates.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of Mr. Tony O'Brien and the remarks he made at the weekend. I was disappointed, having worked with Senator Craughwell and Mr. O'Brien, to see his remarks in the newspapers. To be fair, the Department of Health is a very complex area. Fianna Fáil dubbed it "Angola" and ran from the office for over a decade by assigning the portfolio to the former Deputy, Mary Harney.
The Leader was doing very well.
The Leader never misses an opportunity.
When the Leader is challenged he has a right to respond. He should be allowed to respond.
We have to compliment the Leader; he was doing really well.
I have a way of dealing with that which might not be pleasing to some Members. We must let the Leader respond. We are against the clock.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has a very fine record in the Department of Health, and has been a very-----
The Senator is like a broken record.
Do not get distracted.
The Minister has a very fine record in the Department of Health, not least his legislative achievements and his willingness to embrace change. The Government has made a serious commitment to the implementation of Sláintecare in the budget. One of the mistakes made in the health system was that the old health boards were got rid of. We now have no political accountability, and I have made the point in this House in the past that the health fora-----
What about the post offices?
-----are a waste of time. There is no open and transparent accountability for officials. I mean that in a respectful way. Mr. O'Brien is correct in that the language and behaviour of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, whether in the Joint Committee on Health, the Dáil Chamber or in the Committee of Public Accounts should be respectful and probing rather than sinking to the lowest common denominator. I am not saying it happens in this House, but there are Members of this House of the Oireachtas who should reflect on their behaviour in committees.
On the issue of the Army promotional video raised by Senator Craughwell, I am not sure how he can interpret it as a promotional tool for the Government. It is about promoting the Army and the tremendous work it does both at home and abroad. If that is what Senator Craughwell is going to engage in we are heading down the wrong road. We must promote and support members of the Army, who are doing Trojan work at home and abroad. The Senator comes in here regularly to criticise the lack of Army recruitment. We should use the video to recruit people to the Army.
We are not recruiting people to join the Government.
Not even Senator Craughwell's Machiavellian mind could make that leap.
The Leader should not insult Machiavelli.
I compare it to the Trojan army.
I will knock another Order of Business out of this issue.
I have read many of the Senator's theories on Twitter and this is the best one he has come up with yet. I have to give him credit for that.
It is a cheap shot by the Government.
Senator Hopkins made an important point about the state of preparedness of the winter service plan. The HSE should act with a sense of urgency in order to have that plan ready and to outline it as soon as possible. There are added pressures, but she has made an important point and made it well.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of the poppy and the whole issue of commemoration. Rather than getting into a back and forth with him, I will say that the remarks of Liadh Ní Riada during the presidential election campaign were very honest and courageous. It is important that we commemorate and remember the men who died in the First World War next weekend. I join with Senator Gavan in praising Senator Feighan who is carrying on the good work of the late Paddy Harte in promoting unification around commemoration. We had a tremendous year in 2016, during which we remembered the Easter Rising, and there are other commemorations ahead.
It is important we do so in a fitting manner. Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of the Cuan Mhuire centre on the Western Road in Cork. He is right and it is unacceptable that it is not available as a step down facility. In the context of the implementation of the Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery programme, there is an obligation on the HSE to work with the local authority on this. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss it.
In answer to Senator Humphreys, we have asked that legislation on short-term lets begin in the Seanad and I concur with the Senator that it is incumbent on Government to start more legislation in this House for a number of reasons, not least the fact it gets a very thorough vetting here. We also do our business in a very timely and expeditious manner, with the possible exception of one Bill which I will not mention. The Senator also asked about climate change and Bord na Móna. On 6 December, we will have statements on climate change with the Minister, Deputy Bruton. The issue in the midlands is a difficult one because Bord na Móna is planning for the future. I know the Ministers, Deputies Bruton and Humphreys, are committed to ensuring we follow on from the 15,000 jobs created in the midlands since 2015. The Action Plan for Jobs will centre on the midlands but the point about the Bord na Móna workers in the midlands was well made. I will join with the Senator in asking the Minister about supporting those people in finding alternative employment.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of human rights and Asia Bibi. We need the Government to offer a céad míle fáilte to this woman as she seeks asylum. I respect the rights of everyone to have their opinion and to express it. I understand the Senator's comments on blasphemy in Pakistan but I will not rehearse the debate on the recent debate on blasphemy in this country. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will be in the House tonight. Perhaps the Senator could put down a Commencement matter to get a more expeditious response.
I also raised the issue of Saudi Arabia's intervention.
This issue was debated on the Order of Business before the mid-term break by a number of Senators, including Senator Bacik. The killing of Mr. Khashoggi is to be condemned forthrightly and there can be no equivocation about it. One cannot put a price on upholding human rights and that applies to everybody in all parts of the world. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, feel very strongly about it. We will bring the Minister to the House on the issue but a Commencement matter might be a better way to deal with it.
Senator Conway-Walsh asked a question about a letter to the Tánaiste and he will be here to discuss the matter. The Government has been very strong in its approach to the all-Ireland aspect of Brexit and the impact it will have. The rights of all citizens need to be upheld. If it is not dealt with tonight, we may be able to deal with it at another time.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell asked about the implementation of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. I believe it is with the Office of the Attorney General but I am open to correction on that. I will come back to her tomorrow with a response. It was raised also by Senators Bacik and Warfield in the House. It is important legislation and the section to which she referred is very important. We need to give certainty and clarity to the families affected and many of us have been liaising with the Department and the Minister on the matter.
I apologise to Senator Gallagher for inadvertently omitting to address his comments on the ambulance service. The machinery of State is available to both sides to engage and communicate around disputes. That is the best form for such engagement at this point. The Senator might table a Commencement matter to get a quicker response as there are no plans for the Minister to come to the House to debate this matter. He will be here tomorrow to take Report and Final Stages of the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill and the Senator might raise that matter with him as part of that debate.