An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourned not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded.

Yesterday evening I was fortunate enough to welcome the Leader of the House to Dublin South Central when he was canvassing. It is a pity that he is not here today because he would have noticed the extreme lack of green spaces in Dublin 8. It is shocking that in the past week the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport announced funding of €10 million for various clubs throughout the country as an election gimmick. I have not been able to get hold of the list, but I have not been contacted by any club in Dublin 8 that has received funding under the scheme, which is shocking. I have mentioned previously the plight of Kevin's Hurling and Camogie Club which does not own the playing pitches it uses. There is a serious prospect that the children in the inner city who attend the club will lose access to these pitches, the only full-size hurling pitches in the area. They are not even in Dublin 8 but just outside it. The Minister needs to get it right and ensure children in disadvantaged areas will have the same access to sports facilities as those living in more privileged areas. If one looks through the list, one will see that seriously privileged clubs are to receive some of the €10 million which is an election gimmick. It is disgraceful that we are not doing more for children in need of proper access to sports facilities.

The second issue I want to raise is sinking funds. What happens in an apartment block when the roof goes and no proper sinking fund is held by the management company? Fianna Fáil has introduced a Bill to ensure sinking funds would be kept topped up and regulated properly. The Bill has not been taken on board by the Government, but it shows Fianna Fáil's foresight. Having a proper sinking fund is crucial for anyone living in an apartment block because when the roof goes and there is no money available to fix it, there are serious problems. It has been in the news recently that owners are trying to get the developers to pony up, but the developers might not be trading. Therefore, there are serious issues. We need to get it right at the start and ensure proper sinking funds are held to manage the increasing number of apartment units in the city.

Yesterday I raised a deeply sensitive issue. I spoke with precision and caution about the questions the medical establishment must answer about the baby who died at the National Maternity Hospital and the vulnerability of families who receive a diagnosis that their unborn child has a life-limiting condition. I was subjected to what I regard, frankly, as ignorant behaviour and personal abuse from a colleague. That does not worry me. I suspect the person concerned would be slow enough in engaging with me one on one in a media debate, but it does worry me-----

In fairness, when somebody tried to interrupt the Senator yesterday, I defended him and asked him to proceed. Therefore, the Chair supported the Senator.

Yes. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the protection he gave me yesterday.

I also gave the Senator about 45 seconds of injury time.

I have no issue with the Cathaoirleach's very dignified handling of the matter. The point I want to make is that however we might feel about Nigel Farage, we should be able to criticise those who throw milkshakes at a politician and that however we might feel about President Donald Trump, we should be able to hope that during his visit the protests will be dignified. My point is that, as politicians, we are expected to set an example. Where we divide on issues and divide deeply as we sometimes must, we must try to set an example by being as civil as possible to one another and conduct our debates in a humane and civilised way. If we do not, we will be doomed to a future of Trumpian politics. There is an onus on all of us to raise our game, even at this time when perhaps we feel we are being provoked the most.

I raise the issue of mental health services which, as we all know, are at crisis point. Listening to Dr. Quinlan from Cork talk today about the anecdotal information focuses the mind on the reality. It could involve the parents of a child who has attempted to commit suicide bringing him or her to the GP, the GP referring them to the emergency department, the emergency department sending them home having made an appointment to see a psychiatrist some weeks later, further attempts at self-harm, desperate contact being made with CAMHS and the parents eventually feeling that they are being forced to go private to get the help their child urgently needs. We know that this has been happening for a long time and the question we must ask is why psychiatry and mental health services have repeatedly been the bridesmaid or the victims of cuts that have to be made.

In 2016 the then Minister for Health, now the Taoiseach, said he would divert €12 million from the mental health budget to compensate for shortfalls in other areas of medicine. That money had been set aside to improve 24-hour psychiatric services. The same thing had happened previously in 2012. We do not know what happened to the moneys that accrued from the sale of psychiatric institutions. That windfall was supposed to be put aside to develop mental health services. The percentage of the health budget spent on mental health is now 6.6%. That is half the percentage it was in the 1980s. Last year the spend on mental health was 10% less than it had been in 2009. The Deputy Leader and the Cathaoirleach will know that we are 250 psychiatric consultants short of the number we need. I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, talk about the Europe-wide crisis in filling consultancy posts. I feel for him in his position because one person cannot solve this problem. The fact is that this is against a background of extreme neglect in the spend on mental health. We lag behind countries such as Romania, Slovakia and Greece, although I do not wish to stigmatise what we would regard as poorer countries, in the number of consultants we employ. We are the third lowest in the European Union in terms of the bed capacity per 100,000 of population. There is an immediate problem but there is a long historical background in terms of the neglect of funding of mental health services that needs to be addressed.

I wish to raise the confirmation that President Trump will be coming to Ireland on 5 June. To be clear, Sinn Féin fully respects the right of President Trump to visit this country, but we have been consistent in protesting his policies and we will be protesting when he arrives at Shannon Airport. I am very much struck by the irony of the fact that he will be meeting the Taoiseach at Shannon Airport. It is not that long ago that we saw Vice President Pence give a cheerleading speech or pep talk to US troops in Shannon Airport, our civilian airport, except it is not a civilian airport because anyone who flies from Shannon Airport will know that one is always surrounded by hundreds of US troops. It happened to me again just a few weeks ago. It is a pity, but it always seems to fall on the Deputy Leader when I ask for a debate on Shannon. For three years I have asked for a debate on the US military use of Shannon Airport and for three years I have been denied such a debate. I can understand the reason given that nearly 3 million US troops and their weapons have been transported through Shannon Airport to and from US wars since 2001. CIA torture rendition flights have also refuelled at Shannon Airport in direct violation of Irish neutrality and international law, including the Geneva Convention on War, the Hague Convention (V) of 1907 on neutrality, the Nuremberg principles, the UN convention against torture and the UN Charter.

I will protest at Shannon Airport and I encourage people to join in the protest. To be fair, Sinn Féin has been consistent. We protested against the foreign policy of the Obama Administration as well. People often forget that President Obama bombed seven different countries in his eight years. There is a consistent line in US policy that is very poor but it has got much worse under President Trump. I refer to his open racism and his misogyny. His warmongering, in particular in the past week against Iran, threatens the entire world in terms of a potential conflict. We can recognise the importance of our relationship with the US and our close families ties with the US, and still take a principled decision to protest against President Trump. Now is the time to do so. Future generations will look in puzzlement if we do not stand up and be counted. I was there in 1984 when President Reagan came. When we protested at Shannon Airport we were joined and led that day by Michael D. Higgins, who is now our President. There is a proud tradition of protest. I encourage everyone to come out in June and to protest against Donald Trump.

This morning I wish to raise the very positive outcome which was achieved in respect of RehabCare services yesterday evening. It is extremely good news that RehabCare services will continue to function, as they are important in supporting approximately 3,000 people countrywide in day services, residential services and respite services. People with disabilities and their families have been concerned and worried in recent weeks. I thank the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, who have worked diligently on this issue. The services are crucial to support people with disabilities in communities. Like others, I received many calls and emails from parents and staff members, in particular in my area of Roscommon and Galway, who were very concerned about the future of the services in respect of the €2 million in additional funding that was required. It is extremely positive that we will continue to see these very important services being delivered to support people with disabilities and their families on a daily basis as the service is crucial.

This morning I received the following letter from Mrs. Bernadette Quinlan and I wish to place it on the record of the House.

Shy, lovely, gentle, dependable, carefree, happy young lad, very much into his fitness (some words used by his fellow soldiers and close friends to describe Matt [Quinlan]). He loved the Army, and was proud to be a soldier. The last time I saw my brother Matt (Private Matthew Quinlan) was at the christening of our newborn baby sister Alice. I was very young at that time but I remember feeling so happy and proud looking up at him. There were 9 children in our family. Matt was the oldest and Alice was the youngest. That was the last time I ever saw him. Alice never met her brother Matt. She saw him once in her lifetime - when he was laid out on a mortuary slab in a small outback town in the Australian Bush after he put a gun to his head and shot himself to death. He spent his lifetime searching for peace but never found it. He packed his old battered suitcase with all his worldly possessions, all he had were the letters, cards and postcards he got from his Mother, Father and us, his brothers and sisters. He tidied his room, packed his old battered suitcase for the last time, and left this world because the pain was too much to bear. He remarked to a friend that he was getting things ready for a visit from his family in Ireland. He was 49 years of age but looked like an old man. Alice travelled for 2 days to get there to bury the big brother she had never met and hold his hand for the first and last time. He was laid out practically as he was found, blood-stained bandage on his head. A very upsetting and traumatising first meeting for our youngest sister.

Back in Ireland, I stood with my parents in the same church where I'd last seen Matt, and we had a funeral mass for him. But there was no coffin, no body, and no burial. My heart broke for my parents.

In Australia, Alice stood in the graveyard of the small town in the outback of the Australian bush, to attend Matt's burial, where the local community wrapped him in an Aboriginal blanket to keep him safe on his final journey. The big brother and the baby sister I'd last seen in our church, were united but briefly and under such heartbreaking conditions.

I appreciate that time is limited. Matt Quinlan was one of five of the Jadotville heroes who took his own life because of the way they were treated by colleagues in the Defence Forces. I was one of those colleagues. I never knew some of those men who went to Jadotville. I have asked time and time again that the 29 named soldiers be awarded distinguished service medals and military medals for gallantry. Eight of those old men are alive today. They are in their 80s. I met them in Trinity College, Dublin, last week. The letter Mrs. Quinlan wrote to me is quite a long letter. It is heartbreaking.

We owe these men their medals. God damn it, they only cost a few cent each. I am sure the Deputy Leader will support me on this issue, but I ask that she tell the Taoiseach and the Minister that for as long as I have breath in my body and whomever is the Taoiseach and the Minister, I will fight for these men at every opportunity I get.

I support Senator Craughwell on the point he raised. The Irish soldiers at Jadotville were treated very shabbily and victims of a type of conspiracy to defame and belittle them and make them feel like cowards when they were precisely the opposite. Ireland must collectively make amends to those who remain and the memory of those who have passed on.

Following on from Senator Mullen's point about mental health services, I emphasise a particular issue, the large number of prisoners in Ireland who are psychiatrically ill. The current arrangements in prisons, both physical and organisational, are very poor in that regard. Prisoners with psychiatric problems must remain in the institution in which they are incarcerated in circumstances that are unsuitable for the treatment of such illness. When I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, one of the things that shocked me most was the padded cell system then operating in prisons. The cells were approximately 5 ft by 5 ft, dark with only a little pink light at the top, rubber padding all around and a rubber mat on the floor and a plastic pot in which the semi-naked prisoners had to urinate. We replaced those cells with observational units that were well lit, with supervised windows through which the detainee could be in communication with others. However, the problem remains that the Central Mental Hospital is not carrying out the requisite functions to treat prisoners who are suffering from psychiatric illness during the course of their sentence. In fact, nothing other than the minimum psychiatric help is being afforded to those individuals.

It was and remains my ambition that the Thornton Hall campus should have a proper mental health facility for prisoners. I expect that facility to be built eventually because it will not be done in Mountjoy Prison. As such, the latter should close, as I have no doubt that it will do in due course. Will the Deputy Leader call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to set aside time to come to the House to outline his plans to improve psychiatric services in the prison system? The system is bound to be a failure if it leaves prisoners to complete their sentences untreated. Such an approach must be self-defeating. Apart from simply morality, it is absolutely wrong from a prudential viewpoint that prisoners who need psychiatric treatment are not receiving it. We need a debate with the Minister on his plans to ensure the psychiatric services offered by hospitals to prisoners are adequate and an admission finally that it is a pretence that the Central Mental Hospital is discharging this function.

Senator Ardagh referred to the sports facilities grants given in recent days and spoke about the lack of green spaces in the area she represents. I cannot comment on individual grant applications or approvals, but the Senator might raise the issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport by way of a Commencement matter. I agree that the situation in regard to management company sinking funds represents a lacuna in the law. Depending on how well an apartment block is managed, there may or not be a sinking fund, the importance of which we all appreciate. What the Senator suggests would represent good law.

I was not in the House yesterday for the Order of Business when the exchange to which Senator Mullen referred took place. The Senator and I have had our differences in the past. Despite the large amount of difficult stuff that was thrown in my direction on a daily basis some time ago, I personally managed to remain civil and cordial. To be fair, for the most part, the Senator did the same. I can only speak for myself in that regard. It is important that we keep the personal out of it and confine ourselves to the issues at hand. I very much regret when commentators or fellow politicians get personal about any person involved in politics. We are here to do a job and should be professional in how we conduct our business. At the end of the day, it is not really personal, even though it often feels that way. Everybody must respect the differing views of others. I regret that the Senator felt as he did yesterday.

My feelings do not matter. My point was about the example we set for others.

I am getting to it. The more that type of language becomes the norm, the greater it denigrates politics. It is regrettable. I cannot comment on what happened yesterday, but I have seen something similar happen on previous occasions. On the particular issue under discussion, many people, including Senator Mullen, can become passionate, which might be an explanation for anything that happened.

No, it is not. There was no passion.

I am suggesting it as an explanation, not an excuse. I remind the Senator that I am giving a response rather than engaging in a conversation with him.

I apologise for interrupting the Deputy Leader. I understand an investigation is taking place into the matter to which Senator Mullen referred. As such, too much comment at this stage may be unhelpful.

I cannot even comment on the particular exchange to which the Senator referred because I was not present. I can only refer to my own experiences of similar issues.

With regard to mental health services, I heard most of the interview this morning to which Senator Mullen referred, including the references to shortages across Europe. As the daughter of a consultant psychiatrist who is still working in her 70s, I am aware of the great need for such services in the west. Many of the Senator's points are well made about the mental health service being the poor relation in the health system. The issue warrants a good debate in the House in early course with both the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility in this area. We should have that debate in advance of the budget, given that there is clearly a funding issue.

Senator Gavan referred to the upcoming visit of the American President. As the Senator noted, Mr. Trump was democratically elected as leader of the United States. I am no fan of his, but the Taoiseach will have bilateral discussions with him and we will take the positives from the visit. However, I take on board the Senator's point. It goes back to the point I made in response to Senator Mullen in that the President's language, including the hateful dialogue used in respect of many of his policies, normalises a similar discourse from leaders throughout the world. It is regrettable that such behaviour by the American President may encourage others to follow in his footsteps. I do not want to mention his name, but a person who ran for the Irish Presidency and is standing in the European Parliament elections might perhaps feel that taking this type of populist approach could win him a buy-in by lots of people. I dislike President Trump as much as Senator Gavan does, but we must take his visit for what it is. I agree that having a debate in the near future on aviation in the context of the regional airports would be useful, in which the Senator might raise the issue without it having to be a discussion about Shannon Airport and stopovers.

Senator Hopkins welcomed the announcement on RehabCare services.

It is a good result. We have to commend the Ministers on sitting down with those involved and finding a solution in a fairly short period to ensure rehabilitation services continue for people throughout the country. That is to be welcomed.

Senator Craughwell read out a very emotional email and I can see how much this means to him. The Senator is passionate about this issue which I have heard him raise often. We could do better for the individuals in question. I do not know as much about the issue as the Senator does but I will certainly discuss it with the Taoiseach. These men are clearly heroes. They were anything but cowards; they were courageous men. This would be a small gesture in the context of what they have endured. I support the Senator and promise that I will speak to the Taoiseach about the matter.

I thank the Deputy Leader.

Senator McDowell raised an issue which is somewhat related to what we discussed regarding psychiatric problems among prisoners. There is a distinction to be made between mainstream prisons, where prisoners go in and experience psychiatric problems, and the Central Mental Hospital, where prisoners go in having been found guilty as a result of their mental illness. There is a distinction to be made and it is probably an interesting discussion to have. I do not know as much as Senator McDowell does about Thornton Hall but we could discuss the issue with the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Minister spends much time in this House discussing one particular issue, as the Senator knows, and I am sure he would welcome the opportunity to speak in the House about something other than the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. That discussion is one we could prioritise.

Order of Business agreed to.

I propose a suspension of the sitting until 12.10 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 12.05 p.m. and resumed at 12.10 p.m.