Seanad Éireann - Volume 155 - 24 April, 1998

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is item 1. All Stages of the Bill are to be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes on Second Stage. Senators may share time.

Mr. Manning: We agree to the Order of Business. However, I think it is somewhat unnecessary to put time limits on a short Bill on which there will be few speakers.

Mr. Cassidy: If the Senator wishes to have more time, I will provide for that.

Mr. Manning: It strikes me that there is no point in putting time limits on a Bill in which there are only four sections. I believe we should let it takes its natural course.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Public Enterprise to make public the final report on Luas? This is an issue which has been dragging on for some time and it is important that the information be brought into the open. Perhaps the Leader could reply to that issue next week.

Dr. Henry: We also agree to the Order of Business.

[254] Four years ago next week, I tabled an Adjournment matter on the need to introduce a breast screening programme in this country. Today, the Department of Health and Children has produced its national breast screening policy document. The document is very optimistic, stating that it is hoped the screening programme will be introduced by autumn. This will not be possible as those who will run the scheme have yet to be appointed and the advertisements for the necessary medical and paramedical personnel have yet to go out.

In view of the fact that Ireland has probably the highest rate of breast cancer within the EU, that the Minister has given assurances that there will be no hospital closures, and of the recent decision by the Midland Health Board not to locate their cancer services in one hospital, can the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to this House to debate this issue? A debate would ensure that all politicians are aware of the fact that the dispersal of cancer services leads to a lower success rate in combating this disease. The mortality rate from breast cancer in Ireland is about twice that of the United States where they have dedicated units of treatment. I do not think that those politicians who called for the dispersal of services, even with the best will in the world and with their constituents in mind, fully understand the medical implications of these decisions. I wrote to the Minister for Health and Children asking if people had been made aware of the medical significance of these proposals. He has not had time to reply to me yet.

I know Members want to do their best for their constituents from a medical point of view. It is not just a matter of money but of medical expertise and having proper training and facilities. The treatment of cancer is far more complex than just throwing money at it. Can the Leader facilitate a debate on this very serious matter?

Mr. Costello: My party agrees with the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader.

I support the two previous Senators in their remarks. I agree with Senator Manning when he called for a debate on Luas. We need to deal with this matter urgently because Monika Wolf Matheus, the European Commissioner, was here last week. She indicated that the deadline for accessing £220 million from the Cohesion and Structural Funds in relation to the light rail network is drawing very near. The sooner the Luas report is published the sooner a decision can be made on a light rail network for Dublin.

Will the Leader facilitate a debate on the newly published Bacon report? The report was six months in gestation, then the Government reviewed it for three weeks and now it has been published. Unfortunately, the Government has come up with proposals that I would not regard as comprehensive or active proposals. Members have expressed the desire to have an early debate on the Bacon report because of the current housing [255] crisis and its implications for the rest of the country.

Mr. Farrell: Will the Leader facilitate a debate on telephone masts? I do not think there is any danger from masts. There are a lot of unemployment black spots in rural Ireland but we cannot develop these areas without modern technology. A debate would allay the fears of people living in rural areas who oppose the construction of masts. There are more masts, cables and wires in Donnybrook than anywhere else in Europe, yet property in that area is more expensive than anywhere else. If masts, etc. were dangerous then it should have been discovered in Donnybrook because they have been 20 years or more in existence. In fact they are being added to every day.

Mr. Quinn: In regard to Luas and the Atkins report, I understand the Cabinet may consider it on Tuesday. The Leader may be able to facilitate a debate on this issue very soon. I urge the Government to act with the speed and the alacrity that they have done elsewhere in publishing their views and making their decisions on this.

Senator Norris is absent today but we both have expressed strong views on the implications of Luas.

In relation to the carnage on our roads, I know we are having two debates next week on the local government area and the implications. The debates will give us an opportunity to discuss the awful carnage on our roads. I understand there is a difficulty between those responsible for roads, such as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced a 42 per cent reduction in crime statistics and I congratulate him on that. It would be great if he could have the same success rates in relation to road accidents. I urge him to consider some of the proposals made the last time we discussed this issue.

In relation to Senator Henry's comments on breast cancer, the Minister for Health and Children stated on television last night that it was not his intention to close any more hospitals. Will the Minister confirm that he does not intend to close Hume Street Hospital? Many people connected with the hospital are fearful that the direction of research, particularly into dermatology and cancer, may mean that smaller hospitals that specialised in certain areas may be amalgamated into larger hospitals.

Mr. Mooney: Apropos of remarks in relation to Luas. As someone who participated in the debates on this issue several years ago, I share the concerns in relation to a decision. I am always impressed with the alacrity with which Dublin based Members of both Houses escalate issues into matters of crisis. If 25 per cent of the £220 million earmarked for Luas was given to the Dublin-Sligo [256] railway line then it would considerably enhance the balance of equity between rural Ireland and the east coast. In that context I would be grateful if the Leader facilitated a debate on transport infrastructure with specific emphasis on the railway system, which is scandalously underfunded. Under the current operation of Structural Funds, EU co-financing is only available to the Dublin-Mullingar section of the Dublin-Sligo line. Therefore, CIÉ-Irish Rail must continue to fund the Mullingar-Sligo section, but because they have a debt of £105 million they are calling on the Government to give them more money. It would be good if we could get a portion of the £220 million that has been earmarked for the east coast.

Mr. McDonagh: Can the Leader provide, in the event of a debate on the agriculture industry, that some time would be allocated to discuss the Rural Environment Protection scheme. As a result of the parameters for the new REP scheme some farmers in the West stand to lose money and at present farmers cannot afford to lose money in any area.

Mr. Chambers: I welcome the new REP scheme costing £3 billion and I support the comments of Senator McDonagh. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, to outline the Government's commitment to rural development, the proposed White Paper and the new REP scheme?

Ms Leonard: I support Senator Henry's call for the National Screening Programme for Breast Cancer to be advanced. Perhaps the Minister for Health and Children could come into the House to discuss the health services and resources available, particularly in rural areas. Considering that the programme screened on RTÉ last night did not do justice to the service provided in local county hospitals, I ask the Leader to have a discussion on this matter.

Mr. O'Dowd: I wish to raise the same issue and to ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Health the great concern of the citizenry of the Drogheda area about the inadequate resources in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital notwithstanding the excellent professional staff there. Will the Leader raise with the Minister the need for the Government to establish a major capital investment programme to renew the hospital's accident and emergency area where patients often lie on trolleys overnight while waiting for beds? Money must be invested in the health service, in care for the elderly and particularly in hospitals such as Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda.

Mr. Glynn: I warmly welcome the measures announced by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to control house prices. I strongly support the call by Senator Farrell for a [257] debate on telephone masts. There is great public concern about this question, whether justified or not, and the only way to dispel fears or misconceptions is to have a debate on the effects of telephone masts, adverse or not, on the general public.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: I support the call for an early debate on Luas. I also support Senator Mooney's call for an injection of capital into the Dublin-Sligo railway line. The two demands are not in conflict. I would not presume to trample on the legitimate aspirations of the people of the west of Ireland.

With regard to Luas, non-Government Motion No. 19, on the Order Paper proposes:

That Seanad Éireann expresses its strong support for the independent approach to the Luas proposals adopted by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Mary O'Rourke T.D., and her continuing commitment to consider the underground option for Dublin's light rail system; in the light of this, Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister to arrange for the speedy publication of the Atkins Report and to implement a fully integrated transport proposal for Dublin.

I assumed that this motion, tabled by the Independent Group, would have facilitated an early debate on this subject and that is why I did not raise it. I certainly support the call for a debate on the Luas project.

Mr. Cassidy: I will do my best to facilitate the requests from Senator Manning, Senator Costello, Senator Quinn, Senator Mooney and Senator Liam Fitzgerald for an early debate on Luas.

Senator Henry brought up points regarding breast cancer screening and she, with Senator Quinn, Senator Leonard, Senator O'Dowd and Senator Costello, requested a debate on the Health Servce. I will contact the Minister for Health and inform the House next week when a debate on this matter will be possible. Senator Henry may be interested to know that the Midland Health Board, of which I am a member, decided last week to retain the chemotherapy units in Mullingar and Portlaoise. We did not wish to see this service concentrated in one hospital. It is not acceptable that patients should have to travel 100 miles for chemotherapy.

I will attempt to comply with Senator Costello's request for a debate on the Bacon report.

Senator Quinn expressed serious concern at the carnage on our roads. This matter was raised on the Order of Business yesterday and I pointed out the dreadful figures of eight fatalities last week, eight the previous week and 14 the week before that. In answer to the calls for a debate on this matter today and yesterday, I will make time available next Tuesday to discuss the abuse of alcohol and road fatalities, because these two topics are related.

[258] A debate on telephone masts has been requested by many Senators over the past two months and by Senator Farrell and Senator Glynn today. I am also leaving time next Tuesday to debate this matter.

I will try to facilitate Senator McDonagh's and Senator Chambers' requests for a debate on agriculture and, in particular, on the REP scheme.

An Cathaoirleach: Can the Leader clarify the position on time limits for speakers?

Mr. Cassidy: If it is the feeling of the House that time limits should not be imposed and, as it is Friday and I am in a generous mood, no time limit will be imposed on Senators. I will monitor the time taken by speakers in this debate for future sittings.

Order of Business agreed to.