Seanad Éireann - Volume 187 - 22 November, 2007

Order of Business.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No.1, motion on the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on education, to be taken at the conclusion of No.1 and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, the Minister to called upon for the final five minutes of the debate, and on which Senators may share time.

  Senator Frances Fitzgerald: On Tuesday the House debated with the Minister for Health and Children for two hours. In that time many Members expressed their concerns about the state of the health services, with a particular focus [1658]on cancer services. Unfortunately since then, two more women who believed they had the all-clear from Portlaoise Hospital have been diagnosed with breast cancer. This a personal tragedy for them.

Given the clinical excellence of the doctor appointed to review the cases, no woman should have any concerns. However, she has been placed in an invidious position, having been on the interview board for the doctor at Portlaoise Hospital and now conducting the inquiry into the same doctor’s diagnoses. This is an arrangement the Government should have avoided.

The Leader must ask the Department of Health and Children how women who have had mammograms outside the BreastCheck service, which has an excellent record, can continue to have confidence in services provided by private and public hospitals. Given the devastating results from Portlaoise, is the same review going to be necessary? Dr. Naughton wrote two years ago to the Department on the matter. It then sent on his correspondence to the Health Service Executive but yet there has been this scandal in Portlaoise.

Although the House debated health services for two hours on Tuesday, two more women who attended Portlaoise Hospital have been confirmed with breast cancer. Women’s confidence in hospital services must be at an all-time low. I remind the Leader in the past ten years two Fianna Fáil Ministers, Deputies Martin and Cowen, and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, have run the health services at a time of unprecedented national wealth. This must be the largest disappointment to patients — the consumers.

What other questions arise about services, especially given the ten-year delay in the roll-out of breast cancer screening? It was promised for every part of the country many years ago but it is still not widely available. Our problems continue in this area of the health service, which is a disgrace. It is an ongoing issue despite our wealth and investment in the sector. Members on all sides will agree that it will need ongoing scrutiny from the Seanad over the coming months.

Yesterday, an extraordinary situation emerged in the UK where the private details of 25 million citizens were lost in the UK post. The Data Protection Commissioner, Mr. Billy Hawkes, spoke yesterday of similar data risks in Ireland and how we need to be careful on how private data are held. He said what happened in the UK was a wake-up call for the Irish authorities.

In recent weeks, several Members have raised the matter of leaks from the Department of Social and Family Affairs where private data on individuals held by the Department were passed on to insurance companies and others. It would be appropriate for the Leader to bring this to the Government’s attention. It would also be worthwhile for the Data Protection Commissioner to attend an Oireachtas committee to outline what [1659]is lacking in Government policy in data protection and the managing of sensitive data which it holds on citizens.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: I support the Minister for Health and Children on the pharmacists matter. It has been raised twice on the Order of Business by Senators Doherty and Ross. While I understand and approve of what the Minister is attempting to achieve, I do not understand what the row is about. It would be helpful for a debate on the issue to clarify certain matters. The Irish Pharmaceutical Union is not entitled to represent its members to discuss dispensing costs with the Health Service Executive because it would be in breach of competition laws. As I see it, the Competition Authority will sit down with the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children, both of whom have a consumer interest and are required to give fair value. This would protect the consumer. If a discussion among a Department, a State body and the pharmaceutical union about getting the best price for consumers is in breach of the competition legislation then the legislation is an ass and should be changed quickly. If that is the case, the consumer is losing out. I am not putting the case for the pharmacists, as I share the Minister’s point of view on this issue.

I have discovered that pharmaceuticals, like cars in the European market, are placed at different wholesale prices from country to country. This continues almost 50 years after we began to establish the so-called common market. The EU Commissioner responsible for the Internal Market, Mr. Charlie McCreevy should examine this issue. We are being hammered at least in part because of the high wholesale cost of pharmaceuticals based on a price determined by the pharmaceutical companies. I believe it breaches European legislation and it is certainly in breach of the Treaty of Rome. I would like us to consider whether the competition authority legislation protects the consumer and examine the European competition legislation which seems to go against the principles of the common market.

  Senator Dominic Hannigan: There have been significant changes in the country since the Planning and Development Act 2000 was passed. Most Senators have received a report from the Irish Planning Institute which shows a threefold increase in the number of planning applications in the past decade. Planners are being swamped by the increasing volume and complexity of applications.

It may be time for us to review the Planning and Development Act 2000, specifically Part 6, which deals with the role and responsibilities of An Bord Pleanála. I refer not only to this week’s decision on incineration but also to the concerns that organisations such as the Irish Rural Dwellers Association have about the make-up of the board.

[1660]Part 5, dealing with social and affordable housing should be also reviewed. I was disappointed to learn this morning that the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, is attacking Clare County Council because it is using the Act to ensure that 20% of housing in the county is social and affordable. The CIF is concerned that other houses will fail to sell but we should commend Clare County Council and other councils that use the Act to realise more social and affordable housing. We could send them a message that we support these endeavours by calling for a review of the Act to tighten the legislation. Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss a review of the Planning and Development Act?

  Senator Dan Boyle: Senator Hannigan may be surprised to know that I support his call for such a debate. The programme for Government includes the need for a review and updating of planning legislation. The process would cover several of the areas he mentioned.

  Senator Maurice Cummins: Give us the legislation.

  Senator Dan Boyle: In light of today’s decision, another commitment in the programme for Government should be instigated instantly, namely, a review of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the legislation that will follow that review. Senators have recently discussed an ongoing process of derogating political responsibility to stand-alone bodies that has diminished political decision making and democratic accountability. Today’s decision to grant a draft waste licence, which will go to a public consultation process in which the EPA will decide whether it was right to grant the licence in the first instance, is another example of this perversion of democratic principles and the need for the political process to reclaim responsibility in this area. The House should be united in ensuring this review, as proposed in the programme for Government, happens.

This is an instance of bullying by institution. Independent bodies are making decisions for political reasons because powers have been derogated in legislation. As participants in the political process we cannot stand over that behaviour as exemplified by An Bord Pleanála’s decisions this week. The inspector’s report acknowledges that the policy on waste management incineration is changing but because this has not been put in writing neither the planning inspector nor An Bord Pleanála will recognise it. I suspect that the EPA’s move today was based on a similar decision. Policy formation in this area is changing but an attempt is being made to reach decisions in advance of that change. We all should be concerned about such a process.

  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

[1661]  Senator Jerry Buttimer: Let us see some action.

  Senator Eugene Regan: The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, commissioned a report from Patrick Gageby, Senior Counsel, on the death of an infant in Dalkey in 1973, generally referred to as the Dalkey baby case. At the Coroner’s inquest earlier this year Cynthia Owen was deemed to be the mother of the child. Subsequently the Minister asked Patrick Gageby to review all the files and report on whether further investigation was required. That report was delivered on time on 1 October last. Will the Leader ask the present Minister if he intends to take any action on foot of the report? If the report is to be published will the Minister make copies available to the interested parties before publication? It is a very disturbing case on which all the parties involved would like closure.

  Senator Ivor Callely: The Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, IPU, are on a collision course that would have a detrimental impact on the supply of medication. I understand Senator O’Toole’s call for clarity and debate on the issue. The Government has agreed complex pricing structures, with the Pharmaceutical Distributors Federation of Ireland, PDF, the manufacturing side, the wholesalers, and retailers. Will the Leader arrange for a factsheet to be drawn up for Members of the House, setting out the position regarding the HSE and the IPU? I have endeavoured to obtain such a sheet for the past few days and have been unable to do so.

The issue has been raised in other fora at which the Minister appears, asking her to resolve this issue by responding to the dictate issued by the HSE on 17 September that will take effect on 1 December and could have a detrimental effect on patients. Time is running out — 1 December is just a few days away. I ask, therefore, that this House agree a motion without debate that Seanad Éireann calls for an independent person to be appointed to help resolve the problems between the HSE and the IPU.

  Senator Paul Coghlan: Senator Fitzgerald touched on a matter of great importance regarding the interviews which our Data Protection Commissioner, Mr. Billy Hawkes, gave yesterday about the loss of two discs in Britain. He is concerned about our jurisdiction. The protection of Irish citizens’ data is of paramount importance and we are all concerned by the management of confidential data. Unfortunately, there was a case of such data being handled inappropriately by a civil servant in a particular Department and there may have been other instances. Given what was said on this topic yesterday, I ask the Leader to arrange an appropriate joint committee to hear [1662]Mr. Billy Hawkes on the subject as soon as possible.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Today, 22 November, is St. Cecilia’s day and she is the patron saint of music.

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not want to be here until St. Patrick’s Day.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: The Cathaoirleach will not be here until St. Patrick’s Day.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: Given that she is the patron saint of music the Senator may wish to sing her contribution.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I could sing my contribution but the Leader might not approve.

Could the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, to come to the House? An arts Bill was recently passed in both Houses from which came a sub-committee on the traditional arts and great support for traditional arts has emanated from that sub-committee. A sub-committee was subsequently set up to examine arts in education and I believe its report has been finalised. I ask that the Minister give Members an indication of the content of the report and the implications of the roll-out of the sub-committee.

  Senator Feargal Quinn: At 4 a.m. today a ship sank at the rocks off Howth and I live nearby. Within ten minutes a lifeboat was launched and the four men on the rocks were rescued. I mention this because we tend to forget the amount of active citizenship that exists in this country thanks to people who give their time and effort to be available for work such as lifeboat rescues. Those of us who heard Mr. Rupert Jeffare on the radio this morning could not help but hang on every word detailing what happened.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, RNLI, receives State support. I do not know how much, but I raise this matter to draw attention to the fact that it seeks voluntary contributions from us and those of us who use ships rely on the active citizenship its members show. I asked for a debate on active citizenship some months ago in the previous Seanad and it has not yet happened. The Taoiseach launched the debate on active citizenship last year with a great deal of encouragement for the practice and it would be useful to have a debate to remind us of the great work being done voluntarily by many people throughout the country. We do not realise how much we depend on these people but when we really need them they are there to help. I would like to see a debate in the House on active citizenship soon.

  Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

  Senator Denis O’Donovan: I fully concur with Senator Quinn’s remarks and I appreciate the [1663]Leader allowing a debate yesterday on the Cawley report which covered the future of fishing in the country. I come from a coastal community and it a source of serious concern to me that, this year alone, at least eight vessels have sunk. It gave me no satisfaction last January to visit the widows of two victims of the cruel sea, and the incidents off the Waterford and Wexford coastline occurred owing to a type of perfect storm which saw appalling weather on the night in question.

Some vessels have experienced difficulties in relatively calm waters and, thankfully, many lives have been saved by the RNLI, helicopter rescue and so on. I do not seek another debate on the Cawley report but as Dr. Noel Cawley has agreed to oversee the implementation of the report on the future of fishing, perhaps he could also examine the issue of safety at sea. There are justifiably strict controls in this area and the annual and bi-annual checks on even small ferries travelling to the islands carrying eight or ten passengers are stringent. Millions of euro have been spent on new vessels and improving boats in Ireland, and the fishing industry, the Department and the Minister must re-examine the issue of safety at sea. Eight vessels have sunk off our coastline with the loss of seven lives, many other people have been saved, some at the last moment, and there is something radically wrong in 2007 if this must be the case.

I am not being judgmental regarding what happened last night because I do not have the facts. In this day and age vessels are obliged to carry radios, flares and other equipment so, following what Senator Quinn said, this is an area that should be examined in this House.

  Senator Jerry Buttimer: I concur with Senator Quinn as Senator Harris and I raised the issue of civility in recent weeks and I think a debate on active citizenship would be appropriate.

A couple of weeks ago Senator Kelly and I, along with other Senators, raised the issue of the impending crisis facing the Gaelic Athletic Association, GAA, and the Gaelic Players’ Association, GPA. In light of this morning’s revelation that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, perceives a problem in allocating the money promised and may have difficulty sourcing it, can the Leader inform the House if we can have a debate in this House with the Minister? This is an important matter and it behoves the Members of this House to become active because there is a crisis looming, not because of the GAA and GPA but because the Government may renege on a financial commitment.

  Senator Camillus Glynn: I recently received a letter from a local man asking me to raise a sensitive issue in this House pertaining to organ donation. He has spoken to me eloquently on the [1664]matter since and describes the situation as, in many cases, burying life with death. Organ donation is a sensitive area, especially for those who have lost loved ones, but it is, nonetheless, an issue that must be dealt with. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, has been very generous with her time in this House but another visit to discuss this matter in an in-depth fashion could be very worthwhile. Proposals could come from all sides of the House and this would make for a pragmatic way of addressing the subject because the situation at the moment is unsatisfactory.

I strongly support Senator Hannigan in his call for a debate on An Bord Pleanála because the only way in which it is consistent is in its inconsistency. I was born, bred and reared in the country and we cannot all live in towns and cities. Rural areas must be taken into account because otherwise a nonsense is made of the concept of rural development which is driven by people. Without people there will be no schools. The Leader referred to a situation some years ago on Westmeath County Council that saw three parishes trying to create a team. This issue is not all about sport but the case given implies some of the difficulties that exist in the area of planning. Some of the decisions made by An Bord Pleanála in recent years were nonsense and have been addressed in a sensible way by the Rural Dwellers Association.

I raised the issue of housing estate management previously in this House and it must be revisited because it is not working. People are being driven out of their houses and are being advised by the Garda to leave. The offenders remain while those offended against must leave and this does not make for a good situation.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: Very often matters raised on the Order of Business involve a degree of criticism and negativity and, in that context, I was very pleased to hear the contributions of Senator Quinn and others on the heroic example of active citizenship shown during the night.

11 o’clock

I am pleased to raise another good news story. Reports in yesterday’s newspapers outlined the great progress being made in stem cell research. Latest developments mean it is possible to obtain flexible stem cells from skin cells. The great medical hope is that it will be possible to develop cures for various diseases through the use of these cells. Many people rightly had ethical concerns about research involving the destruction of embryos. However, the latest Japanese research indicates that highly flexible stem cells can be obtained by reprogramming skin cells.

There remains a need for debate in this area, particularly in regard to the activities of the European Union and the performance of the Government in deliberating on such issues at EU level. In the debate on EU funding for embryo destructive research, Ireland adopted a shamefully com[1665]pliant position, considering our constitutional principles. We did not support those countries advocating ethical research, although that argument now seems to be in the ascendant. In advance of the referendum on the EU reform treaty, there should be a debate in this House on how decisions are made at EU level and the steps being taken by the Government to ensure those decisions are correct. I heard on the radio yesterday of the terrible treatment of children with disabilities in Bulgarian institutions. In the negotiations leading to Bulgaria’s accession to the EU, the European Commission showed little interest in obliging the Bulgarian Government to ensure its institutions were up to scratch. Hidden governance is bad governance. We must discuss how we can have greater scrutiny of the case made by the Government when these types of decisions are made.

  Senator Jim Walsh: I support Senator Quinn’s call for a debate on active citizenship. I concur with his compliments to the Irish Coastguard. I understand the trawler that sank this morning was out of Wexford. The points made by Senator O’Donovan are also apt. A debate on this issue would be constructive and useful.

I fully support the call by Senator Mullen for a debate on stem cell research. In the lead up to the referendum on the EU reform treaty, it is important that we have several debates in this House on issues relevant to the referendum campaign. We in this House can take the lead by facilitating those debates.

I welcome the Taoiseach’s comments on abolishing self-regulation within the legal profession and establishing an independent regulatory commission. I hope this will apply not only to the Law Society but also to the Bar Council. Exorbitant legal fees and recent revelations cast aspersions on the legal profession in general. This is unfair because there are many fine people serving within the legal fraternity. However, it is time that self-regulation came to an end.

Will the Leader ascertain the status of the report of the Competition Authority on curtailing excessive and exorbitant legal fees? The authority deserves considerable criticism for being so dilatory in coming forward with this report. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, committed to bring forward legislation in this area but there has been no progress. Action is required urgently and all of us would welcome the publication of the Competition Authority’s report.

  Senator Paudie Coffey: I support previous speakers’ calls for a debate on active citizenship and volunteerism in general. Time is one of the most valuable resources for people in these busy days. Those who are willing to contribute voluntarily to our society should be acknowledged on an official level in both Houses of the Oireachtas. [1666] We must discuss how they may be supported into the future.

The management of Waterford Crystal formally announced yesterday that 492 jobs will be lost. The company has been a flagship employer, with almost 4,000 employees in Waterford city and county, and has contributed enormously to both the city and regional economy. It is a serious blow to the south east. I welcome the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s announcement of the creation of new jobs in Galway, but he also has a responsibility to Waterford. I ask that he engage with both management and unions in Waterford Crystal to discuss how State resources can be invested in the city to allow it bounce back from this blow. Many of the people whose jobs will be lost have worked for the company for decades. It is a major blow to them and their families, especially in the lead up to Christmas. All Senators should be concerned by this because something similar could affect their constituencies soon enough. I ask the Minister to come to the House to explain how this serious blow to the region can be addressed.

  Senator Mark Daly: I support Senator Quinn and others in their call for a debate on active citizenship. It is a serious issue in a society whose citizens are generally devoid of time, because volunteerism is dependent on people giving freely of their time. Volunteerism is also dependent on the education system, which seems to be churning out economic units of activity, namely, employers and employees of the future, rather than trying to create citizens. Active citizens are not born but created. Secondary students spend some 99% of their time preparing for the leaving certificate examination so they can secure the points to enter third level education. The education system does not prepare them for the real world, including such issues as suicide prevention and drug and alcohol abuse. All that is allocated to such topics is some glib, once-off instruction. I ask the Leader to facilitate Senator Quinn’s call for a debate on this issue.

  Senator Pearse Doherty: Ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an tAire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí go dtí an Seanad le plé a dhéanamh ar an chinneadh a ghlac an Rialtas Dé Máirt ar na riachtanais a bhí ann do dhlíodóirí cumas na Gaeilge a bheith acu agus téarmaíocht Gaeilge a bheith acu. Tá an riachtanas sin á bhaint amach as an reachtaíocht agus ní bheidh an gá sin, cumas na Gaeilge a bheith ag dlíodóirí, ann níos mó dóibh de bharr chinneadh an Rialtais. Tá an cinneadh sin ag teacht salach ar an Ghaeilge. Níl mórán céille leis, agus sin an fáth go bhfuil mé ag iarraidh go dtiocfadh an tAire isteach le plé a dhéanamh ar an cheist.

For those who are not using their headphones, I ask that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come into the House to address the decision by the Government to remove the [1667]requirement that members of the legal profession have a knowledge of the Irish language. This is not a sensible approach but rather an attack on the language and on the constitutional rights of those who wish to use Irish in their dealings with the courts. It will be a costly measure for the State because it will have to provide interpreters for simple legal statements in which members of legal professions were heretofore required to be proficient. Rather than abolishing the requirements, what is needed is a greater effort by third level institutions and professional training bodies to integrate the Irish language into legal education. I call for this debate as a matter of urgency because the announcement has been made without any consultation with the Irish language bodies or those providing legal services through the medium of Irish.

  Senator Terry Leyden: I support the comments by Senators O’Toole and Callely on the dispute between the Irish Pharmaceutical Union and the HSE. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health and Children to come in next Wednesday to explain the procedures relating to the purchase of drugs because it is such a complex area. Some 1.5 million medical card holders are now very concerned they will not be in a position to get drugs on 1 November under their medical card entitlement. If that happens, these people will be landed with very big costs if they want to fill prescriptions, which they will not be able to afford.

The matter is urgent. The Irish Pharmaceutical Union demonstrated its responsibility when it supported the preparation of the Pharmacy Bill which went through the House this year. We were briefed by its representatives in a very responsible manner. All of us in the House would recognise the contribution to society of pharmacists, who are hard-working, dedicated and diligent professionals.

The approach of the HSE in taking these people on without considering the overall scenario is very serious. I hope the Leader will use his position to try to bring sanity to the current insanity.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his point well. A number of others wish to speak.

  Senator Terry Leyden: There is more competition in the pharmacy business than before. In Roscommon town, two new companies have opened in the past few years.

I support the Taoiseach’s call to introduce a Bill on the control of solicitors and barristers. It is about time this happened because the vast majority of these solicitors are very responsible and honourable, yet the banks and building societies have let us all down by lending money to solicitors who have given their word on properties without checking the backgrounds of [1668]these people. It has caused much doom and gloom in the legal profession and building industry, as titles of properties will now have to be double and treble-checked.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his point.

  Senator Terry Leyden: We need an independent organisation to monitor both solicitors and barristers.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: Other speakers have called for a debate on active citizenship and the role of volunteering in society. Senator Daly in particular hit the nail on the head when he spoke about the important role education plays within this, which I believe should be captured in the debate I hope we have. The Senator indicated that in many cases, comments and culture encouraging citizenship within our students can be glib and one-off but I disagree with this. In my experience I found teachers take these matters very seriously and do their best within the constraints they have to discharge their responsibilities to students. I hope a proper debate on this will lead to more exploration of the issue and ensure the efforts made are not glib or one-off. They deserve to be taken more seriously.

The issue we are facing is that many of the responsibilities we traditionally asked of parents and families are now being shifted on to teachers in schools. They have to pick up the slack in that regard. With the budget coming up, one of the pressures contributing to that has been the change in our tax system and the move to individualisation, which has undermined to a degree the role which the family can play in discharging those duties.

I hope when this debate comes up we can properly recognise the role played by teachers in our society and also spend time looking at the role played by the tax system in the issue. Notwithstanding the pressures suffered by the Minister, I hope measures will be taken to rectify this matter in the impending budget.

  Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support the call for a comprehensive debate on planning, particularly with regard to rural housing. The former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, brought in guidelines which were generally welcomed at the time. We found the implementation of those guidelines to be very diverse, as in some counties the spirit has been very much acknowledged and in other cases the guidelines have been virtually ignored.

I may have mentioned in the House one sinister development that came to my notice. In England, there is a planning body which monitors closely and in an exceptional way planning developments here in Ireland. When it was requested as to whether this applied to other countries, it [1669]indicated it did not and the historical link with Ireland was the reason behind the action. We should bear in mind the traditional concepts that applied to planning in England and Ireland are totally different.

Taking the village as an example, the English village and the traditional concept of an Irish village are totally different. The Irish Rural Dwellers Association, of which I am founding member, has put together an extensive file on contradictions and anomalies which exist throughout the country in regard to planning. The bottom line still is that the young generation is not succeeding in getting permission to build houses on the family farm.

We are all for good planning but many of these cases raise very serious questions. My belief is planning decisions should not only be fair and equitable, but they must be transparent also. It is vital we revisit the debate we had in this House in the past.

Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an Seanadóir Ó Dochartaigh maidir le díospóireacht a bheith againn anseo i dtaobh Gaeilge riachtanach le haghaidh dlíodóirí. Tá an Teach seo agus an Dáil tar éis reachtaíocht a chur i bhfeidhm maidir le cur chun cinn na Gaeilge. Tá sé luaite sa reachtaíocht go bhfuil dualgas ar 500 nó 600 eagrais seirbhísí dátheangacha a chuir ar fáil. Ní thuigim conas is féidir le dlíodóirí seirbhísíéagsúla a chuir ar fáil, go mórmhór ó thaobh cúrsaí dlí de, muna bhfuil cumas Gaeilge acu. Ba bhreá liom é sin a phlé arís uair éigin.

  Senator David Norris: The Taoiseach recently raised the possibility of an honours system, apparently quite seriously. This is an area which must be considered. If we are to do so, this House must address the difficulties of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997. A heraldry Bill was introduced in here in the last session by former Senator Brendan Ryan but it failed.

I am advised the difficulties are particularly with sections 12 and 13 of the Act and these could be met with a simple amendment which would regularise the position on the granting of coats of arms and so on. This may a little arcane but it is something the State does to distinguished international persons. It also has an impact on tourism. It would also be appropriate if we considered, in light of gender equality, certain anomalous titles in this country. I speak particularly of the Knight of Glynn, who simply because he has daughters cannot pass on that ancient, fascinating and rather charming title. Should we not have equality in inheritance? This would be a simple legislative matter.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made a strong point.

  Senator David Norris: It is a serious point because there is an inequity against a tiny number of Irish citizens. We are going to lose something [1670]of the magic of our life. We should consider the Irish titles. I say that because my kinsman, Denys FitzPatrick, died at the age of 105 three weeks ago, the last MacGiolla Phádraig of his line.

  Senator Terry Leyden: The Senator could introduce a Bill in Private Members’ time.

  Senator David Norris: With the support of Senators I would do so.

  Senator Terry Leyden: I would encourage it.

  Senator Ciaran Cannon: I support the many calls for a review of our planning legislation. It is hard to believe the processes which ended up in the 2000 Act began well over ten years ago at this stage. I wonder how relevant the Act is to the Ireland of 2007.

There are two contexts in which we should act. The first relates to An Bord Pleanála, and I wonder how effective and relevant a body can be which sits in judgment on planning applications on one day regarding a massive infrastructural incineration development in Dublin city, and on the next day on a one-off rural house in east Clare.

In a review of our planning policy carried out by my own party earlier this year, we suggested that An Bord Pleanála, as it is currently constituted, is not representative in any way of all sections of Irish society, and that anybody sitting in judgment on planning applications affecting people’s lives over and over again should be far more representative of all sections of Ireland, and the rural areas in particular.

We suggested there should be three sub-bodies of An Bord Pleanála that would sit in judgment on planning applications in three non-Dublin constituencies and that these should deal solely with rural planning applications. It would help if the Minister discussed planning policy in general with us in a manner similar to the way the Minister for Health and Children discussed health during the week, giving a presentation and then answering questions.

I am also concerned about the recent EU judgment that scuppers the policy in many county development plans whereby if a rural area is under immense development pressure, provision can be made that only existing members of the local community can build in the area. I call for a debate on the issue as a whole.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: On 25 October I called for a debate on cockle fishing in the Waterford estuary and marine conservation. The Government parties rejected that call and voted against it but I was delighted that the Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Boyle, subsequently said the order I had criticised that allowed for cockle dredging in the estuary, thereby causing a great deal of damage to the marine environment, was being rescinded by the Government. I give [1671]Senator Boyle credit that today we see a new statutory instrument being laid before the Seanad, SI 753 of 2007, which will prohibit dredging for cockles in the Waterford estuary.

I am delighted this is being done following my intervention and I hope for a similar result in the matter I raised on the Order of Business two days ago, when I called for a debate on the denial of universal child benefit to approximately 2,000 to 3,000 children because of the habitual residence condition.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: The Senator will have that sorted by next week.

  Senator Ivana Bacik: I am raising the matter on the Adjournment but I also call for a debate on the matter.

  Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I support the calls for a debate on planning issues in rural areas. When discussing the Planning and Development Act 2001 and the role of An Bord Pleanála, we should look at the objections to planning applications by holiday home owners. In Donegal, houses for members of the indigenous community have faced objections from those who own holiday homes. If those people want to object, they should have to pay at least €5,000, not €20 as is the case at present. That may require a change in EU law but the Government should pursue that.

The four HSE regional fora have a critically important role to play in representing the views of local communities. There are 148 members who represent local communities and the chairmen and vice chairmen should be paid an allowance similar to that paid by regional authorities to their chairs.

  Senator John Hanafin: I ask the Leader to take this opportunity to congratulate the Department of Health and Children. Once again, Ireland is the safest place in the world for a woman to have a child. It is wonderful that Ireland continues to have the world’s lowest infant mortality rate and that we lead the world in caring for the mother and the child. At a time of bad news about the health service, it is good to know there are good news stories.

There is a need for people, particularly Members of the Oireachtas, to be circumspect about how they say things. The statement made yesterday that churches were involved in the serious abuse of children is simply not true. There were individuals involved in such behaviour but every church abhors child abuse and it is against the direct teaching of all churches.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: I have been asked about the situation in Lea’s Cross in recent weeks. I have been informed today by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform [1672]that it followed up on the media reports on the Lea’s Cross issue. The Garda has kept in contact with the DPP’s office on the matter and on 14 June it was agreed that they would await receipt of the O’Donovan report commissioned by the HSE, at which juncture the issue of a full criminal investigation would again be examined.

Many Senators expressed their concerns about the final number involved in the investigation into diagnoses from Portlaoise, an increase from seven women to nine. There are concerns about women’s confidence in BreastCheck and the other services being provided. An excellent service has always been provided and this unfortunate incident gives credit to the centres of excellence and to the assurance by the Minister to the House during her three hour contribution on Tuesday that all tests would be double checked from now on.

Senators Fitzgerald and Coghlan asked about the data that were lost in the post in Britain, warning that this could happen in Ireland. It could happen anywhere in the world and we should be alert to it. I will pass on the Senators’ views to the relevant Department.

Senators O’Toole, Callely and Leyden expressed concerns about the situation involving the HSE and the pharmacists. I made this point to the Minister, as did Senator Keaveney, on Tuesday; we were the only people to mention it when the Minister was in the House. The Minister stated her position and outlined what could be done. There was to be an adjudication yesterday by an independent assessor that would be binding on both sides. Senator O’Toole’s point, however, is important. When a union cannot represent its members because of another regulation, that regulation must be amended. We must discuss that and see what progress can be made.

The Minister and Professor Brendan Drumm are appearing before the Joint Committee on Health and Children at present and some Senators are already present at that meeting. Any Senator who wants an update on the pharmacy issue should go there after the Order of Business. New Members may not realise that they can contribute at a committee with the permission of the Chairman but cannot vote.

Senators Hannigan, Glynn, Boyle, Ó Murchú, Callanan and Ó Domhnaill all called for a debate on planning. I give a commitment to the House that I will arrange such a debate as soon as possible. Senator Boyle also raised the issue of the Environmental Protection Agency, which could be encompassed with the scope of the debate on planning.

Senator Regan asked for information on the death of an infant in 1973. I will ascertain whether I can get an update on this subject for the Senator.

Senators Quinn, O’Donovan, Buttimer, Walsh, Coffey and Daly, all expressed their congratulations regarding the activities of the lifeboat service this morning and the saving of the lives of [1673]those who were in danger. I will leave aside time to have a debate on this subject and I congratulate all concerned. In particular I congratulate those who wish to see a debate take place on active citizenship. Senator Buttimer called for an update on the GPA and the GAA from the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan. I will make inquiries in this regard and will have a reply for the Senator next week in the House. I congratulate Paraic Duffy, the new director general of the Gaelic Athletic Association on his appointment.

  Senators: Hear, hear.

  An Cathaoirleach: This is not in order.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: While it is not on the Order of Business——

  An Cathaoirleach: This is not on the Order of Business.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: ——like the Cathaoirleach and me he is also a Pioneer and it is good to see someone who has time available from sitting at a bar counter putting it to good use for the community.

  An Cathaoirleach: This is not in order.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: As for the forthcoming event next Sunday, I wish Senator Mullen well because he will attend the enthronement of the new cardinal, Archbishop Seán Brady. He will represent the Seanad there with distinction.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: They never asked me.

  Senator David Norris: I was not available.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Glynn called for a debate on organ donations and I can facilitate a debate on this issue. Senator Glynn also expressed serious concerns and called for a debate on house estate management. I also can leave time aside for that matter. Senators Mullen and Walsh also expressed their views on the up-to-date technology and the announcement on stem cell research. This constitutes a great step forward and I will leave aside time for this matter also.

Senator Walsh also referred to the Competition Authority and I will pass his views on to the Minister.

Senator Coffey raised the serious situation in Waterford arising from the loss of 492 jobs. While this is of enormous significance, 500 jobs remain in the Waterford area and are a godsend there, as they would be anywhere else.

  Senator Maurice Cummins: There used to be 4,000 jobs there.

[1674]  Senator Donie Cassidy: However, this matter pertains to the cost of labour. Members are aware of the creation by Wedgwood of 1,500 jobs in Indonesia. This is the reality and a serious challenge faces the Government, the country and Members as legislators in respect of the future direction to take regarding employment. I will pass on the Senator’s views to the Minister.

Senators Doherty and Ó Murchú expressed their strongly-held views regarding the considered proposal for the removal of the Irish language as a requirement for the legal profession. I will pass on the Senators’ views to the Minister. As I noted yesterday, there will be a debate on the Irish language in the House before Christmas and this matter can be taken up then.

Senator Norris called for an update on and perhaps to have statements with a view to assisting the Minister in respect of an honours list, of which the Taoiseach is highly supportive. I can state with certainty that the great Senator Norris himself might be one of the recipients.

  Senator Joe O’Toole: Hear, hear.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: While it may not be for his expertise in the political arena, certainly in the area——

  Senator David Norris: The cruelty of it.

  Senator Rónán Mullen: Lord Norris of North Great George’s Street.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: ——of his commitment to James Joyce. I refer to that wonderful subject in which he is distinguished.

  Senator Camillus Glynn: He would re-Joyce.

  Senator Donie Cassidy: I have no difficulty in setting aside time for this purpose. I have taken on board Senator Bacik’s comments and will see what I can do to pass on her views to the Minister. I also can set aside time for the matters raised by Senator Ó Domhnaill.

Senator Hanafin suggested the House should congratulate the Department of Health and Children on Ireland’s status as one of the safest countries for childbirth. All Members can celebrate this as childbirth is an act of the Good Lord. The older one becomes, the more one realises this. As for the views expressed by the Senator on statements that are misguided in respect of the Church’s activities, I take them on board as well.

Senator Keaveney asked me to invite the Minister for Art, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, to the House. I can make inquiries to the Senator and can revert to the House in this respect next Wednesday.

Order of Business agreed to.