Seanad Éireann - Volume 172 - 21 March, 2003
Order of Business.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the commencement of military action by a United States led coalition against Iraq, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Senators may share time. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. until 2 p.m.
Mr. Coghlan Mr. Coghlan
Mr. Coghlan: The Order of Business is agreed as far as we are concerned. I wish to raise the issue of a report published yesterday by the Competition Authority regarding anti-competitive practices in up to eight professions. I understand there will be further studies. This is part of on-going work by the Competition Authority, which engaged economic consultants to produce the report. It found very significant anti-competitive restrictions in some of the professions. The report points out that the extent of the restrictions in the legal and medical professions in particular is “really very remarkable and has the effect of damaging consumer interests”.
The Competition Authority has stated that these issues should be addressed as a priority. According to an amazing report in one of today's newspapers, the costs of services could be reduced by 20% to 30%. This is a matter for further study, but it is clearly a subject worthy of further debate in this House, and I recommend strongly to the Leader that we be allowed an early opportunity to debate the Competition Authority report.
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: I wish to pick up on the point raised by Senator Coghlan about the costs in various professions. It ties in with an issue I would like to have clarified. I am aware of one individual who was concerned about the costs of medical services and felt that some of them could be delivered more cheaply. He went to the trouble of investing privately in an MRI machine that would be made available at cheaper cost to the medical profession. He spent a lot of money on doing this and established the system in a properly staffed medical establishment. However, the individual is being isolated and boycotted by the medical profession, which refuses to have anything to do with him because he is not part of the great rip off. I would appreciate the attendance of the Minister for Health and Children for a discussion on this matter.
I have asked previously for a debate on the entire funding of the health services. Trades unions have raised with me on a number of occasions their belief that money could be better used and directed within the health service and that people at the bottom are suffering. There are all sorts of issues that need to be addressed, but that is certainly one of them.
We have had some discussion in the House in recent times with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, about the problems in the west and in remote communities. There is a shocking story in today's newspapers about the death of a member of the island community of Inishbiggle. For 20 years, that community has sought commitments from Government for the erection of a bridge between Inishbiggle and Achill Island, about 200 yards away. It has received commitments in the past but they have been ignored. It is a very dangerous stretch of water, and now a life has been lost. There would be a far greater reaction if this happened in some other part of Ireland. I call upon the House to support that island community in getting a bridge build to their island. It is no greater a project than building a bridge across a dual carriageway from a hotel to a university on the south side of Dublin. If we are to have a commitment to small rural communities, we must invest on their behalf to give them the infrastructure they need to live their lives.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: Leaving aside whatever differences we have on the war in Iraq, I call upon all Members of the House to appeal to the media not to turn war coverage into a glorious game of “Star Wars”. We must keep emphasising in the debate on Iraq that it is people who are at the receiving end. The war is not just about images. I wish to state this now rather than in the heat of debate. Whatever anybody thinks about the rights or wrongs of the war or various Government positions on it, we must point out that this war is not a television spectacle for our benefit. I do not want po-faced people wearing black all the time but it is part of the job of politicians to keep the reality of war alive.
In regard to the issue raised by Senators Coghlan and O'Toole, can we have a debate soon on self-regulation by the professions? While I have no problem with the Competition Authority's report in so far as it applies to university or third level places for training people in the professions, the real bottle-necks occur subsequent to that in the de facto quantitative restrictions which the legal, accountancy and medical professions impose on the numbers who can work. It is not only a question of educating more engineers, doctors or people to do law degrees but of the stranglehold which this concept of self-regulation holds over the way the professions operate.
There is a good case for looking at whether the public interest is served by self-regulating professions. I am a member of one such profession, engineering, which is, to a degree, self-regulating. I do not believe that profession has been particularly well served by self-regulation and I am, therefore, equally convinced that other professions are not particularly well served.
At some stage in the future when we calm down a little and have some time, I would like a debate on the concept of self-regulating professions. It is something which developed from a time when people in these professions were the elite in our society and we did not have the capacity to regulate them. We are more than capable in a well educated society of regulating any profession and, therefore, I ask the Leader to look at the issue of self-regulating professions and to allow us to talk about it at some stage in the near future.
Mr. J. Phelan Mr. J. Phelan
Mr. J. Phelan: I agree with my colleague, Senator Coghlan, in regard to the issue he raised. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to confirm or deny reports in the media in recent days that the proposed fly-over at the Red Cow roundabout to facilitate the Luas has been cast by the wayside? As somebody who uses the junction – I am sure other Members use it regularly – I can confirm the chaos which occurs there daily. A filter light allowing people to cross three lanes of traffic to a Luas facility is not something to which we would look forward. Despite the money involved, the fly-over should be provided.
Last week official figures were released which showed that inflation for the month of February was 5.1%. Contrary to what certain Government spokespersons said, the figure increased on the previous month's. I urge the Leader to facilitate a debate as soon as possible to discuss the rising inflation figure. In light of the war in Iraq, the figure is likely to be under pressure again in the coming months.
I urge the Leader to request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss crime. It is an issue which has been raised on a number of occasions in the House. In my short time here I have not seen a debate as delayed as this one, even though many Members have requested it. The Leader should allow time for a debate as soon as possible.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I thought I had lived long enough not to be shocked by revelations relating to this nation's obsession with drink. In the context of Senator John Paul Phelan's request that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the House to debate crime, I am sure the House will join with me in asking the Leader to afford us an opportunity to hear from the Minister what proposals he has to minimise the impact drink is having on youth culture.
Reports in today's national newspapers make horrifying reading. Reports from the Dublin hospitals refer to the number of young women arriving at casualty departments in a comatose state whose drink levels are higher than those of some who have died. That is a shocking indictment of society. Parents have a real responsibility. The question should be asked if they know the whereabouts of their children. In the past couple of months the Minister has made public pronouncements in this area. The statistics are frightening and it is past time that we, as legislators, spoke out.
In my county the newly elected chairman of the Connacht GAA, Tommy Moran, who the Cathaoirleach knows well, promised that he would not attend any GAA function involving young people where alcoholic drink was served. It is a courageous public stand in keeping with what Mick Loftus in County Mayo has been saying for years.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is engaging in debate.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: It is important that a message be sent from this House. I hope other leading figures in the sporting world will take a similar courageous stand.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I support Senator Mooney's comments on the dangers of drink. While the House has recently debated this issue, it is important to debate it again. Some years ago I raised in the House the problems arising from excessive alcohol consumption in terms of hygiene and danger to life, especially in the cities, but I was laughed out of court. We now realise how serious is the situation. A couple of days ago I walked home from the theatre along O'Connell Street and passed the GPO. The new lighting revealed the filthy condition of a place many regard as a national shrine. It was covered in vomit. There is no other word for it. I am astonished that we, as a proud people, are prepared to accept this treatment of a place many regard as a significant part of our national heritage. It is a disgrace.
I ask the Leader to raise with RTE the question of whether it proposes to cover today's debate. This House is part of the Oireachtas but, once again, no “Oireachtas Report” is advertised in the newspapers as part of RTE's programming schedule. Much of the time it is referred to as Dáil Report. It is clear that RTE regards “Oireachtas Report” as Dáil Report. On occasions when the Dáil is not sitting it does not consider this House to be worth covering. It may on some occasions be right in that view.
However, this is an immensely serious debate. There will be a mixture of views, some of which were not expressed in the other House. This is a time when the nation needs to understand the kind of debate that takes place. Perhaps the newspapers have not presented the correct programme scheduling but for RTE to apparently ignore this House is a disgrace. I hope it may be rectified. This morning RTE should be contacted and asked if it proposes to cover this debate on “Oireachtas Report”.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: In the context of Senator John Paul Phelan's request for a debate on the economy, I renew my request for a debate on the social partnership agreement in the course of which we could deal with matters such as inflation which is not expected to rise this year. It has been slowly, perhaps much too slowly, declining since 2000 and heading down towards a rate of 4% or less. One month's figures should not be taken as a sign of a trend.
Mr. P. Burke Mr. P. Burke
Mr. P. Burke: I support Senator O'Toole's call for funding to provide access from the mainland to Inishbiggle. I am saddened to hear of the death of another person while travelling to the island. On a number of occasions I have requested a debate on the overruns in spending on capital projects. This is one of the reasons funding has not been provided for the access project to Inishbiggle where a cable car is being sought. Overruns in some projects mean other projects will not get funding. In view of this, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue.
Ms Feeney Ms Feeney
Ms Feeney: While I support Senator Ryan's call for a debate on self-regulation, unlike him, I believe the public interest is enhanced rather than hindered or handicapped by it. I sit on the Medical Council representing the public interest. The medical profession takes the issue of self-regulation seriously and is honoured and privileged to be self-regulated. The medical practitioners (amendment) Bill will be before the House in the next 12 months when it will be seen that self-regulation is taken seriously, particularly by the medical profession. The other professions mentioned by Senator Ryan feel the same way about self-regulation.
Ms Terry Ms Terry
Ms Terry: I support the call made by my colleague, Senator John Paul Phelan, and others for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House for a debate on crime. However, the Minister for Health and Children should also be invited to participate. A friend of mine was sent to St. James's Hospital last night and had to spend many hours in the out-patients department. While there, my friend was surrounded by many people under the influence of drink or drugs. The few patients there for medical reasons had to put with the unseemly behaviour of the others. This issue must be tackled by both Ministers. Many are turning up at accident and emergency departments as a result of drug and alcohol abuse or attacks by people under the influence of drink or drugs. This issue is not being tackled in our accident and emergency departments.
Mr. Glynn Mr. Glynn
Mr. Glynn: I would welcome an opportunity to debate the drink problem. Alcohol is a socially accepted drug, which makes it all the more dangerous. Accident and emergency consultants from a number of health boards appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children yesterday when they made a number of interesting comments about the abuse of alcohol and how it impacted on the resources of accident and emergency units. We have a pivotal role to play in this debate. We should applaud the efforts of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, which are demonised in many cases. I am not a vintner—
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is now debating the drink issue. That would be more appropriate when the debate takes place.
Mr. Glynn Mr. Glynn
Mr. Glynn: We must be fair and balanced. More could be done. There are a few rogues in the industry who should be tackled.
When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform comes to the House for the debate on crime, the increase in the number of stabbings should be discussed. The incidence of stabbings has reached epidemic proportions. The issue was raised in the House previously and I have made a number of suggestions which have been carried by the media. A mandatory prison sentence should be imposed on those who carry knives on their person, irrespective of whether they commit a crime. That is the only way to stamp them out.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I am glad Senator Feeney mentioned the Medical Practitioners Act 1978. Every year for the past five years we have been promised an updated version of the Act. Amending legislation was introduced hastily last July, which provided for regulations affecting doctors temporarily registered in Ireland. Nine months later the regulations have still not been implemented. What is the point in discussing self-regulation when the changes we tried to make have not been enforced?
Mr. Hanafin Mr. Hanafin
Mr. Hanafin: I share Senator Ryan's view that we need a debate on self-regulation. While it is important to have self-regulation, it is equally important to have a Competition Authority which can throw open the blinds and let in the light. Perhaps the balance between the two will be of benefit to consumers.
On post-war Iraq, this House should request the European Union to provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid because there has been a question mark over the matter.
Mr. Feighan Mr. Feighan
Mr. Feighan: I join my colleague, Senator Mooney, in calling for a debate on the excesses of drink. As someone who attended the Joint Committee on Health and Children yesterday, it was very worrying to note the trend in the excesses of alcohol consumption. I would like to have the debate extended because the problem is being exacerbated by the availability of soft drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy tablets. This cocktail of drugs and drink is causing a serious problem.
Ms Tuffy Ms Tuffy
Ms Tuffy: I say to the Leader of the House that when we have a debate on drink, the emphasis should be on under-age drinking, which is illegal. We must realise that people over the age of 18 years are adults and there is a limit to what we can do in that regard. If RTE can film people drinking in pubs on the night the junior certificate results are issued, I do not understand the reason the Garda cannot carry out a major crackdown on under-age drinking on the night in question. It should ensure pubs where under age drinkers are served are closed down.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Coghlan referred to the Competition Authority report on the professions, in particular, the legal and medical professions. For a long time Senator O'Toole has been calling for a for a debate on competition law. Perhaps the latest report could form the catalyst for such a debate for which I believe the Tánaiste would be interested in coming here. We will not be able to have a general debate next week because we will be taking the Finance Bill, the Social Welfare Bill and the Motor Tax Bill. However, I will put it at the top of the list.
Senator O'Toole agreed with Senator Coghlan and referred to a private individual who wished to invest in an MRI machine and the alleged boycotting of the proper usage of the machine. That matter could be discussed with the Minister for Health and Children. The Senator also referred to support for the island community on Inishbiggle. I understand from newspaper reports this morning that the owner of the land is disputing its use for a mast for the cable car. The reports may be wrong but I understand that is where the difficulty lies. The matter could be discussed with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív. It would be suitable for an Adjournment debate during which the details could be explored.
It is not often I agree with Senator Ryan but I will on this occasion on the way the war is being depicted.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: We agree most of the time.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: We do not. The way the war is being depicted strikes horror into me. It is being depicted like a third rate movie with bangs, illuminations and breathless commentary. These are heightening it as if it was an event with a capital “E” rather than the terrible thing it is. I watched it recently on Fox Television which portrayed it in a “gee, gosh, golly” way all the time. I am surprised at the way it is being depicted on all stations. This is wrong because it appear like a glamorous event rather than the awful event it is. The Senator also spoke about the need for a discussion on self-regulation in the professions, a matter was taken up by other speakers.
Senator Coghlan asked that concerns in relation to the fly-over at the Red Cow roundabout should be raised with the Minister for Transport. Perhaps that is an appropriate topic for an Adjournment debate. He also asked that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should come to the House to discuss drink-related crime issues. I am reminded that there is an unfinished debate on under-age drinking – No. 11 on the Order Paper – which we can arrange to resume, subject to the Minister's availability. The matter which Senator Mooney raised is still on the Order Paper of the House. He also referred to GAA functions involving young people, at which drink should not be available.
Senator Norris spoke of the condition of the external facade of the GPO, which people would regard as a national monument. I will bring the matter to the attention of An Post by way of a formal letter.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: It is more obvious now that the building is illuminated.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: Yes, I am conscious of that aspect. In relation to the references to RTE, I will make a telephone call to that body as soon as I get back to my office. “Oireachtas Report” involves both Houses and the proceedings in the Seanad are covered in quite some detail. I was not aware that an edition of “Oireachtas Report” is not included in tonight's television programme schedule. I will make inquiries and report back during the day.
Senator Mansergh referred to social partnership and we can link with that a debate on the issue of inflation, which Senator John Paul Phelan requested and on which he expressed hopes for a decline during the current year. Senator Paddy Burke referred to the same matter which Senator O'Toole had also raised. Perhaps he will check, in the relevant area of County Mayo, if my comments on the newspaper report in question were correct. The Senator also requested a debate on overruns on the capital budget. The Finance Bill, next week, will provide a vehicle for that debate, for which I understand the Minister for Finance will be present.
 Senator Feeney expressed the view that the public interests are well served by self-regulation and it is to be hoped that the revised medical practitioners Act will enhance the situation. The Senator's contribution was very timely, as also were Senator Henry's comments on the matter. With regard to the matter raised by Senator Terry, I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be in a position to come to the House for the resumed debate on drink-related issues. The Senator also requested the involvement of the Department of Health and Children in view of the many people crowding into accident and emergency departments of hospitals as a result of the effects of drink or its aftermath. Senator Glynn raised the problem of stabbings, to which he has referred on previous occasions in the House, and the need for a debate on the misuse of alcohol.
Senator Hanafin emphasised the need to consider the situation in post-war Iraq. I believe the European leaders issued a very strong statement in that regard from their meeting in Brussels yesterday. He also raised issues relating to competition and consumers, which tend to be wrapped up in one topic but need to be given the right balance in order to achieve the best outcome.
Senator Feighan asked that the debate on drink-related issues should also take account of other soft drugs which might be just as harmful, if not more so. I agree with Senator Tuffy's point that it is under-age drinking which is illegal and on which the debate should focus. Whatever views we may hold with regard to the use of drink, as such, it is legal.
Order of Business agreed to.
Seanad Éireann 172 Order of Business.