There is so much happening on a weekly basis that it is difficult to keep up to date all the time – a bit like following your tail. Aside from topics raised in the Dáil chamber there are always a lot of other things happening on a daily basis, but clearly the most effect is to be gained in the chamber itself. A good example of this is the manner in which two questions I placed were dealt with – the first was a transport question which challenged the Minister to instruct the NRA to produce more affordable improvements more evenly and fairly across the nation, the second challenged the Minister for Health about the long-term future of the 24-hour A&E unit at Wexford General Hospital. Because the transport question wasn’t read on the day in the chamber, I just got an unspecific stock answer from a civil servant, whereas the health question was dealt with by Minister James O’Reilly who has now gone on the Dáil record as committing to the 24-hour A&E. The issue of cuts to primary schools is ongoing and we continue to fight the good fight and hope that Minister Ruairi Quinn will make a socially just decision.
In the week that was in it I began with the health issue concerning Wexford – I asked the Minister if maintaining the 24-hour accident and emergency service at Wexford General Hospital remains in the long-term plans of the health service and he opened his reply with:
“The Government’s priority in regard to acute hospital services is to ensure a safe and high quality of care for patients which is provided at the most appropriate location. I am committed to ensuring that all care is provided at the lowest level of complexity, is safe, timely and efficient and is available as close to home as possible, consistent with safe practice.
Wexford General Hospital has an important and permanent role to play in the south-east region. It will continue to operate as a vibrant, fully functioning acute hospital. Acute medicine will continue at the hospital with an emphasis on increasing day surgery in line with international trends. The hospital will continue to operate a 24-hour emergency department …”
I followed up by raising the issue of psychiatric services:
"I am glad to hear that the Minister intends to maintain a 24-hour accident and emergency service, as well as maintain the general upkeep of the hospital. He stated before the election that we cannot afford to downgrade Wexford General Hospital because we do not have capacity elsewhere to take up the load.
He will be aware that the psychiatric hospital in Enniscorthy, St. Senan’s, has been closed. Some 25% of the people in the north of County Wexford are using the unit in Newcastle, which I believe is very good, but the remaining 75% have been diverted to Waterford.
The 2010 report of the Inspector of Mental Health Services was critical of the facilities in Waterford but nothing substantial was done to improve the facility since the report was published. Adding to the existing problems in Waterford, patients from Wexford now use the same facility. The acute mental health service in Waterford Regional Hospital is located in a basement overlooked by a carpark and there are no occupational or recreational facilities for patients. In recent weeks, 16 of its 40 beds have been occupied by Wexford patients. Will an acute mental health admission service be established in Wexford General Hospital given that Waterford is clearly not fit for purpose and that requiring patients from Wexford to use the same service is hardly a great idea? Wexford is crying out for an acute mental unit.”
To which James Reilly responded, “Wexford General Hospital is a separate issue to psychiatric services, which are being re-organised in the south east and Wexford in particular. As I noted in my original reply, it is important to site services as close to patients as possible and to this end the development of a community psychiatric service is well advanced. A crisis house will be open 24 hours per day, seven days per week and a psychiatric service will be made available in the community with the back-up of consultant psychiatrists.”
On the same day I spoke on the issue of white collar crime, here is an extract from my speech:
“Dealing with white collar crime is an important initiative and the Government will impress if it is serious in dealing with this issue. There is no doubt that our mind set in this area needs to change.
The Irish Criminal Bar Association conference on white collar crime highlighted the range of legislative and regulatory measures already in place. Speakers at the conference maintained that the problem lies not so much in the inadequacy of legislation or regulatory schemes but in the lack of enforcement and resources. Will the Government make the necessary investment in resources and will it follow up with punishment to fit the crimes? State authorities must be funded because, God knows, the guys they will pursue are well resourced. The Garda has indicated that the bureau of fraud investigation is stretched to the limit and the Director of Corporate Enforcement is understaffed. If we are serious about this issue, we will have to provide the necessary resources.
White collar crime may not involve physical violence but it involves violence of another kind. Decisions made by high financiers often lead to severe hardships for thousands of people. Last night I watched a documentary by Mr. Adam Curtis which examined the Asian crisis of the late 1990s. It was amazing to compare that crisis with our current situation. Mr. Curtis demonstrated how the less well off in Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea were made to pay so that investors got their money back. We could be forgiven for being reminded of the events unfolding here.”
The following day I spoke twice on the issues of Dáil and political reform, here is an extract from my second speech:
“The HSE and the National Roads Authority have grown into monsters and are out of control. The Government cannot tell them what to do anymore; they are not answerable. It would be great if this Government brought power back to the House. This notion of setting up these unelected, unaccountable bodies and paying people stupid money is nonsense…There is a complete lack of local government due to this centralisation. We do not have real local government. The councillors elected to local government in my constituency, and throughout the State, are not placed in a decision-making role. Instead we have civil servants making decisions and it is too bad if people do not like those decisions because the civil servants will still be there after the next election. If that role were given to elected local representatives, we could throw them out at the next election if we do not like how they behave. Some people argue that there is greater expertise in the Civil Service and that councillors cannot be trusted on certain matters. The electorate needs to grow up in this regard and to stop electing people who are not competent to make decisions at local government level. If we change the structure of local government, citizens will have to be responsible and make sure they elect people of quality who are capable of fulfilling their role in a positive way.
Placing elected councillors in charge of the decision-making process will ensure a greater link between them and the people who elect them. Democracy is lacking in local government, with citizens having little say in how they are governed or in decisions made in their name. There is only a pretence at consultations with citizens…”
On Thursday I challenged the Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade Eamon Gilmore on a human rights issue. My question: “To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views that the shooting dead by Israeli security forces of at least 13 civilians during the Nakba Day protests was heavy-handed; if he will be raising the issue with the Israeli Ambassador in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter.” His reply was vague and very much towed the American foreign policy line of a reluctance to criticise Israel, to which I replied:
“The human rights organisations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called on Israel to launch a thorough and independent inquiry into the killings of the protestors. The Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, Sarah Lee Whitson, stated: “In a too-familiar pattern, Israeli troops responded to stone-throwing youths with live bullets, with predictably deadly consequences... The evidence shows a disturbing disregard for protesters’ lives.” There is nothing unusual about protests being organised. Protests are regularly organised and advertised in Dublin.
The notion that kids who throw stones could end up dead is unacceptable. If riots in Dublin resulted in two deaths, the reports would be all over the world’s media and there would be uproar. Does the Tánaiste not think he should express to the Israeli ambassador his disquiet over the death of 13 or 14 people? Ireland has been famous for its neutrality for a long time. We were right to agree with the imposition of sanctions against Syria, even though some people might think I would not favour that. However, I still do not understand why the Israeli ambassador has not been spoken to by the Government to express our disquiet because what happened is unacceptable.”
I later challenged the Minister on the continued bombing of Libya, a bombing campaign designed to satisfy the political ambitions of Nicolas Sarkozy without any genuine concern for the ordinary people. It might have been a better idea for the Western powers not to sell the guns to Gadaffi in the first place. Another vague answered ensued – getting straight answers is not easy at the best of times in the Dáil – it’s the pity that the Ceann Comhairle won’t pressure Ministers into giving straight answers instead of allowing them to put most of their energy into avoiding them.