Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Regeneration Projects Funding
 Header Item Pyrite Remediation Programme Implementation
 Header Item Disability Services Provision
 Header Item Health Promotion
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Alcohol Consumption in Ireland: Statements

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 240 No. 1

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 14:30

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.

Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have received notice from Senator Colm Burke that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with special responsibility for housing, planning and co-ordination of the Construction 2020 strategy to confirm that adequate funding will be provided for Cork City Council in 2015 to enable the north-west, Knocknaheeny, regeneration programme to progress and to set out the targets to be achieved by the end of the year.

I have also received notice from Senator Thomas Byrne of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to address the anomalies in the pyrite remediation scheme, to ensure it is funded, to extend the scheme to all houses suffering pyrite damage and to provide certainty for those with with houses with significant pyrite essence but no symptoms as yet.

I have also received notice from Senator Fidelma Healy Eames of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State at the Department of Health with special responsibility for disability and mental health services and older people to outline when the mobility allowance scheme will be made available to people with disabilities.

I have also received notice from Senator Jillian van Turnhout of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to advise if she will issue a circular to schools to adopt a policy to ensure the drinks industry will not be involved in the education of children of Ireland, in the light of the recently announced HSE policy on alcohol-related education which formally separates HSE public health advice from partnership with the alcohol industry in any form.

I have also received notice from Senator Marie Moloney of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Social Protection to clarify the reason for the delay in paying the incremental arrears due to temporary clerical officers who worked for the Department of Social Protection but have since finished working for it.

I have also received notice from Senator Lorraine Higgins of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to set up a task force to deal with anti-social behaviour in public and private estates.

I have also received notice from Senator David Cullinane of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to outline his plans to provide 24/7 cardiology cover at Waterford Regional Hospital and to increase current services.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion. I have selected the matters raised by Senators Colm Burke, Thomas Byrne, Fidelma Healy Eames and Jillian van Turnhout and they will be taken now. Senators Marie Moloney, Lorraine Higgins and David Cullinane may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.

Commencement Matters

Regeneration Projects Funding

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I welcome the Minister of State and thank her for taking this matter. My concern relates to Knocknaheeny and what is now known as the north-west regeneration project in Cork city. I represented that area of the city for 12 years on Cork City Council. When I left the city council in 2007, the project was being planned but progress has since been extremely slow. I am particularly concerned that funding allocated last year has not all been taken up. The plan was changed in that it was initially called the Knocknaheeny regeneration plan but it then became known as the north-west regeneration plan because other areas were included.

  I will describe the area for the Minister of State. There are 1,150 local authority houses in it, about one third of which are occupied by lone parents. There is quite a large number of young families in the area which needs to be given priority. I am concerned that because all the funding was not used in 2014, funding may be reduced for 2015. I am asking that adequate funding be provided in 2015 for the regeneration project to progress in a speedy manner. The project needs to be expedited and we need to see far more results than we have seen in the past four to five years.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Ann Phelan): Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I am delighted to be able to respond on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. The Senator has raised an extremely important issue for Cork city. My Department's regeneration programme targets the country's most disadvantaged communities - those defined by social exclusion, unemployment and anti-social behaviour. My Department supports an ambitious programme of regeneration projects in various locations which seek to address the causes of disadvantage in the estates concerned through an holistic programme of physical, social and economic regeneration. The value placed on the regeneration programme is explicitly recognised in the programme for Government. It is the stated objective of the Department to ensure this important programme will continue to be supported.

  As part of this work, my Department has been supporting Cork City Council's implementation strategy for the regeneration of Cork city north west. In the past six years €45 million has been invested in this area and this investment has supported a number of valuable construction projects, including Knocknaheeny Block D, The Glen, phase two, and the purchase of 53 new houses and apartments at Ard Sionnach.  These new units provided replacement social housing stock for units to be demolished as part of the regeneration programme. Other projects that have been advanced under the regeneration programme include public realm works at Boyce's Street and at Dunnycove estate, where green areas have been restored to provide sport and recreational space for local residents. A community garden has also been provided as part of the overall regeneration of the area.

  The revised Cork city north-west regeneration master plan was produced in 2011 and now includes a wider area, including Hollyhill, than it originally covered.

  In respect of upcoming work, construction of 23 new social houses under phase 1A of the programme commenced in 2014 and has progressed well, with ten units expected to be completed by July 2015 and the remaining 13 units also delivered later this year. Planning approval was sought for phase 1B in late 2014 and it is anticipated that construction will commence later in 2015. In respect of phase 2 of the programme, plans for the design, tenure mix and decanting of social housing units are progressing well.

  Cork City Council submitted its 2015 regeneration work programme to my Department last week. It details the estimated expenditure across the range of projects within the overall regeneration programme for the year. My Department is examining that submission. Given the continued support for the regeneration of Cork city north west, this is a matter of examining the proposed projects and associated budgets and ensuring appropriate allocations can be made to advance the work involved. My Department will be responding to the local authority shortly on this submission and I look forward to continued implementation of the programme for the regeneration of this important part of Cork city.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I have two concerns. First, I have no details on the amount of money allocated for 2014 and what was subsequently drawn down. That is the reason I raise this issue. The project is progressing extremely slowly. As I stated, there are 1,150 local authority houses in this area. For 2015, a total of 23 will be completed. I am not saying all 1,150 houses will be affected by the changes but we seem to be making very slow progress.

  Second, I am concerned that it is only in the fifth month of the year that we have received the submission for 2015 from the local authority. Can we have an explanation of the reason there was such a delay in submitting it?

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I will ask the officials to revert to the Senator on the amount of moneys drawn down as they can give him the detail. In my reply I did not have the answer to the question about the pace of progress, but I will convey the Senator's concerns to the Minister.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke Can I ask about the amount allocated in 2014 also?

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I will ask the officials to give that information to the Senator.

Pyrite Remediation Programme Implementation

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht an deis a thabhairt dom an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú ar an Tosú inniu. I am grateful to be allowed raise in the Seanad this critical issue for many people. Since the Government took office it is fair to say it has taken steps to rectify the issue of pyrite. Many people will benefit from the pyrite remediation scheme and some have benefited already in terms of having work done on their houses but similar to many Government announcements there is a good deal of spin on top of the reality, which is a pity. As far as I am aware, the pyrite scheme has so far has accepted 300 applications. We are not even clear whether the pyrite board is funded to do all of the work it has approved, given that thousands of homes suffer from pyrite damage.  We know that there are thousands of people whose homes have pyrite damage, some of whom cannot afford the test because it costs between €1,000 and €2,000 or more. Some do not have sufficient damage to be covered by the scheme. Another category has been tested and we know that there is a significant amount of pyrite in the foundations, but no damage is yet apparent. The damage can take many years to appear. It has happened in north county Dublin that the damage appeared 12 years after the homes were built. There are people in limbo where there is less damage or no damage and those who cannot have their houses tested to be covered by the scheme.

  I have met members of the pyrite equality group. They want a comprehensive response from the Government and all parties as we approach an election year on what is proposed. I have welcomed what has happened up to now and highlighted its flaws, but we have to give the people concerned an answer, saying what the overall plan will be for the next ten years.

  There is also a difficulty with the exemption from property tax which requires a test that costs thousands of euro. Many people cannot afford the test. The application of the rules, which the Revenue Commissioners apply, is very strict. Very few get the exemption for which the Oireachtas legislated.

  We want more funding for this necessary scheme. In the interests of justice, more people should be allowed enter it. There should be an overall plan for the future for houses that have pyrite and that are in estates where there is pyrite and as yet no damage but which will almost inevitably occur. We need to give the people concerned certainty, as they feel they are in limbo.

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I thank the Senatorfor raising this very important matter. There was a significant debate in the Dáil on the issue of pyrite. The Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 provides for the making of a pyrite remediation scheme by the Pyrite Resolution Board for certain dwellings affected by pyrite damage. The full conditions for eligibility under the scheme are set down in the scheme which is available on the board’s website at www.pyriteboard.ie. One of the eligibility criteria requires an application to be accompanied by a building condition assessment carried out by a competent person in accordance with I.S. 398-1:2013 reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material - Part 1: testing and categorisation protocol, with a damage condition rating of 2. There are no proposals to amend this eligibility criterion.

  In broad terms, the report of the pyrite panel in July 2012 recommended that only dwellings with substantial damage which was confirmed by testing to be pyrite related should be remediated. Pyrite remediation is invasive and expensive. In this regard, the report recommended that properties which had minor damage should be monitored and only remediated if substantial damage developed in due course. In this context, it should be noted that there is no sunset provision in the Act. Nevertheless, while dwellings with damage condition ratings of 1, or 1 with progression, do not qualify under the scheme, some may be considered in accordance with the exceptional circumstance provisions set out in section 17 of the Act. In broad terms, section 17 provides that exceptional circumstances may apply where failure to include a dwelling with a damage rating of 1 in the scheme may result in damage to a dwelling which is being remediated under the scheme or pyrite remediation work is causing or may cause damage to the dwelling with the damage rating of 1.

  I understand that in a number of cases the board has signalled that dwellings that have had a damaged condition rating of 1 when their building condition assessments were first completed have now progressed to a damaged condition rating of 2. These dwellings have been included in the pyrite remediation scheme.   I confirm that an allocation of €10 million has been provided in my Department's Vote to fund the operation of the scheme this year. I am satisfied that the board will have the resources required to meet the level of activity anticipated for the year. The post-2015 funding requirement will be considered in the context of the 2016 Estimates later this year and will have regard to developments under the scheme in the next few months, as well as the level of activity anticipated by the board in 2016.

  As matters stand, more than 700 applications have been received under the pyrite remediation scheme, the vast majority of which have a damage condition rating of 2. Of the 700 applications, 342 dwellings have been accepted into the scheme, with technical expertise assigned to them and the necessary preparatory work, tendering or remediation either under way or imminent. It is anticipated that approximately 200 homes will be remediated under the scheme in 2015.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Will the Minister of State raise with the Department the concerns that are starting to bubble up regarding the pyrite remediation scheme It is important we hold the Government to account in respect of the commitments it has given in this matter. As I stated, the funding allocated to addressing the pyrite problem is insufficient.

  I am pleased to note the Minister of State's comment that the Act does not provide for a sunset clause as some of the householders affected by pyrite were not aware of this. It is possible, however, that the people affected may wish for improvements to the overall plan until the sun sets on this issue many years from now. All of us in politics owe a great deal to the individuals in question who are experiencing severe stress because their houses are falling down around them.

  While we welcomed the scheme proposed by the Government, the broader issue of the Statute of Limitations needs to be revisited. Senators Darragh O'Brien, Averil Power and I introduced a Bill on this issue. It is not fair that State resources are being used for the pyrite mediation scheme as it was individual private builders and suppliers rather than the Government of the day who were at fault. In many cases, insurance companies have got away scot-free. I hope the Minister of State will take on board my comments and recognise the concerns surrounding this issue. I hope by raising this issue, I will help to maintain pressure on the Government to have the necessary works finalised.

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I acknowledge the Senator's comments. We must all keep a close eye on this matter. I reiterate that the post-2015 funding requirement will be considered in the context of the 2016 Estimates later this year and will have regard to developments in the pyrite remediation scheme.

Disability Services Provision

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Kevin Humphreys.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Will the Minister of State at the Department of Health with special responsibility for disability and mental health services and older people, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, make a statement on when the long-promised mobility allowance scheme will be made available for people with disabilities I propose to outline some of the hardships being suffered by people with disabilities who are socially excluded and hurt as a result of Government inaction on the new scheme. The scheme has been promised since November 2013 - in other words, for two and a half years. How long does it take to devise a new scheme?

  I have a copy of a letter dated 13 January 2015 from Mr. Adrian McLaughlin, private secretary to the Minister of State, in which he assured me that the new scheme was in process. Four months later, the scheme has still not been introduced. In his letter, Mr. McLaughlin states work is ongoing on the policy proposals to be brought to the government for the drafting of primary legislation for a new scheme. Where is the legislation?

  This issue affects some of the most severely disadvantaged and socially excluded people in the country. I will outline the circumstances of a couple who did not avail of the previous mobility scheme.  In this case the wife is in a motorised wheelchair due to hip and back problems and the husband has severe epilepsy with severe memory effects. Sometimes they have to go to the neurology department in Beaumont Hospital for procedures involving a nerve stimulator for the husband. They do not even have an allowance to get a taxi from the train station to Beaumont Hospital. That is what they want the mobility allowance for. As it happens, when they are in Galway, if they have an emergency they can call an ambulance and get straight to Galway University Hospital or into ICU, but they have no support for the regular appointments. They must get two buses to go to Galway University Hospital or call the Galway Centre for Independent Living, which obviously has to be paid. It is a €10 trip. They say they cannot afford the taxi and the wife cannot sit into an ordinary car because she needs a hoist. They are looking for a basic allowance for essential transport costs to cover essential hospital and medical needs. Where is the dignity in not providing this?

  From what has been said by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, we know that there is extra money in the Exchequer. Everyone will get extra pay. We are talking about basic essentials in this case. The couple have a carer who comes in occasionally, but sometimes they cannot go out due to the nature of their disabilities. One person cannot go out while the carer is looking after the other. The cost implications are being examined. Disabled people are being further disadvantaged and kept dependent because the Government has not approved the promised mobility allowance. The goal for people who are dependent is to make them independent in so far as they can be. When the weather gets bad the people in question cannot travel by bus because they cannot get out to the gate. It is just too dangerous and too risky and at such times they need the personal attention of someone with an appropriate taxi. The mobility allowance would service that need.

  As the Minister of State is aware, the mobility allowance is closed to new applicants. In effect, the treatment of people with disabilities is divisive and unequal because those who were previously awarded the mobility allowance are, thankfully, still getting it. That makes it difficult for disability organisations to advocate for the people who are not in the scheme because they are afraid it could affect those who are benefiting from the scheme. The Government's treatment of people with disabilities amounts to apartheid. When will it treat all disabled people equally? When will the new mobility scheme start? Will the Minister of State, please, provide a date? I am sick and tired of the number of calls I have received from people with disabilities in Galway who feel that I am ignoring them. I have raised this issue on many occasions. It is absolutely appalling that people with disabilities are being excluded from the scheme. Essentially, they are being kept prisoner in their own home and they cannot even get a basic allowance to meet their regular medical and social appointments.

Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection (Deputy Kevin Humphreys): Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I am responding to this matter today on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who sends her apologies.

  The motorised transport grant and mobility allowance were established some decades ago on an administrative basis, in good faith and with the intention of contributing towards mobility and transport needs for a group of people with severe physical difficulties. At the time of their establishment, transport infrastructure was very different from the more accessible facilities available today. Conscious of the reports of the Ombudsman on the legal status of both the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grants scheme, in the context of the Equal Status Acts, the Government decided to close both administrative schemes in February 2013. It is important to emphasise that the Government accepts the position taken by the Ombudsman. However, the Ombudsman's recommendations have raised significant issues of a legal, financial and practical nature, particularly as regards extending eligibility to a wider cohort.

  The Government came to the conclusion that such an extension of either scheme would create serious financial pressure on the health budget and would be unsustainable. This consideration is therefore at the centre of the Government's efforts to find a solution which is financially affordable and legally sound. Since the schemes were closed, a significant amount of work has been undertaken. A review group on transport supports for people with disabilities was established which involves a range of representatives of people with disabilities and a public consultation process.  Following receipt of the review group's recommendation, the Government established an interdepartmental group to consider further the complex issues involved in developing an appropriate scheme, including how it should be administered. In November 2013 the Government decided that the preparation work required for a new transport support scheme and associated statutory provisions should be progressed by the Minister for Health. Work is ongoing on a policy process to be brought to the Government for the drafting of primary legislation for a new transport scheme. Once policy proposals have been finalised and approved by the Government, the timeframe for the introduction of a new scheme will become clearer. The health (transport support) Bill is included in the Government's legislative programme for 2050. Aware of the needs of people with disabilities who have relied on individual payments, the HSE has continued to make monthly payments to 4,700 people who were in receipt of the mobility allowance at the time the scheme was closed. This has prevented hardship and has alleviated stress, anxiety and uncertainty among a vulnerable group in society. There are undoubtedly legal and financial challenges involved in establishing a new scheme that takes cognisance of the needs and expectations of the aforementioned 4,700 people currently in receipt of payment. The Government has committed that whatever new scheme is developed will be affordable and legally robust and will take account of the findings of the Ombudsman's report. I assure the Senator that the Government will take all this into consideration when making the decision on future arrangements.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Does the Senator have a question?

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames While I think the Minister of State for his reply, it was no better than the answer I received from the private secretary last January. The Minister of State is really stating that four and a half months later there has been no movement. That is not good enough. The Minister of State is now telling me that the health (transport support) Bill will be brought to the House some time, but actually he did not say when. He stated it was in the Government's legislative programme for 2015 but when? That does not mean it will happen in 2015. I believe the Minister of State's Department and the Government are using the Ombudsman's careful reply as a means of slowing this down. The Minister of State is obviously concerned about the 4,700 people in the scheme.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke A question, please.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames That is great, but has he concern for those who are not in receipt of payments under any scheme? I seek the exact date and wish to ascertain what concern the Minister of State has for those who are not in any scheme. I am cross about this and fed up with it.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys As the Senator is aware, I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to whom I will bring her points. The Senator is quite correct that the Bill is included in the legislative programme for 2015 and that there is a commitment to the 4,700 people in the scheme, but I certainly will bring her concerns-----

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames They are getting something. What about those who are not getting anything?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Minister of State to continue, without interruption.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I will bring the Senator's comments and concerns to the Minister of State with responsibility for the issue.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames It is a little late. That was my question.

Health Promotion

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I thank the Cathaoirleach and welcome to the Visitors Gallery Ms Siobhán Creaton from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and Ms Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland. The issue I have raised with the Minister for Education and Skills pertains to the role the drinks industry is trying to develop in the education of children. I will begin by applauding the Government on the public health (alcohol) Bill. As a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I have been very much involved in the consultations and the process. If anything, I would like it to go further, but I certainly will do everything I can to ensure it comes into law. However, as part of these consultations, the first red flag went up for me when I saw, for example, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland stating how the industry had decided in 2014 to refocus its initiatives in the education space and concentrate activity on drinkaware.ie. It is establishing Drinkaware as an organisation the work of which will be modelled on the influential UK Drinkaware Trust. Unfortunately, if one looks at independent evaluations of Drinkaware in the United Kingdom, one concludes that it is not a model we wish to see in schools here. It has not come out well from an evaluation. Not surprisingly, the drinks industry believes it is excellent, which makes me even more worried about it.

  The second flag for me was the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign, rolemodels.ie, which is due to produce its report shortly. I can nearly see what this report will indicate. It will state we need to educate children, because this is the constant mantra of the drinks industry, namely, that education is needed and that, were everyone educated, it would reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm.  All of the evidence shows that education informs our behaviour but that it does not change or influence it. That is why we introduce laws in respect of, for example, speeding. We all know what is good or bad for us, but legislation is often necessary in order to ensure we do what is right.A recent drinkaware.ieadvertisement relating to the post of education programme manager refers to the successful applicant working directly with schools. This is despite the fact that a spokesperson for drinkaware.ieindicated that this is not intended to be the case. If that is so, the advertisement to which I refer misrepresents the position, because it refers to working with teachers, unions, principals, the Professional Development Service for Teachers, the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. It is obvious that those responsible for drinkaware.iewant it to become embedded within the education system. I know someone who applied for the position of education programme manager but whose application was unsuccessful. The person in question was informed about the rolemodels.iecampaign, which is going to lead to what I have just outlined. There are no surprises here.

The HSE is not often applauded, but I want to take the opportunity to applaud it most heartily. On 23 April the executive issued a statement to the effect that it is no longer prepared to take any money from the drinks industry and that it will not be associated with said industry, particularly in the context of public health advice or any form of partnership. The statement in question was quite unequivocal in terms of public health advocacy. It reflects what the World Health Organization has stated, namely, that public health policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests without interference from commercial interests. I am seeking an assurance from the Minister of State that the drinks industry will play no role in schools. The HSE has worked on the SPHE model with schools. I am concerned by the fact that the National Parents' Council Primary has put its name to the rolemodels.iecampaign, and I really hope it will withdraw its support. The National Parents' Council Post-Primary has distanced itself from the campaign and indicated that it would question the motive behind any campaign funded by the drinks industry and aimed at educating children.

I tabled this matter because I believed the time was right to do so. What I have stated reflects Government policy. We cannot just leave matters stand and wait to discover what people think. The majority do not know that drinkaware.ieequals the drinks industry. The idea of representatives from the tobacco industry going into schools and telling children about anti-cessation measures relating to smoking is abhorrent. We should also abhor the fact that those in the drinks industry even think it is acceptable for their representatives to go into our schools. It will be reprehensible if the Department of Education and Skills states it is sorry but that there is nothing it can do about the matter. It is not acceptable for those in the drinks industry, regardless of whatever costume they may choose to wear, to have any hand, act or part in the education of the children of Ireland.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who sends her apologies.

  The Department of Education and Skills is working very closely with the Department of Health on the overall Healthy Ireland agenda. This encompasses co-operation in a range of areas including physical activity, healthy eating and student well-being, as well as substance misuse. At national level, the Department of Education and Skills is represented on key Government structures that provide a co-ordinated approach to addressing substance misuse. These include the national co-ordinating committee for drug and alcohol task forces. The Minister does not believe it appropriate for her to write to schools to prohibit particular materials or resources that may be developed by certain organisations, including the drinks industry. This could form a dangerous precedent for the future. However, officials at the Department of Education and Skills will continue to co-operate with the HSE and the Department of Health to ensure a co-ordinated and partnership approach to alcohol misuse and the range of other areas that are encompassed by the Healthy Ireland agenda. One recent example of such co-operation is the development of healthy lifestyle guidance that is currently being finalised. This guidance is intended to encourage schools to promote physical activity and healthy eating. It is also designed to encourage their participation in the health-promoting schools initiative, which is supported by the Department of Health and the HSE.

  It is important to recognise that while education has a role to play in addressing the problem of alcohol misuse, behavioural change will not happen without the support and co-operation of parents, industry and society as a whole. Parents have a responsibility to help children and young people to adopt sensible and responsible attitudes and behaviours regarding alcohol and drug abuse. The education sector is supporting national policy on substance misuse. In particular, schools are equipping students with the key skills and knowledge to enable them to make informed choices when faced with a range of difficult issues.  This includes providing students with age appropriate information on the issue of alcohol abuse through aspects of the curriculum such as the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme. This programme is mandatory in all primary schools. It will also form part of the new mandatory Wellbeing component of junior cycle, with physical education and civic, social and political education, CSPE. Schools are also encouraged to deliver the SPHE programme in senior cycle. The substance use module of the SPHE curriculum focuses on the issues relating to the use and misuse of a range of substances. It actively seeks to promote healthy and responsible choices by students in a range of areas, including alcohol.

  The latest data taken from Department of Education and Skills' Lifeskills survey 2012 indicate that 90% of primary and 100% of post-primary schools provide their students with information on alcohol abuse through SPHE and other means. These results were almost identical to the position reported by schools through the 2009 Lifeskills survey. The 2015 Lifeskills survey is being completed by schools and the Minister hopes to publish the results before the end of the year. This will allow for the measurement of schools' progress in this area since 2012.

  Schools have access to a number of programmes and resources that support the delivery of SPHE and increase students' awareness of well-being, including drug and alcohol issues. Examples include the Walk Tall programme for primary pupils and a post-primary resource available from the Professional Development Service for Teachers, called On My Own Two Feet. It is a matter for schools and teachers in the first instance to determine what resources and supports they will use to support their implementation of the curriculum. Teachers are equipped to make such decisions as a result of their initial teacher education and the ongoing support provided by the Professional Development Service for Teachers. I am confident that teachers are best placed to identify the most suitable resources to assist them in delivering the SPHE curriculum in their classrooms.

  I listened carefully to the Senator's contribution. She has raised red flags in respect of alcohol awareness and the industry. She has been strong and logical about it. She also referred to education, behaviour and role models and expressed concern about the involvement of the drinks industry in both primary and post-primary schools. She made some good points and I will ensure they are highlighted to the Minister. I will ask her to consider the important issues the Senator has raised.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I thank the Minister of State and appreciate that he was not in a position to answer my questions but perhaps he might also relay these questions to the Minister. The drinkaware.ie job advertisement for education programme manager states: "To manage relationships with relevant stakeholders, including the Department of Education, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Professional Development Service for Teachers". These are all within the Minister's remit. I cannot see any reason for the drinks industry to have a relationship with the Department or the NCCA. I seek the Minister's assurance that they will not have a relationship with the industry.

  I appreciate the Minister cannot write to schools to say they cannot do this, but, at the very least, will she write to them to advise them that drinkaware.ie equals the drinks industry? It is nothing else. drinkaware.ie is the costume the industry chooses to wear today. It will come up with something else when drinkaware.ie is exposed to people. Schools need to be warned and a warning bell is needed in this regard.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I thank the Senator. I will raise these points. I have a meeting with the Minister later this afternoon at which I will ask her to look at the Senator's contribution and reply to her directly.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I thank the Minister of State.

  Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.

Order of Business

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on alcohol consumption in Ireland, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 6.10 p.m.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Last Friday I attended a briefing by a cardiologist, Dr. Donal Kelly, in Sligo General Hospital. He is campaigning for the provision of a cardiac catheterisation laboratory in Sligo General Hospital. It would address the needs of those with cardiac problems in an area with a population of some 276,000. That excludes large portions of County Donegal, primarily because there is a catheterisation laboratory in Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry. However, if one includes County Donegal, the figure is well in excess of 300,000 people. The last Government approved the provision of a catheterisation laboratory in 2009 but owing to the economic crash it did not provide the necessary financial support; therefore, this is not a new issue. It was taken up by the Government and the former Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, instituted a review group. The conclusion of the group was that it would prefer to wait and see the turnout in the Derry hospital location and what the benefits would be before it would move to approve a catheterisation laboratory in Sligo.  If one looks at the map of Ireland, like the cancer services issue which caused and continues to cause controversy in my part of the country, it is as if a blank sheet of paper has been draped across the region north of a line from Dublin to Galway. It is as if the region does not exist in the provision of these services. The doctor in question has pointed out that tit would be cost effective. In fact, it would not only be cost neutral but it would save €3.6 million over the ten-year period of the lifetime of the technology involved. The matter has been raised in the Lower House by local Government Deputies but they only got as far as tabling a parliamentary question, which seems to be just about the optics. Parliamentary questions are very important when wishing to highlight issues but this has been an issue for so long that it requires a decision. The reasoning and logic behind it is inescapable; it is a no-brainer. Not only would it provide a service that would not cost the State anything but it would save money and would provide a service that would address the needs of people who have all types of cardiac problems, specifically those who suffer from a type of cardiac arrest that requires hospital admission within 90 minutes or else they die, as was stated during a briefing. Will the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, come to the House today to explain why the Government will not approve the provision of a cath laboratory facility in Sligo General Hospital? I want him to look me straight in the eye and tell me why he will not approve it, how he can justify saying "No" and putting it on the long finger, as in the report's conclusions two years ago, and why he will not provide this service which would save lives. If one life was saved as a result of the provision of this cath laboratory facility, it would be worthwhile.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Did the Senator propose an amendment?

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Health comes to the House today to address the issue of the approval of a cath laboratory facility at Sligo General Hospital.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Will the Leader arrange a debate on maternity services in the coming weeks in the light of the reports on the tragic deaths of babies in the Midlands Regional Hospital? I am sure all colleagues will join me in commending those parents who have fought so bravely since the deaths of their babies to ensure matters came to light and in offering sympathies to them. Clearly, the reports on what HIQA has stated about the Midland Regional Hospital and the tragic deaths raise grave concerns on the way maternity services are configured, or were configured at the time, which is not very long ago. I know that changes have been made and that the director of the HSE has been very clear on the changes that still need to be made. What is of great concern is not only the issues within the hospital that gave rise to the tragic deaths, or that may have given rise to the tragic deaths, but the way in which parents were treated subsequent to the deaths of their babies and the difficulty they had in establishing exactly what happened and in getting information generally from the hospital. A number of issues have been raised which lead us to require a more general debate on the state of maternity services and how they should be configured. There has been some clear indication of the need to ensure specialisation in particular centres and I think that is the way it seems to be going.

  As colleagues did last week, I ask for a debate on education, in particular noting the new Springboard offering of 9,000 free higher education places for jobseekers which was announced by the Minister for Education and Skills last week. The new Springboard offering of 9,000 free places is the largest offering yet. It is the fifth year of the Springboard programme. It would be useful to have a debate on the work done by the Springboard programme. We should look at how the jobseekers who participated in the Springboard programme have done in getting jobs since. There are some very encouraging figures for same. According to the Minister's figures, as many as 20,000 jobseekers, in the four years since 2011, have participated on Springboard courses and 74% of them are no longer on the live register, which is welcome. Some 95% of the jobs they have found are in Ireland, with 49% located outside Dublin.  There seems to be a good geographic spread of jobs and a strong positive indication that these courses are the right courses to reskill or upskill people in areas such as ICT, entrepreneurship, cross-enterprise skills and so on. Perhaps the House has not focused on that aspect of vocational or targeted education and training, on which I ask for a debate.

  I commend Dublin City Council for the great work it did in my area in supporting two festivals that were successful. The first was Canalaphonic, a music festival in the Portobello and Dublin 8 areas, with singers on a barge on the canal. It was an innovative idea and went well. The Harold's Cross festival has been running for a number of years and is supported by the council, local businesses and communities. These are good examples of the kind of community support councils can offer and the good work councils do that is often not noted at national level.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I compliment the Cathaoirleach on his attire. He has a very county look this afternoon which is nice to see in the House.

  Some years ago I raised the question of the decline of Georgian houses in the city centre of Dublin and I tabled amendments, or recommendations as they are called, on budget day. I discussed the issue with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, who subsequently introduced the Living City initiative. However, there were supposed to be EU reasons it was confined to Waterford and Limerick. They were overcome and I spoke to him again explaining how essential it was that Dublin be included. Now, we have the Living City initiative extended to Dublin but some mean-minded, ideologically driven little squirt of a civil servant has inserted a measure capping it at 200 sq. m. when Georgian houses are all over 400 sq. m. This was no accident and was deliberately done. A Department of Finance source said it was in order not to create a tax relief for what was described as mansion houses. Yes, it was done deliberately to help people like me. I will not benefit from this because I have finished my house but people with limited resources take on a house and do it up one room per year. This person seems to want to have Georgian houses divided up into one-bedroom flats again. This way leads to disaster. Fly-by-night businesses will be encouraged to take up these grants. It is quite extraordinary. It is a hucksters' charter and will do nothing for the Georgian houses for which I made the initial appeal that led to the Living City initiative. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Finance, as I will do, and send on a copy of the Order of Business and ask what on earth is going on. How is it that Fine Gael is standing over a deliberate, ideologically driven attack on our Georgian heritage? That is what it is and it is not good enough that this comes from anonymous civil servants.

Senator Jim D'Arcy: Information on Jim D'Arcy Zoom on Jim D'Arcy I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to consider the results of the recent UK elections. I would particularly like to discuss the matter of the Sinn Féin candidate in the north Belfast constituency who sent out election leaflets stating Catholics were now in a majority in the constituency, with Catholics at 46.9% and Protestants at 45.6%, and suggesting people made change and history. Have we learned nothing? Is this what it means to be an Irish republican? What about the ideals of Wolfe Tone with regard to the unity of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter, or the ideals of the Proclamation, cherishing all the children of the nation equally? To add insult to injury, the Northern Ireland Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure tried to justify the remarks. At least, a former chairman of Sinn Féin at Queens University Belfast was brave enough to state it was an absolute disgrace and the very antithesis of what republicanism represented.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?

Senator Jim D'Arcy: Information on Jim D'Arcy Zoom on Jim D'Arcy Everyone else has been silent. To quote a former Member of this House:

Was it for this the wild geese spread

The grey wing upon every tide;

For this that all that blood was shed,

For this Edward Fitzgerald died...

The sectarian politics that this represents has no place on the island. Are these the true colours of Sinn Féin? It should explain itself. I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs and DTrade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come to the House to discuss these issues before things go too far.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney.

  I refer to the plight of Irish nurses. Most of them will do a four year degree and some do more than five years for certain specialties such as cardiology, oncology and so on. Unfortunately, a substantial portion, probably 35%, of our trained young nurses flee the country because of pay problems and the better facilities abroad. They are being encouraged to go to England, Australia and Canada. If this had happened four years ago, at the start of the Government's term, we would say there were problems and that the economy should recover, but this is the fifth and final year of the Government. I implore the Leader to arrange a special debate in the House and to bring in the Minister for Health to address the particular problem affecting nurses who are front-line staff.

  I notice today that in the oncology department of Cork University Hospital, the nurses have decided, with the imprimatur of their union, to work to rule. If all the nurses in Ireland, whether in Dublin, Waterford, Cork or Galway, decided to work to rule, the hospitals would come to a standstill. They are actually doing about 33% more in their efforts as nurses to keep hospitals going and look after sick patients. If this brain drain continues, the damage to our economy will be severe. It costs an average of €120,000 to train a nurse from start to finish as they now do a degree course. If 30% to 35% of our young nurses are leaving the country - some will never come back - it is a major problem. I am not saying this in a political, knocking way but we should have a debate on the situation, which is getting more and more serious. At the same time, we are employing nurses from the Middle East, India, Pakistan and elsewhere on an agency basis. Some day, the system will collapse and we will see hospitals totally devoid of Irish nurses, despite the fact that we are sending one third or more of them to Canada, America, Australia and England, where they are getting better pay, better facilities and, in many cases, more respect.

  It is about time we had a debate on this issue. I compliment Senator Colm Burke who, on many occasions, has raised issues such as this in the House in regard to junior doctors and so on. There is a serious crisis coming down the track in the whole area of the staffing of hospitals. I particularly want to raise the issue of the nurses because they are the front-line staff on whom we all depend if we end up in hospital.

Senator John Whelan: Information on John Whelan Zoom on John Whelan I call on the Leader to facilitate a full debate in the House at the earliest juncture on HIQA's report on Portlaoise general hospital. This does not just have to do with Portlaoise general hospital as it has ramifications for health services and all regional hospitals the length and breadth of the country. I do not know if any hospital could hold up to the forensic scrutiny that has been brought to bear on Portlaoise general hospital. It is an important, seminal report. In fact, HIQA has stated it is probably one of the most significant reports it has ever conducted. However, it need not have happened that we have had such a report because, in 2006, the front-line nursing staff at Portlaoise general hospital wrote to the then Minister for Health and Children, imploring her to intervene and pointing out that if the hospital was not adequately staffed and resourced, there would be consequences and terrible tragedies to follow. They were proved correct, unfortunately, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.  What we need now is to make sure this never happens again. I commend HIQA for the thoroughness and comprehensiveness of the report. After nine years, families and patients finally have answers, accountability and access to what actually happened. They should never have been treated in this way. As Senator John Crown who has expertise in this area has pointed out, the performance of Portlaoise regional hospital was expected to go from 1,000 births to over 2,000 births inside a couple of years with fewer staff. It was being treated as if it was a factory or a conveyor belt. One cannot run a hospital or a health service that way. Portlaoise is a major hospital at the crossroads of Ireland. It is important this does not happen again, yet today we have had the astonishing intervention of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine calling for the closure and downgrading of the accident and emergency department there. This is absurd. One does not solve a problem by creating a bigger problem. If the accident and emergency department in Portlaoise general hospital is deemed to be unsafe, we solve the problem by making it safe and providing it with proper staffing levels and proper resources. I implore the Leader to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, visit the House at the earliest juncture. He has intervened robustly in this matter and, while I commend him for his actions, we need to debate this issue and tease out the consequences.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I would like to bring up the whole issue of charging and sentencing in the criminal justice system. I am particularly concerned about the number of cases in which the evidence would suggest it should be murder, yet in which manslaughter is substituted. When a person is found guilty of manslaughter in circumstances where a finding of murder would be more appropriate, it gives rise to an injustice to the victim and the victim's family. A preference for a finding of manslaughter probably has its origins in times when the sentence for murder was hanging. Faced with the choice of having a person convicted of murder and sentenced to hanging, juries found it easier to make a finding of manslaughter as the offender would not be hanged but would be given a jail sentence. This practice of interchanging the charge of murder with charges of manslaughter is deeply wrong, especially given that capital punishment no longer applies. Where the evidence of a crime points to murder, I do not think the charge should be reduced to manslaughter. Juries should not be encouraged to dilute the gravity of the offence. It would be valuable if the Minister for Justice and Equality were to come to the House sometime soon to have a debate on sentencing, particularly the aspect I am raising.

  I support Senator Ivana Bacik's call for a debate on Springboard. I have been involved with Springboard since it began five years ago. I am very impressed by its achievement and the number of jobs that have been created. These were people with degrees which were not suitable any more - perhaps during those years when the construction industry dropped, architects, quantity surveyors and others found their degrees were not suitable. With Springboard, they were able to undertake a different degree altogether. It has worked very well. The Government invested a lot of money in it and is doing so again this year.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I was interested in certain reports in the media this morning outlining the NRA's views on multi-point tolling as a potential solution to congestion on the M50. I know a number of people living along the M50, in Carpenterstown and Castleknock, who would have concerns about multi-point tolling. Even if we are told it could be cheaper, most people know the reality is that we will be paying more for journeys on the M50, against a backdrop of road tax and fuel prices going up. It is just not something I would welcome. It would be counterproductive as it would lead to traffic displacement if the tolls become more expensive as a consequence. Traffic would move into residential areas around the M50. For the people in and around Castleknock and the Phoenix Park, this is a point of great concern. It is exactly what the M50 was intended to help us to avoid.  In its own report, the National Roads Authority, NRA, suggests measures such as varying the tolls based on peak times were something that could be taken in conjunction with the introduction of multi-point tolling systems. However, the question that must be asked is why that cannot be done now in the same way it has been done with the port tunnel. Surely there are ways of reducing tailbacks and congestion without the all too easy mantra of "Let's charge more"? It seems clear that demand management measures must be considered; therefore, I am calling for a debate on the NRA's recent comments on multi-point tolling and, in particular, for it to come up with some measures to ease congestion on the M50, which is the most used road in the country and a vital economic corridor. I would like to hear the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's views on the matter and whether we are in the same position that we were in in 2013 when the Department was opposed to these moves.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien I advise Senators that the Alfred Beit Foundation in Russborough House has decided to sell eight masters' paintings via Christie's on 7 July. They will realise approximately £10 million. Sir Alfred and Lady Beit will forever be recognised by the State as among the greatest champions of the arts in Ireland. They placed their home, the Richard Castle-designed Russborough House, and the greater part of their internationally important art collection in trust forever for the benefit of the Irish nation through the Alfred Beit Foundation. They also made an extraordinary gift to the National Gallery of Ireland of 16 of their finest paintings, including paintings by Vermeer, Metsu and van Ruisdael. In today's terms, the value of those gifts runs to hundreds of millions of euro. The paintings I speak about are by Rubens, Adriaen van Ostade, David Teniers the Younger and Francesco Guardi. While I acknowledge that Russborough House is in need of repair and that the Alfred Beit Foundation has had to do this, I call on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Alfred Beit Foundation to come together to consider bringing these paintings back to Ireland and for us to find it within ourselves to restore Russborough House. These paintings will be lost to us forever. They are among the reasons people come to visit Ireland. We can never regain these gifts of heritage and beauty. I would be eternally grateful if the Leader could urgently bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly With my colleagues, I call for an urgent debate on the demise of rural towns. Towns with a population of 2,000 to 3,000 are dying in rural Ireland. There is no question that we can see recovery in the cities and it is welcome that the numbers on the live register are decreasing, but small towns are dying. Businesses cannot afford the rates and they cannot compete with the multinational companies. We need a cross-party debate in this House to consider how we can bring jobs to the regions. Regardless of whether it requires extra incentives, we must put something in place. The need for such a debate is urgent.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I call for a debate on rural transport and, in particular, Bus Éireann's involvement in the provision of transport to rural areas. Bus Éireann is the only State transport provider for much of rural Ireland. It has a public service obligation contract to the State and its job is not to think solely in business terms, but to provide a vital link for otherwise isolated communities. In recent weeks we heard the news of the elimination of the No. 7 Dublin to Cork route which passes through parts of Kilkenny and south Tipperary and the scaling back of the No. 5 route between Dublin and Waterford which serves part of north Wexford. The cutting of services to small villages and towns is a disgrace. The management of Bus Éireann forgets that taxpayers' money is invested into Bus Éireann to provide a public service. It seems to believe the sole purpose of the company is to make money rather than to serve communities. Its media and public relations manager said there is no doubt that the decisions will impact on rural communities but the demand is not there to sustain the business. Since 2011 Bus Éireann has cut almost 100 services, leaving many towns with no public transport options. I am concerned that if it is not called to task on these cuts, we will see further cuts across the country. It must be remembered that the motorway network which has connected the major cities and has drastically cut journey times is welcome but it has led to the bypassing of many towns which rely on the Bus Éireann routes that still use the old roads. In east Galway towns such as Loughrea, Athenry and Ballinasloe have been bypassed by the N7 motorway but many people still pass through these towns using the Bus Éireann route to Dublin and Galway.  Bus Éireann needs to be reminded of its public service obligations. If the cuts in the south are repeated nationwide, it will be another sad milestone in the Government's comprehensive neglect of rural Ireland. Access to transport is a major quality of life issue, especially for older people. Proper transport links give a lifeline to many communities in tackling the very serious problem of rural isolation. I would be very grateful if we could have a debate on this issue.

Senator Michael Comiskey: Information on Michael Comiskey Zoom on Michael Comiskey I support Senator Paschal Mooney on the issue of cardiac services in Sligo hospital. I was at the briefing on Friday too. It was frightening to hear that it is the only area in the country where if one had a cardiac arrest, one could not be treated within 90 minutes. To be treated within 90 minutes is vital to recovery. That is only possible if there is a helicopter available, but that is not possible at night. I am setting up a meeting with the Minister for Health on this issue to show him the presentation given to us on Friday. I know he will be in the House later this afternoon.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I call for a debate on public services and, as an extension of that, public service pay. The Government announced in the so-called spring statement that extra money would be made available for public spending and there are discussions beginning with the trade unions on public sector pay. It is important that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform come to the House to listen to the views of all the parties and the Independents on all of those issues and how we should and could use whatever increased financial capacity we have in a fair way. There is no doubt that low-paid workers in the public sector need more money in their pockets. That can be done in many different ways, through the pension levy and wage increases. We can spend the money fairly.

  There is also a need to rebuild public services. We heard about the cardiology services in one part of the country. In the part of the country the Leader comes from, Waterford, I had a meeting with hospital management last week at which I was told that the clear commitment given by the previous Minister for Health to 24-hour, seven-day cardiology cover in Waterford and the south east was unlikely to happen in the short, medium or even long term. These are areas in which we need to invest. We have to rebuild and have a vision for public services and they need to be resourced. We need to use whatever capacity we have to do that on the one hand, but also to make sure low paid and middle income workers who disproportionately bore the brunt of seven years of austerity are the ones who benefit, not those at the top, whether in the public or the private sector.

  We need a debate on these issues. As the Minister prepares to spend €1.5 billion of our money, taxpayers’ money, in the upcoming budget and given that the Government indicated in the spring statement that there was to be a new way of doing business, listening to the Opposition and all the rest of it, we should bring the Minister in and have a constructive debate on how to use the resources of the State to bring about fairness, to have a real recovery for all citizens and to rebuild public services.

Senator Lorraine Higgins: Information on Lorraine Higgins Zoom on Lorraine Higgins I am calling for a debate on carers and the key role they play in communities, providing vital support for the vulnerable in society. This support is perhaps the most valuable of all work, giving dignity, security and comfort to those in need. Regrettably, in several budgets, their income has been reduced, which has placed many carers and their clients in difficult situations and has put them under pressure. We all know that they fulfil several crucial roles and are indispensable to the people who use them, but they are also indispensable to the State. Carers enable people to be cared for and treated in their own homes and communities, reducing demand on already stretched State resources and the HSE. The services carers provide should be remunerated accordingly. I feel quite strongly about that, given the savings their selflessness generates for the Exchequer. I propose a debate in this House on introducing a graduated scale that could be developed to help quantify the work done by carers across a broad spectrum. This scale could be used on a case-by-case basis to ensure fairness and responsiveness to individual situations. I have no doubt that by restoring the cuts to carers and creating a system that better supports them in their work, their families, communities and the institutions of State will benefit. I acknowledge the tremendous work done by carers the length and breadth of the country.  I sincerely hope we will be able to debate this issue and consider the introduction of a graduated scale for carers. I hope this matter will be given priority.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú Will the Leader arrange a debate on the regeneration of rural Ireland? It should focus on the establishment of a partnership between community organisations on the ground and State policies. Rural areas underwent a major improvement in the period following the 1950s. This was very pleasing as it followed a period when people believed rural Ireland was virtually dead and beyond repair. It was only when we travelled abroad, particularly to the United States, and met some of those who had emigrated in the 1940s and 1950s that we realised what a great loss these people had been to the country. Rural areas face a comparable threat again as the infrastructure of many areas is being decimated. While this issue was barely discussed for a number of years, most commentators now accept that we have a major problem. Certain organisations drove regeneration in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Senators will be aware of many of the leaders and visionaries involved in these organisations. The Celtic tiger made us all a little soft, however, and many rural organisations were sidelined, weakened or ignored. Government policies will not work unless the spirit that prevailed at that time is rejuvenated in rural areas. This requires the creation of a partnership between rural areas and State policies. Small businesses and shops have closed in many small towns and villages and the emigration of hundreds of thousands of young people in recent years has left behind a sense of hopelessness. While I welcome the suggestion by the Taoiseach and his Ministers that the time has come for young emigrants to return, we must admit that the number of jobs available would not be sufficient if they were all to do so. I praise the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, for the manner in which he has reached out to emigrants. Given his background as a hero in Gaelic football and someone who comes from Listowel, the type of community to which I referred, the Minister of State has done good work. Without action, we will continue to bemoan the manner in which rural areas have become fragmented. If we are not careful, we will see a return to the circumstances that prevailed in the 1940s and 1950s, although they will be somewhat different. Will the Leader to arrange a debate on the creation of a partnership between the community spirit on the ground and Government policies? That would be a first step.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I compliment Senator David Norris on his discernment regarding the Cathaoirleach's attire.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke What does that have to do with the Order of Business?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Senator David Norris raised the matter and I am simply following the distinguished Senator's line. Perhaps western county, big house style would be an appropriate description.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I noticed recently, while in the sunny south east, that Lord Waterford had been photographed in similar attire.

  The House should consider Senator David Norris's idea on the regeneration of Georgian houses now that Dublin has been included in the Living City initiative. Most Georgian houses in Dublin are of the size he mentioned. The scheme would fail in its primary purpose if it did not encompass all of Georgian Dublin.  That does need to be examined and perhaps we might do something about it.

  I very much agree with what Senator John Kelly said about the towns of Ireland. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú referred to rural matters. Towns are being decimated by all the out-of-town growth we have seen. Reference was made to Loughrea, Athenry and Ballinasloe. I do not know whether they all have traffic wardens, but many other towns do, and that is having the effect of driving more people out of towns. It is something we must address. I look forward to an early debate on the matter if the Leader can arrange it.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I welcome the public service pay negotiations that started today. I wish to place one particular sector in focus for all of us because I hear people talk constantly on radio about productivity and demanding more from the public service. In 2008, the institute of technology sector had a budget of approximately €542 million and 4,845 staff, catering for approximately 67,400 students. By 2014, the budget had been cut to €354.133 million. The number of academics had been cut to 4,300, while the number of students had been increased to 83,000. That is a cut of almost €188,000, a reduction of more than 500 academic staff and an increase of 16,000 students. The public service has played its part in bringing the country out of the doldrums it was left in after the collapse. This House should warmly thank the public service for what it has done. It carried the debt of the country on its back and got nothing for it.

  I join my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, in his call for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the criminal justice system. I am sure some Members present listened to an RTE radio programme yesterday morning on which a number of thugs were interviewed following their appearance in Tullamore court. They thought it was hilariously funny that they could refuse to pay their fines, receive a jail sentence, be sent to Dublin and get a good dinner and a bus ticket home for free. Apparently, that is the situation with such young thugs. We are talking about making attachment orders for water charges to people's dole payments. These thugs should have their fines attached to their dole. More importantly, we should see them out in high visibility suits cleaning the streets of the country.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I call for such a debate.

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. I too have heard stories of people in my home town who have been escorted to Mountjoy Prison in taxis paid for by taxpayers, but on reaching the prison they are sent home, sometimes arriving home before their taxi driver. I agree, too, that perhaps such people who are before the courts could do community service. There is plenty of litter. We are constantly trying to make this country greener and free of litter. His suggestion is a great idea. I totally agree that there is plenty of scope for such an approach.

  Once again, I request an urgent and full debate on residential services for people with disabilities. The shock and worry are still present for many families of loved ones in such centres as a result of the "Prime Time" programme. People who have family members in such centres, or who avail of respite or other services in the centres, have conveyed their concerns to me. It is now five months since the "Prime Time" programme aired, when I made my original request for a full debate on the matter. I accept we did have a half-hour debate on that day, but I have repeatedly called for a full debate on the matter. While I welcome yesterday's announcement that five people will go before the courts and that people will be prosecuted for the absolutely appalling behaviour that took place, the House should be provided with a full update from the Minister not only on what happened in Áras Attracta but on the steps being taken to rectify the unacceptable situations that have come to light following HIQA's inspections of other services around the country.  I specifically ask that the Minister again come into the House regarding the six-week closure of respite services, with little notice to families, in the Health Service Executive-funded St. John of God services at Drumcar in my native County Louth. This is a service funded by the Health Service Executive which has closed to facilitate staff training and development, as well as implementation of quality and safety improvements. No alternative options have been offered to families during this time and many of these families have approached me in desperation.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran Yes I am, as I have stated. How is the HSE funding being used for the six weeks during which no respite services are being provided? A full and broad debate is needed as a matter of urgency on the HSE-funded disability services provided nationwide.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan I welcome further good news on the jobs front here in Dublin. Alexion Pharmaceuticals, which is based here, announced recently a €450 million expansion to its premises that will increase its workforce by a further 200, as well as creating 800 construction jobs in the next four years. This is great news for the construction industry and must be welcomed by all Members.

  I support the call by Senators Feargal Quinn and Gerard P. Craughwell for an urgent debate in this House with the Minister for Justice and Equality. I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Feargal Quinn that murder charges should not be diluted and should be punished accordingly and the issue of life sentences must be considered. When I was in my teens, I knew a middle-aged man who received a life sentence for murder and who died in prison 46 years later. To be fair, the man was not fully compos mentis but he spent 45 and a half years in prison and died there. While I do not suggest that, the question of a life sentence of 15 years being reduced to 12 years is farcical. Murder is murder and I refer to repeat criminals, the question of free legal aid, breaking and entering and liabilities on house owners and business people. It cannot be right that somebody who breaks into one's premises and who cuts his or her hand has a claim against one. As for the Cathaoirleach's definition of reasonable force and my definition of it, were I to get some fellow coming out of my house with my television after breaking and entering, I would stop him from getting out the front door with it. The issues must be addressed and a long debate is needed here in the Seanad on the entire criminal system.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I bring Members' attention to the daft.ie report published yesterday. It shows yet again that rents are rising nationally but particularly in areas outside Dublin, in other words, the doughnut effect, for the simple reason that it has become too expensive to live in Dublin. I would like there to be two aspects to a debate on this issue, the first of which would be to talk to the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection about how rent supplement benefit is insufficient to enable people to live in the Dublin region. This is a matter that requires urgent debate, as failure to be able to pay rent is driving people into homelessness. However, the aspect I wish to raise today is a recent report from UCD indicating that it is intended to increase the price of on-campus accommodation by 20% next year. Access to on-campus accommodation and student accommodation is an issue of access to education. While one is talking about rural Ireland in this regard, for many parents who live outside an urban area, the ability to afford accommodation for their children is the deciding factor as to whether that child will ever get the chance of a third-level education. It is horrendous that on-campus providers can raise charges by such an extent. Incidentally, the increase for the same educational institution last year was 16%. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, should be invited to the House to answer the question as to what type of arrangements these universities and institutes of technology have with on-campus providers. Who sets these rent levels and how can any university stand over an on-campus provider that sets its rental levels based on the average rents charged in Dublin 4?  That is definitely an access to education issue. Now is the time to engage in a debate on this matter, not next August or September when students are seeking accommodation. I request that the Leader ask the Minister to come before the House in order that we might discuss the policy of the Department of Education and Skills towards on-campus accommodation as a matter of urgency.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I support Senator John Whelan with regard to the report on Portlaoise regional hospital. It is important that this matter be debated. In that context, a number of key issues must be considered. In the first instance, there are 19 maternity units throughout the country. Why is it not possible to publish perinatal morality rates relating to each of these units, particularly when, as I understand it, such information is available? I also understand an impression is being communicated to the effect that the larger units have far lower perinatal mortality rates than their smaller counterparts. It is about time all the relevant information relating to this matter was made available. There are some very good units throughout the country which are functioning extremely well. Those units that are providing a very good service should not be treated unfairly. In the context of what Senator John Whelan said in respect of Portlaoise hospital, the number of births in this country increased from 61,500 per annum in 2003 to 75,500 in 2009. Very few additional staff were employed to allow the service throughout the country to cope with this increase. In other words, the health service did not respond to the requirements for front-line staff. People must understand those who operate on the front line in hospitals work extremely hard and are very dedicated and committed. It is wrong that the impression has been given that the entire health service is failing in terms of delivery. It is important that we support those on the front line. Between 2003 and 2013, around 700,000 babies were delivered in Irish hospitals, and 99.9% of these deliveries were perfectly normal and resulted in good outcomes. We seem to lose sight of what constitutes good news when we are discussing the health service. That fact should be borne in mind. There is a need for a debate on this matter in order that all the relevant issues might be put on the table. We should not just focus on circumstances in which things have gone radically wrong. I accept the need to highlight such instances and to put in place remedies to prevent any recurrence. However, we must give credit where it is due, particularly where services are being delivered.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins Many significant issues have been raised about shortcomings in various services within the State. We must accept, however, that those issues pale into insignificance when compared with what the unfortunate people of Nepal are enduring. For the second time in two weeks, Nepal has been hit by a major earthquake. Today's earthquake had a magnitude of 7.3 and resulted in the deaths of 37 people. A further 900 individuals have been injured. Of course, these casualties are in addition to the 8,000 people who were killed as a result of the previous earthquake. We should applaud and support in every way possible the aid agencies and NGOs that are working in Nepal in the most difficult of circumstances to try to restore some sort of normality to the lives of the unfortunate people who live there. Many Irish aid agencies are involved in fund-raising activities for Nepal. I welcome the contribution the Government has already made and hope it will be in a position to provide further support. In addition, I hope it will call on all other countries across the globe to provide assistance. As individuals, we should try to help the people of Nepal either by making a financial contribution or by supporting the fund-raising activities to which I refer. We are all aware of what happened here during the Great Famine. However, we must recognise that people in Nepal have literally been left with nothing.

  I strongly support the call for a debate on sentencing with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I confirm for Senator Gerard P. Craughwell that the Minister is addressing this matter in the context of the payment of fines. Criminals are running rings around and laughing at the justice system.  Deputy Fances Fitzgerald is a reforming Minister and doing a superb job. We would all like the opportunity to say a few words on the issue of manslaughter versus murder during the debate that the Leader, no doubt, will organise in due course.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The cardiologist to whom I referred in Sligo Regional Hospital is Dr. Donal Murray, not Dr. Donal Kelly. I am slightly embarrassed that I did not get his name right.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It can be one of the dangers of naming people in the House.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Paschal Mooney referred to the provision of a cath lab in Sligo Regional Hospital. I am acutely aware of the problems relating to cath labs because there is only one in Waterford, but there is a need to staff a second. The Senator is correct that if someone has a heart attack, there is a 90-minute window. Sligo is a case in point, but if someone has a heart attack in Waterford after 5 p.m. on a Friday, he or she will have to be transported to Cork. Therefore, a person has to have a heart attack between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, which is ridiculous. Nobody can legislate for this. It is a serious matter which I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Health because cath labs are an absolute necessity, especially in Sligo, as few facilities are available north of the town and in the north west. Perhaps the Senator might table a Commencement matter to elicit a response from the Minister on the issue.

  I will address the other health matter raised, but I will have to amend the Order of Business because the Minister for Health who is to take statements on alcohol consumption will be held up in the other House dealing with matters relating to Portlaoise hospital during the Topical Issues debate. He is anxious to deal with these matters in the other House, but he is also anxious to attend this House to hear statements on alcohol consumption in Ireland. I, therefore, propose that the statements on alcohol consumption in Ireland now be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m., with the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 6.50 p.m. That addresses some of the points raised on the Order of Business.

  Senators Ivana Bacik and John Whelan and several others referred to HIQA's report on Portlaoise hospital. It is a damning report and the Government has accepted all eight recommendations. As Senator Ivana Bacik and others mentioned, there is a need for the specialisation of maternity services. I will ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the matter. He will deal with the matters relating to Portlaoise hospital in the other House.

  Senators Ivana Bacik and Feargal Quinn referred to the success of the Springboard initiative. It is proving to be successful, to which the figures outlined by Senator Ivana Bacik attest.

  The Senator also complimented the councils in Dublin on their efforts with community festivals. This is something local authorities throughout the country do well.   Senator David Norris spoke about the Living City initiative and was supported by Senator Paul Coghlan. There is no question that it is a very positive scheme which will prove beneficial in the cities involved. We referred to the scheme on the Order of Business last week. As Senator David Norris mentioned, capping the figure at 210 sq. m would rule out the inclusion of Georgian Dublin. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, as I do not believe it is the intention to exclude these wonderful houses.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I thank the Leader.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Jim D'Arcy called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come to the House to debate the results of the UK elections, including in Northern Ireland. He also mentioned the offensive sectarian leaflets distributed by a Sinn Féin candidate during the elections. There is no place for sectarianism in Irish politics, North or South. As the Senator mentioned, the leaflets were totally against republican ideals.

  Senator Denis O'Donovan spoke about Irish nurses, who are front-line staff. I understand the recruitment of nurses has recommenced, particularly in specialised areas. We will try to bring the Minister for Health to the House to debate the question of resources in the health service, particularly nurses, non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants. Many posts have been advertised in recent months, but they have not been filled. We are, therefore, very short of nurses, non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants.

  Senator John Whelan called for a debate on maternity services, with particular reference to Portlaoise hospital. I will try to organise such a debate.

  Senators Feargal Quinn, Gerard P. Craughwell, Michael Mullins and Terry Brennan spoke about sentencing policy and the reduction of charges from murder to manslaughter. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell also spoke about the imposition of fines. I hope the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, will address this issue as a matter of urgency because people are only laughing at the Garda. They are sentenced to a month or two in prison, but they go and return on the same day. In many cases, they pass the cars in which they went to prison, which is absolutely ludicrous. I have asked the Minister to come to the House to speak on six or seven items. She will be here next week to speak about the Legal Services Regulation Bill. She has had a busy time dealing with legislation, but I am sure she will address the issues raised as soon as her diary permits. I will certainly keep the pressure on to bring her to the House to discuss them.

  Senator Catherine Noone spoke about the NRA and recent comments made on multi-point tolling. I agree with her that it would be interesting to hear what the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, would have to say. I will certainly request a debate on the issue. Perhaps the Senator might table a Commencement matter if she wants to receive an earlier response.

  Senator Mary Ann O'Brien spoke about the Beit collection, the proposed sale of paintings to restore Russborough House and the need for the Beit Foundation and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to get together on the matter to try to retain these valuable paintings in Ireland. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.

  Senator John Kelly spoke about the decline of businesses in small towns. This matter was raised by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú in the context of the regeneration of rural Ireland and creating partnerships between communities and the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, came to the House not so long ago.  We also had the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, here to speak about the Action Plan for Jobs and the emphasis placed on regional job creation. Bringing people home forms part of that process. However, I will try to ensure both the Minister and the Minister of State will come back to the House for further discussions on the matters raised. Notwithstanding the fact that our engagement with the Ministers took place quite recently, I agree that there should be ongoing debate on these matters. Issues affecting rural areas and the future of small towns are of paramount importance to the communities affected and the country as a whole.

  Senator Rónán Mullen raised a similar theme in referring to rural transport provision and reminding Bus Éireann of its public service obligations. The State gives the company more than €95 million in subsidies. This issue could be included in the broader debate on issues affecting rural Ireland.

  Senator Michael Comiskey supported Senator Paschal Mooney's comments on cardiac services in Sligo.

  Senator David Cullinane welcomed the public service pay talks, as did Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. Senator David Cullinane emphasised that it should be staff on low and middle incomes who should benefit from pay increases. For once, I am in agreement with the Senator. It is the Government's intention that the people concerned will be helped in line with what was done in the budget. I am, however, somewhat surprised by the Senator's comments, given that his party considers those earning more than €32,000 to be wealthy. His colleagues voted against taking such persons out of the 41% tax bracket in the budget. People need to realise Sinn Féin considers workers earning more than €32,000 to be wealthy. That message should be made clear.

  Senator Lorraine Higgins referred to the quality of work done by carers and called for a debate on the introduction of a graduated scale of payments for them. I will try to organise a debate on the issue with the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton.

  I have dealt with Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú's comments on rural areas. Senator Paul Coghlan indicated his support for efforts to regenerate Georgian Dublin, as mentioned by Senator David Norris.

  Senator Mary Moran called for a further debate on residential services for people with disabilities. I am delighted to report that on 27 May we will have statements on health services for persons with intellectual disabilities in the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran I thank the Leader.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Terry Brennan welcomed the announcement by a pharmaceutical company of its plans to invest €450 million and create new jobs in Blanchardstown. It is wonderful news for people living in the area. The Senator also raised the issue of sentencing policy.

  Senator Aideen Hayden referred to the daft.ie report which showed there had been an increase in rents in Dublin, something of which we all are aware. The Senator requested the Tánaiste to come to the House to discuss an increase in rent allowance payments. She also made an important point about the proposed increase of 20% in the cost of on-campus student accommodation this year, following an increase of 16% last year. She rightly points out that this is a deterrent for young people in rural areas to access third level education. The arrangements between accommodation suppliers and the universities and institutes of technology should be investigated. An additional 20% increase, on top of a 16% rise, is exorbitant and I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the matter.

  In raising the issue of maternity services Senator Colm Burke pointed out that there had been more than 700,000 births between 2003 and 2013 and that only in a minuscule number of cases had things gone wrong.   Senator Michael Mullins spoke about the further major earthquake in Nepal this morning. He complimented the aid agencies, which are working in very difficult circumstances. I will ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to update the House on the situation in Nepal.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Paschal Mooney has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the approval of a cath lab facility in Sligo General Hospital be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I am grateful for the Leader's response, not only for the empathy he has shown on an issue that obviously has an impact in his own part of the country but also for his intention to communicate directly with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on it. Therefore, I will not press the amendment.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I propose the suspension of the sitting until 5.30 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Sitting suspended at 4.35 p.m. and resumed at 5.30 p.m.

Business of Seanad

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader wishes to propose a further suspension of the sitting.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I propose that the sitting be suspended until 6 p.m. at which time we will take statements on alcohol consumption in Ireland, with the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 7.20 p.m.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Sitting suspended at 5.35 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m. 

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader wishes to propose a further suspension of the sitting.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I propose that the sitting be suspended until 6.20 p.m. as the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, is taking a Topical Issue debate in the other House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Will an additional 20 minute suspension be sufficient?

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Yes. The debate will take place from 6.20 p.m. to 7.50 p.m., with the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 7.40 p.m.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Sitting suspended at 6.05 p.m. and resumed at 6.20 p.m.

Alcohol Consumption in Ireland: Statements

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar.

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the House for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to discuss it. I apologise to Members for being late and thank them for their patience, but I had to take a debate on Portlaoise hospital in the Dáil and given the day that was in it I thought I should respond to it myself.

  Before I start, I wish to put the issue of alcohol in context. At the moment, the Department of Health and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and I are pursuing 25 actions for this year around five major themes. They are Healthy Ireland, patient outcomes and safety, universal health care reform and the modernisation of our infrastructural facilities. We put Healthy Ireland first for a particular reason, because it is our belief that we need to improve our health as individuals, as that is in our own interest, but also we need to improve our health as a nation if we are ever going to get on top of the health problems we face in this country or ever get on top of health budgets. That includes lots of different actions. The Healthy Ireland survey is now under way. It is the first survey of the nation's health since SLÁN back in 2007. Members will be aware of the actions taken by the previous Minister, Deputy James Reilly, and our forebears on tobacco and the regulation of sunbeds, which was introduced in recent months to protect children in particular from skin cancer and also the actions that are being taken on obesity. Alcohol is just one part of the bigger Healthy Ireland picture, which in itself is only one part of a bigger effort in health.

  Ireland has a serious problem. We drink too much overall and we tend to binge drink a lot. In spite of what we might like to think, alcohol is not abused by a small minority of individuals. In fact, the majority of people who drink do so in a harmful way. Our alcohol consumption is in the top five among the 28 EU member states and although alcohol consumption per capita declined between 2007 and 2013, it remains high. The damaging dominance of a harmful drinking pattern remains very high by European standards and is a major public health concern. From the provisional figures available, we know that alcohol consumption per capita increased from 10.6 litres in 2013 to 11 litres in 2014. That is probably related to the upturn in the economy and represents the first increase in alcohol consumption in a number of years. If that is the case, it is a matter of real concern, because it indicates that without policy change, as more people return to work and they have more money in their pockets, they are likely to drink more of it.

  Patterns of drinking, especially drinking to intoxication, play an important role in causing alcohol-related harm. In Ireland, as I mentioned, we tend to binge drink. Ireland was second in the WHO European region in relation to binge drinking, with 39% of the population misusing alcohol in this manner at least monthly. The Health Research Board's alcohol diary survey found that 54% of adult drinkers were classified as harmful drinkers, 75% of all alcohol consumed was done as part of a binge drinking session, and Irish drinkers underestimate their alcohol intake by 61%. The study found that more than half of adult drinkers in the population are classified as harmful drinkers, which equates to between 1.3 million and 1.4 million people. The findings lead to the conclusion that harmful drinking is the norm in Ireland, in particular for young people - men and women aged under 35 years.

  This pattern of drinking is causing significant harm to individuals, their families and society. It is estimated that it was responsible for at least 83 deaths every month in 2011. It was associated with 8,836 attendances in 2012 to specialised addiction treatment centres. It was involved in one of every three poisoning deaths in Ireland in 2012 and remains the substance implicated in most poisonings. It was a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm. It is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancer and injuries. It is a factor in many assaults, including sexual assaults, assaults against children, rape, domestic violence and manslaughter. It contributes to high levels of non-attendance at work and lower productivity and it is also associated with higher college drop-out rates. As we are all aware, it is a factor in 30% of road collisions and in 36.5% of fatal road collisions. The European Alcohol Policy Alliance has warned that, taking all diseases and injuries at a global level into account, the negative health impact of alcohol consumption is 31.6 times higher than the benefit that does exist from low levels of alcohol consumption.

  The HSE report, Alcohol Harm to Others, examines the damage that alcohol causes in the general population, the workplace and children in families. The report states over one in four people in Ireland reported experiencing negative consequences as a result of someone else's drinking. One in ten Irish workers experienced negative consequences due to co-workers who were heavy drinkers and one in ten Irish parents reported that children experienced harm in the past 12 months as a result of someone else's drinking. The results confirm that alcohol is causing significant damage across the population, in workplaces and to children1 and carries a substantial burden to all in society. Action is required to protect the health and well-being of the wider public, and especially children, from alcohol use.

  The Government is committed to tackling alcohol misuse and the widespread harm and pain it causes. A comprehensive and detailed package of measures has been approved to do so. As Members are aware, the general scheme of the public health (alcohol) Bill was published last February and my Department is drafting the Bill. I intend to have the Bill published before the summer recess and introduced in the Houses of the Oireachtas in autumn. This legislation is the most far-reaching proposed by any Government, with alcohol being addressed for the first time as a public health issue. The Bill is part of a comprehensive suite of measures to reduce excessive patterns of alcohol consumption, as set out in the steering group report on a national substance misuse strategy. It is also one of the measures being taken under the Healthy Ireland framework to which I referred previously. The aim is to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres per person per annum, which is the OECD or developed world average, by 2020, and to reduce the harms associated with alcohol, particularly by reducing binge drinking.

  At the recent National Alcohol Forum conference, Dr. Thomas Babor spoke about the need to tackle the problems of alcohol misuse by focusing on affordability, availability and attractiveness. The public health (alcohol) Bill provides for minimum unit pricing, to eliminate very cheap alcohol from stores, particularly supermarkets; health and calorie labelling on alcohol products to improve consumer information; structural separation in stores to reduce the availability and visibility of alcohol, in order that it is no longer sold as a normal grocery product; restrictions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol; regulation of sports sponsorship; and enforcement powers for environmental health officers.

  Addressing the price of alcohol is an important component of any long-term approach to tackling alcohol misuse. The price of alcohol is directly linked to consumption levels and levels of alcohol-related harm. The World Health Organization has stated there is:

...indisputable evidence that the price of alcohol matters. If the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol-related harm goes down.

Despite the fact that we have relatively high excise duty rates, the price of alcohol remains very affordable, particularly in supermarkets. A woman can reach her low-risk weekly drinking limit for just €6.30 a week, while a man can reach the weekly limit for €10. The Bill will make it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below a set minimum price. Minimum unit pricing, MUP, sets a minimum price per gram of alcohol and will be based on the number of grams of alcohol in the product.

  I know that many Members listened to the excellent presentation given by Dr. John Holmes and Dr. Colin Angus from the University of Sheffield on minimum unit pricing, and the study they carried out in Ireland; therefore, I will not dwell on the results. Suffice to say the study provided robust evidence that minimum unit pricing policies would be effective in reducing alcohol consumption, alcohol harm, and the costs associated with such harm. MUP would have only a small impact on alcohol consumption for low-risk drinkers. Somewhat larger impacts would be experienced by increasing-risk drinkers, with the most substantial effects being experienced by high-risk drinkers. That is because MUP is aimed at those who drink in a harmful and hazardous manner. Alcohol products which are strong and cheap are those favoured by the heaviest drinkers who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death and young people who have the least disposable income.

  MUP is not expected to affect the price of alcohol in the on-trade, but it will prevent large multiple retailers from absorbing increases in excise rates and from using alcohol as a loss leader. Officials in my Department are also looking at possible mechanisms to ensure some of the financial benefits of MUP, if any, may flow back to the Exchequer. Some have been calling for a ban on below-cost selling instead of MUP. I take the opportunity to clarify why MUP is more effective than a ban on below-cost selling. First, there is no agreed definition of below-cost selling in Ireland or how it can be calculated. If it is interpreted as alcohol being sold below the price of VAT and excise duty, very little alcohol is sold at that price in Ireland.  The University of Sheffield study found that a ban on below-cost selling would have a negligible impact on alcohol consumption or related harms. Working out a cost price that incorporates other costs such as manufacturing, transportation and retailing is a complex and expensive exercise and might not even be accurate. Banning below-cost selling would be difficult to implement, monitor and enforce, whereas minimum unit pricing is easier to understand, measure and enforce.

  Others have been calling for a general increase in excise rates. A difficulty with such a measure is that it would render premium and higher-priced alcohol more expensive, which is unnecessary for the purpose of targeting hazardous and harmful drinkers, who tend to purchase larger quantities of cheap alcohol. A tax increase would not necessarily have the same effect as a compulsory minimum price, because of the risk that taxes would not be passed on in full. MUP prevents large multiple retailers from absorbing increases in excise rates and using alcohol as a loss leader to generate footfall for other products.

  As part of the process of working out what the appropriate MUP might be, we are taking into account estimates from the report of the University of Sheffield and consulting with the relevant Departments. If MUP is to be effective, the price needs to be set at a level that will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol use but not so high that it increases the cost of a pint in the pub or a glass of wine in a pizzeria. Concerns have been expressed about the impact MUP might have on cross-Border trade. The Minister for Health in Northern Ireland has also announced plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol in that jurisdiction. My officials are in contact with their counterparts in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on the matter and are cognisant of the requirement to work with the North on implementation.

  Last February the Scottish Inner Court of Sessions, that country's highest court, referred a number of questions on MUP to the European Court of Justice. The latter held a hearing on this case on 6 May and a judgment is expected by the end of the year. We intervened in the case by making a submission in writing and delivering an oral statement in Luxembourg last week. We are confident MUP will be found to be compatible with EU treaties and rules. As such, it is important that all the necessary steps are put in place to commence the legislation, if enacted.

  MUP will be complemented by the making of regulations under section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. This section provides for the making of regulations which may prohibit or restrict advertising, promoting, selling or supplying of alcohol at reduced prices or free of charge in order to reduce the risk of a threat to public order and health risks from the misuse of alcohol. This will allow us, for example, to prohibit volume-based offers, such as three for the price of two deals.

  Protecting children from exposure to alcohol marketing is an important public health goal. There is a body of research which shows that exposure to alcohol marketing, whether on television, in movies, in public places or via alcohol-branded sponsorship, predicts future youth drinking. Longitudinal studies have found that young people who are exposed to alcohol marketing are more likely to start drinking or, if already drinking, to drink more. Research also shows that self-regulation is not able to protect young people from exposure to large volumes of alcohol marketing and appealing alcohol advertising. The Bill will make it illegal to market or advertise alcohol in a manner that is appealing to children. It provides for the making of regulations regarding the marketing and advertising of alcohol and includes provisions for restrictions on broadcast marketing and advertising, cinema advertising, outdoor advertising, print media and the regulation of sponsorship by alcohol companies. This will encompass major sports events for the first time by putting the existing code of practice for sponsorships by drinks companies on a legal footing with enforcement powers and penalties. In addition, the legislation will contain a commitment that the provisions on marketing and advertising will be reviewed after three years.

  On labelling, research shows that accurate information on the alcohol content of specific beverages is essential to promote awareness of alcohol intake. However, "standard drinks" and alcohol units are widely misunderstood by the general public. In order to address this, the Bill will provide that labels on alcohol products must contain health warnings, including for pregnancy, must indicate the amount of pure alcohol as measured in grammes, and must show the calorie count. Under the legislation, pubs and restaurants will be obliged to provide this information for customers for alcohol products sold on draught or in measures, including pints, glasses of wine and measures of spirits. Health warnings will also be included on all promotional material, including advertisements.

  From a merchandising perspective, the Minister for Justice and Equality and I are examining the best way to implement the separation of alcohol products from other products in mixed-trading premises. Our aim is to ensure alcohol products cannot be displayed in the same way as ordinary grocery products, as they currently are displayed.

  It is vital that measures introduced to tackle the misuse of alcohol are enforceable. The provisions in the Bill will be enforced by environmental health officers who work for the Health Service Executive. Measures to be enforced include minimum unit pricing, health labelling, control of marketing and advertising, structural separation of alcohol from other products, and regulations relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol products under section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. These pertain to restrictions on advertising, promoting, selling or supplying alcohol at reduced prices or free of charge.

  We must inform the public about the damage caused by alcohol abuse and explain clearly the aims of our policies in this area. We need to change our attitude to alcohol in general. I hope that by working together we can achieve and surpass our goal of reducing consumption of alcohol in Ireland to the developed world average by 2020 and reducing the significant harms caused by the misuse of alcohol. As I said, I will be seeking Government approval to publish the Bill before the summer recess. I look forward to bringing it to the Seanad for debate.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire whom I compliment on not pulling punches. What he has outlined amounts to a shocking indictment of our society. Issues surrounding the abuse of alcohol come up for debate in virtually every element of the work we do as legislators. We are talking about health issues, crime issues, anti-social behaviour, economic issues and many other matters. In many cases, it takes an extreme case to regenerate the debate, but the time comes when we must cry "Stop". We all know full well that the drinks industry is an exceptionally strong lobby. When radical measures were formulated in the past, they tended to fall short precisely because of the power of the industry.

  The Minister outlined the damage alcohol misuse is causing to society, including children. There is no doubt that children are the main victims of the abuse of alcohol in homes and elsewhere. That alone should be sufficient to make us more determined and courageous than we ever have been before on this issue. There is no person in this House who has not witnessed anti-social behaviour arising from excessive consumption of alcohol. At times it can be absolutely frightening and those involved have respect for nobody. That type of behaviour has reached such an extreme that it now features on a weekly television programme which shows what happens when people go boozing at home or abroad. When we see on our television screens what happens after the nightclubs are closed, it underlines the seriousness of where we are.

  We are told that 2,000 hospital beds are occupied every night by people with alcohol problems. The HSE has indicated that in 2007 alcohol-related problems cost the State €3.7 billion, which equates to more than €3,000 for every taxpayer in the country. Alcohol has an involvement, we are told, in half of suicides in this country. We were all shocked by the epidemic of suicides we saw in recent years and mourn for the young people whose lives are cut short unnecessarily and the impact this has on families.

  Some of the stories we are hearing about the behaviour of young people abroad are a source of great concern.  The number of young Irish people who are letting down the side through excessive drinking and extreme anti-social behaviour in Australia is attracting many column inches in newspapers and featuring on television. While I am prepared to accept that much of what we have heard may not be correct, Irish people will always be in the spotlight when alcohol-related issues arise because of the caricature that has evolved over decades, if not centuries, of Irish people being prone to excessive drinking. St. Patrick's Day never passes without disruption and the necessity to take the most extreme measures to avoid riots on the streets. The same could be said of many other festivals.

  I listened this morning to a radio interview with a group of school students who, by my reckoning, were aged not more than 15 or 16 years. The discussion was proceeding in a very casual manner when the interviewer asked about activities and sport. Responding to a question about the training regime for a specific sport, one of the youngsters stated drinking was banned until the games were over and training had finished. The interviewer's response, which was appropriate, was to ask whether drinking at such a young age was the right thing to do. A survey carried out some years ago in a locality that I will not mention showed that a large percentage of 13 year old children were drinking spirits.

  I recall the challenges and hullabaloo that followed when it was proposed to take action on smoking. Many lobby groups came to the fore arguing that we were creating a nanny state and infringing people's rights. We had to bring home to people the message that every second smoker was likely to die from a tobacco related disease and it took a long time to get it through. Opponents of the ban on smoking in public places stated they would fight the measure and, as usual, the lobby groups stated they would oppose any restriction on advertising.

  In complimenting the Minister, I noted that he did not pull punches. There is little or no difference between the alcohol-related and tobacco-related problems we face. As I pointed out, alcohol and tobacco raise health, economic and anti-social issues. While I appreciate the difficulties facing the Minister, we should immediately cut the cord between the drinks industry and sport, even if this means the State must intervene to provide some finance for sports organisations. There is little point speaking about young people when our sporting heroes are carrying the flag for the drinks industry. Sport should not carry any advertising for the drinks industry.

  The number of deaths caused by alcohol and the manner in which young people are being exploited and undermined are an indictment of society. Why should we allow drink to be advertised and glamorised to suggest to young people that they should drink? I accept it will be difficult to take the serious action needed in this regard, as it was when the smoking ban was introduced. However, if we accept the veracity of the statistics provided by the Minister, we must meet this problem head on. I wish the Minister well in this regard and acknowledge that he faces a difficult problem. The issue is not one of social drinking because social drinkers are very often the victims of excessive abuse of alcohol.

  We must take on all of those who, despite the statistics, wish to continue to exploit Irish people and their international reputation and see deaths result from the abuse of alcohol. This is one of the major issues of the day and every bit as big as many economic issues facing us. Until we are prepared to say "Enough is enough", we will continue to apply a sticking plaster and fail to change our culture.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I welcome the Minister and thank him for a comprehensive overview of this issue, including the relevant facts and figures. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú noted that alcohol-related issues cost the health service €3.7 billion annually. The direct cost of alcohol is €2.4 billion. The Minister noted that 83 people die each month as a direct result of health problems caused by alcohol consumption.

  It is interesting to note the change in alcohol consumption in Ireland in recent years. On a visit to Sweden some years ago, I noted that the country had few public houses but a major problem with alcohol. I could not understand this but discovered that one of the reasons was the amount of alcohol being consumed at home. At that time, Ireland did not have a culture of people consuming alcohol at home. This has changed in the meantime, however. When people start consuming alcohol at home there is no limit on consumption, which increases the problem, especially as we already have a pub culture.

  In the 12 years I served as a city councillor representing the area surrounding University College Cork, I observed a change in culture. For example, four bars within a mile radius of the college closed as alcohol consumption shifted towards drinking at home.

  It is interesting to note the survey produced by the winners of the young scientist exhibition, Ian O'Sullivan and Eimear Murphy, who gave an excellent presentation to the Joint Committee on Health and Children recently. They carried out research on alcohol consumption which highlighted the connection between the attitude of parents and the behaviour of children. They found that adolescents who engaged in hazardous drinking were three times more likely to have a father who is a hazardous drinker; six times more likely to have a father who agrees that it is okay for his child to get drunk sometimes; four times more likely to have a father who agrees that getting drunk is part of having fun as a teenager; five times more likely to have a father who would allow another parent to supply his adolescent with alcohol; almost five times more likely to have a father who would not be concerned by his adolescent son or daughter consuming four pints of alcohol once a month; and five times more likely to have a father who believes it is okay for pupils to drink on special occasions. It was also interesting to note the strong correlation found between adolescents who had a problem with binge drinking and parents with a similar problem. The survey clearly found that parents influence young people.

  This research was comprehensive and involved a large number of people.  It also sends some frightening messages, of which we need to be aware. We need to work towards sending the message that consumption of alcohol affects one's health and excessive consumption will seriously affect one's health. This has not been sufficiently emphasised in the past.

  I note that minimum pricing of alcohol has been introduced in Canada. A survey in one of the Canadian provinces indicated that a 10% increase in the minimum price of alcohol was associated with an 8.4% decrease in total alcohol consumption. In British Columbia, a 10% increase in the minimum price was associated with a 32% fall in wholly alcohol-related deaths. We should aim for the introduction of minimum unit pricing of alcohol. I welcome the heads of the Bill and look forward to the publication of the legislation. However, there is much work to be done, in particular, in the area of education with regard to the use of alcohol. While alcohol is fine in its own way, excessive drinking is a serious danger to health and a serious danger to young people, in particular.

  I refer to two high-risk groups for whom excessive drinking is causing problems. People on low incomes will look for the cheapest product. Minimum pricing will associate price with the alcohol content of drink. The high risk groups such as people on low incomes buy the cheapest product with a high alcohol content. Where minimum pricing is introduced, their consumption of alcohol will decrease. Young people comprise the other group who will buy cheap alcohol as they have the least disposable income. We need to focus on this group, in particular. Minimum pricing will certainly help to reduce the consumption of alcohol. We must also ensure adequate enforcement of minimum pricing.

  A problem that has arisen is that every petrol station and every small shop is selling alcohol but there is no separation of alcohol from ordinary goods. This needs to be changed. I have raised this as a Commencement matter. I am informed it is not possible to implement the section of the current legislation in full. I hope the new legislation will provide for a clear separation of the sale of alcohol from other goods in such premises.

  I welcome the Minister's statement and the strategy for introducing legislation before the end of the Government's term. It is an important issue from the point of view of the net cost to the taxpayer. The consumption of alcohol contributes to serious health problems and at a very great cost to the health service. The Government must make the changes in order to reduce the high levels of alcohol consumption by quite a proportion of the population.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. At this point I thank my colleague, Senator Jillian van Turnhout, for a very collegiate offer in allowing me to speak ahead of her because I have to take part in a debate this evening with Senator Lorraine Higgins which has been organised by NUI Galway, our alma mater, on the forthcoming referendum. There is possibly such a thing as binge debating, but I thank Senator Jillian van Turnhout. Given how seriously she takes her brief, she would want to be here for the entire debate. I will make it my business to check the record of the Minister's comments afterwards. I apologise that I cannot stay until the conclusion of the debate.

  I welcome this debate very much as an opportunity to listen to the Government's plans and to commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, for being so active in this area. It is beyond dispute that we need much more regulation in this area to improve public health. The planned public health (alcohol) Bill aims to put in place minimum pricing and will regulate alcohol advertising and sponsorship targeted at young people. Creidim féin go láidir go bhfuil sé thar am deireadh a chur le poiblíocht, bolscaireacht agus urraíocht ó chomhlachtaí alcóil atá dírithe ar an aos óg.

  It is also welcome that it is the Government's intention to give grants to communities to tackle alcohol and drug abuse. As the Minister pointed out, there is a link between economic recovery and alcohol abuse. An EU report published last year comparing health care across the European Union has found us to have the fifth highest alcohol consumption in the European Union. We also have the joint third highest prevalence rates for obesity among the adult population. These are massive problems that have some inter-relation and it is possibly worth our while and we should be doing all we can to make the public more aware of that link.

  The Minister highlighted the influence on crime of alcohol abuse. Research has linked increased alcohol consumption to increased levels of public order crime and other offences. Dr. Paul O'Mahoney of Trinity College Dublin raised an interesting point when he spoke about the changed nature of street crime. He said people did not kick other people in the head 20 or 30 years ago. He said that there was an acceptance that it was a dangerous and cowardly thing to do, that one would have to be madcap to do it, but now, middle-class young people on booze and out of their heads routinely do it. We are all aware of famous fatalities that have occurred in recent years in that context.

  We need to look at how alcohol impacts on mental health. The World Health Organization estimates that the risk of alcohol dependence in people diagnosed with schizophrenia is three times the average population risk. For people diagnosed with depression and affective disorders it is 1.9 times the average risk. In people diagnosed with anxiety the risk of alcohol dependence is 1.5 times higher. The World Health Organization also estimates that as many as 70% of male suicides are alcohol-related and this is a very important issue for us to emphasise in the context of our public discussions on both alcohol abuse and on suicide.

  We have to be wary of increased illegal smuggling of alcohol and cross-Border shopping occurring when minimum pricing is introduced. That is why I welcome the Minister's indication of the forthcoming co-operation between the Department of Health and authorities in the North on this issue. It seems that if there was any time lag in arrangements to be made, it could cause particular problems with alcohol being cheaper across the Border for a time period.

  Supermarkets and off-licence sales now account for a massive proportion of all alcohol sales. I wonder whether it should be considered that offers involving multiple bottles of wine, for example, for a certain price should be restricted so that offers can only relate to the selling of an individual quantity. Otherwise, it is an encouragement of unnecessary or quantity-based drinking, binge drinking in other words. I refer to the Minister speaking about reducing the amount of alcohol that people drink. It seems counter-intuitive to challenge the culture of the pint in Ireland. It is normal on the Continent to order a half pint even if this is uncommon here. A licensing amendment came into force in England a few years ago allowing premises to sell two thirds of a pint size. It was believed that this would help to encourage more responsible drinking and some drinking companies have seen the potential.  I almost hesitated to propose it to the Minister until my colleague, Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, reminded me that "deorum", which is such a famous word in the vocabulary of our beloved native Galway, is not only a reference to a quantity of whiskey but is also potentially a reference to a quantity of beer somewhere between half a pint and a full pint. Perhaps it could be quantified as three quarters of a pint, which the Senator informs me might also be known as a "maydium". Perhaps there is potential for trying to move tentatively, but with determination at the same time, against the culture of the pint.

  Perhaps we might also look at the link between alcohol and politics. We know about the link between alcohol and sports. In Australia, the state parliament of New South Wales has approved legislation banning donations to political parties from the alcohol, gambling and tobacco industries. While I suspect that politicians would take a degree of care not to be seen to accept such donations, perhaps some formalisation of our anathema in this regard would be appropriate.

  I understand the Minister aims to limit alcohol advertising to children. I am sure he knows as well as I do, or better than I do, how difficult this might be. Children of any age with access to YouTube can instantly view alcohol-related content. According to one piece of research, an average of 6% of views of adult-oriented content are by 13 to 17 year olds. We should consider carefully the report that a major drinks company saw a 20% increase in sales as a result of Facebook activity in one year. Does the Minister have anything to say at this point or at a later stage about what the Government might be able to do to tackle online advertising of alcohol to children? I would certainly be interested to hear about any such plans. Is there any possibility in this respect? I realise that it would be difficult.

  I will conclude by asking the Minister about labelling, which he mentioned in his speech in the context of content and health. When I was speaking to a publican recently, he pointed out to me that if he is caught selling alcohol to someone who is under age, the consequences for him financially and reputationally are very severe. As a member of the community in which the pub is located, the publican's name would be dirt. The same publican made the point that binge drinkers generally do not purchase their alcohol in pubs and are much more likely to get it from supermarket multiples or off-licences. They enjoy complete anonymity, in a sense, in the context of the abuse of alcohol. Given that it is possible to label alcohol in various ways, perhaps there should be a legal requirement for the immediate source of alcohol - bottles or cans - to be subject to labelling. This would mean that if alcohol bottles were found in a public park, there would be some evidence of where they were purchased. I do not propose these things lightly because I realise that all such potential measures involve a degree of planning and possibly a degree of expense. I would like to know if it is something that could be looked at. It is not so much a matter of protecting the reputation of publicans, although that is no bad thing in itself if they are acting responsibly. More importantly, it could act as a deterrent to those who would sell alcohol in an irresponsible way. In other words, it would be helpful if we had a means of detecting the point of sale where the alcohol was purchased. Perhaps this is something the Government has considered. Maybe there are many reasons to dismiss the idea. I would be grateful to hear the Minister's views on it. I thank him for listening and the Chair for his indulgence.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I welcome the Minister. When I turned on the television a week or so ago to flick through what was on, I came across an incredibly named programme called "Drunk History" on one of the British cable channels. The format of the programme involved some comedians, or so-called comedians, discussing history while drunk. I do not know who thought comedians discussing history could be entertaining, but it reaches an incredulous level when they do so while drunk. I thought it was a remarkable concept, but loads of people to whom I spoke about it afterwards did not find it remarkable at all.

  Senator Gerard P. Craughwell will remember with joy the night the Water Services Bill 2014 passed through this House. We were here until approximately 3.30 a.m. I think it was a Thursday night around Christmas. I was driving home to the south side afterwards. As I drove around St. Stephen's Green at approximately 3.30 a.m. I was amazed to see the number of people out on the street. I was perplexed to see that they were not ordinarily drunk but were staggering around the place. When I stopped at traffic lights near Leeson Street, a fellow sat into my car because he thought it was a taxi. He was very nice. He was a grand young fellow. When I said that my car was not a taxi, he got out. I got caught at the lights again when I was driving near Kevin Street. Another fellow approached and tried to get into my car. I hoped the lights would change quickly. They changed just as he got to my car, so he gave it a kick. He bashed in the back door of the car. It was pure drunkenness. I could scarcely believe it. That is the state of Irish society. I must say the majority of the people who were drinking on St. Stephen's Green that night were not teenagers, as we might expect. It was remarkable to note that they were in their late 20s and early 30s.

  I would like to put the problem into a historical context. Literary references going back to the earliest times are peppered with references to feasting and drinking. We know there were 8,000 illegal whiskey houses, and a further 8,000 which were actually legal, in Ireland in the 18th century. They were selling poitín and all sorts. The saturation of Irish society with alcohol is not a new thing. In the middle of the 19th century, Fr. Mathew, who was a Corkman, initiated a crusade against another saturation of Irish society with alcohol. I wonder whether it is for reasons of moral panic that alcohol seems to have been emphasised as the cause of all problems at various times in history. During the Celtic revival of the 1900s, alcohol did not seem to be pointed to or remarked on as a major problem. After the independence of the State had been achieved, writers like JP Donleavy, Flann O'Brien, Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan, who were part of the Irish literary scene of the 1940s and 1950s, almost defined our view as a society of what alcohol is. This is the context of the problem we have. We are not at the end of history now. We are right in the middle of history. The roll of history will not stop here at our generation. It has not stopped at any other generation. Unless we are very ambitious in our view of what is required to tackle this problem, it will just continue on. Regarding our modern-day views of alcohol, the two biggest state visits to this country in recent years were the visits of Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth in 2011. Mr. Obama was filmed holding a pint in Moneygall. That was the first iconic shot of him. The Queen was brought to the Guinness Storehouse. The two pictures that were sure to go all the way around the world were associated with alcohol. This is the fair context with which the Minister must grapple.

  We must identify the nature of the problem in order that we can understand what kind of response is needed. A proper analysis of the problem will reveal the outcome we want to achieve. There are two real arguments in this context. I have had these arguments with several people in recent days. I have to say the nanny state argument, which refers to personal responsibility, the right to choice and competition law, is a legitimate one for the vast majority of people. The other argument is the public good or public health policy argument. We need to make these sorts of choices. It is the analysis we accept that will determine which way we are going to go.

  The social harms associated with alcohol are 100% clear. Senator Rónán Mullen referred to a few of them and cited a few statistics. I do not really want to contradict what he was saying, because he is probably right, but I should point out that his suggestion that alcohol is associated with 70% of suicides is probably wrong. Issues like depression and anxiety must also be taken into account. Perhaps this points to the complexity of the argument. Alcohol is definitely associated with suicide, but is it a causal factor? I have been a psychiatric nurse for nearly 30 years and have seen through the mental health service the effects of alcohol abuse and misuse. I believe, as sure as I am standing here, that alcohol gives action to thoughts. That is almost a mantra among mental health nurses of my generation. This element needs to be examined. Does alcohol cause suicide, depression or other mental health disorders? Are people who suffer from mental health disorders more prone to abusing alcohol? We must determine these things before we can make definitive statements on them. As a Government and as a Legislature, we must look at alcohol policy.  The policy must deal with the framework in which strategies on alcohol are delivered. It is up to the experts and people working on the framework to produce the strategies about which we are talking.

  Myths and mischief are being put into the public arena in support of each side of the argument on the economic costs of alcohol use. One of the myths is that the Government is quite happy to continue accepting the excise revenue generated by alcohol sales. I have heard that 1 million times, as I am sure every Member here has. The economic cost of alcohol misuse and abuse in Irish society is in the region of €3.7 billion, whereas the tax revenue generated by alcohol is a fraction of that, not even one quarter. This is a myth that must be put to bed before proper argument can take place.

  When representatives of the drinks industry appeared before the Joint Committee on Health and Children last year, every single spokesperson said his or her company was not interested in increasing the volume of sales as a whole and that its advertising strategies were aimed only at capturing sales from its competitors. That is nonsense. There is no way any company would spend millions on marketing unless it was trying to attract new customers, as opposed to persuading customers to change their brand.

  We can see how sensitive the market is to price change. We have seen the impact of VAT changes in the early 1990s which resulted in a substantial decrease in sales of alcohol. The onset of the recession also resulted in a further fall in sales, as the Minister mentioned, but as incomes improve and are restored, sales of alcohol creep up again.

  In the light of the context in which we are working, I welcome all of the measures to which the Minister referred, including minimum pricing, health labelling, control of marketing, advertising and structural separation. All of these measures are important, but I do not think they will work on their own unless we can effect a cultural change, which will probably be done over a generation.

  There is a great deal of talk about sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry. While we all agree that it should not happen, in order to get stakeholders to buy into such a change, we cannot scrap sponsorship by alcohol companies without putting in place some income stream to replace the money that will be lost from the ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I was happy to swap with my colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, because I would not have wished him to feel he was being silenced by not being able to contribute to the debate on the forthcoming referendum. I welcome Ms Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland, who is in the Visitors Gallery.

  I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to the Seanad and applaud him for what he is doing in this area. I accepted an invitation from the Department of Health to attend a seminar entitled "Influencing Healthy Lifestyles: Nudging or Shoving? The Ethical Debate." It was really informative, and I thank the Minister for extending the invitation to us.

  The public health (alcohol) Bill 2015, as the Minister outlined, deals with labelling, minimum unit pricing, marketing, advertising sponsorship, availability and price-based promotions. The Joint Committee on Health and Children, chaired by our excellent Chairman, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, held a series of meeting on the subject and is finalising its report. The Minister came to the final hearing of this series of debates on the heads of the Bill to hear the views of the members. What the Minister said today in the Seanad shows me that he took on board a number of the committee's sentiments with regard to the public health (alcohol) Bill. I thank him.

  I note with sadness that according to the OECD report Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use: Economics and Public Health Policy, Ireland has the fourth highest level of alcohol consumption in the OECD, behind Estonia, Austria and France, at 11.7 litres per capita for those aged 15 years and over. To be placed fourth in this category is not the position we want to hold on this league table.  Several of my colleagues have referred to the executive summary of this OECD report, from which I will quote:

Alcohol has an impact on over 200 diseases and types of injuries. In most cases the impact is detrimental, in some cases it is beneficial. In a minority of drinkers, mostly older men who drink lightly, health benefits are larger. ... Harmful drinking is normally the result of an individual choice, but it has social consequences. The harms caused to people other than drinkers themselves, including the victims of traffic accidents and violence, but also children born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, are the most visible face of those social consequences. Health care and crime costs, and lost productivity, are further important dimensions. These provide a strong rationale for governments to take action against harmful alcohol use.

People often talk about the consumption of alcohol by young people and children, but they do not necessarily refer to the impact of alcohol on children in families. We see the figures in reports on domestic violence. The example set by the parents' lifestyle impacts on the household. Senator Colm Burke referred to the students who had won the Young Scientist exhibition with their project entitled, "Does the apple fall far from the tree?", who made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Health and Children. In their project they quoted from a recent ISPCC report in which one child noted: "If you see your parents get drunk, whether you like it or not, it will have an effect on your life." What surprised me was that one fifth of parents surveyed were not concerned about the prospect of another parent or adult supplying their adolescent with alcohol. That shows me how normal it is for adolescents to drink alcohol. If the adults in these young people's lives think it is acceptable to buy a young person alcohol, it shows how much needs to be done in informing and educating adults also. We have to focus on young people. There is an issue with young people and alcohol which is European-wide, but, as the saying goes, they did not lick it off the ground. The adults in their lives are the role models and they very often set the norms. It is the norm for adults to go to the pub to socialise. We do not have other avenues. We need to ensure we have other avenues and that we provide other examples for young people.

  I fully endorse minimum unit pricing. The excellent report by Dr. John Holmes and Dr. Colin Angus from the University of Sheffield is comprehensive and goes through everything. They have been very open. I have gone back and forth to them with questions and they have been open about addressing any concerns we have. I would be very happy to share this report with colleagues.

  I am concerned that the code of practice must be placed on a very strong footing. I have observed how the drinks industry can find every loophole in the system. Could we look at the threshold for the audience profile measurement, which stands at 25%? That is far too high; it should be at 10%. I would prefer if there was no alcohol advertising, but at the very least we need to reduce the level of advertising. I raised the issue of online marketing at the committee hearings. We know that some years ago Diageo announced that 21% of its marketing budget would go to online marketing. Recently legislation was introduced in Finland to ban alcohol apps that contained games, location settings and information on the nearest place to drink. Clearly, these apps are targeted at children. It is a social engagement. As my colleagues have said, a young person who visits YouTube will see advertisements for alcohol that I do not see. The drinks industry is very skilled at targeting particular groups. They know what sites and YouTube videos people are looking at, and the advertising is targeted at them. I have seen the effects of this at first hand. If I walk into any classroom and ask children to name their favourite advertisement on television, I guarantee that alcohol advertisements are up there in their choice. The young people score highly on brand recognition.

  That brings me to the issue of sports sponsorship. I really believe we should set a date, no matter how far forward it is, to cease all alcohol-related advertising. It is very telling that neither the drinks industry nor the sports organisations will tell us how much sports sponsorship is worth. We do not have a figure. I think that is unacceptable that we do not know what we are talking about. Youth organisations which do so much voluntary work across the country will not take a single cent from the drinks industry and I do not see the Government being put under pressure to replace it. In fact, the funding of youth organisations was cut by 40% during the recession, yet these organisations are still delivering these services. I acknowledge that some sports organisations have stopped taking money from the drinks industry, but the sports organisations that are still taking sponsorship money should let us know how much we are talking about. Last year a school principal from Munster spoke at an Alcohol Action Ireland hearing on the issue of sports sponsorship.  When Munster won what in France is called the H Cup, he invited the team to visit the school and he was delighted a few team members said they would go. They had a great day, but when they arrived with all the sponsorship and drinks advertising, he realised that he, as the principal of the school, had brought alcohol advertising to the school and he apologised to his students for doing so.

  How the drinks industry has a handle on us is subliminal and insidious. It is unacceptable and we need to examine it. At a recent hearing, Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies stated alcohol sponsorship of sport is a way past children's bedroom doors because they have a picture of a sporting hero on the bedroom door with the nice alcohol branding linking it to sporting success. She stated that if we are really serious, we need to tackle and deal with the issue of separation.

  We also need to address the drinks industry role in decisions taken. I am concerned when I see jobs advertised by certain drinks companies. According to the job descriptions, they want to stay one step ahead of regulatory developments. They want to ensure they can beat the system. They will tell us it is all about education and if we were all more informed, we would all make the choices. I know about education, healthy eating and lifestyle. I am not as good as I should be because it is not what changes my behaviour. This is where legislation is important and why the Minister has my absolute and full support. I want us to go further and to do more. I want us to follow policies like that recently announced by the HSE, whereby it will have no truck with the alcohol industry. Why are the Departments of Education and Skills and Health not coming out with similar statements? The Child and Family Agency is thinking about it. It should have no truck with the drinks industry. We must do a lot more in Ireland.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I welcome the Minister. I compliment him on what he said about he position in Portlaoise, Swinford and the high level of medical negligence claims he was dealing with. I very much like what he says on all of these issues and the enhanced role of ambulances.

  On this particular issue, mere alcohol does not thrill me at all. I do not go to pubs. I am probably responsible for one of the 590 pubs which have shut in recent years. I am seriously concerned about a groupthink herd instinct. The Garda figures show 8,762 drunkenness offences were committed last year. This means 499 of 500 people in Ireland were not drunk. There are also doubts about what is happening to consumption. Alcohol Action Ireland sent me information during the week that alcohol consumption in Ireland peaked in 1999 at 14.5 litres per capita and has reduced to 11.5 litres per capita. Let us keep this in perspective. Many countries, particularly around the Mediterranean, do not have the alcohol fixation which has grown, especially in the medical profession, in this country. I have been with young people from many decades. They are far better on this matter than the generation which preceded them. I came to Leinster House thinking the Dáil bar was full of transmogrified people but I have never seen anyone in that condition. The same is said about academics and journalists. Consumption is falling. Other countries come to terms with alcohol. The Garda reports do not have the type of exaggeration I have seen elsewhere. Public order offences have been reducing dramatically over the past four years and this is acknowledged in the Garda report.

  I saw the OECD numbers, which my good friend mentioned, but in the WHO numbers I counted 13 EU countries which have higher alcohol consumption than we do. I downloaded the numbers from Wikipedia before I came here. The Economist World in Figures shows Ireland is quite far down the list in terms of alcohol consumption, and places such as Australia and the Czech Republic are much higher. Let us get the problem in perspective and let us have accurate data.

  Minimum pricing is a boost to the industry because something is being sold for X but the Government insists 2X must be paid. We did this with regard to pub licences in the previous century and it seriously enriched publicans in every town in Ireland until 20 or 30 years ago when the supermarket took over. We enriched pubs by a measure which was supposed to promote temperance. Minimum pricing puts the money into the industry's kitty and it will laugh all the way to the bank. If we want to increase the price I nominate the Ministers, Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, in the Exchequer to get the money and not to give it to the industry in this way.

  If certain forms of retailing do a better job than the traditional Irish pub, it is economic progress. Why are we intervening to say the low-cost people are doing damage? There are also serious income distribution aspects. We are saying a bottle of Château d'Yquem consumed by people who are extremely rich is not affected because they never get drunk; therefore, we should go for people on low incomes and give them the hammer by increasing the minimum price. Instead of this, let us look at the 8,762 drunkenness offences and come up with measures to deal with those who do have an alcohol problem and not intervene in the lives of people who do not have one, are not affected by one and have managed to treat this as a normal commodity as people around the Mediterranean typically do.

  I am concerned that there seem to be vast differences in the statistics and what way the industry is going, whether it is expanding or contracting, and how our consumption compares with that of other countries. The WHO numbers put Belarus way ahead of us, and the EU countries ahead of us include Lithuania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Poland and Finland. Its 2015 projection of 10.9 litres is pretty much average and is the same as Germany, Spain and Belgium. I worry when there is an emphasis on political correctness galloping in one direction and perhaps not looking at the evidence. Let us ensure we have the evidence when the legislation comes before us. If instead of this effort more can be done to help the Minister in the mainstream of the health service, I would be delighted to support him, which is why I mentioned the endeavours in which he is currently engaged.

  Imagining that other people drink too much and the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has a duty to intervene, and saying we are unable to persuade this relatively small number or to do anything else for them except these blanket measures requires much evaluation between now and the production of the Bill. I share the Minister's goals, but I have been concerned about the fairly strange use of statistics in this debate. It does not correspond with what I see, particularly among young people. The most dramatic statistic comes under the Minister's previous portfolio and is the reduction in driving accidents from 650 fatalities per year to 160. There is a responsible generation. The Parliament talking up the drunken Paddy image, which the figures do not support, is wrong. Let us make sure it is properly based.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien None of us here or anyone in society needs to be persuaded of the dreaded problems and costs Ireland faces by misuse and abuse of alcohol. When I was preparing for this and thinking about it over the weekend, I doodled and made a mind map. Sadly, I could not come up with too many pluses.  The pluses are all gorgeous and include power, money, glamour, fun, cool, sexy, fast and fabulous. The minuses include words such as rape, suicide, cancer, cheap, mental health, depression, low self-esteem, stress, incredible cost to the State - I could not count the zeros, I am not able for billions, but it is a hell of a lot - suffering for children, sex abuse, misery, domestic violence, 2,000 hospital beds every night, premature deaths, crime, murder and death.

  That was my mind map and I almost do not need to finish my speech because I am going to flatter the Minister. He is a good and particularly strong politician and an excellent Minister for Health. I am pleased to be here this evening because the Bill needs strong political leadership that puts the interests of our citizens ahead of the fortunes and power of the alcohol industry. I welcome the Minister's speech and his impressive critical path. The Bill will be published before the summer break and I hope we can get on with it the moment we return in September because we are keen to work hard, to burn the midnight oil and to go into the detail of the Bill.

  Alcohol sponsorship of sports needs to go. It is black and white - all sponsorship must go, with no signage whatsoever or promotional branded merchandise. This includes music festivals, with apologies to the Cork Jazz Festival and the Dublin International Film Festival. We all love sport and recognise it as one of the great joys in our society, which contributes greatly to healthy habits. We need money to promote sport but according to the European Sponsorship Association, the largest sponsors of sports events were telecommunications, clothing, banking, finance, cars, airlines, insurance companies, electronics, energy, oil and credit cards. The alcohol industry was not present among the top ten industry sponsors, indicating there are definitely other sources of revenue. I will have a word with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I was the sponsorship manager for the Phoenix Park Racecourse for ten years. I do not think the Minister was even born at the time. It was my job to have every race, every day, sponsored to a high level and it was the only racecourse in the world to do so. At the end of my ten years there, the owners wanted to hold the richest sports event ever staged in Europe, which we did. It was the first £1 million sporting event and a jewellery store, Cartier, from France sponsored it. We do not need alcohol sponsorship. I told the Minister that story because pushing it to 2019 is too big a window to give the sports industry to get its act together. If I was the sponsorship manager, two years would give me enough time and there are all those industries I have mentioned. The Minister and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should not be afraid. The Government works in silos but it must be holistic in this case. This involves the Ministers for Education and Skills, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Health and the Taoiseach. We are all in on this.

  There is something precious about our culture in Ireland. Unfortunately, we all know that alcohol is mixed in with our culture. Most of us like a glass of wine but we know alcohol has its place. Recently Senator Jillian van Turnhout and I attended a most wonderful conference about women and alcohol at which we learned a lot. The Minister for Health is a doctor and knows that alcohol is good for no one. There is no such thing as a glass of whiskey or one glass of red wine being good for stress.

  There is much more to say but when we have the Bill before us, we can get into its detail. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, public health policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests without interference from commercial interests. No drinks company or any commercial company which profits from alcohol should ever have any door opening to discuss future Government policies on alcohol.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I know it has been a tough day in the office for the Minister and I very much appreciate his being here for this debate. For most of my young life, I was around drink in one way or another. My second job at the age of 12 years, a summer job, was as a waiter in a bar. By the time I was 13 years old, I had graduated to being a barman in the same bar and by the time I was 15 and a half, I had run a bar in Lisdoonvarna on my own. My father was very drink aware and bought me my first drink on my 15th birthday. He sat me down with a pint of Guinness and said: “There you go son, drink that and don't ever be afraid to have a drink again for the rest of your life.” He ruined my teenage years because there was no sneaking into the house drunk or sneaking anywhere. He did not mind if I had a drink. As a result, I never really had much interest in it.

  I grew up and at the usual births, marriages and deaths, we drank, had fun at some of them and cried at more of them. It did not bother me until about four years ago. I never worried about drink or saw any real danger in it but four years ago, I saw a man whom I loved deteriorate over several years. It started off with a couple of drinks after work but then it became several drinks, binges and getting lost in Europe and my having to find him. I watched his life disintegrate around me. I remember one time going to Spain to find him, arriving at a house at 2 a.m. and finding him sitting in the middle of the sitting room surrounded by empty bottles of Bacardi. I saw the ruination of a human, his absolute destruction. I remember thinking I could cure him. I locked himself and myself in a bedroom because he wanted drink and I did not want him to have one. I nearly killed him. I did not realise at the time that one cannot do cold turkey with somebody like that.

  My opinion of drink and the drink culture in Ireland changed in those few years. I started to notice people, not teenagers but those in their mid-20s and 30s, falling around the streets of Dublin, footless. I met colleagues and friends who could not remember where they had been the night before or what they had done. I have to pay some degree of compliment to Alcoholics Anonymous. They are a tremendous group of people who are there at all times, day and night, to support those who want to try to give up the demon drink.

  Yesterday, I listened to Deputy Róisín Shortall on the radio talking about takeaways and chippers in Dublin, delivering chips, pizza, Chinese meals, burgers or whatever else with a six-pack, a half bottle of whiskey or a couple of bottles of wine. Something has gone terribly wrong in our country if that is how we are beginning to live. Yesterday, on the same programme, I heard about drink-driven anti-social behaviour and, in some cases, the people before the courts could not remember what they had done. All of a sudden the innocent behaviour of having a couple of pints is no longer innocent.

  I agree with my colleague, Senator Sean D. Barrett, in that I am not so sure that pricing drink out of the reach of the community is the way forward. Several things must happen. There must be an education programme and a drink awareness programme, which is not funded by the drinks industry but by those in education. We have to educate young people in schools.

  In regard to the heads of the Bill and labelling, when we talk about grams and so on, as a rather portly man who tries to watch his diet, when I read the labels on the back of boxes, for the most part I cannot figure out what they are saying; therefore, I just eat what I feel like eating. There is some truth in what Senator Sean D. Barrett said about minimum unit pricing. Should we penalise those who cannot afford to buy the more expensive drinks?  We must find a way. We also must find a way to stop the six young fellows I passed on Sunday afternoon who were climbing over a fence with four or five six-packs to go into a broken down house and drink for the afternoon. I would swear they were not over 13 years of age. We must get rid of the cheap rubbish that these young guys are drinking.

  On the marketing, advertising and sponsorship, I can already hear the sports sector screaming. We must stop sponsoring sport through alcohol. It is the only way forward. Definitely, we must do something on enforcement. Price-based promotions such as six for the price of five or three for the price of two must stop.

  I commend Deputy Leo Varadkar, who, as has been pointed out, is an exemplary Minister for Health, for this initiative. He has probably seen more during his training years of drink and the need for drink awareness than most of us. I commend him and will support him in any way I can.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I apologise for missing the beginning of the debate. I had planned a commitment around the schedule as it was. It is a debate that I definitely wanted to be here for and I regret that I missed part of it, but I managed to have a look at the Minister's speech.

  This discussion often comes up in a fragmented form - sometimes there is a lack of a more cohesive approach - and I welcome this debate from that point of view. When we think of alcohol consumption in Ireland, it is in the context of a number of debates which happen regularly throughout the Oireachtas and in the media. These include discussions about over-consumption on certain public holidays, which always raises a few voices in here; the interaction between alcohol companies and responsible drinking campaigns; sponsorship of both the arts and sport by alcohol companies, on which I would concur with the comments of colleagues; minimum pricing of alcohol; changes to how alcohol is labelled - I agree strongly with the suggestion that alcohol should be labelled properly, as food producers must put every minute detail on labels whereas the producers of alcohol do not seem to be required to put any detail whatsoever on their bottles; alcohol and public health; and creating a physical separation between alcohol and other goods in supermarkets. The list goes on and on and often these debates are treated in isolation. However, there is real value in discussing alcohol consumption and highlighting a number of these aspects under that broad setting, including what we as policy makers can do to discourage excess consumption.

  As the Minister stated, Ireland came second in the WHO European region with regard to binge drinking, with 39% of the population misusing alcohol in this manner monthly. Moreover, the Health Research Board's alcohol diary survey found that more than half of all adult drinkers in the population are harmful drinkers. More than 150,000 people are dependent drinkers, while more than 1.35 million are drinking in a harmful manner, an increasing number of whom are women.

  According to experts at a recent Alcohol Action Ireland conference, women are now partaking in binge drinking in disproportionately large numbers. In fact, Irish women are drinking at least twice the amount they did in the 1960s. Alcohol consumption amongst men is flatlining while women's consumption is soaring, which may account for some of the statistics. I caught the end of Senator Sean D. Barrett's comments and have heard him speak about the matter previously. It does not make any sense to me. I agree with a lot of what Senator Gerard P. Craughwell stated. Whatever the statistics are, one does not need them in one's pocket to see on the streets that we are drinking in a harmful way.

  Alcohol Action Ireland also calculated that alcohol-related harm costs the State an estimated €3.7 billion annually, with €2.4 billion of that figure accounted for by health and crime-related costs alone. This is an alarming figure by anyone's standards and a large percentage of GDP. It is clear that we need to frame any debate on alcohol policy in Ireland in this context.

  In the context of this issue, the public health (alcohol) Bill will be most welcome. One of the more talked-about aspects of the proposed Bill, about which no doubt other Senators have spoken, is the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing, to which the Government long ago committed itself. As Senators will be aware, this is a targeted measure designed to stop strong alcohol from being sold at a very low price in the off-trade, particularly in supermarkets where alcohol is frequently used as a loss leader and sold below cost. I have consistently stated on the issue that the Government must keep the pressure on these measures and continue to push ahead with the alcohol legislation, as it is both long overdue and urgently needed.

  I am proud of the commitment we have made with regard to the minimum pricing of alcohol. One aspect which has been very much overlooked is the crucial Northern Ireland aspect. The Minister said there was an agreement with Northern Ireland that similar measures would be introduced at the same time in order that a cross-Border trade in cheap alcohol would not develop. This vital part has been overlooked in much of the commentary on the issue and I believe it is an important element of what is a well thought-out piece of strategy.

  Minimum pricing allows us to target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength, because the price is determined by and directly proportionate to the amount of alcohol in the product. This is important, as these strong and cheap drinks are the alcohol products favoured by two at-risk groups: the heaviest drinkers among us, about whom Senator Gerard P. Craughwell spoke movingly, who generally seek to get as much alcohol as they can for as little money as they can and are most at risk of alcohol-related illnesses and death; and young people, who generally have the least disposable income, who are price-sensitive and who have the highest prevalence of binge drinking, as well as a greater risk from alcohol harm, as their bodies and brains are still developing.

  Other elements of the public health (alcohol) Bill include health labelling and warnings, including calorie counts, and it will also be illegal to market alcohol in a manner that is appealing to children. At one stage or another, I have called in this Chamber for every aspect of the proposed Bill, on which I compliment the Minister. However, a crucial issue, on which I might touch briefly, which was brought to my attention recently and which has not been widely discussed, is that of unregulated digital marketing of alcohol. According to Dr. Pat Kenny, a lecturer in DIT, this form of marketing is going completely under the radar. Apparently, Diageo has allocated 21% of its marketing budget to digital marketing. In effect, young people are being recruited to market alcohol to their peers via social media. Interestingly, Finland has introduced a ban on digital alcohol marketing to add to its existing regulations.

  I had loads more to say. Given the challenges we face, serious action is needed across the board, of which the public health (alcohol) Bill is certainly one large component. However, we also need to be looking to further measures, as the cost to individuals and the well-being of the nation is far greater than many understand it to be.

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank Senators for having this timely and important debate on alcohol. I particularly thank them for their kind words about me and my performance as Minister for Health. To be honest, some days I do not feel I am achieving an awful lot. There is so much going on in any given day, so many moving parts and so many interest groups, that it is really difficult to get a grip on matters, but I am determined that this will be one of the areas in which we will have a clear outcome, by having this legislation enacted before we all finish our current terms in the Dáil and the Seanad.

  I will touch briefly on a few points that were made. Senator Rónán Mullen asked whether we can provide retail labelling. It would be a good idea to be able to trace back a can or bottle to a particular off-licence. I am sure it is possible. It is done to an extent in some places. I am sure it is also possible to get around it quite easily. As is so often the case with such matters, it is the reputable operators who will co-operate, while those who are not will not. We will certainly examine that as something that we could perhaps add to the proposed Bill if it is possible, because, intuitively, it makes sense. I am aware that some shops in my constituency have been caught for selling alcohol to those below age and really only got a slap on the wrist. The sanctions have not been satisfactory.

  On sports sponsorship, what is intended is not only to put the existing code on a statutory footing, it is to take the existing code, strengthen it and put it into regulations, which will then be enforced by the environmental health officers and can be strengthened as time passes.  It was a Government decision not to press ahead with an outright ban on sports sponsorship. Various options were on the table, including the possibility of putting it into law but not enacting it until the Minister for Health and the Minister with responsibility for sport were satisfied it was the right time to do so. It was not possible to get agreement on this, but we do have agreement that the situation will be reviewed within three years of enactment of the Bill, at which point we may be able to bring in further measures. I do not like comparing tobacco to alcohol because they are different, but if one took everything that has been done about alcohol over the past 20 years and put them into one Bill 20 years ago, it would never have been passed. Sometimes in politics we need to embrace the power of incrementalism and do 70% now, 10% a little later, 5% after that and sooner or later we get to 100%. There will always be those in society who want to turn back the clock but we will leave that for another debate on another day.

  On online advertising, I just spoke to my senior official in this area, Geraldine Luddy. We have been in touch with the Finnish authorities to better understand what they have done. We do not have the full information back from them yet. We have been in touch with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources because anything done about online or Internet advertising probably has to be done at European or international level. It is the world wide web after all. We want to understand what was done in Finland to see if we could do something similar here and incorporate it in the Bill.

  I particularly welcome Senator Sean D. Barrett's contrarian view. It is important that we have contrarian views in Parliament. I will take a look at his alternative statistics. I want to take a look at them to understand them for myself. Sometimes what can skew statistics is whether teetotallers are included. In Ireland, we have a lot of people who abstain entirely from alcohol. They make our figures look better than they really are. When account is taken of the 80% who drink, we probably do drink very heavily. As we have a younger population and more children, we need to ensure our statistics are age adjusted to take account of the fact that, by and large, young people under ten years and, I hope, under 15 do not drink. I agree with the Senator on the Mediterranean culture. Unfortunately, it is not possible to legislate to change the culture of this country to a Mediterranean one but perhaps it will come over time with a more responsible attitude towards alcohol.

  On minimum unit pricing, I do not think it will be a boost to the industry. If it is a boost to the industry, it will have failed. If it brings in any additional tax revenue or VAT, it will also have failed. Minimum unit pricing is only successful if it reduces consumption. If it reduces consumption there will be no benefit for the manufacturers as they will be selling less product and there will be no benefit for the taxpayer either, at least not in terms of direct tax income, because if it works one would expect revenues to fall. This is why I am always very cautious about people suggesting we ring-fence the additional money that will come from VAT on minimum unit pricing for other purposes, because if it actually works it should reduce consumption and therefore we will have less revenue from alcohol.

  Senators Mary Ann O'Brien and Gerard P. Craughwell made the very valid point there should not be interference or funding by the drinks industry for any public health measure. I agree very strongly with this. This is the approach I will take. I have not been directly lobbied by the drinks industry since I have been in this position, and very little before it, although it may go about things in other ways through small retailers. We will have the same stuff once the Bill really lands and people understand how far it goes and start wondering about regulations. We will face all the usual stuff, that we are closing down rural Ireland and small shops. I expect the lobbying will come in a roundabout route as it often does although not this time from the pubs because they are largely supportive of it, but from sports, the arts and small stores. We need to be very wary of this and I would welcome the support of Senators in this regard.

  I will return to the Seanad many times between now and the summer recess. I particularly look forward to returning early in the autumn session to bring this legislation before it. Depending on how things go, I may even bring it to the Seanad before the Dáil, with the agreement of the House. Let us try to get this through before Christmas.

Acting Chairman (Senator Michael Mullins): Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 May 2015.

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