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Senator Bacik supports calls for a Monthly Debate on the Budget, and discusses HSE Cutbacks

17 December 2008

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: I ask the Leader to support the calls made by Senators on both sides of the House for a debate on the economy. I ask him to confirm that in the new year, he will hold a debate on the economy once a month. We need to discuss economic matters that regularly, at least.

I join Senators Fitzgerald, Prendergast and others in calling for a debate on the HSE plan. All Members must be deeply concerned about the HSE's statement that enormous cutbacks of approximately €900 million will be required in the health service next year. We should also be concerned that the Minister for Health and Children has apparently expressed the view that accident and emergency departments are over-staffed. I wonder if the Minister, Deputy Harney, has visited such a unit recently. Those of us who have visited them have a different perspective. It seems that accident and emergency departments are significantly understaffed. As the Minister and the HSE have proposed the closure of a further 600 beds, in addition to the 400 beds that are already out of commission, each of us has to conclude that accident and emergency units will face more pressure and that there will be even less availability of front-line medical services to patients who need them.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the dismantling of the State structures that support equality and anti-discrimination measures. I support the excellent motion that has been tabled in this regard by my colleague, Senator Norris, who made a commotion on the matter yesterday. The motion condemns the Government's decision to close the Combat Poverty Agency and undermine many other agencies, notably the Equality Authority, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. It is sad that these organisations, which have built expertise and developed a body of work over a number of years, are being dismantled so swiftly by the Government. One has to conclude that there is a vicious vendetta against any body that dares to criticise the Government and speak up for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. We need a debate on this global issue. It seems to be more than a coincidence that the bodies being closed have been critical of various aspects of Government and State action. This House should ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to justify the decision to dismantle these organisations. Why is he putting to waste the expertise and body of work that have been built up? We deserve an answer to that question, especially as the savings in question are relatively small. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter with the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern.