Vol. 180 Tuesday,
No. 15 24 May 2005
´ ´ ´
Tuesday, 24 May 2005.
Business of Seanad … … … … … … … … … … … … 1089
Order of Business … … … … … … … … … … … … … 1089
Report of National Task Force on Obesity: Statements … … … … … … … … 1097
Hospital Services … … … … … … … … … … … … 1132
Schools Accommodation … … … … … … … … … … … 1134
SEANAD EIREANN clusions from the appalling accident involving the
school bus, at some point in the near future there
———— might be an opportunity for the Minister for
Transport to attend the House — possibly with
De Mairt, 24 Bealtaine 2005.
´ ´ the Minister for Education and Science — to set
Tuesday, 24 May 2005. out the criteria involved in transporting children
on school buses. The issue has been raised on
———— countless occasions before now. There are
genuine concerns about overcrowding on these
Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar buses, in addition to the issue of seat belts which
2.30 p.m. are mandatory for mini-buses but not larger
buses. Another issue concerns the age of the fleet
———— of vehicles involved in providing the school bus
service. We should examine those matters over
Paidir. the coming weeks, while today being mindful of
Prayer. the terrible tragedy for those communities in
County Meath, particularly in the Navan area.
———— I welcome what the Leader had to say about
the Disability Bill. Every Member of the House
Business of Seanad. has been lobbied by many groups and individuals
outside the House. This is an important piece of
An Cathaoirleach: I have received notice from legislation so we should take our time to debate
Senator Fergal Browne that, on the motion for it. I welcome the Leader’s comments, therefore,
the Adjournment of the House today, he pro- that everyone will be able to contribute to the
poses to raise the following matter: forthcoming debate on that Bill.
The need for the Minister for Health and Some weeks ago, following the UK elections,
Children to outline the position regarding the there was a call for a debate on Northern Ireland,
allocation of capital funding for hospitals in which was echoed on both sides of the House.
Carlow and Kilkenny. The need for such a debate can be seen from
today’s report by the Independent Monitoring
I have also received notice from Senator Commission, which has identified a campaign of
Finucane of the following matter: targeting, training and recruitment by para-
The need for the Minister for Education and military organisations, in addition to their links
Science to reconsider her decision to turn down with criminality. The IMC report covers not just
Ardpatrick school, County Limerick, under the republican paramilitaries but also loyalist ones. It
summer work scheme as the extension of the is noteworthy that the commission recommends
school park is urgently required because of the that a financial penalty should continue to be
safety of the pupils attending the school. imposed on the PUP, a party that is directly
linked to one of the loyalist organisations.
I regard the matters raised by the Senators as
The publication of that report today provides
suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and
the initiative for us to debate those matters, and
they will be taken at the conclusion of business.
related ones, over the coming weeks. I ask the
Leader to organise such a debate.
Order of Business.
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, Mr. O’Toole: I also welcome the commitment
statements on the report of the national task given by the Leader on the forthcoming debate
force on obesity 2005, to be taken on the con- on the Disability Bill. It is crucially important that
clusion of the Order of Business and to conclude Members be able to deal with the issues that have
not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of been raised repeatedly over the past two years by
spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all various groups and individuals.
other Senators not to exceed 10 minutes. Next As regards the tragedy in County Meath, after
week the Disability Bill will be before the House, the Omagh bombing I visited some of the schools
as it is to be concluded this Thursday in the Dail. whose pupils had been killed in the explosion.
If it comes before the House I can guarantee that Similarly, I spoke with teachers and the school
every Senator will have time to speak if he or she authorities following the Dunblane tragedy in
wishes to do so. It is very important legislation Scotland. One of the problems that exists in such
and we are going to give it all the time it should situations in Britain, Ireland and even the United
receive. States, is how to deal with crises affecting schools.
There is no properly understood psychological
Mr. B. Hayes: I am sure the House is united in or psychiatric method of dealing with such crises.
offering our sympathies to the families of the Small things can become major problems, includ-
young people killed on our roads yesterday, and ing how a school deals with media inquiries and
in offering our best wishes to those who were whether individual or group counselling should
injured as a result of the carnage in County be employed. Another issue is whether survivors
Meath. While it is far too early to draw any con- should be encouraged to return to the scene of
1091 Order of 24 May 2005. Business 1092
[Mr. O’Toole.] children affected by this tragedy will shortly begin
the accident and, thus, relive it. The roles of their examinations Having heard Senator
families and friends are also important in this O’Toole speak about the impact on children, we
respect. Other key questions include whether hope the various counselling services will be able
grieving is best done individually or collectively to deal with this efficiently and professionally and
and the impact of grieving from one person to bring some succour to the families and wider
another. There is also an impact within school community. As events unfold in the weeks and
classrooms. Major issues are involved here, yet months ahead, the relevant debate will take place
there is no proper way of dealing with such cir- in this House at the appropriate time.
cumstances. It would be helpful to have a model I join Senator Brian Hayes in calling for a
from which to work. debate on Northern Ireland in the near future.
This was a major tragedy but one death in a Following the British general election and in light
school can be tragic also. I saw the effect on a of the report of the Independent Monitoring
school where a child had been inadvertently Commission today, a debate would be timely and
dragged along by a bus and died as a result. I saw I hope the Leader will facilitate it.
another case where an oil tanker inadvertently I welcome the Leader’s comments on the Dis-
killed a child in a school yard. Such tragedies ability Bill. It is legislation that requires time for
affect schools and their surrounding communities. debate and I am grateful that she has made clear
The question is how such matters should be dealt that as much time as is required will be made
with. It would be helpful if the Departments of available.
Education and Science and Health and Children
would put together some plan for dealing with Mr. Finucane: I welcome the decision to have
such situations, which could then be made avail- a proper debate on the Disability Bill because
able to schools. Some years ago, I tried to initiate many of us have been getting telephone calls on
such a process and made some progress on it. this issue. We are all aware of the major march
However, this needs to be done professionally that will take place tomorrow to highlight how
and in an organised and focused manner. dissatisfied many of the disability organisations
are about the Bill.
Ms O’Meara: I also wish to be associated with I ask the Leader once more to speak to the
the expressions of sympathy to the families of Minister for Education and Science about special
those who died in yesterday’s tragic accident. At needs education provision at primary level. The
present we do not know what caused the accident schools have been notified of their allocation of
but when we find out, it would be useful to debate resource teachers and there is deep unhappiness
the safety of public transport, including school that many children will not receive two and a half
transport. We should not rush to recommend- hours special needs tuition. In many rural schools,
ations at this early stage but should concentrate a child in the system with dyslexia will continue
on supporting all of those who have been affected to get two and a half hours tuition while another
by the dreadful tragedy in County Meath. child starting out will not. Schools in rural areas
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the tax- with fewer than 100 pupils will not benefit from
ation system? I commend RTE on last night’s edi- the new weighting system.
tion of “Prime Time”. It was public service broad- The Minister will get representations from
casting at its best that investigated and Oireachtas Members from the west Limerick area
highlighted an aspect of public life and admin- on this issue because we are aware of the con-
istration that must be examined. Members of the cerns that have been expressed. West Limerick is
Oireachtas must debate the inequity of our tax- no different from other rural areas in terms of
ation system and the continuing existence of a schools. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister
golden circle. about this. It must be addressed on a needs basis;
Will the Leader advise when the Minister for if there is a needs requirement, it must be
Health and Children will come to address the responded to accordingly. If we do not respond,
House, especially with regard to the capital prog- the implications of the nursing home charges
ramme for hospitals, the business plan for the could be faced again in the future because pri-
Health Service Executive and her ambitions for mary school children are being deprived of vital
the recommendations contained in the Hanly education in their formative years. It is an
report? important issue that I wish to see addressed.
Mr. Minihan: I join previous speakers in Ms Ormonde: I wish to extend my sympathy to
extending my sympathy and that of my party to the families bereaved by the awful crash in
the families who were bereaved by yesterday’s County Meath. I support Senator O’Toole’s com-
horrific accident in County Meath, and to those ments on how post-traumatic stress that can arise
in the wider community who must be feeling a from such an event should be handled. I do not
great deal of pain today. All parents see their know if there is any hard or fast model that can
children off to school and all parents expect their be introduced as each child has a different per-
children to come home. Such an incident must sonality type. However, it needs to be teased out
have a terrible impact on them, the other school- with collective responsibility. Clinical and edu-
children and the wider community. Many school- cational psychologists, counsellors and teachers
1093 Order of 24 May 2005. Business 1094
need to be involved in this process. It is necessary I would like to see the Government decision
to think this out more for future reference. There on the introduction of post codes debated in the
will be many traumatised leaving certificate House. It is important that this be done in a man-
students going into examinations who will need ner friendly to the ordinary household and indi-
all the support we can give them at this time. vidual. Ordinary citizens can remember their own
addresses, those of their nearest and dearest and
Mr. Norris: I join with my colleagues in offering of their close friends, but once one must use a
my sympathy to the parents, teachers and young code such as “ALW5XZ”, for example, then
schoolfellows of the five young girls killed yester- every time one addresses a letter one must look
day. It is shocking they were cut off at this age in up the numbers.
their teen years. From what I heard on the radio, We succeeded in terms of having a user-
they were all pleasant and intelligent people who friendly arrangement for car registration, includ-
would have made a great contribution to life. ing the year of registration, the country name and
I raised this issue in the House on 2 December so on. That undoubtedly was an aid to memory.
1998, with particular reference to special schools. I hope that those devising the postal codes will
There were discrepancies between the measures not just give us a jungle of numbers but some-
taken for the safety of children attending special thing which will be a serious aid to memory.
schools with two or three students occupying one Otherwise, the benefit will go only to businesses
seat and a lack of safety belts on buses. I suppose trying to push material at people, and the private
this is not an appropriate moment—— household will suffer the cost.
Mr. Minihan: No, it is not. Mr. U. Burke: I wish to be associated with the
words of sympathy extended to the families of the
Mr. Mooney: No, it is not. young girls who died following the tragic accident
yesterday when coming from school. I ask the
Mr. Norris: However, one can also say it is time Leader to request the Minister for Education and
these warnings were listened to. I wanted to raise Science to make available whatever personnel
it in a way that was not confrontational. However, and resources there are in her and other Depart-
when these issues are raised, we are always told ments to help and support not only the bereaved
it is not an appropriate moment. When is it an families but also the wider school community and
appropriate moment? the small rural communities from which the
I have consistently raised the issue of how asy- students came. I ask that this request be urgently
lum seekers are stuffed into hostels, which are not responded to by the Minister. Many of the
inspected for fire safety. This is another tragedy students in the schools involved are only days
waiting to happen. However, we will be told away from starting their examinations, and for
again, this is not an appropriate moment to raise them to adjust so quickly from such a scene of
it. I am raising it now before there is a tragedy. trauma to an examination environment will be
Unless we act responsibly towards those people, very difficult. Whatever can be done must be
stuffed into unhealthy fire hazards, mainly on the done for the wider school community, including
north side of Dublin city, there will be a tragedy the student body, teachers, management, parents,
with ten or 20 people killed and again we will be and all those affected.
told it is not an appropriate moment. In 1998, eight children died on their way to and
Will the Leader organise a debate on the work- from school in accidents involving school buses.
ing conditions obtaining on the MV Normandy? There was an outcry on that occasion, with a
Workers on the ship, most of whom are from Lat- review called for. The review took place in 1999.
via, are paid approximately half the national Its results were analysed and we were told the
minimum wage, required to work seven days a recommendations would be implemented. In
week, 12 hours a day with no holidays. The com- 2001 another review was undertaken on the
pany was already involved in a scandal concern- safety of the school bus fleet, which told us of its
ing the employment of a beautician who was paid inadequacies. I agree with Senator Norris that to
\1 an hour. This matter needs to be addressed. some people it may not seem appropriate that we
Again, when it is almost over, because we are mention this now, but when is it appropriate? The
alerted by Deputy Joe Higgins, we take up the urgency existed even before 1998.
issue of the Gama workers. We now know we Some 150,000 students travel to school each
have a similar situation with an Irish company. day. Despite yesterday’s terrible tragedy, and
other previous such tragedies, we are lucky that
Dr. Mansergh: I join in expressing deep sym- there have not been more catastrophes. I implore
pathy following the awful tragedy yesterday. the Leader to request that whatever the Minister
When considering the issues that may arise when for Education and Science must do regarding
the full reports are completed, the Government introducing legislation with her colleague, the
should be guided by the same principle that Minister for Transport, should be done as a
guided the Leader with regard to railways when matter of urgency, so that at the start of the new
she was Minister for Public Enterprise. We academic year, this danger involving the transport
cannot scrimp on safety. of children to school would be eliminated.
1095 Order of 24 May 2005. Business 1096
[Mr. U. Burke.] deaths of five young people. It would be remiss
I support Senator Finucane in his request for of us if we did not pay tribute to the emergency
the disability issue to be revisited in a serious services who did Trojan work yesterday; the
manner. The Leader tells us that the legislation Garda, the ambulance and fire services, doctors
will be taken before this House next week, which and nurses and all those involved. We owe all of
we welcome, but the Minister for State with those people a great debt of gratitude.
responsibility for guiding it through has clearly
stated that it his intention not to change from the Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes spoke
resource-based Bill he is bringing forward. That about the carnage in County Meath yesterday
is the terrible decision which is causing parents and that is the only way to describe it. I propose
and other concerned groups to march through the to have a minute’s silence at the end of my reply,
streets of Dublin next Thursday. if the Chair is amenable. It is very sad to think of
those five young girls, four of whom attended the
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is being given same school. The Minister for Education and
great latitude. He can raise the issue in the debate Science, Deputy Hanafin, visited the schools last
on the matter. night, having cancelled a planned trip to Brussels.
I am sure she is overwhelmed by the grief of the
Mr. U. Burke: None of us fully understands the people, as are we all.
seriousness of the issue involved, which must be Senator Brian Hayes also asked for a debate
dealt with. Unless the Minister changes his atti- on Northern Ireland, which would be appro-
tude when he comes into this House with the priate. However, we may be under time con-
legislation, he might as well not come at all. straints because we want to devote as much of
our time as possible to the Disability Bill.
Mr. Browne: I convey my deepest sympathies Senator O’Toole made the point that there was
to the families affected by the dreadful crash yes- no template in place to help those in schools to
terday. I agree with Senators Norris and Burke cope with such a crisis. It would be possible to
that there have been problems with school trans- have the shape of a template on how to deal with
port for years and this was an accident waiting such a situation, but a lot depends on the charac-
to happen. Two other Members of this House, ter and strength of individual pupils and their
Senator Jim Higgins and former Senator Denis families as to how they cope. There is a template
Naughten, also raised this issue consistently over for the emergency services and, as Senator
the years. Cummins pointed out, they responded to the sit-
I was involved in a crash four years ago involv- uation with great alacrity.
ing schoolchildren and a bus and it was the worst Senator O’Meara joined in the expressions of
thing that happened to me. I cannot imagine how sympathy. She wants a debate on taxation, in
the families are feeling today, not to mention the particular with regard to inequities — I did not
drivers involved. I call for an urgent debate on see the “Prime Time” programme
this issue and whatever legislation is needed 3 o’clock which highlighted these. She also
should be introduced immediately. I was aghast asked whether the Minister for
to discover this morning that it is legal to carry Health and Children would come to the House.
over 70 people on buses designed to accommo- We have asked her and if time allows we will
date 53. That loophole in the law that must be have her here.
closed off and we must do everything in our Senator Minihan expressed his sympathy to the
power to prevent a repeat of such a tragedy. families and wider community devastated by the
I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister for tragedy. I listened to the Loreto nun on the radio
Education and Science about the recent this morning and it was an awful story to have to
announcement she made regarding resource hear. The Senator agrees we should have a
teachers. This issue is proving problematic in debate on Northern Ireland.
rural and urban areas. I am aware of a situation Senator Finucane mentioned the march tomor-
where there are two schools in the same town row to highlight dissatisfaction with the Disability
that have received different allocations of Bill. He wants a debate on special needs, partic-
resource teachers. One school has less teachers ularly with regard to rural schools whose students
than the other, even though it has more pupils. have special needs.
Furthermore, there appears to be no formal Senator Ormonde supports Senator O’Toole’s
appeal mechanism. I appreciate that the Depart- call for professional counselling for those affected
ment has a difficult job, but the schools that are by the tragedy. Every help should be given. The
unhappy with their allocation of teachers should nun I heard on the radio spoke about what would
be able to enter a formal appeals system to high- be done and mentioned what the Minister for
light their needs and make their case. I ask the Education and Science said would be available.
Leader to bring this to the attention of the Mini- She said they would work together on a pro-
ster for Education and Science. fessional plan for the young people.
Senator Norris expressed sympathy to all
Mr. Cummins: I join with colleagues in offering involved. He raised the matter of special schools.
my sincere sympathy to the families and the com- This tragedy did not concern a special school
munities of Kentstown and Navan on the tragic transport issue. I know everybody has something
1097 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1098
to say about school transport, but this was not a Obesity has become one of the fastest growing
very old bus and there was a seat for every pupil health problems in Ireland. The worldwide preva-
on it. lence of excess weight and obesity has been
described by the World Health Organisation as
Mr. Norris: I raised the question of seat belts. an epidemic. Excess body weight is now the most
prevalent childhood disease in Ireland. Data sug-
Ms O’Rourke: I expect we will know soon how gests there are more than 300,000 overweight and
the accident occurred. For the record, it was not obese children on the island of Ireland, with a
an old bus and there was a seat for everybody. potential rise of 10,000 new cases every year.
Senator Norris also raised the dangerous over- These figures indicate that, as a nation, we must
crowding of hostels with asylum seekers. I passed prioritise the issue of childhood obesity and
on the Senator’s views to the Department of tackle the problem head on. We cannot afford to
Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he raised be complacent.
this matter previously. I agree with the Senator We know the key causes of obesity are directly
that the way the situation regarding the MV linked to food and physical activity habits and
Normandy has been allowed to develop seems that, in most cases, obesity is preventable.
chaotic. However, prevention is not that simple. Many
Senator Mansergh raised the matter of postal powerful factors influence personal choice and
codes. I do not understand what they are about; the problem is of such complexity that a co-
the Senator will have to give us a seminar on ordinated, cohesive approach across many sectors
the matter. is required before we will see any change in the
prevalence of obesity.
Mr. Norris: Hear, hear. It is not an issue we can expect the health sec-
tor to deal with in isolation. It is imperative that
Dr. Mansergh: The Minister might. cross-sectoral policies and strategies are
employed to enable us to pool our resources and
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ulick Burke sympath- avoid duplication of effort or confusion about
ised with the families in Meath affected by the roles and responsibilities. This principle is central
tragedy. Based on what the Loreto nun I heard to the task force report and is an example of the
said, the Minister for Education and Science has pragmatic, clear-thinking approach of those who
said that her Department will make resources contributed to the development of this important
available for counselling. The Senator asked for report. I pay tribute to all involved in drawing up
a review of school transport for the coming school the report under the chairmanship of John
year. He also supports the call for a review of the Treacy. Its preparation involved much effort and
Disability Bill on which we will have a debate. hard work, for which I express my thanks and
Senator Browne supports the call for debate on appreciation.
school transport. He raised the issue of resource The report’s central proposition is that a funda-
teachers and mentioned two schools in a town mental policy drive at Government level is
that got different allocations, with the school with required to develop a society which can enable
fewer pupils getting more than the larger school. people to eat healthily and partake in physical
He called for an appeal mechanism. Normally any activity. The Government must take a leadership
such system has an appeals mechanism included. role in this area. We will need the support of
Senator Cummins paid tribute to the emer- NGOs, communities, schools, health pro-
gency services. I agree they displayed a strong fessionals and the food industry in achieving goals
and powerful response to the emergency. that will protect all generations from illness,
With the Cathaoirleach’s permission, I propose psychological problems and, in many cases,
a minute’s silence as a mark of respect. premature death. The Government must work
with other groups to achieve the aims and objec-
Members rose. tives set out by the task force. However, we need
to find the most effective means of implementing
Order of Business agreed to. multisectoral collaboration. It is imperative that
the Government takes responsibility and, ulti-
mately, the leadership role in tackling this sub-
Report of National Task Force on Obesity: stantial, intricate challenge.
Statements. I acknowledge the role played by schools in
Minister of State at the Department of Health particular, which, in many cases, lay great empha-
and Children (Mr. S. Power): The report of the sis on the need for physical activity. While some
national task force on obesity, which was schools do not have the resources or environment
launched by the Taoiseach on 16 May last, will be we would all wish them to have, they make every
seen as one of the most important and far-reach- effort to use the facilities made available to them.
ing health reports of its kind. Its recommend- We must build on that base and encourage all
ations, which have the potential to affect the schools, not just some, to adopt that role.
health of our citizens and future generations, seek I also acknowledge the role of the food indus-
to lay the foundations for a healthier Ireland for try. Some sectors of the industry realised the
decades to come. problem late but, nevertheless, they appreciate
1099 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1100
[Mr. S. Power.] the infrastructure in place to address obesity pre-
the difficulty with obesity and, for example, some vention. So far almost \60 million has been
businesses now take a more responsible approach invested towards implementing the strategy.
to providing suitable menus, particularly for chil- Physical activity co-ordinators have been
dren. We would like to build on that beginning. appointed, for the first time, throughout Health
While this is an area where we could and should Service Executive areas and an additional 36 new
have been more proactive, we cannot look back. community dietitians have also been recruited.
We must look to the future and work with the These initiatives have provided us with an
different groups involved to achieve co-operation excellent starting point for dealing with the issue.
towards meeting this challenge together. However, the report of the task force has pro-
Ireland has demonstrated in the past that it can vided us with a new focus and challenge which
take an advocacy role at an international level in need to be taken up by all relevant stakeholders.
areas such as this. Ireland led the way for the rest The report is trying to empower people to make
of the world by becoming the first country to go healthier choices and provide access to a health-
smoke-free at work. While the sceptics had pre- ier lifestyle, in other words, to make the healthier
dicted that the tobacco legislation would not choice the easier one. It would be remiss of us, as
work, Ireland proved it is a nation that can a responsible Government, not to attempt to do
embrace change. I am confident we will embrace this in the face of overwhelming evidence of the
the changes needed to face up to this serious risk to health of being overweight and obese.
public health problem. International experts are referring to an obeso-
We should not underestimate the scale of the genic environment as a way of describing a world
problem, which can sometimes be trivialised. One dominated by sedentary pursuits and poor diet.
need only look at the facts to see what lies ahead It is the responsibility of Government to take a
if this issue is not tackled without delay and at leadership role in trying to influence and ulti-
the highest level. Some 39% of Irish adults are mately change this obesogenic environment and
overweight and 18% are obese. Children are now
we need cross-sectoral support from both private
being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a condition
and public sectors in order to do so.
previously only seen in adults. As much as 58%
Effective weight management for individuals
of type 2 diabetes and 21% of heart disease is
attributable to excess body fat. Obesity can also and groups at risk of developing obesity involves
lead to stigma, prejudice and isolation. The cost a range of long-term strategies, including preven-
of treating obesity and related illnesses in Ireland tion, detection, weight maintenance, management
is estimated at almost \500 million and, frighten- of co-morbidities and weight loss. They must be
ingly, this year alone, 2,000 premature deaths will part of an integrated, multisectoral, population-
be attributed to obesity. Life expectancy of based approach which includes environmental
people who are obese at the age of 40 can be support for healthy diets and regular physical
reduced by up to seven years when compared activity. This is a major challenge for Ireland and
with people of a healthy weight. must include developing public policies that pro-
In response to this startling trend the Govern- mote the availability and accessibility of a variety
ment established Ireland’s national task force on of low-fat, high-fibre foods and provide oppor-
obesity to set out a strategic framework to iden- tunities for physical activity.
tify best practice for prevention, detection and The report presents the Government and other
treatment of overweight and obesity and create key stakeholders with substantial policy chal-
the social and physical environments that make it lenges, but these are not insurmountable. We
easier for children and adults to eat more health- have been provided with a clear set of guidelines,
ily and be more active on a regular basis. a blueprint for the future and we can reach our
In advance of the establishment of this task goal by working together and integrating policies
force, the health promotion unit of the Depart- with practical initiatives.
ment of Health and Children has been pro-
actively responding to the increase in overweight Mr. Browne: I welcome the Minister of State
and obesity through a number of educational and and his officials to the House. One could not
awareness initiatives. These include the 2004 describe his speech as obese, however, brevity is
national public awareness campaign to tackle the soul of wit. This hopefully augurs much action
obesity and overweight, Every Step Counts — on the part of Government with regard to this
Small Changes Make the Difference, which high- important issue.
lighted the combined importance of physical Neither the Government nor legislators can be
activity and healthy eating. Other responses held responsible for people being obese which is
include the publication of a national play policy, a result of individual changes in lifestyle. The
Ready, Steady, Play and the National Children’s Government has a big role to play, but we should
Office is currently working on the development not try to blame it entirely for the rise in obesity.
of a national recreation policy for 12 to 18 year That would be unfair and would smack of a
olds. nanny state, with which I would not agree. The
The investment by the Government in recent Government has a role in highlighting the rise of
years towards the implementation of the cardio- obesity and its medical side effects, and is wanting
vascular health strategy has helped put much of in this regard.
1101 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1102
It was appalling to read an article in last week’s should be restored and increased, something the
edition of The Irish Times which stated that one INTO called for last week. I support that call.
in four girls and one in five boys in the five to 12 Last year, the INTO carried out a survey of
age group are overweight or obese which puts schools in counties Donegal, Clare, Kerry and
them at risk of a life dominated by weight prob- Dublin, which ranged from very large primary
lems, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint pain and schools to two-teacher schools. A total of 80% of
certain cancers. This is worrying. The Slan report, the schools surveyed in County Donegal did not
published by the Department of Health and Chil- have a PE hall. The figure County Clare was
dren, states that by the end of the decade, obesity 63%, for County Kerry it was 70% and for
levels in Ireland will be the same as those in County Dublin it was 14%. Of those schools that
America. Every second person is overweight and had PE halls it was reported that 60% of them
one in eight people in Ireland are obese. Another were inadequate, too small for the numbers of
startling statistic is that 400 children a year are pupils and of poor design, leading to safety con-
treated in Tallaght Hospital for overeating. siderations. The design faults included pillars in
I welcome the report, which I hope will gener- the hall or protruding radiators, which I men-
ate a public debate on obesity and make people tioned last week when I called for the Health and
more aware of the dangers involved. There is a Safety Executive to inspect schools. I am always
major health risk to obesity. The average life baffled as to the reason architects put radiators
expectancy can reduce by seven years for people on a wall of a PE hall where pupils play games. I
who are obese as opposed to those who are a am surprised we do not hear of far more injuries.
relatively healthy weight. There is merit in the call by the INTO that
The Government is lacking in many areas, vending machines in schools should be banned,
including in the schools programme. All children although all a school can do in this area is to pro-
attend school and that is an area where the mote healthy eating. While vending machines
Government can have some in terms of encourag- may be banned it must be borne in mind that
ing children to adopt a healthier lifestyle. We students can use the local shops. Banning vending
cannot expect Ministers to inspect the kitchens in machines will not address the problem. Schools
every household and tell mothers and fathers how should not be expected to take on the role of a
they should feed their children but the Govern- police authority. They can only promote healthy
ment has a major role to play in schools, although eating and educate children on the types of food
its record in that area is atrocious. they should eat. Banning vending machines in
The report called for a doubling of the time schools may appear to be a major part of the sol-
allocated for the teaching of physical education ution to this problem but that is not the case.
yet there is no mention of the way that should be We must examine the labelling of food. For
done. As a former teacher, I am often amused years we were told we should eat many carbo-
when lobby groups propose, as a solution to a hydrates. That appears to have gone out the win-
problem, the introduction of some new course in dow now, especially for those on the Atkins diet.
a primary school but I never hear them talk about We must educate people more about the vit-
the subjects that will be dropped or the hours that amins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and
will have to be cut back. The reality is that many good and bad fats they should take in every day
primary schools lack even basic PE halls to through their food, as we have seen in many
deliver their current PE programme. Currently, health books lately. The reality is that if most
PE accounts for 4% of the school week here yet people, including Members of this House, were
according to the OECD report the average asked about the number of calories they should
should be 8% or 9%. take in each day and the amount of fruit and veg-
If we examine the Government’s record in this etables they should eat, they would not know
area, it spent \3.5 million on PE halls in 2003, the answer.
which was half what it spent in 2002. I do not It is ironic that we are debating this subject in
have the figures for 2004 but it represents a drop the House because I would imagine politicians
in the ocean when it is put in the context of the are an unhealthy group of people in terms of their
\60 million squandered on e-voting. long working hours, lack of exercise and poor
More than half of all primary schools do not diets, which are not helped by having to attend
have a general purpose room and I am sure that functions and so on. The fact that these Houses
those schools that have such a room would prob- do not have a gym, even though the subject has
ably say it is inadequate. General purpose rooms been spoken about for years, speaks volumes.
often do not have a viewing area and in a class of Obesity levels will have major implications for
30 children, if ten are playing five aside and the our health services. The smoking ban was intro-
other 20 are watching, the 20 children watching duced because we were told it would save
are put sitting on the side of the PE hall where people’s lives, take pressure off the health ser-
they are in danger of being hit by a basketball vices as there would be fewer side effects on both
or football. passive and active smokers, and reduce the
The previous Minister for Education and number of people who smoke. The problem of
Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, abolished the obesity is another time bomb ticking away and
annual grant for PE equipment. That grant while the Government cannot be held fully
1103 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1104
[Mr. Browne.] tion. The reality is that schools have a fixed
accountable for it, it can play a major role in number of hours each day, and while the curricu-
addressing the issue. lum in every school has been increased substan-
We should promote healthy eating and an tially over the past few years I have never heard
active lifestyle. That can be done through the anyone suggest reducing the time given to a sub-
schools by adequately resourcing them to provide ject. All schools can do is promote good practice
proper PE halls and in community halls that are and we should give them every opportunity and
open to the public in every village and town. We resource to enable them to promote a healthy
often hear complaints about teenagers using lifestyle and teach PE successfully.
skateboards in towns yet the facilities are not pro- We should learn from the smoking ban. The
vided to allow them engage in that activity. money we will save in the future due to having
On arrival in other European countries one is fewer smokers in hospitals should be invested in
always struck by the beautiful parks where people preventing problems arising from obesity in ten
can enjoy walking. This country is way behind in or 15 years time.
that regard. I read a startling statistic lately that
we now have more golf clubs than parks. As a Mr. Glynn: I welcome this timely debate. We
single man who likes golf, that suits me but it have felt the need for it for quite some time as
would not suit many families. this is not a recent issue. Everybody, especially
an adult, has a responsibility for his or her own
Ms Feeney: Wait until the Senator has children. health, and for children it starts in the home with
parental responsibility. I assure the House that
Mr. Browne: The Government has a clear role neither I nor my wife ever gave our children the
in advertising and explaining the health risks of price of a takeaway meal at lunchtime. They
obesity, including diabetes, heart disease, always got a packed lunch because that was how
increased levels of prostate cancer and problems I was reared. Too often we see children get the
with knees and hips because of the extra weight. price of a bag of chips, a burger, minerals or
It must also allocate funding to primary and sec- crisps for lunch when the statistics clearly tell us
ondary schools to promote sports at every that is not the appropriate diet for children. We
opportunity. must all accept responsibility as adults, and
The Government must also ensure that people parents must accept responsibility for what chil-
are properly educated in terms of the food types dren are taught in the home about healthy eating.
and the amount of food they need, otherwise they The health services as we know them are reac-
will unknowingly continue to eat the wrong types tive and cater for what already exists, such as
of food. We are all aware of the enormous success dealing with people who have heart disease or
of Weight Watchers here and also the book, You other conditions as a result of obesity or lifestyle.
Are What You Eat. That is proof that members Let us discuss positive proactive health policy.
of the public want to know about the types of The report of the national task force on obesity
food they should eat but unfortunately, with our states obesity should be tackled at the highest
modern lifestyle, we tend to rush around far more level, with the Taoiseach’s office taking responsi-
than was the case in the past. We do not eat at bility and providing an integrated and consistent
home as often as we should and we are eating proactive approach to addressing overweight and
more processed food, although we can counteract obesity and implementing, monitoring and eval-
that by informing the public of the type of foods uating the national strategy on obesity in conjunc-
they should eat. tion with all Departments, relevant bodies and
I am not promoting a nanny state or that we agencies, industry and consumer groups.
should advise the public on every aspect of their The Department of Finance should carry out
lives but we can take realistic steps, such as the research to examine the impact of fiscal policy
provision of PE halls in schools, to address the and consumer purchasing on overweight and
problem of obesity. The Minister of State comes obesity, such as a risk benefit assessment of tax-
from a very sporting county, Kildare, but while ation that supports healthy eating and active liv-
canvassing in the new housing estates in the ing, and subsidises healthy food such as fruit and
recent by-election the one demand made to me vegetables. These are radical suggestions but they
was for better facilities, including parks. I was are important. Ireland should play an active
amazed to learn that Maynooth does not have a advocacy role within the EU to reform policy
park. I am not sure about the position in Leixlip relating to healthy eating and active living,
and Celbridge. Unfortunately, we have not including Government activities on global trade
matched the development in those towns, which and the regulation of marketing and advertising
became huge urban areas almost overnight of food for children.
because of the economic boom, with proper rec- We all played when we were children. This
reational facilities. That is an area in which we report recommends that at least two hours of
as politicians can and should get involved. The physical education be provided each week to be
INTO’s contribution is sensible. We cannot supervised by teachers with appropriate qualifi-
blame it all on schools but the obvious answer is cations. I see nothing wrong with that but it
to blame them for every problem and suggest should be in tandem with teachers and edu-
they run courses on topics such as driving instruc- cational assistants encouraging children to get
1105 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1106
involved in activities in playgrounds. Parents and prove that many people suffer from it but do
schools have the greatest influence on shaping a not know.
child’s persona. Every child should be able to I call on the Minister for Health and Children
achieve a minimum of 30 minutes dedicated and the Minister of State, Deputy Power, to
physical activity every day in all educational set- establish a national screening programme to
tings, and that should not be difficult given chil- ascertain the degree to which type 2 diabetes is
dren’s nature. prevalent in the community. All one needs to do
Vending machines should be banned from pri- is contemplate the enormous impact this has on
mary schools and I often wonder why they are the delivery of health service resources to see it
allowed. A clear code of practice on the provision is a serious situation that should be addressed as
and content of vending machines in post-primary a matter of urgency.
schools should be developed by industry, the The Minister’s statistics refer to conditions pre-
Department of Education and Science and viously seen only in adults and note that as much
schools bodies. If vending machines are allowed, as 58% of type 2 diabetes and 21% of heart dis-
what is available from them should be carefully ease is attributable to excess body fat. Type 2 dia-
monitored. betes is now seen in children, which was never
The Midland Health Board, of which I was a the case before. That people are developing this
member for many years, had a healthy eating condition at such an early age is a serious con-
week every year with poster, leaflet and brochure cern. We need to have fire brigade activity to
campaigns but none are so blind as those who ensure this condition is diagnosed and treated at
will not see. Some people do not wish to note the the earliest possible opportunity.
message of such campaigns. People have a The health services in their strategic planning
responsibility for their own health and if some- and delivery should advocate a change in empha-
one’s health breaks down the caring institutions
sis from the primacy of individual responsibility
or the Government of the day should not be
to environments that support healthy food
choices and regular physical activity. As the Mini-
As part of their pre-development planning, all
ster of State has mentioned regarding the smok-
schools should be encouraged to develop consist-
ing ban we have proven that this society can
ent school policies to promote healthy and active
undertake things and accomplish them. That is
living with the necessary support from the
one of the central traits of the Celtic races. When
Department of Education and Science. Such poli-
one thinks they cannot do something that is
cies should address opportunities for physical
activity and what is provided in school meals, as exactly when they can achieve it. That we can be
the food that students eat should be monitored. led but not driven is another feature of our exist-
Local GPs have a pivotal role to play. It would ence. Instead of the latest fashion being to buy
be helpful if visits took place to both primary and something that will injure one’s health, why not
post-primary schools by public health nurses, have a takeaway for healthy food? Now that the
dieticians and, if possible, GPs with a role in com- wheel has started to roll whoever comes up with
munity care. that outlet first will do well.
The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism The Department of Enterprise, Trade and
should co-ordinate with the Department of Edu- Employment, the Department of Health and
cation and Science on the shared use of sports Children and the private sector and consumer
and physical activities facilities by schools and groups should immediately take multisectoral
communities. In Mullingar the swimming pool is action on the marketing and advertising of prod-
used extensively by schools, which is as it should ucts that contribute to weight gain, particularly
be as there is no point in putting public money those aimed at children. If one goes to any shop
into sports facilities used by only one club. They and sees the number of additives on a label one
should be used by everybody and schools should should ask oneself whether it should be eaten, or
have high priority when it comes to use, if not if it should be put in the dustbin. We must be
first call. Community skills-based programmes conscious of our health as each person has
should be developed to provide skills such as food responsibility for his or her health.
preparation, household budgeting and promoting The Department of Agriculture and Food
physical activity. We should teach children to should review policies in partnership with other
cook healthy food and not give them the price of Departments to promote access to healthy foods.
a takeaway meal. Such policies should encompass positive discrimi-
Members of this House are aware that on sev- nation in the provision of grants and funding to
eral occasions over a long period of time I called local industry in favour of healthy products. This
for a debate on the rising scourge of type 2 dia- means we should be grant-aiding healthy food
betes and I am delighted the Minister of State and we should tax unhealthy food. It is probably
brought with him the statistics on that issue, a radical approach but if everything else has
which are shocking. Overweight contributes to as failed we should try something different. Guide-
much as 58% of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes lines on food and nutrition labelling should be
sufferers cause mayhem in clinics throughout the reviewed to ensure that labelling is accurate, con-
country. However, the real concern is not the sistent, user-friendly and contains information on
number who have been diagnosed, as statistics portion sizes and nutrient content. It is well-
1107 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1108
[Mr. Glynn.] was on the street morning, noon and night play-
known that portion size is closely identified with ing games with every other child from the town.
obesity. We went out at 10 a.m. during summer holidays
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and would not return until we were called for din-
and Local Government should develop coherent ner. We went back out in the afternoon and also
planning policies for urban and rural housing, at night. We played games such as chase, tig and
transport, amenity spaces and workplace settings skipping. A piece of rope would stretch the length
to encourage spontaneous increases in physical of the street and every child would join in. We
activity in adults and children. We should have a had nursery rhymes to go with all the activities
positive health policy. If developments are taking and there were never any overweight children.
place and a large number of houses are being We did not have time to gain weight, nor did we
built we should provide for recreational as well have the money.
as educational outlets. People have to live some- Running in school yards has been mentioned
where and proper services should be provided many times over the past few days. I cannot see
with those developments. Now that this report is any reason children should not be allowed run
out it is time the cost of obesity to the public and play in a school yard. Litigation has to be
purse was brought to centre stage. This report, examined and perhaps there should be dis-
which was launched by the Taoiseach and spoken cussions with the Minister for Justice, Equality
on by Minister of State at the Department of and Law Reform about what happens when a
Health and Children, Deputy Sean Power, is court awards large sums of money. There was a
where it belongs, namely, centre stage. time when if a child got pushed or fell over in the
school yard it was regarded as an accident, but
Ms Feeney: I welcome the Minister of State to those days are gone. There are no accidents any-
the House. We have a wonderful opportunity to more and everything is brought to the courts.
discuss such a good, weighty report, if the pun This is wrong and there needs to be a change in
will be pardoned. Obesity has become a serious the justice system.
problem. Between seven and nine years ago I vis- If a judge is satisfied there was proper super-
ited America with my children, who were very vision in the school yard I do not see why the
young at the time. I had difficulty getting them to school can be sued when a child is knocked down
take their eyes off overweight people, as they in the yard. One cannot provide one-to-one
could not believe what they saw. I never thought supervision as one would provide at home. As all
we would reach the same heights as the parents are paying insurance for children in pri-
Americans reached. mary and post-primary schools they are covered
The report shows we now have an obesity for insurance reasons if a child does get knocked
problem. I was amazed to read that 39% of Irish down. When my children were in primary school
adults are estimated to be overweight and 18% there was not a day they did not come home with
are estimated to be obese. The Minister of State a cut knee, a cut elbow or a gash on the lip. I had
has already alluded to the 2,000 premature deaths to go to the accident and emergency unit on many
every year that are a direct result of obesity. In occasions but it was treated as an accident, and
2003 inpatient costs were a staggering \30 million one warned the child to be a little more gentle
for one year for patients treated for problems at play.
related to obesity. The problem is having detri- All Irish consumers love biscuits, chocolates
mental effects on the good work that has taken and fizzy drinks. Last summer, in France, I was
place in the area of cardiovascular health. surprised to see the layout of French supermar-
In the past few years much of that good work kets, which is different from Irish ones. Very little
has been eroded because of people’s obesity and shelf space was devoted to biscuits and chocolates
weight problems. Type 2 diabetes is another dis- in the French supermarkets, but far more space
ease that affects overweight people. There are was provided for fruit and vegetables. There is a
also patients suffering from stroke, gallstones and big difference in this respect between Irish and
interrupted sleep patterns as a result of obesity. French supermarkets. We should aspire to change
Irish society has changed a great deal over the our cultural views on diet, possibly becoming
past ten to 15 years. We have greater disposable more like Paris and Bordeaux than Pittsburgh
income and there are more persuasive types of and Boston. We should be making whatever
advertising. People are taking far less exercise changes are necessary in this regard.
and are making trips by car, whereas ten or 20 I am delighted to hear radio advertisements for
years ago they walked. This is having a serious affordable gym membership. People can now join
effect on people’s lives. Childhood obesity is the gyms at a lower price than before thanks to all
fastest-growing disease in Europe and 327,000 the good work Mr. Ben Dunne has achieved. We
children on the island of Ireland are overweight do not do enough to encourage children and
or obese. The figure is growing annually by adults to walk, cycle, jog or take other exercise.
10,500. Recently, I read in the Irish Medical Times that
The Taoiseach recently spoke about the demise general practitioners are wholeheartedly behind
of street games. When one drives into a town or the recommendation on the report of the national
an estate one does not see children playing. As a task force on obesity. For too long, GPs have
child growing up in Tullamore, County Offaly, I been seeking guidelines on weight problems,
1109 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1110
including obesity. The report recommends that most needed. The Department of Health and
GPs should avail of every opportunity to discuss Children, other Departments and the National
healthy eating and lifestyle habits with their Children’s Office should do more to ensure that
patients, whether male or female, young or old. I councils spend funding correctly.
am sure GPs will monitor height, weight and An overall strategy is required, which would
waist measurements. Ante-natal clinics provide encompass the wider picture including children’s
doctors with an opportunity to discuss lifestyle needs. The question of disadvantage should not
skills, including healthy eating and active living, be used as an easy way to decide how to spend
with prospective parents. money. There are many different types of disad-
At secondary school level, leaving certificate vantage. For example, an area could be
points could be awarded for physical as well as disadvantaged even though it does not fit the
academic achievement. We are all aware of the traditional measurements of disadvantage, such
scourge of suicide among young people but if as unemployment. Examples of disadvantage
there was less pressure on youngsters to achieve emerged in the recent by-elections in Kildare
academic success the situation might improve. North and Meath. There has been major develop-
Physical activity by students should also be recog- ment in some areas where families with young
nised for entry to college. They could, for children have both parents working full-time to
example, be awarded points for football, hurling, pay a mortgage. They must spend part of the day
swimming, golf and other sporting endeavours. in traffic jams. Such people in new communities
That would encourage young people to engage in could also be considered disadvantaged and,
sports and, thus, feel part of the system. Some therefore, should receive targeted support,
may not be academically bright, but physically including play facilities. There is a similar com-
they would have an advantage over others who munity in Lucan where I live. Nonetheless, the
might be more academically gifted. Sport is a type of work that is being done for disadvantaged
wonderful way of exercising. areas under the RAPID area scheme is also
I am delighted to have had the opportunity to necessary. Such a scheme is operating in
comment on this marvellous report, which I wel- Clondalkin in my constituency of Dublin Mid-
come. It is in all our interests to ensure its recom- West.
mendations are acted upon. This is one report Senator Feeney spoke about her childhood
that will not be left on the shelf to gather dust. experiences, and I had a similar experience.
When I was young, one could play in the estate
Ms Tuffy: Senator Feeney spoke about the and stay out late on summer nights. Children
importance of children playing, an issue on which could play in the road in front of their homes
I would also like to concentrate. I raised the then, but it is no longer possible to do so, given
matter in the House last week when the report of the growth in traffic and the restricted space in
the national task force on obesity was first pub- modern estates. Parents can no longer leave their
lished. I have examined this problem in my local children out on the road, so we must provide
area and have also studied the report on national them with suitable recreational facilities. The
play policy which was published a few years ago country has a much higher population, yet there
by the National Children’s Office. That policy are fewer play facilities than previously.
contains an action plan which required local auth- Local authorities do not invest enough money
orities and county development boards to take in neighbourhood play facilities. They tend to put
certain steps. In my own local authority area, one playground in a big park, which might cover
however, many of those recommendations have an entire electoral area. Councils are not pre-
not yet been implemented. The Minister of State pared to invest in smaller playgrounds because of
spoke about providing grants to local authorities, high insurance costs. The national play policy
which is a worthwhile idea, but more needs to took up this issue and stated there is no evidence
be provided. County councils may get the money that numerous claims arise from the use of play-
without putting an overall strategy in place. That grounds. Risk management could be undertaken,
is the way the matter has been handled to date including the provision of guidelines for the
by my local authority which does not have a safety of those using play facilities. That is how
national play officer, although that was one of the to tackle insurance costs and ensure claims do not
recommendations of the policy. The county arise. The area needs to be examine further but
development board has not done up its plan yet it appears to be a red herring for local authorities.
either. For example, when some councils received
I would take issue with my local authority in RAPID area funding, they spent it on neighbour-
this respect. It spent money under the RAPID hood facilities. In some ways, local councils con-
scheme for disadvantaged areas, but the remain- tradict themselves on the insurance issue but
der was spent in an area where the number of there are many ways of examining it. Sometimes,
children is lower than in other areas. For a local authority can work with the community;
example, no extra playgrounds were provided in an authority might insure playground facilities
Lucan, yet it has the largest number of children. while estate residents may be willing to raise
The money was put into settled areas and, while some of the money for maintaining and monitor-
I agree with that, the local authority has done ing those facilities. Something along those lines
nothing to provide playgrounds where they are was done in County Kerry.
1111 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1112
[Ms Tuffy.] of obesity in society. None of us will be shocked
The Taoiseach expressed shock at the finding to hear that the prevalence of overweight and
in the task force’s report that play is being cur- obesity has increased with worrying speed over
tailed by schools due to the fear of litigation. That the past 20 years. To hear it described by the
had already been pointed out in the World Health Organisation as a global epidemic,
4 o’clock national play policy, Ready, Steady, however, sets alarm bells ringing. I was astounded
Play, two years ago, where it was to hear the numbers of people who were obese
stated that play during breaks was becoming worldwide — more than 300 million in the year
increasingly restricted as physical activities such
2000. There is a bizarre dichotomy in the world
as running, chasing, climbing and ball games were
today where 800 million people will go to bed
curtailed as a result of fears of injury and
litigation. hungry but up to half the population of the
United States will be obese by 2025 if current
Risk management comes into play here. The
Labour Party has published a document on the trends continue.
funding of primary schools where it identified Not that we are in any position to look
that insurance has become a major cost for pri- accusingly at the US. Obesity is now a major
mary schools, often taking up the entire budget, public health problem across Europe and in
meaning schools must raise funds for other activi- Ireland, where 39% of adults are overweight and
ties. We proposed that the Department of Edu- 18% are obese. A finding that I find particularly
cation and Science helps schools to tackle risk worrying is that there is a higher incidence of the
management, with all schools or groups in a part- disease in lower socio-economic groups. I will
icular region working together. The Department mention the issue of personal responsibility later
might even allow schools to insure themselves. It but the fact that people on lower incomes find it
is not necessarily the answer but it is one way more difficult to eat healthily is a problem we
to tackle the problem because the issue must be need to look at closely.
addressed. The Government and Departments of The task force’s conclusion that obesity has
Education and Science and Health and Children reached epidemic proportions in childhood has
must overcome the problems with insurance in generated the greatest comment. Who would
primary schools to ensure that children are not have believed, even seven or ten years ago, that
prevented from playing in school. body weight would be the most prevalent cause
Not every child wants to or is able to get of childhood disease? Given the natural energy
involved in sport but play is a form of exercise and vivaciousness of young children, it is difficult
and it is beneficial in many others ways. It does to comprehend estimates that the numbers of
not have the rigid structure and regulation of Irish children who are significantly overweight
sport, it is spontaneous and children learn social have trebled over the past decade.
skills from it. Exercise is the best way to lose An aspect of the issue which is not often dis-
weight and it makes people eat in a more healthy cussed fully is that of prejudice and I am glad that
fashion. A child out playing during the summer the task force made salient points on this specific
time is less likely to spend time indoors sitting in area. According to the report, “Being overweight
front of the television eating a snack. today not only signals increased risk of medical
It is vital that we tackle the play for children problems but also exposes people to serious psy-
issue. If children start exercising and eating well cho-social problems due mainly to widespread
at a young age, many problems can be prevented prejudice against fat people”. Worryingly, this
later in life. If we learn anything from this report, prejudice against obese people, in the view of the
it should be to invest wisely in play. task force, seems to border on the socially accept-
able in Ireland. Prejudice is evident in surveys
Mr. Minihan: I begin by adding my voice to the covering groups such as employers, teachers,
expressions of congratulations to the task force medical and healthcare personnel and the media.
for producing this timely and valuable report. It is to be found among adolescents and children,
Since the Government established the task force even the very young. We heard last week of
in March 2004, it has engaged in a detailed pro- claims of ageism in certain sectors. How many of
cess to develop a strategy to halt the rise and us consider this sad phenomenon in modern Irish
reverse the prevalence of obesity in Ireland. This society? Very few. The task force deserves con-
is a most worthwhile pursuit. Under the excellent gratulations for highlighting this issue.
chairmanship of Mr. John Treacy, the group has Turning to broader health impacts, the findings
carried out a comprehensive and systematic con- are less surprising but still of concern. Obesity is
sultation process and its work and this final report associated with premature death, excessive mor-
are to be commended. I would like to focus on bidity and serious psycho-social problems. It
three specific topics: the extent of the problem of negatively impacts the welfare of citizens in
obesity in Ireland, the impact and cost for our extremely serious ways. If one looked at the issue
citizens and the challenge facing society. in a cold and calculating way, the task force set
We owe a debt of gratitude to the task force out that, using the accepted EU environmental
for setting out exactly the extent of the problem cost benefit method, death from weight related
1113 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1114
illness alone may be costing the State as much as cate our own personal responsibility for our own
\4 billion per year. For these reasons, the report health and well-being and that of our children.
sees Government intervention as necessary and
warranted. What is the Government to do in this Mr. U. Burke: I welcome the Minister of State
regard? The findings of the national task force at the Department of Health and Children,
lead it to conclude that high-level Cabinet sup- ´
Deputy Sean Power, to the House. I also wel-
port will be necessary to implement the task force come the valuable report of the national task
recommendations. Implementation must be force on obesity. Its 93 recommendations high-
through joined-up thinking and real practical light how simple solutions can be found and be
engagement by the public and private sectors. effective in tackling this issue. Since the report’s
Duplication of effort and cross-purpose publication, we have seen banner headlines
approaches must be avoided while existing stra- describing obesity as an epidemic and a crisis.
tegies and agencies must be fully utilised. The However, these are the descriptions of over-
report states the range of Departments with roles enthusiastic journalists and other commentators
to play is considerable and specifies the different who have missed the point.
contributions that each one can make. In a short article in The Irish Times, Mr.
I was heartened to hear the Taoiseach accept Maurice Neligan outlines in a practical and
the report’s central proposition that a fundamen- sensible way the small matters that can make the
tal policy drive at governmental level is required difference. While we can talk about a crisis, I do
to develop a society that can enable people to eat not believe we have reached such a point. Mr.
healthily and partake in physical activity. I also Neligan asked if we could classify obesity as a dis-
welcome his assertion that the Government must ease of a prosperous economy. Some will agree
take a leadership role in this area. There is also a but, parallel to this, we have an aging society in
realisation that the Government needs the sup- which people live longer than before. This should
port of the NGO’s, communities, schools, health be contrasted with the real crisis during the Fam-
professionals and the food industry in achieving ine. How many people died then?
goals that will protect all generations from illness, It is claimed that 300,000 people are suffering
psychological problems and premature death. from obesity with 2,000 related deaths per
While I endorse and support such measures, annum. Are we not going overboard, forgetting
the one important element, that of personal the millions dying of starvation in the world? Can
responsibility, must not be lost in this debate. we have some balance in debating this issue?
While the topic is a sensitive one, there is no The task force report is welcome but many of
question that obesity is a result of a person’s daily its recommendations can be described as simple
lifestyle choices. However, a particular onus of and practical remedies, provided there is a com-
responsibility lies with parents regarding their mitment to implement them. At the launch of the
children’s lifestyle choices. As the primary edu- report, the Taoiseach stated the Government was
cator, particularly in a child’s formative years, taking a proactive approach to the issue, in the
parents must be conscious of how they allow their same manner as Ireland led the way with legis-
children to behave. This includes the child’s eat- lation providing for smoke-free work
ing habits and level of physical activity. The task environments.
force report refers to systematic reviews Are we to embark on a programme of banning
investigating the treatment of obesity and over- certain activities and products? One of the
weight conditions in children. These revealed, report’s recommendations is to ban soft drink dis-
among other matters, that targeting parents and pensers in schools. This makes me wonder if it is
children together is most effective in treating authentic and genuine in intent. Where was the
obesity and overweight conditions in children. survey to which it alludes undertaken? I could go
There is a need for programmes where parents a long way in the west to find a national school
take responsibility for behaviour change in the where anything other than water, often of poor
treatment of obesity and overweight conditions in quality, is dispensed. Those members of the task
primary schoolchildren. force who agreed to these recommendations must
In the case of adults, we cannot expect the be far removed from the reality of what is avail-
State to intervene purely to replace personal or able in our schools. For example, again this week,
parental responsibility. The Taoiseach has newspaper headlines have focussed on the quality
acknowledged that the task force report presents of school accommodation.
the Government and other key stakeholders with This situation is over-hyped. As a result, some
major policy challenges but these are not insur- over-enthusiastic school personnel have searched
mountable. The Government has now been pro- children’s bags to see if they had Coca Cola or a
vided with a clear set of guidelines. Each Depart- packet of crisps for lunch. This does nothing to
ment, State agency, school, family, the media, the help in our attempts to address the problem.
food industry and health care professionals all The Government must be committed to deal
have a role in tackling and curbing this worsening with this issue in a small and practicable way.
problem. Each of us as individuals must not abdi- How many primary schools have functional
1115 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1116
[Mr. U. Burke.] in games and PE. This is not within the context
physical education halls? They were provided for of the schools, because of the pressures involved
in the construction plans for many new schools. there. I spent years working in the classroom.
However, no sooner had the schools opened then When one took children on a field trip, a school
the halls were subdivided to provide extra excursion or whatever it might be, one’s heart
classrooms. The idea that physical education was was in one’s mouth until all returned safely.
to become an integral part of school activity was Nevertheless, whatever children remember of the
thrown out the window. Let us call a spade a school year, they remember the field trips, or the
spade. How many schools has the Taoiseach vis- day they went to the Aran Islands, the Burren,
ited, where he has seen a functioning physical or wherever they may have gone. That is a sure
education hall? The task force recommends chil- indication that children are favourably disposed
dren be involved in a minimum of 30 minutes of to activity when the opportunity is presented.
activity twice weekly. The reality is that schools Such an opportunity will present itself only when
do not have time for that. They are being told to resources are provided in a meaningful way, with
make time for it, but if they do, people ask why the facilities available utilised in a meaningful
children are out at play for so long and not in way. I know the commitment is there from the
class, doing the work they should be doing. On voluntary organisations, from the teaching staff
the one hand we have pious platitudes while the and from parents who commit a great deal of
reality is we do not make the necessary provision. time to such activities.
The Minister for Education and Science has not Next Saturday in Tullamore, the athletics finals
provided for this situation in terms of more physi- of the national schools will take place. There one
cal education being possible in schools. will see some of the finest up and coming athletes.
When, on occasion, there are celebrations in Whether the sports involve track and field events
schools, teachers and schools are often praised for or others, the majority of those children, boys and
the work they do in games and PE. In reality, all girls, will present themselves there not through
that is done outside school hours when the the initiative of the Department of Education and
teachers are working in the community with chil- Science or the Government, but because of their
dren. Throughout the country we have many dedication, as well as the dedication of their
community halls and facilities of various kinds parents who bring them everywhere, and that of
which are bolted up all week and not utilised. I their teachers, who prepared them and brought
suggest that the Government give schools a direct them to the standards they have reached.
grant so they could talk to the trustees of those For those who say we have an epidemic or a
halls, rent them and pay for the public liability crisis, it would be a good exercise to visit
insurance. That is a simple, practical matter. It Tullamore on Saturday to see the reality, the
costs money, but the commitment given by the cream of the student athletic body, and consider
Taoiseach will involve cost, whether the funds all those who participated in the event. We must
come from the Department of Arts, Sport and not forget how many of their peer group could
Tourism, Education and Science, or Health and have benefitted if we had proper facilities and
Children. Why not involve all three equipment within the school structures. I ask the
Departments? Minister of State, in consultation with the Mini-
I was a health board member for about ten ster for Education and Science, and the Minister
years, and all the reports and papers which the for Health and Children, to consider the situation
board drew up over a period of time cost time, and provide resources so people can participate
money and personnel resources which could have in such activities.
been otherwise engaged. I am not saying the per-
sonnel were not gainfully engaged, but they could Ms Ormonde: I welcome the Minister of State.
have been otherwise engaged. A wise spending I am glad we are having this debate because it is
policy within the Department would allow for one we should have in all walks of life. If nothing
many of the recommendations in the task force else, the task force on obesity has opened up the
report to be easily implemented. Personnel might opportunity to create an awareness which has not
look at the budget provided and transfer it been present up to now.
accordingly. A fraction of the \340 million being Previous speakers said there is no epidemic of
devoted to this area over a period of time could obesity. Nevertheless, we are aware that obesity
be diverted to the provision of facilities, or access is a serious problem in this country. It affects the
to facilities, for children at primary and second- health of so many people that it is difficult to
ary schools. believe that all the problems can be traced back
We are regularly told that young people are to weight issues. I too read the report by Pro-
more interested in watching TV than in physical fessor Neligan. He is right in what he says. I am
activity. That is nonsense. Such statements are a practical and common sense person but it must
made by people totally removed from reality. If be said that if people are overweight, we will have
one were to go round the country today one cardiac problems, hypertension, diabetes and
would see thousands of children actively involved physical inactivity, with people feeling lazy and
1117 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1118
lethargic, and unable to perform well in class or their parents to pick up A, B or C from
in jobs. McDonalds or Superquinn on their way home
I come from an educational background and I from school. Many 14 and 15 year olds are feed-
can see the situation involving children who are ing themselves and it is not their fault. The fault
obese and overweight as distinct from those who lies with the lifestyle and work routines of their
are fine, thin and energetic. One can see the dif- parents. Society has changed fundamentally in
ference in their learning behaviour. This problem this regard and the change is not beneficial to the
must be debated and I want it debated in all next generation.
walks of life. Whether we like it or not, we must Parents have a major role in tackling obesity,
talk about statistics. More than 2,000 premature but they are not alone. We need a collective
deaths are linked annually to obesity. Some 39% approach, with teachers educating children from
of Irish adults are said to be overweight while fourth class in primary schools, in a formal, time-
18% are classified as obese. The trends have to tabled way on diet and nutrition. An educational
give rise to concern. It is estimated that if we do leaflet should be sent to parents at the beginning
not curtail certain lifestyles, the level of adult of every school year indicating the best types of
obesity will increase by 1% annually. I did not foods to include in children’s lunch boxes.
pull these statements out of the air. They are Schools could recommend healthy foods, as high-
facts. Research has been conducted on the lighted by nutritionists.
matter. The task force recommendations have I am not sure if the old ICA classes still exist,
brought this issue to the fore. but they were very beneficial. The ICA ran health
I will concentrate on the education of children and cookery classes in rural communities. Is this
because that is what I know best. Though it is way of life gone, where parents are taught how to
difficult to gauge, it has been said that more than cook simple meals? I agree with Senator Ulick
300,000 children on this island are now over- Burke when he says that simple ways are the way
weight. The impact on health is very significant in forward. We do not need large amounts of money
terms of the personal dimension and the financial to get this message across. Resources are not
cost. I have heard others refer to the World required to tackle this issue. The obesity problem
Health Organisation, which describes obesity as a is about education, information and efforts by
global epidemic. I do not want to use words like parents to create a healthy way of life for their
these because I feel they are over the top. At the children and for themselves.
same time, however, it is important to note that
People should exercise more. They should try
obesity is gripping our shores.
to walk in the evenings if they cannot get into a
The question is where we go from here. How
gym. Parents should encourage their children to
do we introduce preventive measures? I have
take part in sporting activities, even if there is a
been hard on parents on several issues lately and
risk factor involved. The issue of sport and liti-
I believe they are not taking responsibility in this
gation must be tackled in this regard. I saw a tele-
area either. It is not their fault, however, because
vision programme recently where teachers had
society and lifestyles have changed greatly.
introduced a skipping programme into a primary
Parents often arrive home late in the evening and
do not know how to prepare a balanced, school. I would like to see more of that kind of
nutritious meal. When they are preparing lunches activity because not everyone wants to be, or can
for their children they include take-away foods, be, a great athlete or hurler. However, some form
processed meats, fizzy drinks, crisps, biscuits and of activity is necessary for everyone.
chocolates. I would not, as a teacher, dare to criti- We have become television addicts. Children
cise because parents have a right to decide on the come home in the evening and use the remote
contents of a lunch box. However, in the past, control to surf up to 30 channels. That is all they
children were very lucky to get an apple, bread do when their school work is finished. One sel-
and butter and milk for their lunch. We need to dom sees children out and about, playing games
go back to the more simple ways. in their own areas. Perhaps local authorities
Some will say that parents do not have suf- should examine the possibility of providing more
ficient time but they have the time to change the open spaces. However, the new policy seems to
type of food they put into lunch boxes and to pre- be in favour of high density apartments with even
pare a proper meal with meat, vegetables and fewer open spaces.
potatoes. Incidentally, potatoes seem to have Educational authorities have a major role to
gone out the window; people do not boil potatoes play in tackling obesity. Collective responsibility
today. Young people are dictating to their is required. There must be co-operation between
parents regarding the evening meal. Parents are educationalists, parents and medical pro-
afraid to say no because they do not have quality fessionals. A national awareness campaign must
time with their children, so they try to please be conducted because while this is a challenging
them by giving in. In other words, parents are try- problem, it is not insurmountable. The task force
ing to make up for the time they have lost with has produced guidelines but the Government
their children. Many latchkey students are told by cannot do everything. It can take the lead, but
1119 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1120
[Ms Ormonde.] should behave better and should recognise that
that lead must be taken up by other agencies, we have a responsibility to behave differently.
bodies and above all, by parents. Let me tell the story of something that hap-
pened in my company some 25 years ago. A cus-
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister and the tomer came to me and asked me if I had ever
words he used, particularly the word “lead- shopped with three-year old twin boys. When I
ership”. As Senators Ormonde, Ulick Burke and replied that I had not, she told me that she took
others have said, the answer to this problem is a Valium every day, but that on Tuesdays when
in our own hands to a large extent. This is not she went shopping with her twins she took three
something we can pass laws on, it is something because shopping was just hell, particularly when
we can deal with ourselves. they got to the check-outs. She was trying to keep
As an operator of supermarkets, I have known them away from sweets, but all supermarkets dis-
about this problem for years. I am on the board played sweets at the check-outs.
of the Food Marketing Institute in the United We removed sweets from the check-out area
States and the board regularly meets the Grocery then, which was easy to do 25 years ago. I had a
Manufacturers Association of America. Both row with the accountants at the time because they
those bodies have identified business oppor- thought I did not realise how much such a move
tunities in this issue because the sense of concern was costing me. The reason we made the change
among parents is growing. There is a business was to ensure customers would have a better
opportunity in another sense because of the fear shopping experience and that they would come
of what may happen in the future. It is not too back to us, even if it did hurt immediate profits.
long ago that people smoked without thinking Even at that stage, customers identified that they
twice about it, or at least those who sold ciga- were unhappy feeding unhealthy treats to their
rettes did not consider their responsibilities. children. This phenomenon is not new. It was
Governments around the world started to tackle clear to me that the decision I made was a good
the smoking problem and now tobacco compan- long-term rather than short-term business
decision; parents said they liked going to my
ies are fearful of litigation. Likewise, those in the
supermarket because they did not get sweets at
food industry, particularly in the US, are worried
the check-outs and, therefore, had less hassle. It
about class action activity that could result in
seems the answer is in our own hands, whether
both producers and sellers of food being sued.
we are parents, in business or ordinary citizens.
There is a business opportunity for those who
Members will no doubt be delighted to hear
identify and then address the concerns of
that I do not agree with the argument that we
customers. Supermarkets and restaurants in the
should pass laws to do something about obesity.
US and elsewhere have recognised this business
The answer is in the hands of citizens. Therefore,
opportunity and are also afraid of being sued.
I was pleased to hear the Minister of State talk
I hope the report of the national task force on about leadership and doing something about it on
obesity will become a spur to action, not simply that basis. We have a job of selling the health
a talking point that fades away after a few weeks. reasons to curb obesity to the public. The task
The report addresses the fundamental question of force report and this debate will help sell those
what quality of life we choose for ourselves and reasons for us. It is up to the Government to sell
our children. Of all the comments I have heard the health reasons to the people rather than to
and read since the report’s publication, what res- pass laws.
onated most was what Senator Ormonde said, When the situation is pointed out to citizens,
namely that parents are crucial. Parents have a they will put their children before the benefit of
huge amount of control over what their children fast unhealthy foods. We must continue to invest
and families eat. That has changed in recent times in the message to parents that their children’s diet
because of a new factor in parenthood, whereby is vitally important to their future and that of
both parents are working. This means they are their children’s children, because I am sure good
cash-rich and time-poor. The limited time avail- health is inherited in some way. If we can con-
able to parents means that the speed with which vince parents of that, they will make the extra
they can produce meals takes precedence over effort to feed their children a healthier diet.
any other concerns. The other side of the obesity coin has to do
The answer is not just in parents’ hands, it is in with exercise, or rather, the lack of exercise. Our
everyone’s hands. I love Hallowe’en and my wife change in lifestyle has produced some detrimen-
and I invariably stay at home at Hallowe’en, wait- tal results. There was a time when most of our
ing for the children to call. In recent years we children walked or cycled to school. Now, for a
have found that our apples and nuts are not wel- variety of good reasons, most children are driven
comed by the children. Children do not call look- to school. That change has made a tremendous
ing for apples and nuts anymore. We have been difference to the quality of physical exercise chil-
very naughty as a result and now make sure that dren get. I was delighted to see there are now
there are plenty of sweets available. As adults, we “pedestrian buses” in some areas, where children
1121 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1122
hold hands and walk to school in a supervised These words are of no use unless action is
group. That is a great answer to encourage people taken, and the Minister of State is a man of
unwilling to risk the walk to school alone to action. It is about making simple changes that
take exercise. make a difference. A judo club started up in a
A change that could make a tremendous differ- Galway suburb last year. The club pays the local
ence is quality physical exercise for young people. authority the going rate for the hire of its hall,
I was involved with the leaving certificate applied approximately \20 an hour, for three to four
programme for some years. One of my priorities hours one evening a week. Some 50 or 60 young
was to get more attention paid to physical edu- children attend the judo classes from both middle
cation and to ensure sports were part of the cur- class and poorer areas. Judo is a new sport there
riculum. I had two reasons for this. First, I believe and an important Olympic sport. The club is now
the fitter one’s body is, the fitter one’s mind will in debt and has an overdraft because of the rental
be. Second, sport and physical activity often offer it must pay to the local authority for the use of
children a way of excelling. That success can give the facility to provide the service. The club
them confidence in other areas and spills over members, mothers and fathers involved, give of
into other aspects of their lives. When I entered their free time. All they need from us or the local
the leaving certificate arena with those ideas, I authority is a helping hand with the rent for the
was shocked to find how badly equipped were the hall or half of it. The children are charged \4 per
majority of secondary schools. In most secondary night. Anybody with children involved in sports
schools today physical education is a joke. It was, knows that if it is \4 for one activity and the same
therefore, no great surprise to me to hear last for another, that is all people can afford. Even at
week that the situation in primary schools is just \4, it becomes expensive for those with more
as bad, if not worse. than one child who must pay out every week.
I share the amazement of the Minister for Edu- I suggest we show how committed we are. I
cation and Science at the stories of young chil- believe we are committed and that we will face
dren not being allowed to run in school play- this head on as a result of this good report which
grounds at break time because of the fear that outlines the problem. Let us set up a fund which
they will be injured and compensation claims will is accessible and non-bureaucratic and where
be made against the school. Like the diets of the people do not have to fill in an application form
children, this is a situation that has been allowed for lottery funding. All people should have to
to come about because we did not fully under- prove should be that they have young people
stand the consequence of what we were doing. availing of an activity-based sport, that they have
Since the publication of the report of the task the proper structures in terms of insurance and a
force on obesity, we can no longer make that governing committee. We should provide some
claim. If we allow these problems to persist, we sort of continual funding for such activities to
have nobody to blame but ourselves. We can no ensure that clubs such as this judo club do not
longer say we did not know about them. The writ- end up in debt. It would be just a small amount
ing is clearly on the wall for everybody to see. of money every year for this little club in Galway.
The only question is whether we will read it and We should put our money into small projects
take the necessary action to do something about all over the country. There should be no bureauc-
it. racy with regard to this funding. The lottery fund-
I am delighted we are having this debate today. ing is marvellous, but it is for capital for buying
What has been said will be useful, in particular or leasing a building. These small clubs are run
the Minister of State’s words on leadership. The by parents and adults throughout the country on
task is for us to ensure we spread the message far a voluntary basis. Often, they spend more time
and wide with the determination to ensure it is fund raising to keep the club going than they
understood by everybody concerned. I welcome spend with the children, which does not make
the debate and the Minister of State’s comments. sense. We need to consider small actions which
His heart is in it and if we all grab the oppor- can have a great impact. We should establish an
tunity, we will be able to make a difference. annual fund, for example. When successful appli-
cations are made under the fund, people should
Ms Cox: I welcome the Minister of State to the be given a commitment that they will be given a
House. I am delighted to have the opportunity to small amount of money to make life easier for
speak on this report. While I know the Minister them.
of State is a practical man, sometimes I wonder Another practical aspect of this issue that
when I read a speech whether the person making needs to be debated is the sharing of resources.
the speech sees the real issue. In his paragraph When I listened to the radio on the morning this
on joined-up action he said: “The problem is of report was published, I heard a person talking
such complexity that a co-ordinated, cohesive about going for a run in a GAA field beside a
approach across many sectors is required before school. It makes sense for schools to be able to
we will see any change in the prevalence of avail of local facilities which are not used during
obesity.” the day. I refer to municipal facilities, GAA facili-
1123 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1124
[Ms Cox.] withdraw physical education classes as a form of
ties and soccer club facilities, for example. Per- punishment. The Minister for Education and
haps such clubs could receive a small amount of Science has said she does not think it is an appro-
money in return, to help them with ordinary run- priate method of punishment. The Department
ning costs. Everybody will benefit if resources are needs to make it clear to schools where such
shared, rather than wasted. We do not need play- forms of punishment are being used that they
ing pitches and large facilities in every corner of cannot continue to do so. Children should not be
the land. We need to share facilities. General pur- threatened with not being allowed to participate
pose halls in schools should be available to in physical education classes if they are bold. If
interested groups in the evenings. It is not right children are bold, it is not fair or right to forbid
that every little kingdom that is built is guarded them from enjoying such classes.
closely to ensure that nobody else can enter it.
I would like to discuss the role of local auth- Mr. Browne: It is more likely that they cannot
orities in facilitating exercise. When one drives participate in such classes because there are no
around the country, one notices many new play- physical education halls.
grounds in towns and villages. Local authorities
have worked hard to develop playgrounds. There Ms Cox: We need to send out a single edu-
were just two playgrounds in Galway city five cational message if we are to develop exercise
years ago, but there are approximately 12 play- programmes. We should help local authorities to
grounds in the city area at present. Playgrounds assist clubs which are offering activities to young
are also springing up in the Galway County people and adults and increasing the involvement
Council area. Children can avail of play facilities of communities in exercise. We need to get rid
because money has been invested in every little of the bureaucracy. It is important that resources
town. are shared.
The Minister of State spoke about the need for I would like to discuss the importance of diet.
a joined-up approach. Ireland should be pro- A comprehensive programme should be put in
place to ensure that school authorities work with
moted internally and externally as a tourism
parents to combat the peer pressure that leads to
location that is suitable for children. We should
young people demanding certain types of nibbles.
make sure everyone knows there are many things
I refer to small processed cheeseburgers and
to do at the playgrounds which are found
cheese sticks which are not good for children.
throughout the country. If I intend to spend a
Children encounter peer pressure when they start
weekend in County Kilkenny or County Donegal,
to compare what they have been given for lunch.
I should be able to find details of outdoor facili-
We should go back to the good old days when
ties in such locations which are suitable for chil-
children were given a piece of fruit, a sandwich
dren on a single website.
and a drink for lunch. I do not refer to fizzy
I refer to beaches and public areas where one
drinks, which are taken to school by many chil-
can kick a ball, for example. There is a skate- dren. School authorities should adopt and
board area in the magnificent millennium park in implement a policy of not allowing pupils to take
Galway. I assume many people who have visited fizzy drinks to school. Many parents will argue it
Galway do not know anything about it. Many of is ridiculous to prohibit such drinks, but I think
those who access tourism websites before they such a policy should be implemented by the
visit Galway may be seeking information about Department of Education and Science as part of
facilities for children. They will pack their roller a carrot and stick approach.
blades and skates if they know there are places It is great to see the Minister of State, Deputy
where they can be used. Such initiatives are ´
Sean Power, in the House today. I ask those who
necessary if we are to get children to be active. are reflecting on the joined-up approach to con-
We can make progress in this regard by making sider its practicalities and to forget about
exercise fun and supporting those who are pro- bureaucracy. We need to consider the easiest way
moting exercise. to make an impact over the next couple of
Senator Quinn spoke about the amazing idea months and into the next couple of years. It is
of pedestrian buses. I saw a photograph in a important that we should start to make changes
newspaper last week of a line of children wearing immediately.
luminous jackets. They were being led by a
number of parents, who I assume offer their ser- Ms O’Meara: I welcome the Minister of State,
vices on the basis of a rota, as they were walking ´
Deputy Sean Power, to the House for this
to school. Such initiatives will work successfully important debate. Some people have already
in urban areas, but it would be hard to operate a responded to the report of the national task force
pedestrian bus in a rural community. We should on obesity, which represents a wake-up call. I
foster this brilliant idea, in which many people spoke to some teachers of my acquaintance who
would like to get involved. were quite shocked about the extent of the
I am not sure whether Senators have men- report’s evidence of the unhealthiness of the diets
tioned the problems which arise when schools of this country’s children. I echo the remarks of
1125 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1126
Senator Quinn, who asked what we propose to We do not have a high regard for what healthi-
do about this problem, now that we know about ness is, namely, a healthy body, a healthy mind
the extent of it. I do not agree with Senator Ulick and the confidence and better feeling that results
Burke that the report is over the top. I accept that from taking exercise. Such healthiness is not
he did not say the report was scaremongering, but actively promoted. It might be promoted a little
that is what I took from his comments. in schools but this does not work through all the
We need to consider the form of action we will messages that children, in particular, receive.
take in respect of this serious issue. As the Mini- Senator Ormonde had a go at parents, suggest-
ster of State said, some 39% of Irish adults are ing they are responsible for the problem. While I
overweight and 18% of them are obese. Children accept parents are responsible for the problem,
are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There many do not know how to generate a healthy
is clear evidence that Ireland has turned into an diet. It is not simply a question of giving out leaf-
unhealthy nation. How do we ensure that Ireland lets. We must work hard to educate people as to
becomes a healthy nation once more? I suggest what is good and not good, because they do not
that we take a series of small measures, the most know. They do not read the labels on food
important of which is an examination of Ireland’s products and do not know, for example, that
relationship with food and attitude to being monosodium glutamate is not a good product to
healthy. We should create a culture that promotes consume on a regular basis, or about the amount
the notion of healthy bodies in adults as well as of added sugars and fats in many products widely
children. We do not need to look too far for available in supermarkets.
examples of people who have very unhealthy life- A friend of mine suffers from type 2 diabetes.
styles. It can take a great deal of planning to Due to attending education programmes and
maintain a healthy lifestyle. It can be a struggle seminars, she is now aware of what goes into day-
to get up early to go for a walk and to eat prop- in, day-out products which, for her, are quite
erly and regularly, rather than reverting to pro- dangerous. My friend suffers from diabetes at
cessed snacks which are full of refined sugar and present. However, we know from figures pro-
have a high fat content. vided to the House by the Minister that many
As the mother of a 12 year old daughter, I people are on the way to getting diabetes but do
know it can be a constant battle to ensure that not know about it. We have a lot of work to do
one’s children have a healthy diet. One faces to educate the public.
unending pressure to give them food like crisps, While I applaud Senator Quinn for the
sweets, chips, nuggets and burgers. That children responsibility he took with regard to his com-
are rewarded by being given unhealthy food such pany, the food industry has a lot to answer for.
as sweets, or being treated to a visit to The Government needs to accept this before we
McDonald’s or Burger King, is a telling indication can move to make the industry more responsible,
of our relationship with food. It would be useful particularly with regard to advertising and label-
to bring about a transformation in that attitude, ling. Much work has been done on such issues, in
but it will not be easy because it has been instilled particular by the European Union, with the result
over generations. The availability of sweet, pro- that information on packets is now far more
cessed and fattening food has increased signifi- extensive than previously, and, therefore, con-
cantly. When my generation was growing up, it sumers have a choice. However, we are con-
was rare that one would be given such food, but stantly bombarded with foods that are, in many
the current generation seems to eat it every day. cases, dangerous.
Senator Quinn rightly pointed out that modern Children do not know that, preferably, they
forms of lifestyle — in many families, both should eat two raw items of food every day. Many
parents are working — puts a great deal of press- people, including children, do not eat any raw
ure on people to make time to produce healthy fruit and the notion of eating raw vegetables is
food. We all know that many secondary school like a joke. Therefore, this is the level at which
pupils have “pub grub”, including a portion of promotion is needed. We must promote healthy
chips, for their lunch. While that is simply food and give a bad press to unhealthy food.
accepted, it adds to the sense of unhealthy eating.
My daughter and I recently watched “Super
I agree with Senator Cox that schools have a
significant role to play. I would go so far as to Size Me”, the extraordinary documentary from
suggest schools should ban unhealthy food and the United States about McDonald’s. It would
allow only health food. The intake of put anybody off that kind of food. However, the
5 o’clock refined sugars, processed foods and, week after watching the documentary, my
in particular, fat should be cut down. daughter told me that she and fellow pupils went
We must create an environment which promotes to McDonald’s following a school trip. It is very
a healthy body. hard to combat such habits. There is no question
I hope health promotions will result from this but that children are a mirror of their parent’s
report. Role models should play a part in any lifestyles.
advertising campaign and these should be people I welcome Senator Minihan’s point about the
known to have high regard for a healthy body. stigma of being overweight, which is undoubtedly
1127 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1128
[Ms O’Meara.] of serious adult illnesses. For this reason, it is
correct. If nothing else, we need to recognise that important that we would in discussing this issue
for children to be overweight is a dreadful legacy try to forge a closer harmony and link between
for them as they enter their teenage years or the worlds of health and education, including
adulthood with a problem for which they never between the Department of Health and Children
asked, and for which their parents and the com- and the Department of Education and Science.
munity are responsible. Children will be stigma- My contribution is made with the above points
tised and blamed as time passes. There is extra- in mind.
ordinary irony to the fact that while we have a I do not want to examine the report in great
problem with obesity, anorexia is also an issue for detail other than to note it highlights the necessity
some teenage girls. The question of body image to further promote in Ireland the European Net-
must be considered. work of Health Promoting Schools — I accept
To return to my core point, our responsibility that some schools are already involved in that
is to promote a sense of healthiness, namely, a network, which has been the subject of numerous
healthy body, a healthy mind and a healthy discussions at the Council of Europe’s Committee
approach to what we put into our bodies. We of Culture, Science and Education and the Gen-
have laws which state it is wrong to put unleaded eral Assembly.
petrol in cars but none which state it is bad to put Increasingly, the emphasis seems to be on
processed food into our bodies. We must create creating greater awareness among parents,
an environment in which people ask themselves teachers, educationalists and the health promot-
whether what they eat is good for their bodies ing agencies of Departments, including that of the
and health in the long run. ´
Minister of State, Deputy Sean Power. Their
Some time back, perhaps during the last coming together would have a major beneficial
Seanad, we discussed the alarming increase in impact on the health and lifestyle of thousands of
cancers, diabetes and heart disease in the West- people, not only in Ireland but across the Euro-
ern world, which is connected to lifestyle and the pean Community.
food people regularly consume. A solution to the The objective of balanced development is the
problem would have a significant pay-off for the task of the schools. In addition to imparting
Exchequer in that the cost of obesity and bad knowledge, schools also have a responsibility to
health is an enormous burden for us to bear. If provide a balanced education which takes
for no other reason, we should take this account of health issues. This includes the matter
important matter seriously. I look forward to the of desk design, which apparently has been the
Minister coming back to the House with an action subject of much criticism for the damage it has
plan for Members to debate which has at its heart caused to people’s backs, hips and livers.
a proactive approach to being healthy, and which A wealth of scientific information and research
can help transform us from being an unhealthy exists which necessitates a closer liaison between
nation to a healthy nation, a fact of which we the Departments of Health and Children and
could be proud. Education and Science. The matter should be
given more attention, especially in the training
Mr. Daly: As I have had a cold in recent days, colleges. The experience gained from the 20 years
I might be a bad advertisement for a debate on of work done by the European Network of
health. However, the debate provides the oppor- Health Promoting Schools should be made avail-
tunity to raise important issues. I am glad the able and be incorporated into methods used in
Minister of State made a concise and decisive training colleges and health promoting agencies.
speech because it might encourage us to read A variety of documentation, leaflets and publi-
more fully the task force report, which draws cations deal with health promotion inside and
attention to important matters that should be outside of schools. It will be an exercise and will
addressed quickly. not have the desired effect unless a legal frame-
As you will be aware, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I work is put in place to support the findings. It
have been a member of the General Assembly of is necessary to consider establishing a statutory
the Council of Europe for a number of years. As system of health promotion to counterbalance the
the Minister of State will be aware, the Council very damaging results of what is taking place in
of Europe, with the European Commission and our schools.
the European regional body of the World Health There has been a widespread escalation in the
Organisation, has taken many initiatives over the number of computers in primary schools. An
years. Some 20 years ago, it introduced an initiat- opinion is being canvassed with regard to the
ive, the European Network of Health Promoting pressures on young children in terms of these
Schools, which has been demonstrated to be very computers. We have all encouraged the creation
successful in linking health issues with edu- of a greater awareness of the importance of tech-
cational experience. It has been scientifically pro- nology with regard to industry, etc. However, this
ven by experts that disease is acquired and that has placed pressure on children which leads to
pre-school and school years are the major sources problems later in life. There is no real evidence
1129 Report of National Task Force 24 May 2005. on Obesity: Statements 1130
to back up this assertion because the situation has industry. We are seeking a combined effort that
not existed for a sufficient time. Perhaps the will bring all sectors together to work as a team
Minister of State would consider the effects this in dealing with the problem. It is as simple as that.
might have on young people’s health and sight Senator Ulick Burke quoted from the
now and when they are older. It might be wise Taoiseach’s contribution at the launch of the
to do so before we further embark on promoting report last week when mention was made of ban-
technology, particularly in pre-schools and ning vending machines from primary schools. The
national schools. Taoiseach emphasised that he is not in favour of
I have mentioned the issues regarding school trying to bring in legislation or enforce new rules
furniture, computers and the design of school on people. He wants all stakeholders involved to
buildings. Some of the literature published by the engage, in a spirit of co-operation, as a team in
European Network of Health Promoting Schools addressing the issue.
has endeavoured to encourage people to look up Much work is required to stem this “epidemic”,
rather than down by placing images on the ceil- a term used by the World Health Organisation.
ings. We in the Seanad are ahead in this regard People can acknowledge it as a worldwide epi-
because we have some ornate designs on the ceil- demic which does not apply to Ireland. However,
ing. Young people are being encouraged to look that is immaterial. The evidence shows we have a
upwards and stand upright which will be very serious problem on our hands.
important for their hips and backs in later life. I salute the great work carried out by the task
Perhaps the Minister of State thinks I am ram- force under the chair of Mr. John Treacy. The
bling on somewhat. I came to the House today to best way in which to thank him is to take immedi-
emphasise and draw his attention to the work that ate action and implement the report’s recom-
is being done by the Council of Europe, the mendations. The report, which will hopefully
World Health Organisation and the European have far-reaching, positive benefits, was prepared
Commission in respect of the European Network in a thoughtful and methodical manner. An
of Health Promoting Schools. More than 40 coun- extensive consultation process was undertaken
tries partake in the network which was estab- and information was gathered and assessed from
lished 20 years ago and initially involved 12 coun- national and international policies, experience
tries. Some Irish schools are currently involved. and evidence which ultimately culminated in a
The Minister of State should talk to his colleague report based on the principle of equity, people-
at the Department of Education and Science centredness, equality and accountability.
because the evidence is very damaging and People have a fundamental right to choose to
serious in respect of the long-term health pros- eat what they want and to be as active as they
pects for the younger generation. It is imperative wish. However, that is not the issue. The national
and timely to have a debate of this nature in the task force on obesity’s report takes account of the
House. We should consider other approaches, many forces that actively impede change for
such as the studies undertaken in Europe and those who are already aware of the consequences
through the World Health Organisation. of overweight and obesity in terms of potential
health and well-being for themselves and their
Minister of State at the Department of Health families. While the main focus of the report is on
and Children (Mr. S. Power): I thank the Seanad prevention, it makes important recommendations
for giving its time and considerable experience to in respect of treatment and detection, including
focus on this report. I had no difficulty listening the clinical management of overweight and obes-
to Senator Daly’s contribution and found it quite ity in both adults and children.
interesting. There was a conference last week in It is clear that halting the rise in levels of over-
Dublin regarding health promoting hospitals, weight and obesity presents a major challenge
which is a relatively new initiative and one that and this can only be met by a concerted effort
works extremely well. There is no reason it would by everyone to protect future generations from
not prove as successful in schools and the Senator inevitable premature death, ill health, psycho-
outlined and quantified its success. social problems and projected adverse economic
The Senators were generally very positive in costs. The report takes a practical, realistic and
receiving and welcoming the report and a number achievable approach to some fundamental issues.
put forward their own suggestions as to how we The principle of joined-up action is central and
might implement some of its recommendations in many of the recommendations can be
addition to making some of their own. Two implemented if Departments, NGOs and com-
Members raised particular issues. Senator Cox mercial enterprises give due regard to some of
had some difficulty with part of the report but I the guidelines contained in the report when pre-
cannot understand why. The problem of obesity paring service plans, marketing and development
is fairly complex and there is no easy, single sol- programmes and implementing services. It is
ution that will achieve the desired success. A imperative, however, that the Government takes
number of sectors are involved, including com- responsibility and ultimately a leadership role in
munities, NGOs, schools, parents and the food tackling this substantial intricate challenge.
1131 Hospital 24 May 2005. Services 1132
[Mr. S. Power.] regard. We are not living in an ideal world. We
The report’s 93 recommendations relate to have to try to make the most of what we have
actions across six broad sectors: high level available to us. Our climate is very conducive to
Government; education; social and community; outdoor physical activity.
health food commodities; production and supply; A number of Senators mentioned the import-
and the physical environment. Many of the con- ance of sport in schools but we must differentiate
tributions of Senators were concerned about between sport and physical activity. Unfortu-
those sectors. The high level goals recommended nately, many of the sporting activities in schools
by the task force set out a framework or roadmap relate to team events. A soccer team needs 11
of the way the issues identified by many Senators players and rugby, Gaelic football or hurling team
can be addressed. requires 15 players; a smaller number is needed
The task force high level goals are that an inte- for camogie. Students often feel that if they are
grated, consistent and proactive approach be not on the first team they are not participating
taken across all Departments, agencies and public properly in the sport, even though they may get
bodies in addressing the problem of overweight involved in the training and so on. We must
and obesity. It also recommends that the private examine other areas where greater participation
sector should play an important role and can be promoted because it is all about encourag-
acknowledge that it has a responsibility and will ing students to participate. They do not all have
be proactive in addressing the issue of overweight to be on the first team to engage in meaningful
and obesity and that the public and private sec- physical activity. That is something schools will
tors and the community and voluntary sectors have to consider and encourage in a more mean-
should work in partnership to promote healthy ingful way.
eating and active living to address overweight and The task force has presented the Government
obesity. It also recommends that individuals and other key stakeholders with major policy
should be personally empowered to tackle over- challenges. I am confident that using the roadmap
weight and obesity and that sensitive inter- suggested by the task force, under the leadership
ventions should be developed to support them. of the Government and in partnership with key
This is a challenge for the Government, the stakeholders in the public and private sectors, the
private and public sectors and the commercial task force’s vision of an Irish society that enables
sector. As has been pointed out by a number of people through health promotion and care to
Senators, action is being taken in a number of achieve and maintain healthy eating and active
areas and we should acknowledge that some living throughout their lifespan is achievable. I
schools have been forward thinking in the way will bring the report before the Cabinet in the
they have dealt with the problem. They have near future. The problem has been studied and
encouraged healthy eating without overdoing it. identified. We now know what needs to be done
We were all children and we know what it is like and I will ensure, as best I can, that the necessary
to enjoy sweets, snacks and drinks but it is action is taken as quickly as possible. I thank the
important that is done in moderation. The Senators for their contributions.
schools have played a role in making children
aware of the need for healthy eating. We depend An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed
on parents to educate their children but this is to sit again?
one area where the children can educate their
parents about healthy eating when they come Mr. Moylan: At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
home from school. Senator O’Meara pointed out
that many parents are not aware of the type of Adjournment Matters.
foods that are healthy for their children. Our
challenge is to educate those parents and make ————
them more aware of the importance of feeding
their children properly.
Mention was made also of the need for physical
activity. That is an issue we are examining. Mr. Browne: I read a report in The Irish Times
Senator Ulick Burke said that the lack of PE last week that the Minister for Health and Chil-
facilities in schools is preventing children partak- dren will decide on capital projects for hospitals.
ing in physical activity. As a former teacher he That took me and others by surprise and one
recalled that the day most fondly remembered by wonders why the Health Service Executive was
his former students was the field trip in which established because it was meant to decide the
they participated. hospitals that were allocated funding.
There are many excuses not to partake in The purpose of raising this matter on the
physical activity, whether it is climbing moun- Adjournment is simple. I want to remind the
tains, walking in fields or on beaches. There are Minister of State that people in Carlow and
many opportunities to partake in physical activity Kilkenny need hospital facilities. I hope the Mini-
and people should not make excuses in that ster of State can guarantee that Carlow and
1133 Schools 24 May 2005. Accommodation 1134
Kilkenny will get their fair share of funding under evant legislation, laid before the Houses of the
the capital programme which will cover St. Luke’s Oireachtas. The detailed capital funding prog-
General Hospital in Kilkenny, the district ramme for 2005 is currently being finalised in the
hospital in Carlow, the Sacred Heart Hospital in context of the capital investment framework
Carlow, St. Columba’s Hospital in Kilkenny and 2005-09. This process also requires that issues
numerous other hospitals, including Aut Even relating to non-capital costs and staffing impli-
Hospital. I hope this will not become a political cations be addressed by the HSE prior to com-
slush fund to be abused by politicians because it mencing new construction on individual projects.
is far too serious a matter. The Senator will be aware that a number of
significant capital projects are currently under
Mr. Daly: The Senator should not leave out way in the Health Service Executive, South-East
Ennis. Area. These are at various stages of planning or
construction, or have recently been completed
Mr. Browne: I look forward to the Minister of and include phases one and two at Our Lady’s
State’s reply, which I hope will explain the reason Hospital, Cashel, the unit for older persons at St.
the Minister is taking a hands-on approach to John’s Hospital, Enniscorthy, the MRI at Water-
capital funding for hospitals. Why has she taken
ford Regional Hospital and the extension and on-
that responsibility away from the HSE and what
call accommodation at Wexford General
steps will she take to guarantee equitable funding
Hospital. In addition, the new acute psychiatric
for hospitals throughout the country? That will
unit at St. Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, was com-
ensure that areas like Carlow and Kilkenny will
missioned recently. This much needed new
not be ignored because Waterford, Dublin, Cork
facility, which will greatly enhance the provision
and Limerick will gain as usual. I look forward to
of modern, high quality services in the region, had
the Minister of State’s response.
a capital cost in excess of \8 million.
Minister of State at the Department of Health Last year the South Eastern Health Board
and Children (Mr. S. Power): I remind the received approval from the Department of
Senator that the purpose of raising this matter on Health and Children for a sum of \10 million for
the Adjournment was to ask the Minister for a wide range of minor capital works throughout
Health and Children the position regarding the the region. This included investment in a number
allocation of capital funding for hospitals in of important remedial works or re-equipping
Carlow and Kilkenny. across all health care facilities, including those in
I am taking this matter on behalf of my col- the Carlow-Kilkenny region.
league, the Tanaiste and Minister for Health and When the CIF is finalised, the HSE will be in
Children, Deputy Harney. I thank the Senator for a position to progress its capital programme for
raising the matter as it provides me with an this year. This process involves making provision
opportunity to give the House an update on the for commitments carrying forward from 2004 and
situation. initiating new contractual commitments for indi-
The idea that the intention is to use this capital vidual projects, in line with overall funding
funding as some sort of slush fund could not be resources available for this year or beyond. As I
further from the truth. The Senator mentioned have already indicated, it is a matter for the HSE
Carlow and Kilkenny specifically. I had the to determine in the first instance capital priorities
pleasure of visiting one of the hospitals in nationally, including those for Carlow and
Kilkenny, which has taken an initiative that has Kilkenny. I expect that approval will issue very
not been seen, certainly to the same extent, in shortly to the HSE in respect of the capital plan
any other hospital. That initiative has worked recently submitted by the executive, in line with
extremely well and it gave me great hope for the the overall Health Capital Investment Frame-
future. Everyone was asked to play a part in that work 2005-09.
initiative and regardless of whether one was a
consultant or working in any other capacity in the Schools Accommodation.
hospital, everyone’s role was acknowledged and
appreciated and the staff worked as a team. Mr. Finucane: Ardpatrick national school is
The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health situated on a main road outside the speed limits
Service Executive, which was established on 1 of the village. It was originally built as a three-
January this year. Under the Act, the executive teacher school in a rural community in 1969, and
has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or the grounds incorporated approximately ten
arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and parking spaces for staff and parents. These spaces
personal social services, including its capital prog- were arranged within a recess directly adjacent to
ramme. The question of new capital funding com- the main road to allow the cars park parallel to
mitments for hospitals in the Carlow-Kilkenny it. Given that there was a lower usage of cars for
area will have to be considered in that context. transporting children to school and family pat-
The HSE service plan for 2005 was recently terns meant more children per family car, this
approved by the Tanaiste and, as required by rel- allowed adequate parking for the staff of three
1135 Schools 24 May 2005. Accommodation 1136
[Mr. Finucane.] six for funding, the lowest priority category. This
and parents collecting and dropping off their chil- says much about the Department’s attitude to
dren at the school. safety.
In 2002 the school gained a fourth full-time On appealing this decision, based the Depart-
resource teacher and the services of both a visit- ment’s obligation to redress a clearly identified
ing resource teacher and a learning support safety hazard, the school was requested to re-sub-
teacher. The school also gained the service of two mit the plans for the following year’s scheme.
full-time special needs assistants and a part-time This was done, again in total compliance with the
secretary. This led to at least six spaces being Department’s regulations, but again, two months
filled on a full-time basis with a further three late once more, the appeal was rejected. The
spaces often being occupied either at the start or reason given this time was that a quantity sur-
end of school by the part-time staff. veyor had drawn up the plans. The school
Social and population demographic changes immediately appealed this decision on the
placed further pressure on the limited parking grounds that the regulations applying to these
spaces with an increase in car usage for bringing plans did not prohibit their being drawn up by
children to and from school. More families are a quantity surveyor. This is clearly stated on the
now attending the school and these family units appendix to the regulations, which is available on
are smaller than previously, resulting in a greater www.education.ie, if the Minister of State wishes
number of cars being used to bring students to to examine it.
school. Often each car occupying a car parking The board of management has sought planning
space only contains a single student. permission for the car park and has sent a revised
A potentially lethal situation has resulted from plan to the Department for re-assessment. The
these changes. At collection and dropping off total cost, as per this revised plan, is approxi-
time, parents are often forced to double-park on mately \42,000. The parking situation is clearly a
the open road as the spaces available to them are safety issue. This year’s application was rejected
rapidly occupied. This results in many of the merely on the technicality that the plan was
students having to walk a distance through these drawn up by a quantity surveyor. The school
double-parked cars on the main road to reach informed the Department that the quantity sur-
their parents’ cars. The congested nature of the veyor had been already involved in projects
car-park and the need to pass outside the cars on which received financial assistance from the
the road has been identified as a clear hazard to Government, including the sheltered housing
students in the safety statement. The double- project in Kilfinane a year ago. While the board
parking has also been identified as a hazard to of management and parents clearly wish to act to
passing traffic on the busy road. A poll taken eliminate the hazardous parking situation, due to
among parents in 2003 and a subsequent petition the financial limitations on a small rural school,
seeking departmental redress of the situation this cannot be done without a grant from the
clearly identified strong concerns about safety. Department of Education and Science.
The board attempted to implement some While I am discussing education, I wish to sym-
measures to reduce these hazards. They applied pathise with the families who were bereaved or
to the county council to erect hazard warning have children in hospital after the bus crash in
lights and signs on the approaches to the school. Meath yesterday. I wish those in hospital a
This has had a limited effect on the speed of pass- speedy recovery. We should focus on safety, and
ing traffic. Through consultation with the parent I hope we are not risking an accident at this
body, attempts to relieve the congestion resulting school for the sake of the princely sum of \42,000.
from the limited parking facilities were made, The Department should respond positively and
including appeals to parents to stagger collection not classify it in category six when the safety of
times, to turn their cars prior to collecting their school-children is in question. I look forward to a
children, to depart as soon as possible from the positive response.
premises and that staff would park their cars per-
pendicular to the road. All of these measures pro- An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We all wish to be
ved unfeasible. associated with the sympathy expressed to the
The board then applied for financial support to families and friends of the deceased students.
extend the parking facilities through the summer
work scheme run by the Department of Edu- Mr. S. Power: I thank the Senator for raising
cation and Science. In 2003 a plan for extending the matter as it affords me an opportunity on
the parking facilities was submitted to the behalf of the Minister for Education and Science,
Department for adjudication in February 2004. Deputy Hanafin, to outline to the House the
This application, supported by photographs of the strategy of the Department for capital investment
parking situation, the results of the parents’ poll in education projects and also to outline the posi-
and their petition, was rejected in March 2004, tion regarding Ardpatrick national school.
two months after the Department’s deadline. The Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and
Department had placed this in amenity category 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given
1137 Schools 24 May 2005. Accommodation 1138
the legacy of decades of under-investment in this The summer works scheme 2006 will be adver-
area as well as the need to respond to emerging tised shortly and it will be open to Ardpatrick
needs in areas of rapid population growth. None- national school to apply for consideration for this
theless, since taking office the Government has scheme. In the meantime, as the primary
shown a sincere determination to improve the responsibility for health and safety issues relating
condition of our school buildings and to ensure to school buildings rests with the school mana-
that the appropriate facilities are in place to gerial authorities, the grant scheme for minor
enable the implementation of a broad and works, the devolved grant, should be utilised as
balanced curriculum. We have progressively necessary to address basic maintenance issues.
increased funding for the school modernisation The level of grant paid under this scheme
programme in recent years to achieve our goal, amounts to \3,809 per school plus \12.70 per
with an aggregate total of almost \2 billion allo- pupil.
cated for this purpose since 1998, the largest Once again I wish to thank the Senator for giv-
investment programme in the history of the State. ing me the opportunity to outline the position
Since the beginning of the year the Department regarding this school project and to highlight the
of Education and Science has made a number of significant work being undertaken by the Depart-
announcements on the schools building and mod- ment of Education and Science in implementing
ernisation programme. This year alone, \270 mil- the school building and modernisation prog-
lion will be allocated to primary schools and \223 ramme to ensure that infrastructure of the highest
million to post-primary schools for building standard is available to all our school-going
works. This represents an increase of 14% on last population.
The schools building and modernisation prog- Mr. Finucane: As the Minister of State will
ramme for 2005 to 2009 will be underpinned not appreciate, the grant scheme for minor works will
just by a significant increase in overall funding not be used in this situation. I have outlined the
but also by major improvements in the admin- safety aspect that is attached to this issue. I
istration of the funding. Devolving more funding cannot emphasise any more the importance of the
to local level through the summer works scheme extension of this car park. Can the Minister of
State give me any assurance that this matter will
and the small and rural schools initiative will
at least be favourably considered in the 2006
allow schools to move ahead more quickly with
scheme, given that it has been rejected in 2004
smaller projects while also delivering better value
and 2005? I want some reassurance from the
Minister of State.
As part of the schools building and modernis-
In these Adjournment debates one receives a
ation programme, over \62 million will be spent
stock reply. Sometimes one does not see the
this summer. In all, 362 primary schools and 228
matter that is being presented from the other side
post-primary schools will benefit from the scheme
of the House. I am sure the Minister of State can
to complete essential small scale projects over the understand the seriousness of the situation and
summer months, such as gas, electrical and mech- the necessity to accede to this request. At least I
anical works, roof replacements and repairs, win- want to hear what the Minister of State means
dows replacement, toilet upgrades, structural when he refers to the 2006 scheme, and what con-
improvements and access works. sideration he will give to the proposal.
An application was received under the summer
works scheme 2005 from the management auth- Mr. S. Power: The easiest answer I could give
ority of Ardpatrick national school for funding would be that funding will be provided in 2006.
towards the extension of car parking facilities at However, it would not be proper for me to do so.
the front of the school. The application fell under As a fellow politician I am aware of the number
category 9 of the published prioritisation criteria of schools in Kildare that have applied for the
for the scheme. Unfortunately, due to the level of same scheme and not all schools were successful.
demand for funding for higher priority projects, The Senator is more familiar with Ardpatrick
it was not possible to fund the project in question school than I am and has outlined the case very
this year. To ensure maximum spread of available strongly in the House. I suggest he outline the
funding among the summer works scheme appli- case to the Minister for Education and Science
cant schools, attention was focused on the top once the school in question applies for the 2006
priority application for each school categorised scheme.
under the published criteria. The available fund- The health and safety of the pupils attending
ing was then distributed in accordance with the the school is very important and if this case is
criteria hierarchy as detailed in the circular letter as dangerous as Senator Finucane has outlined, it
governing the scheme. In the context of the avail- would be important the matter be dealt with as
able funding and the number of applications for quickly as possible. The most appropriate method
that funding, not all applicants, including Ardpa- for securing funding would appear to be under
trick national school, were successful this year. the summer works scheme. It was right that the
1139 The 24 May 2005. Adjournment 1140
[Mr. S. Power.] she would appreciate exactly my sincerity and the
school applied for this scheme last year, and while sincerity of the school authorities.
it is disappointing it was not selected, I would
Mr. S. Power: We will bring it to the attention
encourage it to resubmit.
of the Minister.
Mr. Finucane: If the Minister could receive a The Seanad adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until
copy of what I said in the Adjournment debate 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 May 2005.