Declaration of Independence Day legislation passes Seanad Éireann

On Thursday 5th July, my legislation in relation to the meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence on 21st January 1919 completed it’s passage through Seanad Éireann.

Senator Keith Swanick Minister Josepha Madigan - Declaration of Independence Day Bill

Thanks to Minister Josepha Madigan and all of my Seanad colleagues for passing all stages of the Declaration of Independence Day Bill. The 21st of January 1919 was one of the most momentous days in Irelands history and the legislation now progresses to Dáil Éireann for it’s completion.

In the background behind us hangs a painting of the First Dáil, above the entrance to the Dáil Chamber.

Please support Daffodil Day

Please support Daffodil Day (March 23rd) which raises vital money for Irish Cancer Society who do incredible work all over Ireland. The Freephone Cancer Nurseline (1800 200700) is a wonderful resource for people and their families affected by cancer. This Daffodil Day there will be thousands of volunteers around Ireland selling daffodil pins and flowers on streets, in businesses, homes and shopping centres. #daffodilday

Launch of Loneliness Taskforce

LonelinesstaskforceALONE has been working to fight against loneliness in older people since 1977. In collaboration with Sean Moynihan and his team in ALONE Ireland I have now established the Loneliness Taskforce, an initiative to coordinate a response to loneliness and social isolation in Ireland.

We are requesting suggestions and submissions from interested individuals, groups and other organisations to produce a set of recommendations for Government, state agencies and policy makers.

We want to fight back against loneliness. For more details, go to


Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017

Extract of Speech in Seanad Éireann 23rd January 2018 

This is a very simple Bill that seeks to introduce a new specific offence of interfering with life-saving equipment. The genesis of this Bill was December 2016 when we witnessed the incomprehensible acts of thuggery with the theft and destruction of a defibrillator on Abbey Street in Arklow, County Wicklow. I was struck by the comments from the chairperson of Arklow Community First Responders, Mr. John Summers, about the “mindless, senseless and savage attack.”The Arklow Community First Responders had put that defibrillator in place through community fundraising. John Summers said:

I can’t accurately describe my feelings at finding it but it was a mixture of anger, disgust, sadness, nausea and probably a lot more emotions that I can’t find the words for right now. I just can’t comprehend how someone can destroy a piece of very expensive lifesaving equipment paid for by the generosity of the local community.

The idea for the legislation came from CFR Ireland, the organisation representing community first responders, when in the wake of the incident in Arklow it called for stiffer penalties and custodial sentences to tackle the problem. It was then that I started this campaign, which has culminated in the legislation before us. I got to work when I saw its comments in the media. Working initially with my Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy Pat Casey, from Wicklow and then with party justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan, we got a Bill published and thankfully it has the full support of CFR Ireland and Irish Water Safety.

Much of the media focus in recent years has been on the destruction of or damage to defibrillators or AEDs, but this legislation covers items such as lifebuoys. Since starting to campaign on this issue, I have become even more convinced that the real heroes in Ireland are the ordinary women and men of our country, because their interest in and passion for their communities as well as the welfare of the vulnerable marks Ireland out as a great place. Volunteers who go out and patrol the riverbanks and bridges such as Wexford Marine Watch, or volunteers such as the mountain rescue teams, the Civil Defence, the community first responders and the water rescue units are the people who give me great hope for Ireland. This legislation is for them because despite our problems, Ireland is a great place to live and it is a place where I want my young children to grow up.

That spirit of volunteerism is something that inspires me; it is the concept of the meitheal. Cuireann sé i gcuimhne dom an seanfhocail Ghaeilge, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”. This is loosely translated as “Under the shelter of each other, people survive.” Perhaps it is only in times of tragedy in Ireland that we fully recognise the million small acts of kindness and volunteerism that make us who we are as a people.

For me, volunteers reflect a nation’s compassion. I often ask myself the following questions. What motivates a community first responder to rush to the scene of a medical emergency? What motivates a member of a mountain rescue team to leave their bed and join others on a misty morning, to go in search of an injured climber? What motivates a member of a river rescue team, which more often than not has the challenge of bringing a body home?

What motivated the sub-aqua teams from all over Ireland to come to north-west Mayo to help search for the missing crew-members of Rescue 116 last year? What motivated the local fishermen in Blacksod to spend up to six weeks at sea, searching, hoping for a sighting, assisting the naval service and the Garda divers? What motivated a small group of women and men in Ionad Deirbhile in Aughleam to open up Halla Naomh Bhreandáin to ensure that hundreds of personnel involved in the search and rescue operations around Blacksod were catered for?

For weeks they provided an incredible compassionate yet practical response to the tragedy in Mayo, providing hundreds of meals around the clock, providing a focal point for the families and friends of the missing crew. Last week it was announced that this group of volunteers, Comharchumann Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile, won the 2018 meitheal of the year award at the Mayo Association Dublin awards. Along with Fr. Kevin Hegarty I was immensely proud to nominate them for that award.

Volunteers and volunteerism are the social capital that holds our communities and society together. This is why acts of thuggery like the destruction of a defibrillator or a lifebuoy are an affront to spirit of volunteerism that exists across the country, something that as a people we are so good at. It is part of our natural psyche and perhaps that is why almost 18,000 people have signed my petition, urging the Government to support this law.

This legislation rightly recognises the emergency services, but it also recognises the emergency volunteers who regularly put their lives at risk without giving it a second thought. In my mind, this legislation is to honour the hundreds of volunteers from all over Ireland who took part in the rescue efforts off Blacksod for Rescue 116. It is also for every person in every parish, village, town and city who have donated or fundraised to put a defibrillator in place.

I have previously spoken about how a stolen lifebuoy is a stolen life. We have seen reports during the year that, for example, Cork City Council had to replace 300 lifebuoys in one year because of theft or damage. This is why I believe that a strong message needs to be delivered to individuals contemplating such irresponsible thoughtless acts of vandalism. Damaging or stealing a piece of life-saving equipment is not ordinary vandalism, such as graffiti or stealing a street sign. These acts directly impact on whether a real person survives an incident in their most critical hour of need.

As a doctor, I know that the availability of an AED can be the difference between someone surviving a cardiac arrest or not. The majority of these devices are put in place through fundraising by voluntary community and sporting organisations. Other organisations such as the GAA have been extremely proactive in this area, including the establishment of the Cormac Trust, which was set up after the sudden death of Tyrone GAA star, Cormac McAnallen in March 2004.

I will now outline the sections of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard section, setting out the various definitions used in the Bill.

There are two parts to section 2. This is the central part of the Bill as it sets out the details of a new offence of interfering with life-saving equipment. It shall be an offence to interfere with, cause damage to, alter, remove or modify a defibrillator or an automatic external defibrillator. In the second part I give notice of my intention to introduce amendments to the categories of items that are covered under the Bill.

There are two short parts to section 3. They both set out the financial and custodial penalties under the Bill, whether for summary conviction and conviction on indictment. The Bill proposes that the upper limits will not exceed a €50,000 fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both. As I said earlier, these financial and custodial penalties are designed to signal how seriously the Oireachtas views the destruction or damage of life-saving equipment. It is no longer tenable to deal with these types of crimes under the Criminal Damage Act 1991. Section 2 of that Act covers the intentional damaging of property and it also provides that a person who, without lawful excuse, intentionally damages any property or is reckless as to whether any property would be damaged and who intends by that damage to endanger the life of another, or is reckless to such endangerment, is guilty of an offence.

Upon legal advice and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders I decided that the Bill needed to introduce a specific offence of damaging life-saving equipment. There can be no comparison between graffiti, damage to a park bench or kicking over a bin, with the wilful damage of or inference with a life-saving device.

Section 4 relates to attachment orders and has been introduced in order to ensure that any financial penalties by the courts are fully paid, or indeed linked to future earnings. Section 5 deals with the Title and commencement.

I look forward to hearing the Minister of State’s thoughts on the issues the Bill raises and engaging fully with other Senators throughout this debate.

Rationing of life support within intensive care units in the public health system

ICU Beds Jan 2018 Dr. Keith Swanick.jpeg.001
People were rightly shocked to see the headline
‘Life or Death’‘Top Doctors say life support now being rationed’.
This story in the Sunday Business Post by Susan Mitchell went on to state – “Doctors forced to make ‘tough decisions’ and prioritise some critically ill patients”. It is clearly stated in the article that the “crisis stems from a shortage of intensive care beds in hospitals”.
I want to preface my concerns about the problems relating to the Intensive Care Units, by stating that the vast majority of people who use the public health system in Ireland, have an extremely positive experience.
So let’s look at what has been said about ICU care.
Dr Tom Ryan, President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, two weeks ago noted that “we are effectively rationing life support”. Tom Ryan is a Consultant in Intensive Care and Anesthesia in St James’s Hospital and he is a senior medical professional who knows what he is speaking about.
Dr Emily O’Conor, President of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine and Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, said that doctors were having to make very “tough decisions” about which critically ill patients to prioritise.
I could quote from the INMO, SIPTU and other unions on the frontline in intensive care units. The IMO and the College of Surgeons have repeatedly warned about cuts in bed capacity and the impact on patient safety.
So what does “unnecessary risks” or ‘tough choices” mean Minister? The absence of a post-operative bed in ICU means that critical life-saving surgery is delayed, deferred, or God forbid cancelled.
No doctor ever wants to be in this position – it runs contrary to our Hippocratic oath, contrary to the Guidelines from the Medical Council, contrary to the reason many of us decided to get into medicine and healthcare.
Doctors routinely have to sit down with family members and loved ones and say, that in their professional opinion, having reviewed and assessed all of the options, that the likelihood of survival is slim.
Some of us, have to give this bad news thousands of times in our professional lives. I remember the first time I had such a conversation and I can assure you Minister, it never gets easier.
I never thought that one of these reasons might be that an ICU bed was not available.
In 2018 when we are told by Government that we are the richest in Europe, with the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone, there is something profoundly sick about the fact that ICU beds are being “rationed”.
That is why the type of problems, being experienced within the Intensive Care Units is so alarming. The failure to provide emergency surgery because of the absence of an ICU bed is a nothing short of a national scandal.
There can be no surprise that there is a shortage of ICU beds, it was highlighted in 2009 for the HSE, but since then cuts of €576 million have been made to the capital budget for acute hospitals in the last 10 years.
What makes it worse in the case of ICU, is that it directly impacts upon serious elective surgery, such as cancer, and also hinders Doctors from escalating a really medically sick patients care, for example a patient with pneumonia.
Knowing what I know, and speaking to the people on the frontline, I can only conclude that medical outcomes have to be compromised and people are dying as a result.
This is a very serious thing to say Minister – but it is unfortunately the case. People are dying as a result of the absence of ICU beds.

Retention of skills in the public health service

In March 2017 I published the ‘Critical Health Professionals Bill, 2017’. The Bill was designed to ensure that critical health professionals in the public health service, may, if they wish, postpone their retirement where they would otherwise have been forced to retire at a particular age, subject to dual consent being in place between the employee and the employer.
The Government recently announced an increase in the compulsory retirement age from 65 to 70 years of age. This will include health professionals who are employed in the public health service. This applies to those who wish to continue in employment, past the former mandatory retirement age of 65. This is good news for the already over-stretched and understaffed health sector.
The Government will now bring forward legislation which will achieve the objectives set out in the Bill which I proposed last year and ensure that invaluable skills, vital to the embattled health sector, will be maintained and that critical health professionals will not be forced to retire simply because of a date in the calendar.
The legislation will apply to the entire public sector, however, the health sector, I believe, will see the greatest benefit. The problems with the health service are some of the most important problems we face in Ireland today. 2018 is only twelve days old and yet, the number of patients on trolleys reached an all-time record high of 656.
There are acute shortages in key areas of the health service with up to 300 unfilled consultant positions in Ireland and the Government was, until now, forcing those who were by all accounts able to continue working, to retire.
I have been campaigning on this matter and engaging in constructive consultation with the Minister for Health and the Department of Health for some time now and I will continue to do so, to ensure the speedy enactment of this legislation.

Loneliness Taskforce

Loneliness Keith Swanick 18.12.17.jpeg.001

Last week I formally requested that the Government move to establish a Loneliness Taskforce or a Loneliness Commission. We all have our part to play in tackling loneliness, but Government and the state agencies play an important role.

My letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, ‘The nature and remit of such a Loneliness Taskforce or Loneliness Commission would be for Government to set out, but it should be practically based, focussed and time-specific. This would be to complement the incredible work of NGO’s already in this area.’

Tackling Loneliness

Short days and long dark nights can make loneliness worse for many people. This cold weather is a reminder to keep an eye out for neighbours, family and friends or those who may be living on their own. It often only takes a tiny gesture or a simple act to help alleviate loneliness. Together we can give loneliness the boot.