Public Health Alcohol Bill – Senator Dr. Keith Swanick (FF)

The Public Health Alcohol Bill was drafted to help reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland and to minimise the harms associated with alcohol.

It is long overdue and should have been passed when it was before the Seanad a year ago.

Fianna Fáil supports the aims and objectives of the Bill and I am keen to see it enacted without delay.

Over the past number of months I’ve received hundreds of calls and emails regarding the Public Health Alcohol Bill. This is a Public Health issue and the Bill is designed to reduce the visibility of alcohol in Ireland.

I agree with Professor Frank Murray, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance that we need to recognise there is an issue with harmful drinking in Ireland. He said, “This legislation is an important first step to deal with the catastrophic consequences of Ireland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We believe the evidence-based measures contained in the Bill will turn down the tap of cheap alcohol for problem drinkers and young drinkers”.

Alcohol is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish acute hospitals, one-quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments and over half of attendances to specialised addiction treatment centres. It is my belief this legislation is long overdue and needs to be enacted without delay.

RTÉ Prime Time, Search and Rescue, Rescue 116

RTÉ Prime Time this evening will examine serious questions in relation to safety issues around search and rescue, including the tragic events surrounding Rescue 116.

The crew and their families deserve answers as do everybody involved in the emergency services in Ireland.

26th October 2017 

Robert Mugabe, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations

Yesterday was United Nations Day, an event which is celebrated globally and serves as a reminder of the benefits of multilateralism.

Since joining the UN in 1955, Ireland has played an important role in that organisation, from the pioneering work of the late Deputy Frank Aiken, as Minister for External Affairs, on nuclear non-proliferation to the efforts of Defence Forces personnel in the service of blue helmet peacekeeping since 1958, including in such challenging locations as the Middle East, the Congo and west and north Africa.

Sometimes, however, the UN gets it wrong. Early last Saturday morning I read a headline proclaiming that Robert Mugabe had been named as goodwill ambassador by the UN’s World Health Organization, WHO. My first impression was that I must be reading an article on the Waterford Whispers News website or that it was some sort of sick joke.

In fact, it was true that the WHO’s Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebyreyesus, had made the announcement, remarking as he did: “Today I am also honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs [non-communicable diseases] for Africa to influence his peers in his region to prioritise NCDs.”

Fortunately, the WHO has, in the light of international opposition, rowed back from the appointment. The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, was right to describe the news as “offensive and bizarre”.

Mr. Mugabe is in the same league of extraordinary dictators as Castro and Pinochet, people who did not believe in the UN Charter and who rounded up opponents, shot them or had them disappeared because those opponents disagreed with the ideology of the day.

What possessed the WHO to do this given the atrocities Mugabe has inflicted on his own people, brutalising human rights activists and democratic dissidents?

This incident with Mugabe is a stain on the proud history of the UN and the World Health Organization and one that should never be revisited.

Seanad Éireann 25th October 2017 

Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017

People from all over the country have got in touch with me regarding the Life Saving Equipment Bill and I am very grateful for that input. Irish Water Safety and Community First Responders (CFR Ireland) fully support the Bill and have offered technical guidance with the draft legislation.

The support I have received for the Bill, which if enacted introduces a specific new offence of interfering with lifesaving equipment, has been overwhelming.

An online petition, calling on the Government to support the Bill, has over 16,000 signatures so far. It can be viewed and signed here: https://www.change.org/p/oireachtas-support-the-life-saving-equipment-bill-2017

I am hopeful that Second Stage of the Bill will be before the Seanad in the coming weeks.

Keith Swanick & Micheal Martin TD Life Saving Equipment Bill

Report on Children’s Mental Health Services from the Seanad Public Consultation Committee

Report on Childrens Mental Health Services

The urgent need for staffing in Children’s mental health services is made clear in the Seanad Public Consultation Committee report. You can read the full report from the Seanad Public Consultation Committee at the following link

Thank you to everyone who gave of their time to make submissions, many of the stories we heard were truly shocking. The Report rapporteur Senator Joan Freeman​ deserves great praise for her work, along with all the other committee members.

Chairman: Paul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Catherine Ardagh (Fianna Fáil)
Jerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
Maria Byrne (Fine Gael)
Martin Conway (Fine Gael)
Mark Daly (Fianna Fáil)
Máire Devine (Sinn Féin)
Joan Freeman (Independent / Taoiseach’s Nominee)
Colette Kelleher (Independent / Taoiseach’s Nominee)
Denis Landy (Labour)
Pádraig Ó Céidigh (Independent / Taoiseach’s Nominee)

Sanctions for people who enter the water despite a nationwide red alert weather warning

Senator Keith Swanick - re Red Alert Weather Warning October 2017

Speaking in Seanad Éireann – 18th October 2017 

First, I extend my condolences to the families of Clare O’Neill, Michael Pyke and Fintan Goss who lost their lives in Storm Ophelia. The loss of their lives is a fitting reminder of the dangers that extreme weather events can cause. We must all pay tribute to the phenomenal emergency services workers who went to work as usual on Monday, leaving their own families behind to ensure the safety of others. The ESB and local authority staff have worked around the clock to keep us all safe.

Storm Ophelia was the worst storm to hit Ireland in more than 50 years and, despite being downgraded as an ex-hurricane, almost 300,000 homes were left without power, schools and businesses closed and our public service broadcaster, RTÉ, had special programming all day to keep us informed of the storm’s trajectory. All of this was co-ordinated, of course, by the work of the national emergency co-ordination group. Nonetheless, acts of stupidity were carried out, with incidents in Louth, Galway and Kerry where the reckless behaviour of a few risked their lives and the lives of others. I think of the volunteers in Clogherhead and Greenore in County Louth who had to go out bravely into the full force of the hurricane because of two kite surfers. I ask why were they obliged to put their lives in danger just because of the stupidity and selfishness of others.

John Draper from Valentia Coast Guard wrote that Monday was, “A never-ending cycle of telling people not to risk lives”.  The actions of those surfers and swimmers who took to the water despite the constant pleas from the authorities were nothing short of anti-social behaviour. They put the lives of others at risk. Niamh Fitzpatrick, sister of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick who tragically lost her life on Rescue 116, adequately summed up the feelings of many of us when she urged people to “PLEASE cop on”. Her language was temperate compared to that which I and others would have used with regard to these fools.

What are the sanctions and who is responsible for enforcing them? I have drafted legislation which would impose harsh penalties on those who damage lifesaving equipment such as defibrillators and lifebuoys. The fact that such legislation is necessary is also a sad indictment of where our society stands. The political scientist Robert Putman wrote a book called Bowling Alone and warned that our stock of social capital, the networks of relationships we have with people, marked by reciprocity, trust, and co-operation, have plummeted, damaging all our lives and communities. This is evident in the number of people who selfishly took to the seas on Monday despite the numerous warnings to stay indoors.

I fully support entirely my Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, who has advised me that he will draft legislation to give emergency responders the protection they deserve by imposing deterrents on those who decide to be reckless and put lives in danger. Yesterday in the Dáil, my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, called on all parties to co-operate in bringing in legislation to prevent people taking undue risks against safety advice. Will the Government co-operate with his request? There are many who will label those of us calling for harsh penalties as kill-joys but the O’Neill, Pyke and Goss families know the reality of the danger of the storm.

Supplementary Comments.

I welcome the potential for an all-party solution. Those of us who work in the emergency services respond when the bleep goes off. We treat the patient who presents in front of us. We deal with the fire and do our best. It is not the time to examine the causes during the emergency, but in the cold light of day one often thinks about what is called contributory negligence. Surely if a person enters the water against the expressed wishes of the Coast Guard, An Garda Síochána or other authorities, he or she should be liable for all costs associated with his or her rescue. We are only talking about incidents which take place while a full red weather warning has been issued by the Coast Guard.

Eugene Clonan of the Irish Coast Guard was clear that people should stay away from the coastline and the water when he said:

I’d like to reiterate for recreational users to stay off the water. This is an unprecedented weather system that we’re going through. We have not experienced this before and we want people to stay safe. We urge people to stay away from the coastline.

We might examine whether an all-party solution to this issue might be found. We might also consider the idea of contributory negligence in this regard and whether some costs may be attributed to the people who are wasting the time of the emergency services.

First Senator to speak from floor of new Seanad chamber

I had the great honour of being the first Senator to speak from the floor of the new Seanad chamber in our new temporary home in the Ceramics Room of the National Museum.
Great credit is due to the staff of the National Museum of Ireland the Office of Public Works – OPW the staff from the Houses of the Oireachtas under the guidance of Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghailand Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan for recreating the new Seanad chamber, while the original one has essential repairs completed.

Photos from Houses of the Oireachtas