I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House and the Minister of State for attending. The Irish health system has been pockmarked by horrific political and systems failures by successive Governments which have damaged and cost the lives of our citizens. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, had a chance to put in place an effective organ donation and transplantation system that would have saved the lives of hundreds and enhanced the quality of life of thousands as well as saving the taxpayer millions. The Minister ignored the opportunity to put appropriate measures in place by ramming through this flawed EU law on organ donation and transplantation which, I believe, is disastrous.
We sought the recall of the House to seek the annulment and replacement of this flawed EU law. I wanted the Minister to come to the House and listen to his colleagues. I wanted him to hear the advice that we have received from health care professionals and organ donation groups on what should have been done. Since the Minister signed this EU legislation into Irish law some 65 people have died on our waiting lists. There are 650 people waiting for heart, liver, lung, kidney and pancreatic transplants in Ireland and one in ten of these will die. If the 500 people who are awaiting a kidney transplant were to receive one, we would save the taxpayer €325 million. For the 1,800 people who are currently receiving dialysis, it will cost the taxpayer a total of €1.2 billion over ten years. If we had put in place a new system it could have improved the lives of those who are on dialysis and shortened their waiting time for a transplant. It would have ensured that the taxpayer would save money and that hundreds would have been taken off dialysis early. All the Minister had to do was follow what had been done in other countries.
There are those who have criticised this recall in government and among the commentariat. They say that it will achieve nothing.
The evidence, however, is to the contrary. In a departure from its indication at the beginning of the year that no legislation was forthcoming, the Government has now undertaken to publish the human tissue Bill before the end of the year. We hope it will be done. People working in the media have indicated to me that the National Office for Organ Donation and Transplantation is now set to receive funding and staffing. We have succeeded in raising awareness of the catastrophic system that operates in this country. For the first time, a Chamber of Parliament is debating actual legislation, as opposed to theoretical legislation, on organ donation. It is the first legislation in the history of the State on this issue. Until 12 months ago, when the Minister signed it into law, we did not have any such legislation on the Statute Book. The difficulty, as Mr. Mark Murphy of the Irish Kidney Association has described it, is that we have had the worst implementation of the EU directive in any member state.
The reason people on the organ transplant list are dying has nothing to with the medical profession, whose members are doing their best within a system that is far from perfect. The reason we do not have a proper and functioning organ donation and transplantation system is the failure of successive Governments and politicians to legislate properly for systems that actually work. The perception among the public, as my colleagues pointed out, is that the Dáil and Seanad make most of the laws in this State. The reality, in fact, is that it is Ministers who sign EU provisions into law, in some cases after they have amended them in consultation with their officials. These provisions are placed into Irish statute without referral to the Dáil, Seanad or relevant Oireachtas committee. In one 12 month period, Ministers of this Government signed 164 EU directives into Irish law. Over the same period, 49 Acts of the Oireachtas were debated by the 166 Members of the Dáil and the 60 Members of this House.
The transposition of this particular EU provision into Irish law began with a consultation process on 24 May 2012 in Dublin Castle under the aegis of the Health Service Executive and involving experts such as health care professionals, consultants and representatives of the organ donation organisations. Amazingly, those discussions took place in the absence of a draft of the version of the EU law the Minister proposed to transcribe into Irish law. In the same month the Irish Donor Network, representatives of which are in the Visitors Gallery today, wrote to the Minister asking him to ensure that any draft regulations would be put before the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Oireachtas for debate. In June 2012, the Irish Kidney Association wrote to the Minister adding its voice to the calls for the provision to be examined by the health committee. I wrote to the Minister in July 2012 asking that it be debated by the committee prior to its signing into law. On 27 August 2012, however, without any Member of the Oireachtas having had sight of the instrument, it was signed into law.
Ten days later, as allowed for under the provision we have utilised today, 27 Members of the Seanad wrote to the Minister asking for the House to be recalled to debate the regulations ten to 21 days from the date of receipt of the letter by the Chair. We were prevented from doing so. The Government has now admitted that the House should have been recalled and the debate allowed. In the meantime, however, we have lost votes in this Chamber on proposals to have the provision debated in ordinary time. As my colleague, Senator Denis O’Donovan, pointed out, we are seeking today to have the instrument annulled in order that it can be replaced with better legislation. We are not here to have a debate on it. The legal provision we have availed of today is the mechanism available to annul the provision, not simply to have a debate on it.
What should the Minister have done with this EU law? He should, in the first instance, have appointed a single national transplant authority, an approach which has led to an increase in the organ donation rate in Croatia and Spain. The head of the Spanish transplant authority, Dr. Rafael Matesanz, has described this as the most important thing Ireland could do. I am not in favour of presumed consent, but that is a distraction in this debate. I am in favour of what works. We know that what works is a single transplant authority and a network of organ donor co-ordinators. The Government has conceded that the Seanad should have been recalled last year to discuss this issue. Today we are calling the Government to account for its failure to consult the Seanad, Dáil or health committee before this provision was brought into Irish legislation. It is a flawed provision and a new version is required. Its transposition into Irish law was a missed opportunity for the Government to put in place a 21st century organ donation and transplantation system for the people on the donor waiting list who are anxiously awaiting a telephone call from their hospital. The most disturbing headline in recent weeks was the one on the front page of The Sunday Business Post, in reference to an interview with Dr. Matesanz, which proclaimed “Government’s organ transplant policy costing lives”. The 650 people awaiting life saving organ donations deserve better from their Government and their public representatives. We must give them every chance as citizens of this State to realise their full potential. That is their entitlement.