Ireland’s transplant record came under the spotlight yesterday as the Seanad held an emergency sitting after Fianna Fáil forced its recall.
A tied vote of 22 senators on each side of the debate on the EU directive on organ donations saw the coalition relying on the casting vote of the Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke to defeat the motion.
Senators broke off from their holidays for the one-day debate during which Fianna Fáil denied it was a “political stunt” recalling the Seanad.
It is just the third time in just over 30 years that the Seanad has been recalled for a vote, according to Oireachtas records.
Party leader Darragh O’Brien called for one transplant authority to oversee procedures and donations rather than the Irish Medicines Board and the HSE both being in charge.
He questioned why Health Minister James Reilly had failed to release a draft of the legislation before it was signed into law last August.
Fianna Fáil senator Terry Leyden also disagreed with the Attorney General’s advice that a certain committee had to recommend that the organ donation legislation be changed for it to be annulled. He claimed the advice was “flawed” and had been written with “political bias” for the Department of Health.
Senators were told that there were over 650 patients awaiting transplants in Ireland. There were also 1,828 people on dialysis at the end of last year at a cost to the state of €118m, members heard.
Government Seanad leader Maurice Cummins accused the opposition of a “political stunt” in recalling the Upper House. He said the party had not raised concerns in the house during 110 sittings days. Senator Jillian van Turnhout questioned why the party had not raised changes during previous committee hearings.
Alex White, junior health minister, said it would never be possible to scrutinise all EU directives affecting Ireland — despite suggestions from opposition senators.
He queried why senators would annul a law which ensured the quality and safety of organ donations.
Issues around consent to organ donation would be dealt with in the Human Tissues Bill, which was being drafted, he said, adding: “The Government looks forward to working in partnership with the HSE and the voluntary sector in developing policies and actions to further improve organ donation rates.”
Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly told the house that the Government when it had implemented the EU directive had failed to introduce changes which would save hundreds of lives and hundreds of millions of euro.