Report by Interdepartmental Working Group on Mortgage Arrears – Statements

25th October 2011

I welcome the Minister of State and the openness of his intervention. I am certainly no expert on this subject, but I believe it is one that goes to the heart of every household. It is, therefore, a burden we must all share. In finding a solution, we must work together.

In my reading of the Keane report, I did not see definitive solutions for distressed homeowners. The report raises more questions than it provides answers. It has left me with the distinct feeling that the balance has been struck very much in favour of the banks, which is why I welcome the Minister of State’s comment that we need to consider other solutions and reports. The report falls short of addressing the overall debt crisis, which is desperately needed.

I have some specific questions on which I seek clarification. The mortgage-to-rent scheme has been recommended as one of the tangible supports needed for distressed homeowners with unsustainable mortgages. The introduction of two mortgage-to-rent schemes was referred to. One envisages utilising an approved housing body, otherwise known as the housing association. The Minister of State outlined that the idea would be for the housing association to buy properties from mortgage holders at a discount on the current market value. The report does not set the level of discount, but the equivalent scheme in the United Kingdom refers to 90% of current market value. The mortgage lender would provide a 75% long-term loan for the housing association, secured on the property. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government would provide the remaining 25% equity. The mortgage holder would pay, or partly pay, the mortgage with the proceeds of the sale. This would obviously involve some write-down of the outstanding mortgage, but the report does not specify whether the debt would simply be written off by the bank or whether the mortgage holder would still be liable. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify that aspect for me. The mortgage holder would stay in the property as a social housing tenant, paying differential rent to the housing association, with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government paying up to 80% of the market rental figure to the housing association.
I welcome the Minister of State’s comments, but my concern about the specific mortgage-to-rent option, which forms part of my overarching concern about the report being limited in its recommendations and conclusions which result partly from the working group not consulting representatives of wider society or the organisations on the ground responsible for implementation, is that it places a considerable financial risk on the housing association which would have to borrow large sums to run the scheme. If the mortgage-to-rent scheme is to become a reality, it is imperative that a formal consultation process with the housing association sector be embarked on first and that the sector be meaningfully involved in setting up the scheme. Will the Minister of State provide an assurance that such a formal consultation process will be put in place before the setting up of the scheme, given that housing associations are effectively being asked to borrow money to remove large property debts from the balance sheets of the banks?

I share the concern of many who have stated the recommendations are narrowly focused and do not address the personal debt problem. I refer to mortgages. As the Minister of State outlined, we need a more holistic all-debt approach that recognises that the mortgage arrears problem is part of the overall personal debt crisis which is crippling tens of thousands of people. I was looking at the proceedings of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform on the monitor last Wednesday when representatives of MABS said they could not separate mortgage debt from other forms of personal debt because 91.5% of people contacting its offices with mortgage debt concerns were also overwhelmed by personal and other household debts. It is for that reason MABS suggested it be bolstered by the addition of 100 advisers instead of creating a 100 personnel-strong mortgage arrears agency, as proposed in the Keane report.

I join the Minister of State in saying we need to redouble our efforts, as we must all be part of finding a solution. I ask the Minister of State to encourage all relevant Departments to consider the nine principles to overcome personal debt proffered by FLAC and other national front-line organisations dealing with mortgage arrears, personal debt, poverty and housing rights. The report should be viewed as a useful framework to shape a policy response. The solution to the overall debt crisis will have to be arrived at in one way or another. In the interests of cost-effectiveness, both social and economic, like all present, I believe we need to arrive at it sooner rather than later.

Missing Children Hotline

12th October 2011

I thank the Minister for coming before the House and accepting the motion. I also thank her for the detailed statement. I wanted to hear that the hotline would go into operation without delay but I accept the Minister’s integrity and the proposals laid before us.

I welcome that and I will obviously monitor it.

As the Minister said, this dates back to a decision of the European Commission in February 2007 requiring member states to reserve a six digit number range starting with 116 for the harmonisation of access to services of social value in the European Union. This decision was based on reason and pragmatism, which I fully commend.
This line is critical for the parent of a missing child and for a child who is scared and vulnerable having run away from home or for a person who finds himself or herself outside his or her home country and is in dire need of help having been smuggled or trafficked into Ireland. It is also critical for someone who has been abducted by perhaps one of their own parents to know there is a number he or she can call day or night to find assistance, support and guidance.

This was the rationale behind the European 116000 missing children hotline. It was part the EU strategy on the rights of the child, which recognises that every missing child is, as the Minister said, a tragedy and that member states have not only a legal obligation but a moral one to implement whatever measures are necessary to prevent such tragedies.

The service is currently operating in 16 EU member states. A parent, guardian, professional, concerned member of the public or child who lives in Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungry, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom can call this missing children hotline on a 24-hour basis.

The value of the missing children hotline, in particular in the context of increasing cases of cross-border child disappearances, is exemplified by a recent cross-border parental abduction case. In Belgium, a father took his daughters aged seven, ten and 14 and hid them for nine and a half months in very poor and dangerous conditions. In September 2008, following a request from the Belgian and Portuguese missing children hotlines, the evening news on Portuguese television opened with an appeal for information about these missing children and concluded by showing the 116000 missing children hotline number on screen. Minutes after the broadcast, the case was resolved. That is the power of this line. This shows the real and urgent need to establish a systematic exchange of information, standardised operational procedures and increased cross-border co-operation to resolve cross-border cases of missing children in the EU.

It is a sad indictment of the priority afforded to the safety and well-being of children in the EU that there are still 11 member states in which the missing children hotline is still not operational. European Commission Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, recently commentated that:

It is hard to come to terms with the fact that measures that could help are not yet fully operational across the Union. It would be a double tragedy to imagine a missing child trying to call the 116000 hotline only to hear an answering machine playing a prerecorded message announcing that the service will be operational in 2012.
Unfortunately, this has been the case in Ireland.

When preparing for today’s debate, I decided to dial 116000 and I got the following message:

We are sorry but we cannot connect your call because the number you have dialled is not in service. Please check the number you have dialled and try again.

What about those children from the 16 member states who are aware of this line? We have a border with the United Kingdom but what happens if children from the United Kingdom are here and they telephone that number and get that message?

It was against that backdrop and following the interventions of a number of Senators, notably, Senators Daly and Quinn, that I worked over the summer to co-ordinate and seek the approval of my fellow Senators for their support for this motion. As Senator Leyden said, the Seanad is about us working together and not just raising issues but seeing how we can make a difference and put things in place.

The Minister mentioned the situation of runaways and children in the care of the State. This line has been proved in other EU member states to be a safe contact point for these missing children to be able to telephone. They do not wish to telephone the Garda or the HSE. By using this line, perhaps we could save resources for the Garda and the HSE and know a child is safe and try to reconcile the difficulties.

The Minister said that five missing children was too many but I was disappointed when she updated us on the situation in regard to unaccompanied minors. She informed us that 11 of those children from 2010 are still missing. For me a child is a child and his or her status is of secondary importance. For me, there are 16 children from 2010 still missing and cases are still open. That is the accurate figure.

The Minister outlined the importance of the statutory agencies working together. They are doing some invaluable work but the line for me is about children and parents having easy access to those services and to give them a voice.

The Minister mentioned that ComReg has advertised the line four times but there have been no applications. I should note that a non-governmental organisation has submitted two funding proposals over the past few years to Government seeking funding in order to be able to apply for the line.

I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Cabinet gave her memorandum time, that it will be put into operation and that the Departments of Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs, the Garda and ComReg will work together on a project team. I urge her to follow the lead of 13 of the 16 member states in which the service is operational by assigning the number to a member of Missing Children Europe because it has built up the links and the contact points.

I noted my colleague, Senator Henry, spoke about cost-effectiveness but we also need to ensure there are minimum quality standards and a practical guide for hotline providers to ensure the hotlines operating throughout Europe are run professionally, efficiently and effectively and meet the European standards for best practice for service requirements.

The Seanad will not go away. People may talk about its abolition but we will monitor this to ensure it is implemented in full. We will work with the Minister to do what we can. We want to see that Ireland moves from being good on paper when it comes to the rights of the child to being good in operation and implementation and that we uphold those rights.

Human Trafficking and Prostitution – Motion

12th October 2011

I welcome the Minister of State. The impetus for this motion has been the tremendous work of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to end prostitution and combat sex trafficking in Ireland. I commend the campaign on highlighting the intrinsic link between the demand for prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls to meet this demand. The majority of members of Turn Off the Red Light are civil society groups and NGOs that have direct experience of the devastating effects of prostitution on women, children and men throughout Ireland. These devastating effects are physical, such as sexually transmitted infections, injuries sustained as a result of beatings and rapes, gynaecological problems owing to multiple terminations of pregnancy and many other health conditions relating to prostitution. There are also mental and emotional injuries deeply embedded in the psyche of sex workers and victims of trafficking which are likely to be carried throughout their lives.

Senators Zappone and Mac Conghail have excellently outlined the views of our group, which I fully support. Therefore, in my intervention I will focus on the situation for children. As devastating as these effects are on adults, the impact is almost unimaginable for children and child victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. I have researched with interest some of the arguments against criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland and I find myself wholly unconvinced by them. One argument contends that criminalising the purchase of sex in an effort to curb prostitution violates a sex worker’s right to exercise self-determination over her own body. I must respectfully disagree. It is my belief that when the complex layers of how and why women and men find themselves selling their bodies for sexual gratification of others are peeled away, their paths into prostitution did not start with the simple exercise of their right to self-determination of their bodies. For those who argue that prostitution is an issue of consent, I would ask these people to be mindful that the age identified internationally for entry into prostitution is 14, an age at which consent cannot be given.

I would also like to highlight the situation for young homeless people. Focus Ireland estimates that there are as many as 1,500 young people under the age of 18 who are homeless each year in Ireland, 18% of whom are unaccompanied and one quarter of whom are under 12. There is inadequate resourcing in this area and there are an insufficient number of places for children in safe, sheltered accommodation. Some are said to be forced into prostitution. An increase in substance abuse among homeless youths, especially males, has also seen an increased recourse to prostitution and there is evidence to suggest that boys as young as 13 are involved in prostitution in Dublin city.

Separated children or unaccompanied minors are under 18 years of age, outside their country of origin and separated from both of their parents or their previous legal customary primary care giver. Separated children are an extremely vulnerable group owing to their status, the fact they may have experienced war and violence, and the danger that they have been trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. There have been improvements in the situation for separated children in Ireland under the Ryan report implementation plan, and measures have been taken, such as DNA identification, to tackle false family reunifications.

However, the instances of children going missing from care are of deep concern. This morning in this very Chamber, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs told us that there are 16 cases of children missing in Ireland still outstanding in 2010 alone, and 11 of those are unaccompanied minors. There is strong anecdotal evidence that a number of these children could have been trafficked into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. In September 2011, the Children’s Rights Alliance submitted to the Department of Justice and Equality’s anti-human trafficking unit collated case studies of suspected and confirmed child victims of trafficking in Ireland.

I will now briefly outline these cases which paint a picture of dreadful exploitation. They include the following: a 15-year-old Somali rescued from a brothel in 2006 having been trafficked into Ireland; a 16-year-old Nigerian girl who arrived to Ireland as a separated child in 2009 and was enticed out of HSE residential care by a man who later got her involved in prostitution; and a 16-year-old girl from Burundi, held captive in a house in County Louth and abused. She was taken from her village in Africa at the age of 12 and introduced into sex slavery in different countries before being trafficked to Ireland for more sexual exploitation.
I have also heard dreadful accounts by an NGO, which were subsequently documented, of eastern European girls as young as 14 being trafficked to Ireland, brutally and systematically raped over a number of days to “break them in” and then shipped off to various brothels around Ireland. This intolerable situation is my motivation for fully supporting the motion proposed by the Independent Group.

As Senator Zappone has already mentioned, the sex industry in Ireland is extremely lucrative. Children continue to be victims of prostitution and trafficking because it is good business for organised criminals and traffickers. After much research into this issue I firmly believe that legislation is needed. I understand that the Minister says we need a wider public debate. I would like to say I am reassured by what I have heard both from the Minister and the Government side, but I am not. We have heard a lot of nice words and good sentiments but I would like to have seen much more detail in what is being put before us. I note the six-month timeframe that is given to us and our group must still decide whether we will move this motion to a vote. We will certainly not be going away from this issue, however, because every day that passes there is a possibility of women and children being forced further into sexual exploitation in Ireland. We have to take action. We may have to allow the Minister of State some time, but it is a very short time because this is about human beings and people’s lives.

Senators call for ban on purchase of sex to curb prostitution and trafficking

Wednesday 12th of October***


The Independent Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees) will put a motion before the Seanad today proposing the Government introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sex in order to curb prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The Independents describe prostitution in Ireland as a sophisticated and lucrative industry with more than 1000 women made available for paid sex on a daily basis. The Criminal Assets Bureau has valued the Irish sex industry at €250 million a year. The Independents believe that current laws on prostitution are ambiguous and insufficient. The motion notes evidence from Sweden and Norway which shows that criminal sanction for the purchase of sex are a proven deterrent to prostitution and consequently to trafficking and also to organised crime. Swedish police have stated that the Swedish ban on the purchase of sex acts as a barrier to human trafficking.

A 2009 report, commissioned by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, found that prostitution and trafficking are inextricably linked. 91 women and 11 children were trafficked into Ireland in 2007/2008 for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Senator Katherine Zappone stated, “We recognise that the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery and a form of human rights abuse. International and Irish research documents time and again acknowledge characteristics of slavery, as it applies to sex trafficking and prostitution.”

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout added, “There is a reluctance to acknowledge that this very modern slave trade is happening here in Ireland. The evidence from child victims cannot be ignored any longer. Child trafficking is a problem at the heart of our communities, not just in our cities but in our towns and villages. It is imperative that we take all the steps necessary to tackle the trafficking of children in Ireland for sexual exploitation.”

The motion will be put before the Seanad at 5pm today. Coalition members from the Turn off the Red Light Campaign will be present in the visitor’s gallery for the debate.

Note to Editor:
Independent Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees) are: Jillian Van Turnhout, Katherine Zappone, Fiach MacConghail, Eamonn Coghlan, Martin McAleese, Mary-Ann O’Brien and Marie-Louise O’Donnell.

Senator van Turnhout Regrets No Commencement Date for 116 000 Missing Children Hotline

Press Release
12/10/2011: For Immediate Release.

Senator van Turnhout Regrets no Commencement Date for 116 000 Missing Children Hotline

Following a Seanad motion initiated by Senator Jillian van Turnhout, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, today announced a commitment from her Department and the Department of Justice and Equality to support the establishment of the long awaited 116 000 Missing Children Hotline. The motion, which received support from all parties and groups within the Seanad, pressed the Government for clarification as to why the Irish branch of the 116 000 Hotline had not yet been made operational.

In response to the Minister’s announcement, Senator van Turnhout said: “While I welcome Minister Fitzgerald’s expression of a commitment to the 116 000 Hotline in 2012, I must express my disappointment that the announcement was not that the Hotline would be established without delay. I truly believe this service is one of vital importance, not only in terms of raising the alarm about missing children but also as a support to the families of missing children, and indeed to missing children themselves. Consequently this further delay must be met with some regret.” Despite the cross party support for the motion, it has taken four years of campaigning to arrive at this announcement.

“While I am saddened that the announcement did not go further, I am encouraged that we in the Seanad could help bring attention to this issue, and to the tireless campaigning done by the ISPCC and other NGOs that has led to this announcement,” Senator van Turnhout said today. “However,” the Senator continue, “I feel it is essential that ComReg assigns a suitable service provider as soon as possible. Furthermore, I would strongly encourage ComReg to follow the lead of 13 of the 16 EU Member States in which the service is operated by members of Missing Children Europe. Who, in conjunction with Daphne, have developed the Minimum Quality Standard Framework within “A Practical Guide for Hotline Providers” to ensure that Missing Children Hotlines throughout Europe are run professionally, efficiently, and effectively and meet European standards of best practice for service users.” The Senator concluded by calling on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to engage effectively and regularly with which ever service provider is assigned the Missing Children Hotline number and to ensure that the service is operating at its full potential without further delay.”

The 116 000 Missing Children Hotline is currently operational in 16 European Union Member States, and aims to provide assistance to families of missing children, particularly those facing a language barrier when dealing with local authorities, by providing a single point of contact whether at home or abroad.

For more information, please contact:
Senator Jillian van Turnhout Leader of the Independent Group (Taoiseach Nominees)
Phone: 01-6183375

Notes to editor:
• The motion was presented to the Seanad on 12/10/2011.
• On the 15th of February 2007, the European Commission reserved the 116 000 phone number in all EU member states as a common number for emergency action whenever a child goes missing.
• The hotline is currently operational in 16 EU Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
• In the Seanad today Senator van Turnhout cited the case of a group of Belgian children who were taken and hidden by their father in very poor and dangerous conditions. Following a request from the Belgian and Portuguese 116000 Missing Children Hotlines, the Portuguese evening news broadcast an appeal for information which concluded by showing 116 000 Missing Children Hotline number on screen. Minutes after the broadcast, the case was resolved.
• General information on the 116 000 Missing Children Hotline can be found at:

Statements on Finance

6th October 2011

I thank the Minister and welcome him to the House. I like the way he tells it the way it is but I do not always like what he tells us. He is in the midst of budget preparations and I would like to take this opportunity to remind him of child benefit payment. Child benefit is based on the principle of horizontal equity and is about income distribution from those without children to those with children, because many of us will benefit through our pensions from those children when they grow up. It cannot be looked at simplistically. Often it is proposed to tax or means test child benefit but as the Children’s Right Alliance has proved, this would be a very costly administrative exercise and the previous Government eventually came around to this position. I can provide the Minister with much research on this from the UK and other countries. Will the Minister confirm that child benefit payment should remain universal and paid equally to all children? As the Supreme Court stated, child benefit is children’s money and it should be paid equally to all children and not taxed.

Child poverty increased to 9% in 2009 from 6% in 2008 and is expected to increase again. Will the Minister pay particular attention to not reducing vital budgets such as child income supports and services for vulnerable children? Perhaps I will be able to speak more to the Minister about this on another opportunity.

Sport and Recreation: Statements

4th October 2011

I thank the Minister of State for his earlier intervention and for his replies. I think Senators would echo what he has said. I also thank him for his recognition of the European Year of the Volunteer, which is very important. My colleagues have shared their sporting achievements. My best sporting achievement is to be standing here beside Senator Coghlan. Standing in his glow is the closest I have ever been to big sporting success.

I have two questions for the Minister of State. Success in Irish sports has proven to be of major benefit to the Irish economy, the well-being of our nation and increasing participation at local and high performance levels. With ten months remaining to the London Olympic Games how hopeful are we of retaining funding for sports in Ireland? The Olympic Torch will be coming to Ireland. Are there any plans in place to involve the public and volunteers on in its journey from Belfast to Dublin?

The local sports partnerships-Irish Sports Council-An Post cycling series appears to have been highly successful. Would the Minister of State agree it has had a serious impact in terms of participation and economic benefit to local communities?