Services for People with Disabilities – Motion

25th January 2012

I welcome John Dolan from the Disability Federation of Ireland, who is joining us tonight, as well as the aforementioned people. I would like to focus in my statement on what I believe are three fundamental failings in the provision of disability support services. One is that there are currently no independent inspections; the second is that the €1.5 billion of health budget that is spent on disability services is allocated to service providers rather than individuals; and the third is Ireland’s current capacity laws, which date back to 1871. Each of these is totally unacceptable and leads one to question what we have learned from our egregious failings towards vulnerable groups in State care in the past.

We can all agree that the only way to ensure we never repeat our past failings is to understand why they happened and for current and future policy to embrace what we learned. This is exactly what the recent Amnesty International report, In Plain Sight, responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports, sought to achieve. Its aim was encapsulated by its executive director, Colm O’Gorman, when he said “The past only becomes history once we have addressed it, learnt from it and made the changes necessary to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes and wrongdoing.” In fact, the report identified a number of causal and contributory factors to the institutional abuse of children in State and church-run institutions, which unfortunately I see as being equally valid in today’s debate: the absence of a voice, the absence of statutory inspections, deference, and the failure of the State to operate on behalf of the people and not interest groups. While the debate we are having is in the context of disability supports and services, it is not really about disability – it is about justice, equality and human rights for all of our citizens.

With regard to the regulation and inspection of disability services, recommendation 11 of the Ryan report implementation plan states that independent inspections are essential. I will quote from the implementation plan, but I will take the liberty of substituting the word “children” with “people with disabilities”.
All services for [people with disabilities] should be subject to regular inspections in respect of all aspects of their care. The requirements of a system of inspection include the following:

– There is a sufficient number of inspectors.
– The inspectors must be independent.
– There should be objective national standards for inspection of all settings where [people with disabilities] are placed.
– Unannounced inspection should take place.
– Complaints to an inspector should be recorded and followed up.
– Inspectors should have power to ensure that inadequate standards are addressed without delay.

We are all aware of the commitment in the programme for Government, which we welcome, to put the draft national standards on a statutory footing. In fact, the second progress report on the Ryan report implementation plan, which was published last year, notes that a new target date of the fourth quarter of 2012 has been set. The report also notes that the commencement of the Health Act 2007 by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to allow the independent registration and inspection of all residential centres and respite services for children with disabilities is contingent on the aforementioned action being taken. We still have not learned from our past and we still do not have the required systems in place. When will the Minister be in a position to give the necessary mandate and legal power to HIQA to inspect the centres?

In my research I was appalled to find that there has been no official audit of the number and location of centres, so we actually do not know where all the centres are and who is running them. I hope the Minister of State can show me evidence that this is not right. I also ask the Minister of State to explain why interim measures such as instructing the HSE and social services inspectorate to commence inspections of centres where children or those with disabilities live have not been put in place until an inspection regime is operational.
The second issue I want to discuss is the individual resource allocation system. Everyone agrees that we need to provide an individualised budget. We have spoken in the past about deference to the State and the church, but what about the deference that people in receipt of disability services are forced to pay to the HSE and service providers in circumstances in which they are unable to question or provide any input into the services they receive, where they receive them or who provides them? I have heard of cases in which an individual has chosen not to avail of a service, yet the State makes payments to the service provider, so the State is paying for a service that is not being accessed. It does not make sense. As the system currently operates, it seems that people with disabilities are expected to feel lucky and grateful for the supports and services they receive. The supports and services are provided by the State because we value all of our citizens. We recognise that we have different needs at different stages of our lives, and our system should reflect this.

We are all aware of and welcome the commitment in the programme for Government to introduce modern capacity legislation. I will not rehearse what has already been said, but I will give a quote from one of our briefings which clearly shows why the law is so archaic. Frieda Finlay, the chairperson of Inclusion Ireland, described the situation of herself and her daughter. She said: “As the parent of a 38 year old woman with an intellectual disability, who is a citizen by birth of an independent sovereign republic, I burn with anger every day at the thought that her capacity to make basic decisions about her life is governed by an Act signed into law by Queen Victoria and brought in by Gladstone’s Government 140 years ago.” The failure to repeal this law flies in the face of Ireland’s commitment to the right of all people in Ireland to live with dignity and exercise self-determination.

In conclusion, we all know what needs to be done. What we do not need is more reports; we do not even need more debates. We do not need pilot projects or think tanks. We need action and implementation. That is the reason for my disappointment that amendments have been tabled by both the Government and Sinn Féin. I urge my colleagues not to push them to a vote. The original motion that was tabled should be a catalyst for change. Let us show this to be a Seanad motion. It does not have to be an Independent Group motion. Let us collect around this motion and make it a Seanad motion, and let us show a strong sign of unity. That is what I urge my colleagues to do.

Order of Business, 25 January 2012

25th January 2012

I encourage my colleagues to participate in the Private Members’ debate on the motion proposed by the Independent group on disability support and services. I appeal to Members to support the motion as proposed. This is an important debate and I hope the House will support the very clear action points in the motion. It will be led by my colleague, Senator Mary Ann O’Brien.

I recall the Private Members’ motion by the Independent group on 12 October 2011 on criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland. We are three months into the six-month period indicated by the Minister for Justice and Equality for public consultation. This matter was raised in the Dáil last week by Deputy Kevin Humphreys and the Minister advised that the consultation process would be ready before the end of January. However, I am concerned by the inclusion of a caveat in the Minister’s reply that the publication of the document before the end of January is subject to resources, having regard to compelling priorities including legislative priorities. I fully appreciate the financial times we are in and I know that the Government needs to prioritise its work. However, the debate we had on 12 October 2011 showed a clear link between prostitution and trafficking, particularly in respect of trafficking children for sexual exploitation. The protection of women and children from sexual exploitation must be a Government priority. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to confirm that the consultation document will be published and that the consultation process will commence without further delay.

I also wish to raise whistleblower legislation. The situation of Louise Bayliss has been raised by the media in recent days. Coincidentally, she met me last Tuesday to discuss lone parents, before she heard the news. She is an advocate who has spoken out and we need to remember the five women she spoke out about, who were being put into a closed unit. How do we know how many other people are in that situation if we do not produce whistleblowing legislation? There should also be independent funding for advocacy organisations. This does not concern new funding but the basis of funding for the organisations working as advocates.

Finally, I wish to raise Children’s Rights Alliance report card launched on Monday. Last week, I called for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House and I suggest to the House that this is an excellent basis for discussion. The Government has failed in the report card in regard to St. Patrick’s institution and the continued detention of children in an adult prison regime. The effects of budget 2012 on lone parents and large families and the implications for child poverty were highlighted. The Government got the best grade any Government has received in four years but that does not mean it is good enough. We need to do more. It is a wide-ranging report which looks at all aspects of a child’s life and would provide an excellent foundation for a debate.

Order of Business, 18 January 2012

18th January 2012

I join in the sympathies expressed by colleagues. Will the Leader call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House to address several issues of concern to Members? There is agreement in regard to child protection and adoption, but several outstanding issues are of great concern to me. The first of these relates to the promised referendum on children’s rights. Concern has been expressed by various children’s organisations and in the media that the amendment to the Constitution (children’s referendum) Bill is included under section C of the Government’s legislative programme rather than as a priority Bill under section A. Is this a reflection of a reduced commitment to holding the referendum without delay? I hope the Minister can provide an assurance to the House that the referendum will take place in 2012 and that she will update us and involve us in the thinking and the process to date.

The delay in the construction of the national children’s detention centre is a cause of great concern to me and others in this House. The Government, like its predecessors, is acutely aware that the continued detention of children under the adult regime at St. Patrick’s Institution is one of the State’s most glaring violations of human rights and children’s rights. This goes back to the Whitaker report of 1985; I will not rehearse all that has been said on the subject since. The programme for Government includes a firm commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution. An announcement regarding the promised detention centre was expected in the capital expenditure programme, but I was extremely disappointed to discover it was not included. I understand the situation now is that responsibility for building the detention centre has been passed to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and that the project must be redrawn in light of current economic circumstances. I wish to ask the Minister for a timeline for the redrawing of the costs of the project and an indication of when the project is expected to be completed. She should inform the House of the interim measures her Department intends to put in place to ensure the boys in question are more suitably accommodated until such time as the national detention centre is operational.

I am also concerned about the proposed new agency to oversee children and family services and how it will be decoupled from the Health Service Executive. I understand plans are being drawn up in this regard; it is important that this House be involved in the development of those plans. The report of the child death review panel was lodged with the Minister before Christmas. Will the Leader ask the Minister to outline the panel’s findings to this House? Instead of doing so at a media launch, the Minister should give us an opportunity to discuss how we can prevent future deaths of children in the care of the State.

Order of Business, 18 January 2012

I join in the sympathies expressed by colleagues. Will the Leader call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House to address several issues of concern to Members? There is agreement in regard to child protection and adoption, but several outstanding issues are of great concern to me. The first of these relates to the promised referendum on children’s rights. Concern has been expressed by various children’s organisations and in the media that the amendment to the Constitution (children’s referendum) Bill is included under section C of the Government’s legislative programme rather than as a priority Bill under section A. Is this a reflection of a reduced commitment to holding the referendum without delay? I hope the Minister can provide an assurance to the House that the referendum will take place in 2012 and that she will update us and involve us in the thinking and the process to date.

The delay in the construction of the national children’s detention centre is a cause of great concern to me and others in this House. The Government, like its predecessors, is acutely aware that the continued detention of children under the adult regime at St. Patrick’s Institution is one of the State’s most glaring violations of human rights and children’s rights. This goes back to the Whitaker report of 1985; I will not rehearse all that has been said on the subject since. The programme for Government includes a firm commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution. An announcement regarding the promised detention centre was expected in the capital expenditure programme, but I was extremely disappointed to discover it was not included. I understand the situation now is that responsibility for building the detention centre has been passed to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and that the project must be redrawn in light of current economic circumstances. I wish to ask the Minister for a timeline for the redrawing of the costs of the project and an indication of when the project is expected to be completed. She should inform the House of the interim measures her Department intends to put in place to ensure the boys in question are more suitably accommodated until such time as the national detention centre is operational.

I am also concerned about the proposed new agency to oversee children and family services and how it will be decoupled from the Health Service Executive. I understand plans are being drawn up in this regard; it is important that this House be involved in the development of those plans. The report of the child death review panel was lodged with the Minister before Christmas. Will the Leader ask the Minister to outline the panel’s findings to this House? Instead of doing so at a media launch, the Minister should give us an opportunity to discuss how we can prevent future deaths of children in the care of the State.

Email Newsletter – January 2012

Welcome to my first email newsletter! If you don’t wish to receive my newsletter in the future please click on the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email.

As a recently appointed Senator I am working to find ways to communicate my work effectively to you. Being an Independent I have no natural constituency but having worked in the community and voluntary sector for the past six years I see my new role as a great opportunity for engaging with and representing civil society and achieving our shared objectives. I am acutely aware of how difficult it can be for civil society to advocate for and provide services, especially in the current economic climate. Equally, I am eager to ensure that I remain plugged in and connected with people’s realities and the challenges they face.

In my first six months as a Senator I have spoken on many issues including the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Keane Report, the community and voluntary sector, the infrastructure and capital investment plan, job creation and innovation, constitutional amendments, the Irish language, Special Needs Assistants, a Missing Children’s Hotline, child care and protection, school transport, human trafficking and prostitution, female genital mutilation, the National Vetting Bureau, the Cloyne Report, alcohol pricing and whistleblowing legislation.

I am looking forward to working with you in the future and sharing our knowledge and expertise. Please feel free to share this newsletter with anyone you think might be interested in it!

Kind regards,
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Insights:
On a weekly basis I participate in Seanad debates with various Government Ministers on a variety of issues and Bills before the House. Here, I have the opportunity to voice my support or raise my concerns. To propose amendments to Bills or to support those made by others.

Under Seanad Order of Business I can raise any matter, which I feel warrants immediate attention, and can call on the Leader of the House to invite relevant Government Ministers into the Chamber to address the concern I have raised.

As well as being able to initiate Motions, which call on the Government to take some form of action, I can initiate a Bill.

I also have the opportunity to participate in the new Seanad tradition whereby guest speakers are invited into the House to share their experience and ideas with Senators. To date we have been addressed by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, Dr. Maurice Manning, former Senator and President of the Irish human Rights Commission, and Dr. Mary Robinson, former Senator and President of Ireland.

I welcome your input into any of these debates and processes.

Independent Group:
I am the Leader of the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees), comprised of my fellow Senators Eamonn Coghlan, Martin McAleese, Fiach Mac Conghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell and Katherine Zappone.

In addition to operating in our individual capacities, coming together in a group allows us to draw on our diverse range of backgrounds, experience and skill sets and to maximise our effectiveness in the Seanad.

To date, the Independent Group has brought three Motions before the Seanad on Seanad Reform, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex in Ireland and Physical Fitness in Schools.

We are looking forward to raising many more important issues in 2012.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”