Senator Opposes Cuts to Lone Parent Support

In Seanad debates today and on Friday 27th April, Senator Jillian van Turnhout has strongly opposed the cutting of the One-Parent Family Payment as part of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012.

Until 2011, lone parents were entitled to the One-Parent Family Payment until their children are 18, or 22 if in full-time education. The age at which the payment stops was cut to 14 last year, and the current amendment proposed by the Government would see it slashed to the age of 7 by 2014.

Senator van Turnhout, an activist for children’s rights and former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, argued that the children affected by this change are among the most at-risk in the State today: “One-parent families are the unit group in Irish society most at risk of poverty. Children in one-parent families are poorer than other children. This is not speculation. It is a fact.”

In the debate on the Bill, Senator van Turnhout outlined her disgust at the idea that lone parents are lone parents by choice: “More than 90,000 people, the vast majority women, did not choose to belong to the family unit group in Irish society most at risk of poverty.” Not only is this argument insulting to those who have left abusive or dysfunctional relationships, or who have been deserted and left with full responsibility for their children, “it feeds into a notion that lone parents are a legitimate or worthy target of welfare cuts.”

Tackling the idea that these cuts will break long-term welfare dependency and force recipients into employment, the Senator asked “If it was the case that none of the 90,000 lone parents in question are working, my first question would be; where are the 90,000 jobs for them to take up? However, it is not necessary to ask this question since 80% are either working or in education.”

Once the cut-off point for payments reaches 7 years in 2014, the State will face a crisis of childcare. The Senator said that, in spite of Government hopes, “I have grave concerns about the viability of such comprehensive and affordable childcare and after school care provisions being delivered within the next three years.”

These cuts are being undertaken without adequate consultation with experts and with those that represent lone parent families and children. While accepting that the money available to the State is tight and that welfare reform can be positive, Senator van Turnhout opposed the cutting of support for the most at-risk in society: “Reform is not about pulling the rug out from under already vulnerable people.”

Q&A on children’s rights – “It’s high time we moved away from the rhetoric of the past”

27th April 2012

Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout on the exploitation of children in Ireland and the urgent need for reform

 

1. Is child protection a serious issue in Ireland?

Unfortunately, yes! In Ireland, we believe we value children and childhood, but the evidence proves otherwise.

Over recent years, we have been shocked by high-profile cases involving the extreme neglect and horrific exploitation of children.
• Nearly 25,000 cases of child abuse are reported every year and we are still struggling to deal with them effectively.
• More than 90,000 children live below the poverty line and nearly 20% go to school or go to bed hungry. Even more are forced to endure the winter without a warm winter-proof coat.
• 23,000 children are on hospital waiting lists for speech and language therapy.
• More than 150 children are inappropriately admitted into adult wards because of mental health problems.

Fundamental reform of Ireland’s child protection system is long overdue.

It is beyond regrettable that we have so many examples of bad practice to learn from and it’s high time that we move away from the rhetoric of the past towards realising children’s rights now for the future.

 

2. What are the urgent steps needed to improve our child protection system?

To ensure that each child is cherished and protected equally in Ireland, we must make children visible in our Constitution.

We have reached an important juncture in the promotion and protection of children’s rights, given that it is 20 years since Ireland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The UNCRC has recommended that children’s rights be strengthened in our Constitution. I therefore warmly welcome the commitment by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, to hold a children’s rights referendum later this year.

 

3. What difference will an amendment to the Constitution make to children?

Strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution will make a real difference to children and families. It will put down an invaluable marker reflecting the values of Irish society and will serve as a foundation stone for making Ireland one of the best places in the word to be a child.

It will ensure that all children will be treated equally, regardless of whether their parents are married or not. It will provide an opportunity for hundreds of children, currently in a legal limbo, to be adopted by loving foster families, many of whom are blood relatives.

It’s vital that the proposed wording for the constitutional amendment specifies the principle of proportionality. The focus should be on keeping families together. However, in exceptional cases the State must be empowered to intervene in the best interests of the child.

 

4. Is the Government moving fast enough?

The strengthening of children’s rights in the Constitution was first discussed in the Oireachtas over 30 years ago and so it has been a long time coming!

Currently, we are waiting for the Government to publish their wording and set a date for the referendum later this year.

Concern has been expressed by a number of children’s organisations and in the media that the Amendment of 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.

I am hopeful this does not reflect a reduced commitment from the Government but rather its concern to get the wording right.

Indeed, while the issues themselves are straightforward enough, the wording of the constitutional amendment must be the best it can be to strengthen children’s rights, while also reflecting the important role of parents.

 

5. Has there been any significant progress?

A number of significant advances in child protection are being made. I fully endorse the positive steps made by the Government towards establishing the new Child and Family Support Agency, which when operational will come under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

The new Agency has real potential to be a powerful vehicle for reform. I hope it will ensure greater integration between child welfare and protection and family support and will ultimately lead to better outcomes for children and their families.

I am also delighted by the recent announcements by both the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Justice and Equality on the introduction of new child protection and welfare measures.

The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill together represent a new, radical and long overdue approach to child protection in Ireland.

 

6. Is Ireland ready to embrace children’s rights?

Yes. In addition to cross-party consensus on the need for a constitutional amendment, polls conducted last year confirm that the majority of the public also in favour of it.

I am looking forward to the date being set for the referendum later this year and the opportunity for us to say, through the ballot, that each and every childhood counts.

 

Article: http://www.campaignforchildren.ie/updates/blog/2012/04/27/qa-on-childrens-rights-its-high-time-we-moved-away

Email Newsletter – April 2012 – Children First) Bill

I don’t propose to send you every press release I issue, but I believe that today’s news is significant enough to warrant a special circulation of my newsletter.
Best regards,
Jillian.

Press Release: Senator van Turnhout commends Government for moving away from the rhetoric of the past toward protecting children today.
Senator van Turnhout commends Government for moving away from the rhetoric of the past toward protecting children today. Senator Jillian van Turnhout today warmly welcomed announcements by both Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, and Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, on the introduction of new child protection and welfare measures. The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill together represent a new, radical and long over due approach to child protection in Ireland.
In response to the announcement, Senator van Turnhout said, “I commend Minsters Fitzgerald and Shatter for taking this coordinated approach to initiate legislation on child protection. Placing the Children First Guidance on a statutory footing will ensure consistency in our child protection procedures nationwide. From now on children presenting with the same situation will receive the same child protection response irrespective of where they are in the country. In conjunction with the new criminal justice legislation, these measures will provide those working with children with a clearly defined statutory responsibility to report and act on suspicions where a child’s safety or welfare may be at risk.”
Senator van Turnhout is looking forward to actively engaging with both Ministers and their respective Departments to bring these crucial legislative measures to fruition. She said “it is all too rare to see Ministers take full advantage of Oireachtas structures. The commitment by Minister Fitzgerald to present the Heads of Bill on the Children First Guidance to the Joint Committee on Health and Children for consultation is most welcome. Equally, Minister Shatter has already facilitated consultations on the failure to report child abuse legislation and is now introducing this Bill into the Seanad, which I believe will ensure a more robust debate. I relish the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and help ensure that this legislation is the best that it can be.”
“These measures coupled with the promised referendum, later this year, to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution represent a watershed as to how we value childhood in Ireland. For far too long we have examined these issues in an historical context, but by working collectively in this manner, Ministers Fitzgerald and Shatter demonstrate this Government’s clear commitment to move away from the rhetoric of the past towards using the full rigors of the law to realise children’s rights now and in the future.”

Best wishes,
Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Senator van Turnhout commends Government for moving away from the rhetoric of the past toward protecting children today

PRESS RELEASE
25/04/2012
Immediate Release

Senator van Turnhout commends Government for moving away from the rhetoric of the past toward protecting children today.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout today warmly welcomed announcements by both Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, and Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, on the introduction of new child protection and welfare measures. The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill together represent a new, radical and long overdue approach to child protection in Ireland.

In response to the announcement, Senator van Turnhout said, “I commend Minsters Fitzgerald and Shatter for taking this coordinated approach to initiate legislation on child protection. Placing the Children First Guidance on a statutory footing will ensure consistency in our child protection procedures nationwide. From now on children presenting with the same situation will receive the same child protection response irrespective of where they are in the country. In conjunction with the new criminal justice legislation, these measures will provide those working with children with a clearly defined statutory responsibility to report and act on suspicions where a child’s safety or welfare may be at risk.”

Senator van Turnhout is looking forward to actively engaging with both Ministers and their respective Departments to bring these crucial legislative measures to fruition. She said “it is all too rare to see Ministers take full advantage of Oireachtas structures. The commitment by Minister Fitzgerald to present the Heads of Bill on the Children First Guidance to the Joint Committee on Health and Children for consultation is most welcome. Equally, Minister Shatter has already facilitated consultations on the failure to report child abuse legislation and is now introducing this Bill into the Seanad, which I believe will ensure a more robust debate. I relish the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and help ensure that this legislation is the best that it can be.”

“These measures coupled with the promised referendum, later this year, to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution represent a watershed as to how we value childhood in Ireland. For far too long we have examined these issues in an historical context, but by working collectively in this manner, Ministers Fitzgerald and Shatter demonstrate this Government’s clear commitment to move away from the rhetoric of the past towards using the full rigors of the law to realise children’s rights now and in the future.”

ENDS

Senator van Turnhout commends Government for moving away from the rhetoric of the past toward protecting children today.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout today warmly welcomed announcements by both Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, and Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, on the introduction of new child protection and welfare measures. The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill together represent a new, radical and long overdue approach to child protection in Ireland

In response to the announcement, Senator van Turnhout said, “I commend Minsters Fitzgerald and Shatter for taking this coordinated approach to initiate legislation on child protection. Placing the Children First Guidance on a statutory footing will ensure consistency in our child protection procedures nationwide. From now on children presenting with the same situation will receive the same child protection response irrespective of where they are in the country. In conjunction with the new criminal justice legislation, these measures will provide those working with children with a clearly defined statutory responsibility to report and act on suspicions where a child’s safety or welfare may be at risk.”

Senator van Turnhout is looking forward to actively engaging with both Ministers and their respective Departments to bring these crucial legislative measures to fruition. She said “it is all too rare to see Ministers take full advantage of Oireachtas structures. The commitment by Minister Fitzgerald to present the Heads of Bill on the Children First Guidance to the Joint Committee on Health and Children for consultation is most welcome. Equally, Minister Shatter has already facilitated consultations on the failure to report child abuse legislation and is now introducing this Bill into the Seanad, which I believe will ensure a more robust debate.  I relish the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and help ensure that this legislation is the best that it can be.”

“These measures coupled with the promised referendum, later this year, to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution represent a watershed as to how we value childhood in Ireland. For far too long we have examined these issues in an historical context, but by working collectively in this manner, Ministers Fitzgerald and Shatter demonstrate this Government’s clear commitment to move away from the rhetoric of the past towards using the full rigors of the law to realise children’s rights now and in the future.”

Email Newsletter – April 2012

The new Oireachtas session is going to be very busy with several important pieces of legislation coming before the Houses, including the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011. I will be strongly opposing the changes to the One Parent Family Payment in the Seanad. To put my opposition succinctly ‘7 is too young’! I plan to actively engage in the forthcoming Referendum on the Fiscal Stability Treaty and have also published, along with my colleagues Senator John Crown and Mark Daly, legislation to ban smoking in cars with children, which will be debated on 9 May.

The Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill 2012
On 15 March, the Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill completed its passage through the Seanad. During the debate we in the Independent Group tabled a number of wide-ranging amendments to the Bill covering the payment of allowances to Members, corporate donations and gender quotas.

This was a timely and important debate about political reform, which both Fiach MacConghail and I actively engaged. We regret that the Government voted down our amendments to ensure fully vouched expenses to Party Leaders and Independent Members and to ban corporate donations to political parties.

I maintain our position that all independent members of the Oireachtas should have a statutory responsibility to provide detailed accounts of donations and public funding on an annual basis. Accordingly, I will publish an annual statement of the public money I receive as a Senator. Please find a link to my statement for 2011 here.

Likewise I was disappointed that our amendments to gender quotas were not successful. The Bill introduced a 30% gender quota for candidate selection at the next general election with provision for the figure to increase to 40% at the subsequent general election. The Independent Group proposed introducing a 40% quota immediately. I noted during the debate the Council of Europe Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men recommendation that the representation of either women or men in any decision-making body in public or political life should not fall below 40%. I also noted that it could take as long as ten years before we get to a 40% quota. I believe 30% is the bare minimum level of gender parity necessary to achieve critical mass and not introducing 40% immediately does nothing but delay the inevitable.

We also failed to have the quotas extended to local elections. I think this is a missed opportunity that will deny future female candidates the experience and sense of political legitimacy needed to succeed at general election. It may also leave new female candidates vulnerable to allegations of tokenism. I hope we can bring forward measures in the future to deal with this.

Women are not disinterested in politics. There are countless women working tirelessly throughout this country for change and reform but there are undoubtedly barriers to them entering political life. I am therefore delighted to see new initiatives such as from Women for Election to inspire, equip, and inform women to run for political office.

End of the Detention of Children in Adult Prison
On 2 April, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, announced capital funding had been secured to bring about the end of the detention of children in the adult prison regime of St. Patrick’s Institution. I have repeatedly called on the Government to address this glaring breach of our international human rights obligations and I warmly welcome the adoption of a new approach the care and rehabilitation of such children.

The significant progress the Minster has made on this issue illustrates the true value and potential of the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and demonstrates a positive shift in the Government’s policy towards children, which places the best interests of the child at its heart.

I also welcome the commitment by the Minister to bring the Heads of Bill to put the Children First Guidance on a statutory basis and to consult with the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the promised referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution.

Best wishes,
Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Independent Senators press Government on Prostitution Commitment

“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.”

– Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Tomorrow, Wednesday 18th April, the Seanad will debate a motion put forward by the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees), on criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland to curb prostitution and trafficking.

This motion follows on from the Independent Group motion on the same topic which was debated in the Seanad on October 12th 2011. The result of that debate was a Government amendment stipulating that a public consultation process would take place in the following six months. No such consultation process has even begun.

The Independent Senators will call on the Government to uphold their commitment to engage in public consultation in order to decide whether legislation should be enacted along the lines of that already in place in Sweden and Norway to criminalise the purchase of sex.

The Senators will remind the Government that, as more than 1000 women are made available for paid sex on on any given day in the State, any further delay in consulting and drafting legislation means a perpetuation of ‘a modern form of slavery’ and an abuse of basic human rights.

Introducing the original motion, Senator Katherine Zappone said that “Our current laws are not working. Female enslavement in this country is alive and well and it is generating vast profits for those in control. There is an inescapable interweaving of trafficking with prostitution and this exploitation must be addressed. We need legislation that can interrupt this activity, which is an absolute infringement of human rights”.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout (Leader of the Independent Group in the Seanad) turned to the role of children in Ireland’s burgeoning sex trade. She argued that “the impact [of trafficking and sexual exploitation] is almost unimaginable for children.” Having detailed the harrowing experiences of children trafficked into Ireland and exploited for sex work, she pointed to documented cases 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.”

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail spoke as a middle-class, middle-aged Irishman, making the point that he is one of the demographic which is perhaps most likely to purchase sex in Ireland. “It was not until I read about the Turn Off the Red Light campaign recently that I awoke from my own ignorance with regard to prostitution. Prostitution is not one of those things a liberal country should tolerate. We cannot turn a blind eye to it.

The Independent Group will call for the ‘considered public debate’ promised by the Government to take place by October 2012, and for a report to be produced for discussion of its findings by December of this year. The outcome will be to decide whether this Government should legislate to criminalise the purchase of sex outright in the State.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout warmly welcomes Minister for Children and Youth Affairs’ announcement that capital funding has been secured to end the detention of 16 and 17 year old boys in St. Patrick’s Institution in the next two years

Senator Jillian van Turnhout warmly welcomes Minister for Children and Youth Affairs’ announcement that capital funding has been secured to end the detention of 16 and 17 year old boys in St. Patrick’s Institution in the next two years.

Press Release, 2 April 2012

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald T.D., announced today that capital funding in the region of €50 million over a three year period has been secured to end the detention of children under the adult prison regime in St. Patrick’s Institution in the next two years.

As of 1 May 2012 all newly remanded or sentenced 16 year olds will be detained in the children’s detention facilities in Oberstown and within two years all those under 18 in need of detention will be sent to dedicated child-specific facilities on the Oberstown campus.

In response to today’s announcement Senator van Turnhout said “I have made my concerns about the continued detention of children in the adult prison regime of St. Patrick’s Institution well known both on the Seanad floor and as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. The current detention system for children violates a number of Ireland’s international human rights obligations and is one of the State’s most glaring violations of children’s rights. I warmly welcome today’s announcement from Minister Frances Fitzgerald TD to ensure that as of 1 May a new approach to children’s detention will be implemented. This significant progress illustrates the real value and potential of the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I believe it demonstrates a positive shift in the Government’s policy for children that has the best interests of the child at its heart. I reiterate my call to the Minister to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to allow complaints from children held in prison and detention on the same basis as children detained elsewhere”.

ENDS

Notes for editors: Senator van Turnhout is the Leader of the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees)

The Lancet

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