Courts Bill 2013: Second Stage

Wednesday, 27th March 2013

I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank him for continuing his practice of introducing Bills in this House.

The Bill has a twofold purpose. The first is to amend the rules relating to certain proceedings heard otherwise than in public and the second is to increase the monetary amounts the District Court and Circuit Court can award. I will limit my intervention to the first purpose, which is the proposed amendment to the in camera rule in family law and child care cases.

I broadly welcome the efforts in the Bill to strike the appropriate balance between the public interest and the privacy of adults and children involved in family law and child care cases. Most people are familiar with the variant of Lord Hewart’s famous aphorism from 1924: “…it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance, that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” The principle of open justice is a foundational common law principle, an important human rights obligation and an enumerated provision in the Constitution. The relevant article, Article 34.1, provides for exceptions to the administration of justice in public in “special and limited cases”. Such cases include those involving the most vulnerable in our society and children are one such group. Children and families involved in family law and child care proceedings present with myriad vulnerabilities and in fragile situations. There is, therefore, a real danger of adverse effects for the parties involved in the immediate and long term. In light of the highly personal and sensitive nature of family law and child care cases, privacy and the anonymity of the parties should be protected from public consumption through media reporting.

However, a balance must be drawn, which this Bill purports to refine, and I agree that where anonymity is guaranteed and respected, the facts of family law and child care cases and the decisions of the courts should be published. This balance, if fully legislated, guided, explained and implemented, can account for the vulnerabilities of the children and families involved while ensuring key issues are brought to the attention of the public and debated through public discourse. Failing to inform the public and adopting the cloak of secrecy, to the extreme, has had disastrous consequences for Irish society in the past. A clear example of this can be seen with the injustices perpetrated against the women detained in the Magdalen laundries. That issue remained completely out of the public realm while the injustices were occurring. It is important that the public interest and the need to foster and encourage a greater understanding and trust in the family law and child care system is embraced and implemented. The presence of the press will also, hopefully, ensure the recording of precedent and the reasoning behind decisions in proceedings where there is no written judgment will take place.

I have a few questions about the practical application of the amendment to section 40 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, as contained in section 5 of the legislation. The scope of the circumstances in which the court may exclude or restrict the attendance of press representatives and prohibit or restrict publication of certain evidence is broad. Ultimately, this will be a decision for the judge to make weighing the public interest considerations against the considerations enumerated in the Bill, which include the best interest of the child; that the evidence is sensitive personal information; that the evidence might be prejudicial to a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings; that the information and evidence is likely to lead members of the public to identify a party or child; or where press attendance might inhibit or cause undue distress to a party or child. Will the court’s adjudication over this complex balance be guided by court rules, practice directions or clear procedural guidelines? Who will be charged with making applications that the press should not attend? Will this be the role of the guardian ad litem, family member, HSE or the judge? Will there be an avenue of appeal to the decision to allow or restrict the presence of the press? How will the manner by which courts arrive at decisions in this regard be monitored?

My concern is that once information is disseminated, it cannot be taken back. This is particularly concerning, given the adverse effect or impact for the party concerned may far outweigh a possible monetary remedy, press apology or criminal conviction of those responsible for the publication of the material in question. Whether it is a child care case, family law case or a case before the Children Court, I strongly recommend that any guidelines or rules relating to the media reporting of any case to which a child is party be proofed against the Council of Europe Guidelines on Child-Friendly Justice 2010. These were drafted by Professor Ursula Kilkelly of University College Cork in consultation with children across Europe. While not binding on member states, the guidelines are standards of best practice. Their strength and relevance further lies in the fact that they have been substantiated by children’s own experiences of the justice system.

I have no doubts about the intention of this amendment but I have doubts, in the absence of rules or implementation guidelines, about its practical application on the ground. We need only to consider the Children Act 2001, which reads as an informed, welfare centred and progressive legislation. However, the weakness of the Act lies in the distinct lack of any procedural guidelines being produced to date for its implementation. Guidelines are desperately needed for the implementation of the Children Act and for this Bill if their full intention and spirit are to be realised. The children’s rights referendum very much underpinned that the best interest of the child needs to be realised in practice. I have spoken to legal practitioners working in the Children Court who are deeply concerned by what have been described as routine breaches of the Children Act in Dublin and regional sittings of the Children Court.

Examples of these breaches include the calling of the name of the child by the court appointed registrar into the public waiting room, the former practice of District Courts of including the name of young person with “YP” in brackets beside the name on the court list or the presence of Garda and legal representatives unrelated to the specific case in the court room which is mandated to sit in camera. These malpractices cannot be tolerated and need to be remedied. Some of the remedies are straightforward. For example, why not ascribe a number to children for their cases which is communicated to them upon their presentation at court and the calling out of the case number only as opposed to the child’s name by the registrar for everyone to hear? We need to ensure the strict application of the in camera rule by liaising with judges presiding in the Children Court to make sure only gardaí and legal representatives directly involved with the relevant proceedings before the court are present in the court room. It is also clear that a child-friendly environment described by international standards of best practice and the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, in cases such as T v. UK and V v. UK are not being implemented. Privacy is central to the creation of this environment.

In the cases I mentioned, the ECHR expressly recognised the adverse impact of overt media presence on the ability of the children in question to effectively participate in the proceedings before that court. As a result, my earlier concern arises as to who acts as the guardian of the child’s privacy and whether those charged with that task fully understand the importance of the child’s privacy and the full extent of the child’s vulnerabilities and backgrounds. This raises the greater concern and question as to what training and specialisation the people who are currently representing and adjudicating on children have, especially in light of the state legal aid payments that legal representatives appearing in the Children Court receive. Specialist training needs to be considered. In the UK, specialist panels have been set up where those involved must undertake specialist training. Will the Minister give serious consideration to a similar requirement here in order that if somebody is receiving legal aid payments in respect of a case in the Children Court, he or she must have attended specialist training?

I welcome the Minister’s proposals to introduce amendments to the Coroners Act 1962 and the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and I look forward to dealing with them on Committee Stage. Senator Walsh referred to mediation and I look forward to the mediation Bill the Minister intends to introduce. It will be important to avoid cases going to court. This would be best, especially when children are involved. I look forward to developing alternatives such as family group conferences, which was proposed in the Fifth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection. There are other ways. While I raised a number of concerns, I welcome the spotlight being put on the Children Court.

Philanthropy and Fundraising – Private Members Motion

Wednesday, 27th March 2013

I welcome the Minister. I endorse everything my colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has said, and thank him for all his work in the lead-up to the debate. I am honoured to second the motion on behalf of the Independent Group because, given the experience of each one of us, we all have tales and testimonies we could share with the House. The Senator started by showing us the figures from the Irish Nonprofit Knowledge Exchange of the number of people employed and the number of volunteers involved in community and voluntary organisations. That made me think of jobs. We regularly hear from the Government that one cannot create jobs but one can create the environment to sustain jobs. In the same say, the Government cannot create philanthropy but it can create an environment to encourage and sustain a culture of planned giving to charities and NGOs. What we are about is trying to ensure that the Government creates that environment and sustains that culture of planned giving. The report on the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising is a good start but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s update on how the recommendations are being implemented and, therefore, I do not want to pre-empt that. I have a fear that after the report is published each Minister will go back to his or her own Department and look within their own Departments. The reality is that as cuts are increasing, organisations are going from Department to Department. I could list several organisations that are funded by a multiple of Departments and the Departments do not know that they are funding organisations to do the same thing.

I wholly endorse what Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has said about the need for proper and consistent data and evidence. Before I was appointed as a Senator I did not know too much about the arts. I was a spectator in the arts and that was about it. However, I was very involved in the community and voluntary organisation sector. What we have found striking in the past two years is that the challenges and the landscape are akin. The challenge for civil society organisations and for charities is to realise that while our missions may differ, the environment in which we are working is similar. I will not begin to mention the challenge if the Government introduces, which I hope it does, a ban on alcohol advertising for sports organisations. There is an increasingly challenging environment without the recession and we also see the exit of the philanthropists, mainly Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation.

The reality is that many of the non-profit organisations that I know from the children and youth sector are involved in delivering essential public services across the length and breath of the country. The advocacy initiative is developing a report. One of the issues it raised a few weeks ago was the chilling effect. It made me think because a few weeks ago I shared, thanks to The Irish Times and the Irish Daily Mirror, my critique on the development of the planned new child and family support agency. Following publication, I was surprised by the level of correspondence and telephone calls I received from organisations. They wholeheartedly agreed with me but they did not wish to speak about it publicly. The new agency has a budget of €545 million, more than €100 million of which will go to organisations and NGOs to provide services, but as it cannot yet define or outline what these services will be organisations are on tender hooks. These organisations have direct first hand experience of working with most vulnerable children and could be invaluable advocates. On the other hand, I have a very positive example from my own experience, before becoming a Senator, having been chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance. At the end of 2006 we managed to negotiate with the Minister’s Department for multi-annual funding and from that we were able to leverage funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation. This comes back to my point about the Government creating a culture of planned and sustained giving. All too often organisations only find out in quarter one or quarter two of the year of expenditure what funding they will receive from the State.

No business could operate in this way. How does the Minister leverage funding from corporate organisations, philanthropists and others, when the Government is not creating that culture?

The Government needs to co-ordinate between the various Departments. We do not have information on how much funding the State gives in total to NGOs and charities. The Charities Act 2009 needs to be fully implemented. No doubt my colleague, Senator Mary Ann O’Brien will say more on this.

The Government should not limit how it can support the work of charities and NGOs in other works, obviously, through developing philanthropy and creating that culture but also through looking at the use of public buildings such as school buildings, which, in my experience of youth work organisations, are locked up every evening. In many cases, we cannot access school buildings and must hire commercial buildings. If one looks at the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012, the different rates being charged throughout the country to arts, sports and youth organisations do not create a even field. On a positive note, as I like to be positive as well, on the property tax I made the case in December last that charities that hold properties for hosting and accommodating activities for children and young people should be exempted from the property tax and I am happy that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, accepted my amendment and introduced the exemption to the property tax Bill.

The Government needs to create an environment to encourage and sustain a culture of planned giving to charities, and it does so by leading by example. It needs a co-ordinated approach to funding. Currently, there is a dearth of accurate and robust data on which to base public policy. This has been proven repeatedly and Senator Mac Conghail has really made the case for this. The State needs to be able to publicly and transparently account for how much it gives to each NGO and organisation. It needs to do that in a multiannual way, ensuring that outcomes are delivered on. It needs to invest in organisations to allow them to leverage and plan for their outcomes.

This debate today is a first step in looking at how we ensure that the challenges ahead can be faced together. I am concerned that everything happens within a Department, for example, one would assume that it is the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, under the youth service grant scheme, that gives most funding to youth work in Ireland but it is still the Garda youth diversion project. Do we wait for the problems to happen or do we invest early? By investing early the Government instills confidence, saying, “This is what it is about”. It means that when the Minister goes to organisations, he can ensure that the Government must have a way of having structured vehicles for major giving. It must have a social innovation fund so that we can have this transformative impact and change that we all want.

I read that we can decide governments through the ballot box but philanthropy is a way that the public can decide what it wishes to support and where it wishes to see social impact.

Order of Business, 27 March 2013

Wednesday, 27th March 2013

On behalf of the Independent group of Senators, I pay tribute to and thank Jimmy Walsh. As I will have only been a Member for two years in May next, my memories of Jimmy do not go back as far as those of other speakers. However, I used to read Jimmy’s accounts of Seanad proceedings before I entered the Oireachtas and had the opportunity to meet the legend. I thank him most sincerely for his advice and the insights he gave me in the corridors of Leinster House. His journalistic skills are clear. He is able to get to the heart of an issue and understand what speakers are driving at. He has given me great encouragement in my work as a Senator, including, on occasion, to press a little harder on certain issues as perhaps I seek consensus a little too much. We will, however, leave that issue for another discussion. Even in the relatively short time I have known Jimmy, I feel I have made a real friend, someone who will give critical advice but also explain in his newspaper articles what takes place in the House. I echo the tributes paid to him.

The issues of insolvency and early childhood education and care must be decoupled. The latter is about the child, not the status of his or her parents or whether they are working. We need to decouple these issues and discuss them separately.

On the issue of direct provision, last Saturday The Irish Times featured an excellent article by Breda O’Brien under the title “Inhumane asylum seeker system needs radical reform”. A letter by Dr. Joan Giller in today’s edition of the same newspaper is a must-read for all of us as it provides a marvellously accurate account of the harrowing system of direct provision offered in this country. Given that Dr. Giller has worked in direct provision accommodation since 2007, her comments are not hearsay. I have raised the issue of direct provision several times, primarily on the Adjournment, and recently took it upon myself to visit the direct provision accommodation in Hatch Hall as well as a site in Athlone located behind a Department of Education and Skills building which houses 100 mobile homes for asylum seekers. I was accompanied by Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.

I refer to the work done on this issue by a group of committed Senators from all parties and none. As such, this not a party political issue. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the system of direct provision, in particular, to address the appropriateness of direct provision for the welfare and development of the 1,725 children who have been in the system not for one or two months, but several years. When we speak of institutionalising people, we should not forget this is being done now. I call for the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism and inspection system for direct provision centres. The Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection called for such a system to be introduced one year ago. Let us debate and face up to this issue as it can no longer be tolerated. Will we wait for another 20 years to have another Ryan report published, this time on direct provision?

Statements on the Mobility Allowance

Thursday, 21st March 2013

I, too, thank Senator Marie Moloney for initiating this debate and the Leader for allowing time for it. However, I note the fact that no Minister or official has attended the House for the debate, which is very disappointing. I am happy that the working group on the mobility allowance will be meeting shortly. Under the chairmanship of Ms Sylda Langford, I have no doubt that it will take into account what we have to say. As I had the pleasure of working a lot with Ms Langford in her role when director general of the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I have faith in her.

The two relevant schemes in question are the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant schemes. Up to 4,700 people with disabilities receive the mobility allowance, while 300 are in receipt of the motorised transport grant. The schemes were closed on 26 February and a new legally compliant scheme will be devised in the next three months. The €10.6 million allocated for the schemes has been ring-fenced for the new alternatives.

The mobility allowance is a means-tested, monthly payment made by the Health Service Executive. At the highest rate, it comes to €208.50 per month; at the lowest, it comes to €104.25. The allowance is for people with severe physical disabilities who are unable to walk or use public transport and would benefit from a change in surroundings. It is to meet transport costs which are currently unvouched and the occasional taxi journey. The Department of Health anticipated that revising the scheme to bring it into compliance, that is, to remove the upper age limit, would translate into an additional cost of €100 million per annum in the case of the mobility allowance and €200 million over a three year period in the case of the motorised transport grant.

To remove the upper age limit would translate into a cost of €100 million per annum for the mobility allowance and €200 million over a three year period for the motorised transport grant, not to mention the large administrative costs to, and burden on, the HSE. These estimations are outlandish. The eligibility criteria are very strict. How many disabled people over the age of 66 are unable to walk, even with the use of artificial limbs or any other suitable aids or whose health is such that the exertion required to walk would be dangerous? That is not to mention the other requirements for qualification. I did a calculation on the estimation from the Department. It is based on the expectation that there would be an extra 39,968 applicants if the upper age limit was removed. Can we just note that in 2012, 43 people over the age of 66 applied and were rejected, which is nothing near the 39,968 figure? I seriously question the figures provided.

As I have said already, the eligibility criteria are very strict and I wish to put those criteria on the record. An applicant must be unable to walk, even with the use of artificial limbs or any other suitable aids; his or her health must be such that the exertion required to walk would be dangerous; the inability to walk must be likely to last for at least a year; he or she must not be medically forbidden to move; he or she must be in a position to benefit from a change in surroundings; he or she must be living at home or in a long-term institution; and he or she must pass a means test. The decision on whether or not an applicant meets the medical criteria is made by the HSE’s senior medical officer in the relevant area. In that context, one must question the figures from the Department of Health.

The estimate for the motorised transport grant is €200 million over three years. The Department of Health estimates that 19,000 older people over 66 would apply for that grant if the age limit was removed. This grant is aimed at assisting people in accessing employment, so how did the Department arrive at that figure? Perhaps the Department knows something I do not know.

There are many outstanding questions and so much insecurity and uncertainty for those who are in receipt of the allowance or grant, who have been told that their payments will cease on 26 June. What if the alternative scheme is not ready to be rolled out by then? In devising the alternative scheme, will the Department consult with the disability sector and the recipients of the allowance or grant to ensure personal choice and autonomy, in terms of the applicable transport service, is preserved? We talk about personal budgets, money following the patient, maximising independence and so forth but I am concerned that the new scheme will, in effect, remove or diminish personal choice. What is safe and appropriate for one person is not safe and appropriate for all. A community transport service is not safe and appropriate for a person with severe autism, for example. Furthermore, community transport schemes are not always the most cost effective choice. Two of the providers in Dublin, for example, Vantastic on the northside and ACTS servicing the southside, charge a higher price and mileage rate, equivalent to a private taxi, and only operate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., with a limited number of choices. Senator Moloney has already referred to the challenges in rural areas for community transport schemes.

Will the working group examine the possibility of adding a mobility component to the disability allowance and the supplementary welfare allowance? Given the means test associated with these benefits, I suggest that such a move would keep the expenditure within budget. I have serious doubts about the figures given by the Department of Health and seek clarity on them. I also want to know why the decision to scrap the schemes happened overnight. Anybody who has attended a management or leadership training course will know that one does not raise a problem if one does not have a solution. A solution should have been devised because the problem did not arise overnight. We have known for a long time that the schemes were problematic. It is unacceptable. This is a spreadsheet decision when really, it should be about people.

Early Intervention and Economic Benefits: Statements

Wednesday, 6th March 2013

As always the Minister is more than welcome to the House and we are delighted that she is here. Her statement and speech to us today are seminal. It should be circulated generally. She was very fair in trying to give us a summary of what she has said to us today and it lays a strong foundation for a new home for children. I cannot commend enough what the Minister has said. More people should read her statement. We often focus on only one part of a child’s life but it is important to consider the child’s journey. I thank the Minister for providing that vision and starting this discussion with a very strong foundation. Everybody supports prevention and early intervention but it is music to our ears to hear a Minister promoting these strategies and putting them first and foremost. All too often people only talk about these theories in seminars and symposia while in the House we talk about firefighting and dealing with crises and do not give prevention and early intervention the thought and deliberation that they need.

I welcome the area-based approach to the child poverty initiative but have a difficulty with the selection criteria for the three new sites and the additional four that will come on stream. How do we ensure that the selection process is transparent, that the programmes are rooted in evidence and best practice? Programmes may look good but how do we ensure that they provide the outcomes for children and the delivery that we all want ? I want to see more details.

Often when we talk about early intervention we refer only to early years. That is why I welcome the Minister’s speech because she has looked at the child’s journey, the key transition points, the flash points in a child’s life that are all too often missed. This is true of disability services, where life chances are affected at an early age if we do not intervene when the child is very young. Mental health problems tend to become more apparent in early adolescence. The Minister mentioned the Heckmann curve. In 2010 Cunha and Heckmann wrote a working paper on investment in our young people. Their research showed that the effect of early intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children is reduced if it is not followed up by investment at later stages. We all talk about the importance of investment and what we reap from investing in early years but if we do not provide that continuum of support the investment is lost.

I welcome the Minister’s focus on how to provide services and the suggestion that we might take a step back and ask what is the purpose of child benefit and how do we ensure that it delivers the outcomes it should and that people want. The Minister mentioned the advisory report on which we had a good brief debate in the House with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, which we will continue. We were glad that she came in so soon after the report was published. There are different ways in which we can provide services and support to children. Should we consider the affordable, accessible and quality child care, or extending the scheme to a second year, or after-school care which is ad hoc and does not have a defined structure. Should we consider universal primary health care for all children or school book schemes?

The Minister mentioned the development in data which is very welcome. I welcome her approach to ensuring that we have an evidence base for moving forward and that we understand why we are doing something. Very often when I hear economists talk about demographics I shout at the radio “That is birth rate”. We have an increasing birth rate but economists do not want to talk about that. Too often children are forgotten in these issues.

The Minister mentioned Eurofound, the foundation based in Loughlinstown for the improvement of living and working conditions. I recently visited the foundation. It is doing some really interesting research on how parenting supports can best be delivered to children. Ireland has the fourth highest rate in the EU of young people who are not in education, employment or training, the NEET category. We do not want to be so high up on that list. Schoolteachers and youth workers can point to those young people much earlier in the cycle. That is where we should intervene. Eurofound did research on the loss to the economy that jobseekers represent. It calculated that they cost Ireland in the region of 2% of GDP which indicates that the cost of youth unemployment is €3.16 billion. Those are the figures but it has been proved that if a young person lives in poverty he or she is likely to continue to be unemployed. The pathway is laid. It is important to intervene early and help to change those young people’s lives. I welcome the fact that the Minister has asked the youth work sector to investigate how we could intervene and best ensure that we do so. We need to find the tipping point at which the young person ends up unemployed rather than going into education, training or employment and see how we can support those young people.

I know that next week the Minister is hosting the EU Youth Conference on social inclusion. It is significant that Ireland has chosen to host that conference under its Presidency and I was delighted to see that the Minister is doing so in co-operation with the European Commission, the European Youth Forum and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The European Youth Forum was born during the fifth Irish Presidency. It held its inaugural meeting in Cork on 6 July 1996. I was there. I am a co-founder of the forum. I was a secretary general of one the three youth platforms. We came together to merge into one. Two of the three secretaries general were Irish. That is why I am so delighted to see them coming back to Dublin.

I welcome the development of the child and family support agency and look forward to seeing the Bill. I have made public my opinion of it to ensure that we debate this. The new agency will have a budget of approximately €545 million for 2013 and at hearings held by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last week we heard that approximately €100 million will go to NGOs and services. When my opinion of the new agency was published in The Irish Times I was surprised by the number of organisations which contacted me because they are afraid to speak publicly about this fearing that their funding will be cut. There is a chilling effect. We need to create an environment in which people can make constructive proposals to ensure that the agency works. I know that the Minister does not intend this chilling effect but I was surprised by the number and types of organisations that came to me about this matter.

I thank the Minister. The statement she made to us today should be circulated to all Deputies and Senators.

Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013

Wednesday, 6th March 2013

Last December I tabled an amendment to this Bill at a time when the House was debating the Social Welfare Bill. At that time I was particularly downhearted about the role of the Seanad Members as legislators. I was all the more encouraged when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said that he would take the amendment and look to bring it back within the Finance Bill later in the year. It is not every day that I have an opportunity to thank the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and his officials, for bringing forward the amendment to exempt properties used by a charity for recreational activities. He cites in particular the guides and scouts. Youth work organisations have faced cumulative cuts of up to 30% already and they expect to face more cuts. Any relief, even smaller relief, is more than welcome. I realise that organisations will need to apply for the exemption in order to avail of it. I wish to put on the record of the House that the Irish Girl Guides, the Catholic Guides of Ireland and Scouting Ireland, have asked me to thank the Minister for this exemption which will, I have no doubt, be used by other charitable and youth organisations throughout the country. I thank the Minister most warmly for granting this exemption.

Government responds favourably to Senator van Turnhout’s proposal to grant property tax exemption to youth organisations

Press Release, 6 March 13

 

*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***

 

Government responds favourably to Senator van Turnhout’s proposal to grant property tax exemption to youth organisations

 

In a Seanad debate in December 2012 attended by Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout made the case that charities that hold properties used for hosting and accommodating activities for children and young people should be exempted from the Government’s proposed property tax.

 

Senator van Turnhout, who is the Leader of the Independent Group in the Seanad and a campaigner on children’s issues, argued that the imposition of a property tax on properties owned by the Girl Guides and similar youth organisations would place many of these organisations in a precarious financial position.

 

Minister Nooan expressed his appreciation of the fact that groups like the Girl Guides and Scouts provide facilities and work with young people and with other sectors for social and personal development purposes. He said in the debate that just as he had granted such organisations an exemption from the household charge for the buildings in question, he would ensure that the exemption would also apply to the property tax.

Today in the Seanad, Minister Brian Hayes, TD, announced that on foot of Minister Noonan’s commitment in December to respond favourably to Senator van Turnhout’s proposal to grant an exemption, the properties used for accommodation purposes by groups such as the Girl Guides or Scouts will indeed be exempted from the property tax.

Section 7 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013 now states that “Properties used by a charity for recreational activities” shall not, for the purposes of this Act, be regarded as a relevant residential property.

 

Senator van Turnhout:

 

“Naturally, I am delighted that the Government has recognised the merits of my proposed amendment. The Irish Girl Guides Trust, of which I am a director, holds a number of properties around the country that are used for children’s and youth activities. These are held on a non-residential and non-commercial basis, with the guides spending weekends away in these properties. The guides pay a very low fee for their stay, because no profits are made on the properties, most of which are in need of serious investment and repair. At a time when families are being squeezed, today’s decision by Minister Noonan to exempt these properties from the property tax is very welcome.”

ENDS

For further information, contact Amy McArdle at 01 6183375, or email jillian.vanturnhout@oireachtas.ie.

 

 

The Lancet

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