Early Child Care Education Standards: Statements

Thursday, 30th May 2013

I warmly welcome the Minister to the House. The purpose of my request for her to address us was twofold. The first was to give confidence to the public, particularly to parents, which I believe she has done in her statement. The second was to send a strong message to her Cabinet colleagues about the importance of this issue – this needs to be a wake-up call. Yesterday during the Order of Business we all got plenty of time to voice our concerns over the images we saw. Today I want to move beyond that shock and talk about our role as legislators. The Minister has spoken today about the importance of the registration system, having sanctions and amending the Child Care Act, on which she will have the support of the House.

The responsibility of management has not received sufficient focus. The researcher on the “Prime Time” programme in some cases reported issues to members of management, who did not see the need to take action until they knew they would be exposed on television. That indicates a more systemic problem in that they did not believe they needed to take action on the basis of reports from one of their workers.
I welcome the Minister’s assurance that not only is the Garda investigating this, but that the HSE is following up as appropriate. I welcome the fact that she will publish the inspection reports. I agree with her that parents should ask for inspection reports if they wish to see them. However, there is an issue with facilities that have not been inspected. We have that heard some facilities have gone four years without an inspection. We need to prioritise the inspection of any child-care setting that has not been inspected within the past 12 months.

I agree with the Minister that we need to pay attention to relationships when the inspection is taking place. There has been too much emphasis on the physical environment and not on the learning environment and the relationship environment.

We need to invest in children and not concrete. The Minister referred to Síolta, the national quality framework, Aistear, the national curriculum, and the 2010 workforce development plan. Hopefully we will shortly have the early years strategy. I regard them as four wheels on a good car. We will have all the parts, but we need the engine to drive it forward and we need the investment to do that. I was alarmed at a report in The Irish Times this morning. There has been much talk about cost and whether this will place a greater burden on parents. The report showed a chart of public expenditure on preschool care and education as a percentage of GDP. Ireland spends less than 0.2%. France spends 1.5% of its GDP on early years education, the UK spends 1.1%, and New Zealand spends 1%. Belgium was closest to us at 0.7%. There is an issue with our expenditure as a percentage of GDP. Instead of investing in concrete, we should invest in our children and in childhood.

The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 has been mentioned. I tabled amendments – supported by Childminding Ireland – to provide that where there is regular payment for a service those involved should be vetted.

The Minister has said the Children First Bill will be published shortly. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. The committee had the opportunity to examine the heads of the Bill last summer. Representatives of many different organisations appeared before the committee to share their viewpoints. At the time – I seek the Minister’s reassurance today – the heads of the Bill proposed that emotional abuse would not be included under its provisions. In the Minister’s description of the “Prime Time” programme she talked about emotional abuse. I believe this issue is critical. Many members of the committee and all the representatives of NGOs who came in said that emotional abuse needed to be included and that the provisions should not be limited to dealing with physical neglect and sexual abuse. I hope that one of the achievements of the programme will be that emotional abuse is covered in the Children First legislation.

There is much we could do. We have already had discussions in the Seanad on early years education and intervention. We know the workforce contains some really excellent people, but if they are not being paid well as a profession – that is where the investment needs to be – how can we expect further education and training to take place?

There are many issues. I welcome the fact that the Minister has come to the House for this debate. As I am conscious that many others wish to speak, I will conclude, but I have so much more I would like to say on the issue.

Special Educational Needs Services Provision: Motion

Wednesday, 29th May 2013

I welcome the Minister to the House and am pleased to participate in this debate this evening. There are many valuable proposals in the report by the NCSE, Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Schools. I note and support both the report and this motion’s strong commitment to providing access to mainstream education and the benefits which often accrue not only to children with disabilities but to society as a whole. The normalisation of disability is a vital step towards achieving a fair and egalitarian society. Indeed, ensuring access to mainstream schooling is in line with our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifically recognises the needs of disabled children. It goes on to say that the education of such children must be done in a manner that is conducive to their achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development. That is something with which we would all agree.

With the UN Convention in mind, I read the NCSE report with great interest but was disappointed by its finding that certain school enrolment policies and practices were less than fully inclusive and that such policies had created barriers to enrolment for students with special education needs. As a firm believer in the right of all children, irrespective of any specific educational needs, to access their local schools if they so wish, I encourage the Minister to give serious thought to how this can best be remedied. I question one section of the motion, although it is perhaps unintentional wording, regarding the entitlement of schools and their patrons to develop their own enrolment criteria. It is vital that the school application process be carried out in the most fair and transparent manner possible. The exclusion of any child from a State-funded school on any discriminatory basis is, for me, unacceptable, be it on the grounds of educational needs, faith or family history. I also believe that on this occasion the Government is right in tempering the language of the motion. The Minister must examine and give serious consideration to the recommendations of the NCSE report but to call upon him to introduce these recommendations in a wholesale manner, without due diligence, defeats the purpose of such a report, which aims to inform Government policy.

In particular, I am conscious of the concerns expressed about the report’s conclusions that Down’s syndrome should not be reclassified as a low incidence disorder, given these children often require more intensive support than others in the same classification due to the variety of additional difficulties associated with Down’s syndrome. While I note the report’s insistence that the proposed allocation system will allow for individualised assessment of children with and without Down’s syndrome, I am concerned that this does not conclusively address whether Down’s syndrome children will be entitled to resource hours. While I do not doubt the veracity of the report’s finding, further review by the Department may be useful in allaying the fears of parents.

I hope the Minister will provide clarity and reassurance for parents and children. September will be upon us before we know it and many parents are concerned. I support the call for the implementation of the EPSEN Act 2004, specifically to priorities access for children with special needs education to an individual education. It is well overdue and I put my trust in the Minister.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Margareta Wahlström

Wednesday, 29th May 2013

I join with my colleagues in warmly welcoming Ms Margareta Wahlström to the House. I also welcome Mr. Gay Mitchell, with whom we had an excellent exchange on development issues in the House earlier this year. The work of Ms Wahlström as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, particularly with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and her role as the Secretary-General’s special response co-ordinator during the initial phase of the international reaction to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and her current role, which has brought her to the House today, as well as all of the work she has done in the past 30 years, show to us the expertise she has and the honour it is for us that she is addressing the House.

When we see the aftermath of events such as the 2004 tsunami, the Christchurch earthquake or, most recently, the Oklahoma tornado, we here in Ireland often feel quite insulated from the effects of such dangers because of our geographical position. However, reflecting on the work of the United Nations international strategy for disaster reduction, it is clear that in many ways this is a false sense of security which belies our ever-increasing levels of global interconnectedness, which, while bringing countless benefits, also increases our sensitivity to the effects of events originating far beyond our borders.

Several colleagues have raised the very important human consequences of such disasters. Specifically, I was struck by how a disaster can undermine long-term competitiveness and sustainability, not only at the epicentre of the disaster but also in those areas with which it shares economic ties. For example, in preparing for this contribution, I was very interested to read a report by Ms Wahlström’s organisation entitled “Shared Risk to Shared Value: The Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction”, and I advise my colleagues that it is well worth a read. An example in the report cites how damage to one maker of microchips in Japan resulted in 150,000 fewer cars being manufactured in the United States. When one microchip manufacturer is damaged, that is the effect it has across the world. As another example, we saw in the wake of the floods in Thailand that global GDP fell by 3%. In an open economy such as ours, this is something with which we must be concerned or, as the report more succinctly states, we must be aware that disaster risk does not stop at the factory gate.

I am mindful that disasters disproportionately affect lower-income countries, communities and households, and those who benefit least from the wealth created owing to economic globalisation. I would be interested to hear Ms Wahlström’s opinion on the social justice aspects of reduction programmes and, specifically, how business interests can be used as a vector and whether she believes increasing business sensitivity towards investing in risk-prepared nations will encourage governments to become more risk aware. What does Ms Wahlström believe we can do at a national level to maintain the stability of our supply chain, which is an issue we need to consider?

In looking ahead to 2015 and the renegotiation of a new risk reduction framework, what does Ms Wahlström feel will be the key elements in which we, as a Seanad and as an Irish nation, can play a role when supporting this awareness and ensuring the plan will be fit for purpose?

Order of Business, 29 May 2013

Wednesday, 29th May 2013

Anybody who had the opportunity to watch the RTE investigation unit’s broadcast of “A Breach of Trust” last night found it extremely difficult and disturbing. It was unimaginable for parents with children at the locations in question. I e-mailed the Cathaoirleach earlier this morning to invoke Standing Order 30. I seek the adjournment of the Seanad to deal with a motion on a specific and important matter of public interest that has arisen suddenly. Senators know their Standing Orders off by heart.

The reason I have invoked the Standing Order is that it allows for a debate of up to an hour and a half. All Senators have concerns about this issue. I had hoped in the lead-in to the “Prime Time” programme that what would be described would be once-off bad practice. Having watched the programme, however, I noted several instances of maltreatment and emotional abuse at the three locations. For me, it raised some serious child protection concerns. The researcher in each case had reported to management, but no action was taken. Obviously, the programme focused on specific crèches, on which there had been bad reports. A serious question must be asked. Why did it require an RTE investigation unit to expose what was happening?

There has been considerable debate about the quality of child care and investment in child care. We should also focus on child protection. I want to be assured that action will be taken by the HSE and the Garda, where appropriate. The HSE should publish the inspection reports without delay. We need to ensure child care places that have not been inspected within the past 12 months will be inspected immediately. The Children First Bill was launched in April 2012 and the Joint Committee on Health and Children considered the heads. The legislation needs to be published and enforced to ensure there will be a statutory obligation to report a child protection concern. We need to invest in workforce development. These are just starting points for debate. The HSE child and family services have answers to give to us, not just on quality assurance. For me, what has occurred is not good enough and is unacceptable. I hope we can have a debate on this matter of urgent public interest.

Adjournment Motion – Voluntary Sector Funding

Tuesday, 28th May 2013

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. I am delighted that he is taking this matter. I also welcome to the Visitors Gallery Ms Mary O’Connor from Children in Hospital Ireland and Mr. Des McKiernan from Aspire. I will start by making a declaration of interest. I am a former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, but it is not on its behalf that I am raising this matter, about which other organisations have contacted me.

As it stands, the current scheme to support national organisations which provides 30 months of core funding for 64 national community and voluntary organisations and some others is due to expire on 31 December this year. There is not a single name on the list of organisations in receipt of funding which will be unfamiliar to Members. I have often heard Members commend many of the groups which benefit from the scheme such as the Simon Communities of Ireland, the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Barnardos, the Carmicheal Centre and The Wheel. It is evident from this handful of names that the range of services they provide and the issues on which they provide advocacy services are diverse, but the outstanding contribution they make to the lives of those they represent, thanks, in part, to the funding they derive from the scheme, is not.

During my time as chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance and president of the National Youth Council of Ireland, I have seen this money put to good use. I know how crucial it is to such organisations that they have clarity on the future of this essential funding. By denying them this clarity, we are not only placing vital services in danger, but we are also risking the very survival of some federations and networks which play a vital national co-ordinating role. I understand that, to date, there has been no official communication from the Department on the future of the scheme. Understandably, this is causing significant concern among the recipient organisations.

The 2011 iteration of the scheme talked about multi-annual funding for such national organisations towards the core costs associated with the provision of services. Originally, the scheme was designed for federations and network programmes, but several schemes were folded into the 2011 scheme. I have some concerns about the principles behind the 2011 scheme because they lack a clear aim and purpose of what they are about. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to look at the scheme.

I also have concerns that some organisations receive significant funds from other arms of the State. In each iteration of the scheme these organisations seemed to be added on and I believe the scheme has lost its way. For example, I was surprised to see the Football Association of Ireland had received €45,000 under the scheme. According to the 2011 annual review of the FAI, it had received €3.4 million in grants from the Irish Sports Council and had €5.7 million in sponsorship revenue. Its chief executive earns €400,000; therefore, this scheme is paying a small percentage of the chief executive’s salary. To an organisation of this size, operating at a surplus, the €45,000 per annum it receives under the current scheme is a paltry amount, yet to many other organisations in receipt of money under the scheme, it is absolutely transformative.

Will the Minister clarify his plans for the future of the 2014-16 scheme to support national organisations? Will he outline if, or when, a new scheme will be announced? What consultation process will take place with current and potential recipients? Will the Minister clarify the purpose of the scheme because there is a need for a scheme to support national federations and networks of charitable voluntary organisations which play a critical role in co-ordination? Funding does not come from other arms of the State. As in previous years, will the Minister put in place interim funds if he does not have a new successive scheme to put in place? How does he see the transition to the new scheme taking place?

 

Minister Phil Hogan TD:

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Seanad on the funding scheme to support national organisations and thank the Senator for raising the issue. It was interesting to hear her speak about groups which need money seven months in advance of any decision being made and in advance of the budget and ask me to clarify issues which have not even been considered in the context of any review to be carried out.

I inherited from my predecessor a three-year programme and the Senator has explained some of the problems with it. This scheme amalgamated and replaced schemes previously operating under the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity. The scheme’s objective was to provide multi-annual funding to national organisations towards core costs associated with the provision of services. The scheme will end at the end of the year.

A review at the time made a series of recommendations for a future funding scheme including recommendations relating to: core funding; a focus on disadvantage and coalface services; the impact of the funding on the ground; an emphasis on adding value and avoiding duplication; and a focus on governance and cost controls. These recommendations were reflected in the current funding scheme which commenced on 1 July 2011.

Under the current scheme, 64 organisations are supported and some €3.588 million is allocated to the scheme this year. My Department will be carrying out a review of the scheme over the coming months. The terms of reference for the review will include an examination of the extent to which the objectives, rationale and approach of the scheme remain valid and will entail making recommendations regarding its future role and scope. The review of the scheme will be based on an examination of relevant documentation and consultation within the sector. It will take into account a number of policy considerations in formulating recommendations for the future. The policy considerations include economic conditions, principles contained within the White Paper and the role of the community and voluntary sector. I expect to receive the review by the autumn and on the basis of its findings, I will consider the options available to me.

 

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Obviously the unique part of the scheme is its multi-annual funding. There will be an application process. While seven months is a long time, most organisations have statutory responsibility with regard to staff employment and would need to give staff notice. As an application process will take some months, seven months is a short time. I am happy to help in any way. I believe the scheme has lost its way and is a mixed bag considering the organisations. I have serious concerns about organisations such as the FAI receiving from this scheme which originally was to fund national organisations.

Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Committee Stage

Thursday, 23rd May 2013

I wanted to speak on section 1 but I will move on.

On section 4, I was fully supportive of the amendments from Sinn Féin. The House has ruled them out of order but perhaps they could be examined by the Minister and brought in by the Government because they are important.

The administrative arrangements for the protection of victims of human trafficking are set out in the Department of Justice and Equality’s policy statement, Administrative Immigration Arrangements for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking. Since this is the first time forced labour will be defined in Irish law, there has been no formal identification of victims as victims of trafficking for forced labour, and no prosecutions have been brought forward. Currently, when a victim leaves their exploitative workplace they are known as a potential victim of human trafficking and are granted, if required, hostel accommodation in direct provision centres and a weekly allowance of €19.10.

I do not need to elaborate further on this point other than to say the Minister of State is well aware of my concerns about the legality of the direct provision system and the payments under the administrative scheme. Potentially, victims are given basic access to health care and access to counselling for trauma, if necessary. Until the victim is formally identified by the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, on the basis of reasonable grounds, which is a relatively low test, as a person suspected of being a victim of human trafficking they are not entitled to a reflection and recovery period or a temporary residence permit. A reflection and recovery period is critical because it allows an alleged victim to recover and ensures the victim is not subject to removal proceedings. That has not been granted in any of the recent cases that have been worked on by Migrants Rights Centre Ireland. The victim is left with a tolerated status in the State but there are no specific timeframes of security that a reflection and recovery period or residence permit would give.

The difficulty is that it can take up to two years to get a decision to establish whether a person is a suspected victim of human trafficking. During this time the person is left in virtual limbo in a direct provision centre. The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland is dealing with six cases in which potential victims have been waiting for more than 18 months for a decision. I am not speaking about theory; I am speaking about six real cases. S is the victim of forced labour and trafficking who made an official complaint to the GNIB in August 2011. She is still waiting for a decision in her case. She lives in a direct provision hostel and her undocumented immigration status is tolerated and she will not be removed from the State. She suffers from poor health and is unable to afford the many trips to the hospital she requires and her medication.

I understand the immigration arrangements for the protection of victims of human trafficking will be put on a statutory footing in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 which is stalled on Committee Stage in the Dáil. Will the Minister of State confirm this and indicate to the House when the Bill will proceed? Is it the Government’s intention to bring its practice in line with our legal obligations as set out in a Council framework decision of 19 July 2002 – 11 years ago – on combating trafficking in human beings and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005? I asked these questions on Second Stage and I am asking them again because I am still waiting for an answer. The uncertainty of the timeframe for the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill is the reason I support Sinn Féin’s amendments to incorporate into the Bill the provisions of the anti-trafficking directive relevant to assisting, supporting and protecting victims of human trafficking. I will be interested to see the impact of the new definition of forced labour in Irish law on the forthcoming employment permits Bill which is in the legislative programme.

During the Second Stage debate I asked for the Minister of State’s assurance and the definition of forced labour as intended by the convention and as understood in international jurisprudence. With respect “offering oneself voluntarily” means fully informed and free consent throughout the worker’s service period. Will the Minister of State confirm that for the record? It is very important for those in the sector that this is the definition that is intended.

Closing Statement – Heads of Bill: Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013

Tuesday, 21st May 2013

 

Thank you very much.  The 1992 Referendum was actually my first Referendum vote.  Over the following 21 years, I spent 15 years working in the private sector and then headed up different children and youth NGOs both in a voluntary and professional capacity.  In these roles I listened carefully to the debate around abortion but I never actively formulated a position.   So, I do feel a little bit nervous.  This is the first time I am publically stating how I feel on this issue.

The hearings we [Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children] held in January 2013, and over the last three days, have given me an opportunity to form a definitive position.  I would like to begin by thanking all of the experts, across both sets of hearings, for their informative inputs.  At times we heard from more than one expert from the same discipline giving contradictory evidence. It has been a difficult process to work through but extremely useful.  I would like to thank my colleagues, the secretariat and in particular our chair Jerry Buttimer TD.

I can now say with confidence that I support the Government’s decision to legislate.  This Bill only deals with difficult, rare and complex circumstances.

Of course I have some caveats.  I am concerned about us separating out physical and mental health.  I feel in the wider public debate on mental health that it is a retrograde step.  I believe that that Heads 2 and 4 should be merged. While I have heard conflicting legal arguments and reasoning, I do not believe a sufficient argument has been made to distinguish between the manner through which a “risk of loss of life” manifests. As noted by the Expert Group, a differentiated treatment does not appear to be required for medical or practical reasons.  In the words of Dr McCarthy to the Committee “suicide in pregnancy is real, a real risk, it does happen.”  There is no distinction in Article 40.3.3 and so to distinguish physical and mental health in this Bill would be to alter the law. I do not believe we should have differentiated treatments.

I am concerned about the scope of Head 19.  I think it is extremely broad, in fact too broad.  It covers a wide range of activities including and beyond that previously covered by sections 58 & 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861.  Some of the scope is unclear-what exactly is covered? The penalties are disproportionate.   I have concerns over the appeals process timelines and conscientious objection. I think we need a further discussion to explore these issues.

I am concerned about the silence in the proposed legislation on children, particularly young girls.  I believe we need specific legislation to address many of the issues raised over the past few days.   I am troubled that we will compound voiceless children who are in the care of the State in this legislation.

Our hearings have also highlighted the importance of the forthcoming Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill, which is urgently needed.

I must say I found any association, actual or implied, between abortion in Europe and the Holocaust, to be distasteful in the extreme. Besmirching the memory of millions of murdered Jews by turning them into a pawn in the abortion debate displays a woeful ignorance of the Holocaust, and a woeful disrespect to the memory of the victims.

Whatever one’s opinion on the abortion issue, the debate is between well-intentioned people on both sides of the argument. There are no two sides of the Holocaust.  I would respectfully encourage my colleagues to desist from making this highly offensive connection during the continuing debate.  We must not allow the 6 million victims of a diabolical premeditated attempt to eradicate an entire people to be dragged into this abortion debate.

In ending, I was appointed by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, particularly in recognition of my work on children’s rights.   Advocacy on children’s rights has not been an easy road to travel and therefore on this decision and talking about child protection I did have to consider my position.  I stand here with confidence.  I will continue to constructively engage with care, conviction and compassion.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Jim Higgins MEP

Thursday, 16th May 2013

I, too, join in welcoming Mr. Higgins to the House. He has history in this House and the Dáil. He recalled a fateful phone call, similar to one I received two years ago this Monday when I was in China. It was a great story. I will never forget the pride I felt when I got that phone call.

I acknowledge the roles which have not been highlighted and in which he played a significant part, namely, the EU suicide prevention and mental health treatment strategies, EU funding for the care of the elderly and the increased access to cross-border health care. He was also involved in children and youth issues, such as childhood obesity and child literacy. These issues are often not played out in Ireland, but are important in terms of the development of EU strategies which filter down to Ireland. His role as quaestor is also very important.

I note his role in introducing a cultural programme. I happened to be present in January when Mr. Higgins met Mr. John Banville. It was an excellent initiative.

As Mr. Higgins said, Ireland’s Presidency is very important and set a number of milestones. I would like to join the recognition of the roles played by Irish Ministers. We all have a sense of pride when we hear about the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on the news, delivering a deal people said would not be possible within this Presidency. We should not underestimate the deal which has been struck, and the officials who support that work

I want to raise the role of citizens in Europe. I have a concern that Europe has steered off its path slightly. We should return to its original path, where all voices, no matter how small, were heard equally, and where the understanding and promotion of diversity of culture and ideas were to the fore. Last week I had the opportunity while in Vienna to speak in the Austrian Chancellery on the Future of Europe Group report on striking a balance between unity and diversity. It has not received much publicity in Ireland, but 11 foreign Ministers from EU member states, not including Ireland, came together and wrote a paper on what they believe is the future of Europe. My difficulty with the report is that it progresses a very top-down approach. If one really reads into the report, one will find it looks at the common security policy and similar areas on which we could co-operate, rather than issues which directly affect citizens.

We need to be careful with our engagement on EU issues. I would welcome a debate in the House on the future of Europe. The report to which I referred is interesting. It comprises only seven pages but there is a lot of content. It is very interesting that although the foreign Ministers have all put their names to it, it is on only one official website, that of the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Westerwelle, for debate.

There is often a perception that popular sentiment towards the EU has turned sour because power has moved to the centre of Europe between France and Germany. It should be noted that the European Movement Ireland committee commissioned a RedC poll earlier this year which found 85% of respondents believed that Ireland should remain part of the EU and 83% of Irish adults believe that, on balance, Ireland has benefited from its membership of the EU. We should not underestimate those figures. We can have a serious and engaging debate with the citizens of Ireland. They see the benefits of the EU and we should examine how we can develop that further.

I would be interested to hear the opinions of Mr. Higgins on how, post the Irish Presidency which will be over soon enough, we can ensure the EU agenda focuses on the issues that most affect our citizens and how we can best generate engagement with and support for the EU with people. I refer to the “critical friend” approach, whereby a really good friend will tell one what he or she likes or does not like.

I have concerns about the multiannual financial framework. It is close to completion. We have a deal which will have to be discussed and rebalanced every year because we will not grasp the nettle. We will propose a budget but each year the Parliament will have to grapple with it. I would welcome Mr. Higgins’s thoughts on that.

I echo his congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Coveney for his role in common fisheries and CAP. I am not from an agricultural background, although having spent 12 years on the economic and social committee with farmers’ representatives I learned more about farming than I ever needed or wanted to know. It is tremendous that Ireland has played a role in bringing people together.

OECD Review of Irish Pensions System: Statements

Wednesday, 15th May 2013

I welcome the Minister to the House. When the Minister has the opportunity, I look forward to her publishing and discussing her planned roadmap for long-term pensions policy in Ireland. This debate shows the interest we have in the policy.

As time is limited, I wish to share my initial thoughts on the OECD review. I have two major concerns regarding the manner in which the pensions system is operating – our ageing population and the State’s reliance on current expenditure to cover pension costs. I will address the latter first.

Private companies fund their pension schemes through future liabilities, but the State uses current expenditure. In the private sector many pension schemes have been adjusted, modified or even closed to new entrants and it has been necessary to cut entitlements. While I am not happy about any of this, it is the reality of what is happening. However, there is a real generational issue and the current generation is set to lose out. The ESRI report published yesterday shows clearly that those who are in their 40s or under are bearing the brunt of the recession. The national pensions framework published in March 2010 showed that there were six workers to each pensioner. However, that figure will be halved by 2032 to a ratio of 3:1 and by 2050 there will only be two workers to each pensioner. Moreover, that is not guesswork but mathematics.

The ratio in the public sector is more startling and has been exacerbated by early retirements and the recruitment moratorium. The same generation that is disproportionately affected by the recession through high unemployment, mortgage arrears and negative equity will also be obliged to pay the price of a pensions shortfall unless the issue is dealt with. By the time this generation retires, there will be nothing left in the pot. There is a social insurance fund deficit of €1.5 billion per year.

According to KPMG, the deficit will reach €324 billion in the next 55 years unless action is taken now. This sum of €324 billion is a phenomenal amount. It is nearly twice the national debt and more than twice Ireland’s GDP in 2011. Consequently, we really must get serious about talking about solutions and not simply talking about the ageing population. There must be discussions on whether benefits will be reduced or whether PRSI contributions will be increased. It has been estimated that PRSI contributions would need to be raised by three quarters from now, were that bill to be met over 55 years. That is an indication of how serious this matter is. Consideration must be given to providing an incentive for employers and employees to invest. Senator Paschal Mooney mentioned the position in Australia, but I note the Labor Party Government there introduced that scheme in 1992 with a 3% contribution. Thereafter, over a 15 year period, the Australian authorities raised the figure to 9%. Perhaps there is an opportunity to start at a figure of 1% or 2% at a low age and then to raise it. I do not suggest this is the answer, but the figures are dramatic and drastic and this is not a problem out of which one can hope the economy will naturally lift Ireland.

It is known that the earlier one starts to invest in one’s pension, the better. As the Minister stated, the basic State pension in Ireland is relatively generous when compared with that in other OECD countries, but I note retirees in other countries often receive bigger pensions overall because they contribute to mandatory pension schemes. That is their culture and the system. I also note the recent European Union White Paper, An Agenda for Adequate, Safe and Sustainable Pensions, concluded the financial pressure of an ageing population inevitably would lead to longer working lives and the need for private pension funding to fill the gap left by reductions in public pensions. One need only consider the situation in Waterford Crystal regarding its defined benefit scheme. One worker retires and receives 100%, but six months later the next one retires and receives between 18% and 20%. Is that fair or equitable?

I will move on briefly to the issue of the ageing population. Everyone is aware that in common with the rest of Europe, Ireland has an ageing population. A total of 781,000 people, or approximately 7% of the population, are aged 60 years and over. This figure is expected to double by 2050, when it will account for 29% of the population. An ageing population will have serious consequences for Ireland, including longer working lives, lower economic growth, labour shortages, reduced consumption, considerable pressure on women to fill the gaps in the labour market, alongside caring for children and elderly relatives, and a considerable reduction in the social insurance fund and the National Pensions Reserve Fund. However, Ireland does have something in its favour – its birthrate. One cannot consider these issues in isolation and Ireland must invest in children. It is our collective responsibility, given that in economic terms, children are a merit good. Children have value to others beyond their family as future taxpayers and workers whose contributions will help to fund State pensions. I will sum it up in one line from the English MP, Mr. Frank Field, who said, “I may not have children; but I need someone to have them if my pension is to be paid.” Therefore, let us invest in children also.

Domestic Violence: Motion

8th May 2013

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also give my full support to this motion and thank the Labour Party group and Senators Maloney and O’Keeffe in particular, who have proposed and seconded it. I can wholeheartedly endorse everything they have said. The first point I wish to raise pertains to the Istanbul convention, that is, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. It has been open for signature since May 2011 and as Senator Moloney has stated, 29 Council of Europe member states have signed the convention but only four have ratified it to date and it requires ten ratifications to come into force. The convention is the first legally-binding instrument providing a legal framework to protect women against all forms of violence and includes obligations on the State with regard to prevention, protection and provisions of supports and assistance. It recognises violence against women as being gender-based violence and discrimination. It also recognises that equality between women and men is a prerequisite for prevention. Moreover, the convention obliges the State to address fully all forms of violence and to take adequate measures for prevention, protection and prosecution.

In preparing for today’s debate, I tried to work out the reason Ireland will not ratify this convention because these are all laudable and worthy aims, which everyone in this House has echoed thus far and which also are echoed within the counter-motion. My understanding is that Article 52 of the Istanbul convention, which is relevant to emergency barring orders, has some conflict with property rights under the Irish Constitution. I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on what precisely are the problems. As Ireland is part of the Council of Europe, why was this issue not raised when the convention was being drawn up? Can our laws be clarified to ensure its ratification because it is unacceptable to me that Ireland is not in a position either to sign or to ratify this convention? Consequently, I seek clarity and am all too tired of hearing that the Irish Constitution is a block to doing good things and to doing the right thing, as this is the right thing to do.

Previous speakers have mentioned the situation for women and for men. Given my background in children’s rights, I have all too often seen the direct effect of domestic violence on children, either directly or as witnesses to direct domestic violence. The Safe Ireland figures from last year showed that nearly 8,000 women and more than 3,000 children sought safety from domestic violence in Ireland. I will focus on that word, “safety”. I tried to put myself into that position in the context of looking the resources available and the laws in place in Ireland. Were one to be in a situation of domestic violence, the likelihood is it could be at a weekend. Addiction issues often are an intertwined problem, whether it be gambling, alcohol or drugs, and consequently they also can play a part. Where are the services and supports in respect of such issues? When one calls for the Garda to help, what can gardaí do? Members are aware of the pressures on Garda resources. Where are the refuges? Several previous speakers have mentioned the issue of refuges. There are none in many rural areas or where they do exist, they are being run by volunteers, that is, by dedicated women who have come together to provide a local support but who are receiving no support from the State. Moreover, the person concerned, who in the most usual case is a woman, must give a statement either there or within 24 hours. I refer to the facilities for so doing in an appropriate place where the children will not be a witness to that statement. What of all these intertwining issues, including psychological and counselling services or safe refuge? Moreover, this should not be limited to the city of Dublin, as such safety and places should be available nationwide for those in an abusive situation who pick up the telephone. Such situations are not planned and while people might say those involved have their wallets or could check in here or could do this or that, such situations can arise.

I will counter by noting that in 2007, the then Office of the Minister for Children, which has been incorporated into the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, produced an excellent report entitled, Listening to Children: Children’s Stories of Domestic Violence. What alarmed me in that report was that several mothers reported violent episodes while they were holding young children. This raises obvious concerns for their physical safety and child protection concerns. One mother of two children, who were aged four and six, outlined an incident in which she returned home from hospital with her newborn baby. As this State report notes, she stated:
He took to ranting and raving and screaming and shouting around the bed … I was holding [the baby] in my arms and I was feeding him … [The father] jumped out of the bed and he came over and he grabbed [the baby] and he had him out, like this, so that his little head was hanging down and his little legs were … [it] was very traumatic for me because I sort of felt that I am a mother now and I couldn’t protect my own child.

When such a woman seeks help, what are the resources the State has in place? How can such resources be ensured because it is known that domestic violence involves repeated victimisation? The woman does not necessarily pick up the telephone and get everything sorted out on the first call. Members are familiar with all the reports and the figures and it is a question of where will one will get help.

It also is a question of where should attitudes be changed. On that issue, I recently related a story on domestic violence to a colleague and am still stunned by the response. The colleague asked me whether they would not give the relationship a second go. This attitude must be challenged in society. I refer to suggestions that the woman should give the relationship a second go or perhaps was a little more complicit or perhaps had she the dinner on the table, it would not happen. As I stated, there are many countering factors and one must ensure the provision of adequate responses with both refuges and the wrap-around supports and services for the women and for the children. They also should be in place for the men whether they are victims or equally, are abusers. It is known that young children in particular have conflicting emotions. They love their dad and still want to be part of it. Is it safe that they are still there and will the dads be supported? This must be considered as a family issue and not simply in isolation. Consequently, I wholeheartedly endorse this motion.

The Lancet

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