Children (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage14 May 2015

The Minister is always welcome to the House. I warmly welcome the introduction of the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 and thank the Minister for introducing it in the Seanad.

Senator Leydon raised the possibility of arranging a visit to the site of the children detention centre. The Minister issued an invitation to members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children to visit the centre and we expect to make arrangements to do so in the coming weeks. To be collegial, I suggest the Senator discuss with his party colleagues on the committee the possibility of allowing him to take part in the visit on their behalf.

A significant achievement by the Government in the promotion and protection of children’s rights has been the near complete closure of St. Patrick’s Institution, which has been the subject of serious criticism over the decades for detaining children in the adult prison system. For this reason, I look forward to the publication of the prisons Bill, which will facilitate the complete closure of St. Patrick’s Institution.

Before discussing the Bill in detail, I affirm my firm belief and commitment, as a legislator, to the internationally and domestically recognised principle of detention as a last resort for children, both committed and detained on remand. Detention as a last resort is fundamentally important to the welfare and well-being of children who have come into conflict with the law. I continue to be concerned about the numbers of children detained on remand who do not go on to be sentenced to a period of detention. This raises concerns that detention is being resorted to inappropriately – as a form of detention for assessment – in the case of children who have care or protection concerns. Children must not be criminalised as a result of inadequate care and mental health service provision elsewhere. While I have raised these concerns on a number of occasions with the Minister for Justice and Equality, I restate them in this debate.

The Bill facilitates the amalgamation of the three detention schools on the Oberstown site into one legal entity. The practical effects of this change will be the creation of a single management team, payroll, staff rota, etc. Crucially, with regard to governance, it will lead to integrated practices, operational consistency, coherence of model and the appointment of one director. The proposed amalgamation is critical to the success of Oberstown.

I am concerned as to whether the disciplinary system in Oberstown will be appropriate to the age of children committed and remanded to the facility. To express this in another way, will the facility be child friendly? Will the disciplinary system be distinct from the system in operation in the adult prison model and will it reflect the welfare and care relationship model?

The Minister kindly organised a briefing for Members yesterday, which was attended by my researcher, Ms Amy McArdle. Assurances were given that, in keeping with the child care model of detention, good order rules would be used to avoid disciplinary measures. Will the Minister elaborate on what is meant by the term “good order rules”? Perhaps these are rules modelled on best practice in juvenile detention in another jurisdiction. Is that the case? I would like to understand what exactly this phrase means and what is its basis?

I note in section 5 that provision has been made for part or all of the children detention school to be designated as a remand centre. I intend to consider this issue in more detail before Committee Stage. While I appreciate the intention to keep children detained on remand separate from children committed to detention to the greatest extent possible and where it is in the best interests of the child, I am concerned that we are starting from a point of non-compliance with our international human rights obligations, for example, in respect of Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Ireland currently has a reservation. The Minister will recall the concluding observation of the human rights committee last July that Ireland should establish a concrete timeline for the achievement of complete separation of remand and sentenced prisoners, juvenile and adult prisoners and detained immigrants and sentenced prisoners.

Finally, I call on the Minister to discuss with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, the issue of 18 to 20 year old males sentenced to detention who are now accommodated in a separate dedicated unit in Wheatfield. I wonder if, in keeping with the latest recommendation of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, all agencies that comprise the criminal justice system should recognise the 18-24 age group as one with distinct and specific needs, with the cut-off age for accommodation in the separate dedicated unit extended to 24 years. The IPRT recommendation follows extensive research.

The IPRT report, Turnaround Youth: Young Adults (18-24) in the Criminal Justice System, published earlier this week, makes a compelling case for a distinct approach to this age cohort which, although it is disproportionately represented in the prison population, making up 9% of the overall population and 24% of the prison population, is also the age of opportunity with peak capacity to change. I recommend that the Minister reads this report and brings it to the attention of his Cabinet colleagues, given his remit regarding children and young people.

On the issue of spent convictions, my understanding is that the spent convictions Bill will already expunge the records for those under 18. Perhaps the Minister can advise me. I warmly welcome the Bill and will do all in my power to support and strengthen it to ensure that it is what we all envisage. It is very exciting and long overdue.

Statements on Early Child Care

I start with a declaration of interest. I am chair of Early Childhood Ireland, but it is a governance role. The Minister is very welcome to the House to discuss this issue. I applaud him for the work he is doing in setting up an interdepartmental group on future investment in child care. It is very encouraging to see the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs taking ownership of and showing leadership in the area.

I was surprised recently when I saw a map of the State, Department and agencies involvement developed by Mr. Thomas Walsh of NUI Maynooth. The list was large and I wonder about resources and costs, purely on the State side. That issue needs to be re-examined to ensure the system is streamlined. The map is an exemplar of the role of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, for which I applaud it. The role of the Minister is to co-ordinate and bring people together and to fulfil the missions of the strategy of the Government in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

I hope the template will give us all an agreed map in order that we can declare where we need to go to. Difficult choices will have to be made, but at least we can agree at last what needs to happen. Parallel to this, as the Minister will be aware, the Joint Committee on Health and Children is having hearings on this issue. Deputy Sandra McLellan is our rapporteur, under the excellent chairmanship of Deputy Jerry Buttimer. The hearings have started and last week Early Childhood Ireland, Start Strong, the NWCI and the Children’s Rights Alliance came before the committee to set the scene for the issue. We have already had a good debate.

I want to discuss special needs and additional needs, which came up at the hearings last week. I mentioned the fact that the Department of Education and Skills provides more than 6,500 SNAs in primary schools, yet, apart from some local resources, none is allocated to children in early years education. I know that very often the focus is, correctly, on a child with needs, but we all know, and it was stated in the hearings last week, that the importance of inclusion and mainstreaming for all children in a setting cannot be overestimated. What came out of it was that perhaps the special needs assistant model is not the right model, so I hope the Minister is examining other models. It was about how they could access resources to support children in order that they were included in the settings and about adequately resourcing the preschool setting to include and mainstream the child rather than having a shadow with the child, . I advise the Minister to examine some of the answers we received from the organisations at that hearing.

What also came out very strongly from each of the organisations that presented was the importance of the first year of the child’s life, and that we must do everything we can to ensure this first year is at home. This came from all the organisations and it is something I ask the Minister to bring into his consideration. Perhaps over time, as we are trying to be ambitious, the Minister could look at how we ensure we have maternity and paternity leave. In Sweden either parent must take three months of the leave and it is up to them to work out how it is done. We need to look more inventively at this.

I strongly urge the Minister to ensure any money allowed goes into investment and not into cash transfers. We do not have to look too far back in history in this regard. The early child care supplement was withdrawn by the former Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, and the free preschool year was started at the beginning of the recession. I am hugely surprised to see that Fianna Fáil has gone back to tax credits in its plans. For me it is about investment. I urge the Minister to examine this.

 

Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011: Second Stage 13 May 2015

I warmly welcome this Bill in principle, which is intended to deliver greater speed and transparency and easier access, as well as to tackle excessive legal fees. It represents the most comprehensive reform of our legal structures and legal services industry in the history of the State.

We have a great responsibility as legislators to deliver this reform responsibly. I want to sound a loud note of caution at this stage about putting on a statutory footing any rules that are incompatible with competition law and in particular any rules that have already been ruled by the Supreme Court to be non-judicable and therefore not legally binding. For instance, in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that the code of conduct of the Bar Council of Ireland is non-judicable. The reform provided for by this Bill is crucial and long overdue. We must devise an appropriate balance between the right of the public to access justice by way of recourse to a well-functioning legal profession at a fair cost, and the needs of legal practitioners to carry out their work in an appropriate and professional environment for reasonable remuneration.

We must also acknowledge that action in this regard was a prerequisite of the EU-IMF-ECB troika programme and the enactment and delivery of the Bill remain the subject of a country-specific recommendation under the EU semester process which has succeeded the troika programme. The European Commission will therefore continue to monitor the Bill’s progress closely.

In developing the Bill, both the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and her predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, have dealt with many of the most complex and significant issues in our democratic system. These include the constitutional independence of the legal professions and the role of the professions in enabling citizens to access justice and in its fair administration. I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of access to justice. I will raise two issues at this juncture, the first of which concerns costs. Access to justice for all regardless of income or background is a core democratic value, yet it has long been known that legal costs in Ireland are prohibitive for low-income families. Ireland shares with the UK the dubious honour of charging the highest legal costs in Europe. The Bill purports to deliver a new and enhanced legal costs regime that will bring greater transparency to legal costs and will apply to both barristers and solicitors.

The high legal costs regime in Ireland is caused by severe restrictions on access to lawyers. There are hundreds of barristers who are available and willing to act directly for consumers but are prevented from doing so by the Bar Council in so-called contentious matters and many other matters. A sum of €1,000 to €1,500 would get a meeting with a solicitor and an opinion from a barrister on a routine matter. That is a significant amount of money for the vast majority of people in Ireland. Many will think of it as a monthly mortgage payment, a month’s rent or a month of child care. The courts are currently awash with lay litigants who simply cannot afford to pay for formal legal representation. I am reliably informed that many barristers would be only too happy to act directly for those lay litigants for modest fees. For them, some work and some payment is better than none.

However, there is an issue concerning direct access to barristers. On closer inspection, direct access is permissible only in non-contentious cases, which represent a mere 2% of barristers’ work. The response that contentious work involves handling client money does not add up, as not all contentious work involves this. Of course, there must be rules around handling client funds. Such rules already exist in the Solicitors Act and could very easily be applied to barristers. Instead of seeing barristers leave the profession in large numbers, as happened particularly during the recession, they should be let stay and earn a living providing excellent, good value and lower-cost services on a direct professional access basis. There is no legislation on the Statute Book preventing that.

We need to exercise extreme care in putting the prevailing anti-competitive restrictions concerning barristers onto the Statue Book. Indeed, as the Bar Council itself is not currently a statutory body but a private body, I wonder why it is being put on a statutory footing at all. I remain unclear on this and perhaps the Minister can clarify it.

The second issue I wish to raise concerns the restrictions on advertising and commercial communications by lawyers. The Irish Competition Authority’s report into the competitive practices of barristers and solicitors in 2006 concluded that the legal profession was in need of substantial reform and was permeated with unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on competition, the overall effect of which limited access, choice and value for money for those purchasing legal services. It recommended:

 for both barrister and solicitor advertising that:…the existing rules should be reformed. Truthful and objective advertising gives clients useful information and helps them to choose among competing lawyers. Advertising should be controlled in a more pro-consumer manner by way of rules that focus on preventing factually inaccurate advertising or advertising which would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Despite a target date of 2008 for the implementation of the Competition Authority reforms and despite the initiation of an infringement procedure against Ireland by the European Commission in November 2013 for continuing to allow the Bar Council to maintain the restrictions it has on advertising, and a letter of formal notice in late 2014, what we see before us in the Bill, namely, in section 158, still does not comply with Article 24 of the services directive, regulation No. 25 of SI 533/2010 or the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

I am very concerned that the State’s course of action in failing to address the deficiencies and in resisting the Commission’s case since 2013 is building up a liability for the Irish taxpayer. I acknowledge the commitment by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, in the Dáil, specifically in response to an amendment tabled by Deputy Catherine Murphy, that she will table an amendment in this regard on Committee Stage in the Seanad. I look forward to considering that amendment. I note with slight concern that the Minister spoke of finding the appropriate balance between the exigencies of the services and those of Government policy. Ireland is required to comply with the requirements of an EU directive.

I will engage on Committee and Remaining Stages but I wanted to outline the two areas which I believe need greater attention.

Statements on Alcohol Consumption in Ireland

I was happy to swap with my colleague Senator Rónán Mullen because I would not have wished him to feel he was being silenced by not being able to contribute to the debate on the forthcoming referendum. I welcome Ms Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland, who is in the Visitor’s Gallery.

I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, to the Seanad and applaud him for what he is doing in this area. I accepted an invitation from the Department of Health to attend a seminar entitled “Influencing Healthy Lifestyles: Nudging or Shoving? The Ethical Debate.” It was really informative, and I thank the Minister for extending the invitation to us.

The public health (alcohol) Bill 2015, as the Minister outlined, deals with labelling, minimum unit pricing, marketing, advertising sponsorship, availability and price-based promotions. The Joint Committee on Health and Children, chaired by our excellent Chairman, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, held a series of meeting on the subject and is finalising its report. The Minister came to the final hearing of this series of debates on the heads of the Bill to hear the views of the members. What the Minister said today in the Seanad shows me that he took on board a number of the committee’s sentiments with regard to the public health (alcohol) Bill. I thank him.

I note with sadness that according to the OECD report Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use: Economics and Public Health Policy, Ireland has the fourth highest level of alcohol consumption in the OECD, behind Estonia, Austria and France, at 11.7 litres per capitafor those aged 15 years and over. To be placed fourth in this category is not the position we want to hold on this league table.Several of my colleagues have referred to the executive summary of this OECD report, from which I will quote:

 

Alcohol has an impact on over 200 diseases and types of injuries. In most cases the impact is detrimental; in some cases it is beneficial. In a minority of drinkers, mostly older men who drink lightly, health benefits are larger. … Harmful drinking is normally the result of an individual choice, but it has social consequences. The harms caused to people other than drinkers themselves, including the victims of traffic accidents and violence, but also children born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, are the most visible face of those social consequences. Health care and crime costs, and lost productivity, are further important dimensions. These provide a strong rationale for governments to take action against harmful alcohol use.

 

People often talk about the consumption of alcohol by young people and children, but they do not necessarily refer to the impact of alcohol on children in families. We see the figures in reports on domestic violence. The example set by the parents’ lifestyle impacts on the household. Senator Colm Burke referred to the students who won the Young Scientist exhibition with their project entitled: “Does the apple fall far from the tree?”, who made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Health and Children. In their project they quoted from a recent ISPCC report in which one child noted: “If you see your parents get drunk, whether you like it or not, it will have an effect on your life.” What surprised me was that one fifth of parents surveyed were not concerned about the prospect of another parent or adult supplying their adolescent with alcohol. That shows me how normal it is for adolescents to drink alcohol. If the adults in these young people’s lives think it is acceptable to buy a young person alcohol, it shows how much needs to be done in informing and educating the adults as well. We have to focus on young people. There is an issue with young people and alcohol which is European-wide, but, as the saying goes, they do not lick it off the ground. The adults in their lives are the role models and they very often set the norms. It is the norm for adults to go to the pub to socialise. We do not have other avenues. We need to ensure we have other avenues and that we provide other examples for our young people.

I fully endorse minimum unit pricing. The excellent report by Dr. John Holmes and Dr. Colin Angus from the University of Sheffield is comprehensive and goes through everything. They have been very open. I have gone back and forth to them with questions and they have been open about addressing any concerns we have. I would be very happy to share this report with colleagues.

I am concerned that the code of practice must be placed on a very strong footing. I have observed how the drinks industry can find every loophole in the system. Could we look at the threshold for the audience profile measurement, which stands at 25% at present? That is far too high. It should be at 10%. I would prefer if there was no alcohol advertising, but at the very least we need to reduce the level of advertising. I raised the issue of online marketing at the committee hearings. We know that some years ago Diageo announced that 21% of its marketing budget would go to online marketing. Recently legislation was introduced in Finland to ban alcohol apps that contained games, location settings and information on the nearest place to drink. Clearly, these apps are targeted at children. It is a social engagement. As my colleagues have said, a young person who visits YouTube will see advertisements for alcohol that I do not see. The drinks industry is very skilled at targeting particular groups. They know what sites and YouTube videos people are looking at, and the advertising is targeted at them. I have seen the effects of this at first hand. If I walk into any classroom and ask children to name their favourite advertisement on television, I guarantee that alcohol advertisements are up there in their choice. The young people score highly on brand recognition.

This brings me to the issue of sports sponsorship. I really believe we should set a date, no matter how far forward it is, to cease all alcohol-related advertising. It is very telling that neither the drinks industry nor the sports organisations will tell us how much sports sponsorship is worth. We do not have a figure. I think that is unacceptable that we do not know what we are talking about. Youth organisations which do so much voluntary work across the country will not take a single cent from the drinks industry, and I do not see the Government being put under pressure to replace it. In fact, the funding of youth organisations was cut by 40% during the recession, yet these organisations are still delivering those services. I acknowledge that some sporting organisations have stopped taking money from the drinks industry, but the sporting organisations who are still taking sponsorship money should let us know how much we are talking about. Last year, a school principal from Munster spoke at an Alcohol Action Ireland hearing on the issue of sports sponsorship. When Munster won what in France is called the H Cup, he invited the team to visit the school and he was delighted a few team members said they would go. They had a great day, but when they arrived with all the sponsorship and drinks advertising, he realised that he, as the principal of the school, had brought alcohol advertising to the school and he apologised to his students for doing so.

How the drinks industry has a handle on us is subliminal and insidious. It is unacceptable and we need to examine it. At a recent hearing, Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies stated alcohol sponsorship of sport is a way past children’s bedroom doors because they have a picture of a sporting hero on the bedroom door with the nice alcohol branding linking it to sporting success. She stated that if we are really serious, we need to tackle and deal with the issue of separation.

We also need to address the drinks industry role in decisions taken. I am concerned when I see jobs advertised by certain drinks companies. According to the job descriptions, they want to stay one step ahead of regulatory developments. They want to ensure they can beat the system. They will tell us it is all about education and if we were all more informed, we would all make the choices. I know about education, healthy eating and lifestyle. I am not as good as I should be because it is not what changes my behaviour. This is where legislation is important and why the Minister has my absolute and full support. I want us to go further and to do more. I want us to follow policies like that recently announced by the HSE, whereby it will have no truck with the alcohol industry. Why are the Departments of Education and Skills and Health not coming out with similar statements? The Child and Family Agency is thinking about it. It should have no truck with the drinks industry. We must do a lot more in Ireland.

Role of drinks industry in Schools – Commencement Matters

I thank the Cathaoirleach and welcome to the Visitors’ Gallery Ms Siobhán Creaton from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and Ms Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland. The issue I have raised with the Minister for Education and Skills pertains to the role the drinks industry is trying to develop with regard to the education of children in Ireland. I will begin by applauding the Government on the public health (alcohol) Bill. As a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I have been very much involved in the consultations and the process. If anything, I would like it to go further, but I certainly will do everything I can to ensure that it comes into law.

However, as part of those consultations, the first red flag went up for me when I saw, for example, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland saying how the industry decided in 2014 to refocus its initiatives in the education space and to concentrate activity on drinkaware.ie. It currently is establishing Drinkaware as an organisation whose work will be modelled upon the influential UK Drinkaware Trust. Unfortunately, if one looks at independent evaluations of Drinkaware in the United Kingdom, one concludes that it is not a model we wish to see in our schools. It has not come out well from an evaluation. Not surprisingly, the drinks industry believes it is excellent, which makes me even more worried about it. The second flag for me was the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign, rolemodels.ie, which is due to produce its report shortly. I can nearly see what this report will say. It will state that we need to educate children, because this is the constant mantra of the drinks industry – namely, that education is needed and that, were everyone educated, it would reduce our risk regarding alcohol-related harm. All the evidence shows that education informs our behaviour but that it does not change or influence it. That is why we introduce laws in respect of, for example, speeding. We all know what is good or bad for us, but legislation is often necessary in order to ensure that we do what is right. A recent Drink Aware advertisement relating to the post of education programme manager refers to the successful applicant working directly with schools. This is despite the fact that a spokesperson for Drink Aware indicated that this is not intended to be the case. If that is so, then the advertisement to which I refer misrepresents the position, because it refers to working with teachers, unions, principals, the Professional Development Service for Teachers, the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. It is obvious that those responsible for Drink Aware want it to become embedded within the education system. I know someone who applied for the position of education programme manager but whose application was unsuccessful. The person in question was informed about the rolemodels.ie campaign, which is going to lead to what I have just outlined. There are no surprises here.

The HSE is not often applauded, but I want to take this opportunity to applaud it most heartily. On 23 April the executive issued a statement to the effect that it is no longer prepared to take any money from the drinks industry and that it will not be associated with said industry, particularly in the context of public health advice or any form of partnership. The statement in question was quite unequivocal in terms of public health advocacy. In my opinion, it reflects what the World Health Organization has said, namely, that public health policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests without interference from commercial interests. I am seeking an assurance from the Minister of State that the drinks industry will play no role in our schools. The HSE has worked on the SPHE model with schools. I am concerned by the fact that the National Parents’ Council Primary has put its name to the rolemodels.ie campaign, and I really hope it will withdraw its support. The National Parents’ Council Post-Primary has distanced itself from the campaign and indicated that it would question the motive behind any campaign funded by the drinks industry and aimed at educating our children.

I tabled this matter because I believed the time was right to do so. What I have stated reflects Government policy. We cannot just leave matters stand and wait to discover what people think. The majority of people do not know that Drink Aware equals the drinks industry. The idea of representatives from the tobacco industry going into schools and telling children about anti-cessation measures relating to smoking is abhorrent. We should also abhor the fact that those in the drinks industry even think it is acceptable for their representatives to go into our schools. It will be reprehensible if the Department of Education and Skills says that it is sorry but there is nothing it can do about this matter. It is not acceptable for those in the drinks industry – regardless of whatever costume they may choose to wear – to have any hand, act or part in the education of the children of Ireland.

Minister Kevin Humphreys (response):

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, who sends her apologies.

The Department of Education and Skills is working very closely with the Department of Health in respect of the overall Healthy Ireland agenda. This encompasses co-operation in a range of areas including physical activity, healthy eating and student well-being, as well as substance misuse. At national level, the Department of Education and Skills is represented on key Government structures that provide a co-ordinated approach to addressing substance misuse. These include the national co-ordinating committee for drug and alcohol task forces. The Minister does not believe it appropriate for her to write to schools to prohibit particular materials or resources that may be developed by certain organisations, including the drinks industry. This could form a dangerous precedent for the future. However, officials at the Department of Education and Skills will continue to co-operate with the HSE and the Department of Health to ensure a co-ordinated and partnership approach to alcohol misuse and the range of other areas that are encompassed by the Healthy Ireland agenda. One recent example of such co-operation is the development of healthy lifestyle guidance that is currently being finalised. This guidance is intended to encourage schools to promote physical activity and healthy eating. It is also designed to encourage their participation in the health-promoting schools initiative, which is supported by the Department of Health and the HSE.

It is important to recognise that while education has a role to play in addressing the problem of alcohol misuse, behavioural change will not happen without the support and co-operation of parents, industry and society as a whole. Parents have a responsibility to help children and young people to adopt sensible and responsible attitudes and behaviours regarding alcohol and drug abuse. At present, the education sector is supporting national policy on substance misuse. In particular, schools are equipping students with the key skills and knowledge to enable them to make informed choices when faced with a range of difficult situations.This includes providing students with age appropriate information on the issue of alcohol abuse through aspects of the curriculum such as the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme. This programme is mandatory in all primary schools. It will also form part of the new mandatory Wellbeing component of junior cycle, along with physical education and civic, social and political education, CSPE. Schools are also encouraged to deliver the SPHE programme in senior cycle. The substance use module of the SPHE curriculum focuses on the issues relating to the use and misuse of a range of substances. It actively seeks to promote healthy and responsible choices by students in a range of areas, including alcohol.

The latest data taken from Department of Education and Skills’ Lifeskills survey 2012 indicate that 90% of primary and 100% of post-primary schools provide their students with information on alcohol abuse through SPHE and other means. These results were almost identical to the position reported by schools through the 2009 Lifeskills survey. The 2015 Lifeskills survey is currently being completed by schools and the Minister hopes to publish the results before the end of the year. This will allow for the measurement of schools’ progress in this area since 2012.

Schools have access to a number of programmes and resources that support the delivery of SPHE and increase students’ awareness of well-being, including drug and alcohol issues. Examples include the Walk Tall programme for primary pupils and a post-primary resource available from the Professional Development Service for Teachers, called On My Own Two Feet. It is a matter for schools and teachers in the first instance to determine what resources and supports they will use to support their implementation of the curriculum. Teachers are equipped to make such decisions as a result of their initial teacher education and the ongoing support provided by the Professional Development Service for Teachers. I am confident that teachers are best placed to identify the most suitable resources to assist them in delivering the SPHE curriculum in their classrooms.

I listened carefully to the Senator’s contribution. She has raised red flags in respect of alcohol awareness and the industry in regard to that. She has been strong and logical about this. The Senator also referred to education, behaviour and role models and expressed concern about the involvement of the drinks industry in both primary and post-primary schools. She made some good points and I will ensure they are highlighted to the Minister. I will ask her to consider the important issues the Senator has raised.

Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister of State and appreciate that he was not in a position to answer my questions but perhaps he will also relay these questions to the Minister. The drinkaware.iejob advertisement for education programme manager states: “To manage relationships with relevant stakeholders, including the Department of Education, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Professional Development Service for Teachers”. These are all within the Minister’s remit. I cannot see any reason for the drinks industry to have a relationship with the Department or the NCCA. I seek the Minister’s assurance that they will not have a relationship with the industry.

I appreciate the Minister cannot write to schools to say they cannot do this but, at the very least, could she write to them to advise them that drinkaware.ie equals the drinks industry. It is nothing else. drinkaware.ie is the costume the industry chooses to wear today. It will come up with something else when drinkaware.ieis exposed to people. Schools need to be warned and a warning bell is needed in this regard.

Minister Kevin Humphreys:

I thank the Senator. I will raise those points. I have a meeting with the Minister later this afternoon at which I will ask her to look at the Senator’s contribution and reply to her directly.

Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister of State.

Statements on Europe Day and European Commission Work Programme

It is very important that we mark Europe Day on Saturday. The challenge for all of us will be whether we are willing to discuss Europe with those around us because we all have a responsibility and a role in that discussion. I thank the Leader, Senator Cummins, who has been very good at facilitating and encouraging us to get more involved and active on the issue of the EU and its importance in our lives and those of the people we represent. I thank him also for organising a recent briefing with the European Commission representation in Ireland, with Barbara Nolan and Jonathan Claridge. It was an excellent briefing and it is a pity more Senators did not turn up. I hope next time we can encourage more to come along.

It is good to see sentiment is rising, according to the latest Eurobarometer polls, in November 2014. Trust is rising, which is positive. The EU has taken some very positive measures to deal with youth unemployment. We have seen, across Europe but particularly in Ireland how young people are disproportionately impacted by a recession through losing jobs and having to emigrate. What statistics are available to demonstrate the success or failure of the youth employment initiative? We hail big flagship projects but how do we, as Senators and parliamentarians, demonstrate to the public that it is worth this investment, the initiatives are working and we are able to use the experience? I appreciate what the Commission Vice-President Timmermans is doing in trying to reduce the number of initiatives. It is very positive but part of me wonders what the Parliament will do with all the extra time it will have without the Commission producing initiatives. We may have to move to implementation. That will be very tough for member states because we will have to stop coming up with lots of new ideas and get down to the gritty work of implementing what is happening at an EU level.

In respect of the work that will happen to lighten the regulatory burden it is very important that we hear from small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs, and civil society organisations across the sector. We can all say how important it is to lighten the regulatory burden but how we do it is also important.

Ireland has to play a very active role in respect of the possible UK in-out referendum. I am very encouraged by the fact that the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and all other players in the Government have taken on a role in that referendum. Ireland will not stay silent on an issue of such importance to the EU and to our closest neighbours, the UK. It most definitely will have ramifications for us, mostly negative.

The lack of an EU immigration policy is an issue. We can say what we want about the United States, US, but it has very clear immigration rules and one can apply to go there. The EU cannot get its head around it. In certain member states there is rising sentiment, stimulated by the lack of EU leadership on the issue. We think that if we just put up the borders people will not come. If I have a choice between certain death and probable death I will take probable death. That is why people are getting on boats. We have to wake up. Being part of the EU is part of our values. We sing about the respect for human dignity, liberty, equality or human rights but when it comes to people who are not EU citizens do we, all of a sudden, throw the values into the Mediterranean as well? Member states have to take this issue more seriously. We should not call them migrants, they are individuals just like any of us and if I was in their situation I would get on that boat. We all have to know we would do that if we were facing certain death in the situations they are fleeing. The EU has a responsibility and a role on the world stage.

The digital single market and the fact that we could create up to €340 billion of additional growth in Europe over the next ten years is very exciting. I hope Ireland will maximise its slice of that pie. It is well-placed in respect of that market. I am also very heartened to see that within the development of that policy the EU is considering child protection issues. An issue on which I wrote a report and had great support from Members on all sides of the House is child abuse material. I was heartened to read on the Commission’s website that it is considering having a system of filtering child abuse material in the absence of us not having an effective system to remove child abuse images. It will look at doing that at a European Union level. It is happening in the United Kingdom. In Ireland, UPC and the mobile phone operators have brought in such a system, but it is voluntary rather than us saying these images should be blocked. There are very good reasons we need to do that. Twenty-seven per cent of women in the EU, not in Africa or some other country, have experienced some form of physical violence before the age of 15. We must step up what we are doing on the issue of child protection and children’s rights.

We know that approximately 16% of the victims of trafficking registered by EU member states are children. We know that violence is still relatively hidden and under-reported, with 90% of all abuse undetected, according to the World Health Organisation. That ranges from issues such as child sexual abuse and exploitation to bullying and cyberbullying.

In terms of these statements, I know we look at the area from a business and jobs perspective but we must ensure that we also use the children’s rights lens when we are looking at those issues.

I refer to an excellent reflection paper the EU produced yesterday on the 9th European Forum on the Rights of the Child – co-ordination and co-operation in integrated child protection systems. I am disheartened to see that 25 EU member states are parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland are the only three countries in the EU that have not signed up to that convention. It is something we need to examine. I believe the capacity legislation may be the blocking mechanism for us. We always say that Ireland plays our role in that regard but when we look at the implementation issues, we are not as good. We need to focus on that issue and consider how we are implementing and upholding our responsibilities as EU citizens, whether here in Ireland, within the European borders or on the world stage.

The Lancet

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