Children (Amendment) Bill – Detention School – Final Stage

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I want to reiterate my support for the Bill. The amalgamation of the three detention schools on the Oberstown site into 1 legal entity is essential to the success of our children detention system.

I look forward to the publication of the Prisons Bill, which will facilitate the complete closure of St Pats.

Ending the detention of children in the adult prison system in Ireland is a hugely significant improvement, albeit long overdue, in the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Ireland.

However, the change of policy whereby 16 and 17 year olds are being remanded and committed to the new facility will not be without its challenges.

In fact they are pre-empted in numerous places in the St. Pat’s Visiting Committee Report for 2014.

The reality is that the new 16 and particularly 17 year old cohort are physically bigger, present with more challenging behaviour, are detained on more serious charges (indeed Minister I think it would be very useful if we tracking any trends and changes in the profile of offences children are being remanded and committed to detention for), and I understand are changing the dynamic between staff and the younger children in the units, whereby they cannot be seen to be complying/buying in with the programme.

We need a risk assessment and specific and ongoing training for staff to deal with these new challenges.

Children First Bill 2014, Second Stage

Seanad Eireann, Children First Bill 2014, Second Stage, 21 July 2015

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Welcome Minister.

I warmly welcome the arrival of the Bill to the Seanad (15 months since first introduced to the Dáil in April 2014).

I actively took part in the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny by the Health and Children Committee who produced its report in July 2012.  I would like to express my thanks to all the organisations and individuals who provided their expert insight.

I would particularly like to thank the Children’s Rights Alliance, ISPCC, Barnardos and EPIC for giving me their updated views on the legislation which has significantly changed, indeed improved, as it has progressed.  I am hoping that the Seanad can make some additional changes to further ensure it will achieve its stated aim.

This legislation is urgently needed and long overdue to put child welfare and protection on a statutory footing-solidify good intentions.

It is essential that we get this right.

Overarching concerns

Before I consider the legislation before us I would briefly like to stress the importance of resourcing of the Child and Family Agency. The Agency continues to be overstretched due to insufficient budget allocation and the roll out of this Bill will most certainly result in additional workload. It is essential that resources, both financial and personnel, are made available to ensure the implementation of the national policies on the ground. (National Review of Cases Awaiting Allocation 15 July 2014).

There is a fear Minister that the ‘system will be overwhelmed’ when this Bill is brought into law. I think the more pressing fear is that there are overwhelming numbers of children at risk of harm and abuse throughout the country. We need this legislation to shine a bright spotlight and ensure that there is no hiding place for vile abusers. It is our job to ensure the system works come hell or high water.

I am also concerned about the preparedness of other State agencies imperative to the success of Children First. For example, the Department of Education or the HSE.

There is much to welcome in this Bill but given the time contraints I will outline area I believe need to be further addressed as the Bill progresses through the Seanad.

Corporal Punishment

Minister, I agree with the Council of Europe and echo its call for a “culture of zero tolerance of violence towards children”.

It is for this reason that I have advised successive Ministers for Children and Youth Affairs of my intention to table an amendment to this Bill to repeal the defence of reasonable chastisement.

I look forward to tabling the amendment I have put forward when we take Committee Stage of this Bill.

Gender Recognition for Transgender Children under the age of 16

Minister, I know you are aware of my disappointment that children are not included in the Gender Recognition Act.

Last Wednesday Minister Humphries stood where you stand now Minister Reilly, and in response to my speech stated that this was now an issue for your department. He said, and I quote, “I would be quite happy for the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to lead on this, because he is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and that Department has a wider remit than the Department of Social Protection on this issue.”

Therefore Minister Reilly, I ask you to include within the Children First legislation a provision to amend the Gender Recognition Act so that the exemption process for 16-18 is depathologised in a manner similar to the application process for adults and to include the creation of a process for interim gender recognition for the under 16s so that the rights of children are fully realised in that process.

Emotional Abuse

At the Committee hearings the majority of organisations and experts said “Emotional abuse” needs to be included in the definition of welfare. Emotional abuse is a form of neglect and should be explicitly stated as such.  We need to amend the Bill to include it as part of the definitions of its laws.

Schedule 3:  Offences for purposes of Paragraph (A) of Definition of “Sexual Abuse” in Section 2

I will be seeking to amend the current term “child pornography” and replace it the more apt and reflective descriptor “child sexual abuse material (CSAM)”.

According to Interpol:

“A sexual image of a child is “abuse” or “exploitation” and should never be described as “pornography”. Pornography is a term used for adults engaging in consensual sexual acts distributed (mostly) legally to the general public for their sexual pleasure. Child abuse images are not…”

Minister I have been saying this since first tabling a motion on Blocking Child Abuse Material on the Internet back in February 2012 and later in my Report on Effective Strategies to Tackle Online Child Abuse Material in September 2013, a child sexual abuse image is a crime scene, a digital record of sexual abuse being perpetrated against a real child in the real world and I will be seeking to have “child pornography” in this Bill and across our statute books amended to “child sexual abuse material” to better reflect the seriousness of the offence.

Child safeguarding statements

In Section 11, subsection 5 suggests that the Agency can request a copy of the relevant service provider’s child safeguarding statement. This enables the Agency to monitor compliance which is welcome.  However Section 12(1)(b) doesn’t specify how quickly the Agency can be furnished (“within such period as may be specified in the notice). This is rather weak- the Agency could be waiting for weeks, perhaps longer for a statement to be sent.  This should be tightened up.

I am aware that the Minister may issue regulations and Guidelines for the purpose of providing practical guidance on how to adhere to the Bill. But in the absence of a firm commitment that this will be done how will organisations and mandated people be fully aware of their new duties such as drafting the child safeguarding statement?

Also on Section 11(5), it specifies that the child safeguarding statement should be made available to the public on request.  I am aware that subsection 6 calls for it to be displayed prominently.  I ask why only on request? Surely we want all organisations to be open and transparent about the protection of children?  I believe we should be asking for statements to be publicly available (online) as a matter of course?

Non-compliance Register

13(5) why is the register of non-compliance only available to the public for inspection at reasonable times?  One of the best incentives for compliance would be a public list on the Agency website of organisations who are on the register of non-compliance.  This bill needs to change the culture of services for children in Ireland to one of openness and transparency.

Right of Appeal

12(8) A right of appeal is critical, but should the avenue of appeal not be proportionate and remain within the Agency?  If it goes to the District Court, it’ll could be tied up for months/years, and I don’t believe anyone wishes safeguarding children to be caught in court delays.

Childminders

Childminders are still exempt from the provisions of the Bill. Only those providing an early years service under the meaning of the Child Care Act 1991 are included (i.e. those looking after 4 or more children (excluding their own)). This is a serious omission given the number of children placed in the care of childminders.  We omitted them from the National Vetting Bureau Act and I question why they are not included in the scope of the Bill.

Conclusion

I will be bringing forward amendments on the points I have raised today at Committee Stage.  I will of course given further consideration to the Children First Bill during the recess and look forward to working with you Minister to ensure the Bill achieves it stated aim.

 

Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill 2015: Second Stage 17 July 2015

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Welcome Minister.

While I appreciate the desire to have certain pieces of legislation passed through the Houses before the summer recess, it should never be at the expense of the democratic process.

You are aware Minister as are my Seanad colleagues that our agenda has gone from meagre at various stages over the last few months with (let’s be honest) thinly veiled time fillers…to the scenario we have now where there is insufficient time to scrutinise this Bill properly and fulfill our legislative duty.

I was unable to follow the Bill’s conclusion in the Dáil yesterday afternoon due to the Health and Children Committee session, legislative briefings and various meetings throughout the day.

There wasn’t even an updated version of the Bill reflecting the Report Stage amendments from the Dáil, when this speech was put together.

Only for a briefing late yesterday afternoon by your Department Officials, which was extremely helpful, I wouldn’t have known and been able to welcome the fact that the Bill has been amended to repeal the relevant provisions of the Enforcement of Court Orders Acts 1926-2009, which was preventing the Bill from truly abolishing the imprisonment mechanism for non-payment of civil debts.

As you know Minister I strongly support extending the recognised principle of detention as a last resort for children to adults and with urgency for the 18-24 year old cohort.

I accept imprisonment is unavoidable in certain circumstances, particularly in the case of violent offences but our rates of committal to prison under sentence and the increasing number of committals for less than three and six month periods, means that Ireland has one of the most punitive criminal justice systems in Europe.

I was interested to know what kind of numbers we were looking at in terms of imprisonment for non-payment of debt and according Irish Prison Service Annual Report, 23 debtors were subject to a period of custodial sanction in 2014.

This was compared to 8,979 committals for non-payment of court ordered fines, the vast majority of which were for periods of less than three months, but nonetheless at significant cost to the State.

Minister, when will the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 be commenced? While not completely removing the possibility of imprisonment for non-payment, the Act provides much needed alternative such as the payment of fines by instalment, by attachment and recovery orders if appropriate, and by the substitution of community service orders for the fines.

It is now simply absurd that 5 years after the first Fines Act (2010) introduced a payment by instalment mechanism that the Court Service is still unable to progress the facility and there are nearly 9,000 committals a year as a result.

I have a number of concerns about the Bill before us, which echo many of the same concerns flagged by FLAC in their submission.

I had a chance to discuss some with your Department Officials at yesterday’s briefing.

Assessment of ability to pay issues:

 Why is there no statutorily enshrined guidance for the District Court in determining a debtor’s ability to pay their debt or the amount to be attached or deducted over a given period?

Minister, I put it to you that there will undoubtedly be unequal assessment depending on the court.  This already happens in relation to family law maintenance where orders can vary extensively depending on the court in question.   There is a need for guidelines. The guidelines exist.

Guidelines on reasonable standard of living, reasonable living expenses for debtors:

I suggest the Bill would be greatly strengthened by specific reference to the “reasonable living expenses” guidelines that the Insolvency Service of Ireland and the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy must consider in accordance with section 23 of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 to ensure a debtor’s income doesn’t fall below an acceptable minimum standard.

The guidelines have their base in objective, academic work principally of Michéal Collins at Trinity College working with the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice who in turn used a well-established model developed by the University of Loughborough in the UK and are used for debts big and small in the insolvency service including assessments for Debt Relief Notices where the maximum reference debt is €20,000 but can be much smaller.

If it’s good enough for insolvency and bankruptcy deliberations I don’t see why it isn’t good enough in the context of civil debt?

I cannot help but wonder if the reason it isn’t included in the Bill is that many social welfare recipients, if not all, subject to its assessment would fail to reach the threshold and the truth is that this Bill, while necessary and welcome in many ways, has a special interest in ensuring that outstanding water bills can be collected from the “refuse to pay category” in receipt of social welfare.

Social Welfare:

Is the point of social welfare not to provide the minimum of what people who are not in employment need to survive? How then can any deduction (even where as low as the €1 and €5 per week as mooted in the briefing) not cause additional hardship to those already experiencing poverty?

Apparent contradiction in that there is no provision for the deduction of fines from social welfare payments under the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 and plans to introduce such arrangements.

Proceedings in Open Court:

I am really concerned that the civil debt proceedings will be taking place in open court.

At least with family law maintenance hearings only the parties to the case will hear all of the details of income and expenses.

The civil debt situation is in open court (District Court-often really full) where the debtor must file details of their finances or face prosecution and where the creditor can question the debtor in open court.

If the reasonable living expenses guidelines I have suggested were used, then a debtor’s affairs would only be opened out for the general public in cases where the expenses were above what was considered reasonable.  And the expenses would be the same throughout all the courts of the land.

Employment Protection Issues:

There is no protection in the Bill for the debtor against adverse or unfair treatment by his or her employer owing to there being an Attachment of Earnings Order against them.

This situation is different to a maintenance attachment in a family law context, which is regarded as a family matter/familial dispute/nobody’s business. In a failure to pay a civil debt context I am worried that an employer might infer that the employee is untrustworthy/unreliable.

FLAC Recommendation: Amend the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 1993 to specifically prohibit dismissal on the grounds of being subject to an attachment of earnings order.

Can the Minister explain why the Bill allows an attachment order to be obtained and notified to a person’s employer without any prior steps being taken to recover the debt?

Surely an Attachment of Earnings Order should only follow the debtor’s failure to meet the terms of an Instalment Order and where the varying of an Instalment Order downwards has been considered?

-END-

 

Gender Recognition Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages 15 July 2015

As always, the Minister of State is welcome to the House. I thank the Tánaiste for her commitment to the issue of gender recognition and thank the Minister of State for the energetic and robust debates we have had here in the Chamber and outside. I join other Members in welcoming the distinguished guests who have joined us here today, in particular Dr Lydia Foy and Michael Farrell. As I look at each face in the Visitors’ Gallery and think of the journey I have been on, I note that I did not know the majority of these people a few years ago, but now I feel I know them as friends. They have had to share their life stories with me for me to understand what we are debating here today and see the importance of today. That says a great deal. I have met some really amazing and brilliant people.

As the Minister of State knows, I have met many parents and children directly affected by this issue. While I am really happy today and recognise that is a great day, it is a bittersweet moment for me. It brings me back to my childhood when teams were being picked. There is a team getting on the human rights bus that is going. They are the adults and they are going to get it but the children did not get picked. That feeling of children being left out in the cold…yet again… makes it very difficult for me again today that we did not do anything for children, even though we had that opportunity. As we meet today, young people organised by TENI are meeting on the issue. BelongTo has a group of children meeting on this very issue. It is not that these children do not exist; they do. The Minister of State and I have met the parents and we know the real issues they face.

I will not go back over and rehearse every issue, but there have been developments since we debated the issue in the House in February. The calls I have made were informed and very much supported by organisations such as TENI and BeLonG To but also by the ISPCC, Children’s Rights Alliance, NYCI, SpunOut, Epic, Amnesty and the USI, just to name a few. Indeed, at its parliamentary assembly, the Council of Europe issued a resolution on discrimination against transgender people in Europe and said we needed to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all decisions concerning children. This is on transgender people; I am not picking something out of place. Indeed, since we have been debating the matter, Malta has passed gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics legislation which ensures that children are free to live as they wish and are only required at the age of 14 to provide a gender for their birth certificate. In Norway, the Government has proposed legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny, not some independent Senator, to look at gender recognition from age seven. I welcome the commitment the Minister of State made in February to have the roundtable among education partners and I welcome the fact that one meeting has happened, but it is only one meeting. No education partners have been contacted on the issue of transgender children. We will face September again and there will be children who cannot live as they wish and go to the schools they wish to attend because they are being actively blocked.

Much has been made of the marriage equality referendum, which was a joyous and tremendous day, but there was also the children’s referendum which took two years for the Supreme Court to clear. That is the lens we also need to be looking at. We need to ensure that our legislation is also looking at that lens. The Government’s national policy framework for children and young people, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, is a whole-of-government document, not just one relating to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It very clearly sets out that the development of laws, policies and services should take into account the needs, rights and best interests of children and young people. It says that efforts should be made to involve children and young people in policy and decision-making processes. While that is Government policy, we saw in this process that children were excluded from the debate at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. I have gone over my notes to confirm that. There was no good reason for it. I have gone back over the e-mails and the Acting Clerk of the Dáil has confirmed that they should have been allowed to give testimony at those committee hearings, but were not. We did not allow their voices to be heard, and we should not have done that. Other committees allow children to appear before them.
As I said, the best interests of the child should be our paramount consideration, taking account of the views of the child and the evolving capacity of the child. I proposed an interim gender recognition certificate where everybody is ad idem, that is, the parents, the child and an independent person, be that the Minister, a general practitioner or a court. Obviously, that was not successful. It was brought forward again in the Dáil. That led me to read the debates in the Dáil on Second and Report Stages, in particular. It was noticeable that Members of all parties and none raised the issue of children and the importance of including children in the Gender Recognition Bill. There was one exception, the Labour Party. Its Members did not, so perhaps it is Labour Party policy. I do not understand. I have read through all of the transcripts and no Member from the Labour Party raised this issue. I am still at a loss. The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association gave really compelling testimony before the 29th Human Rights Council. Obviously, it welcomed what we are doing in Ireland but also noted that there was no process for legal recognition of minors under 16 years of age. These children exist and they deserve protection. A parent of a six year old trans girl said: “I just want to keep this child alive. I have a happy child now, why end up with a dead child? It’s important that she gets documents that reflect her gender.”

The difficulty for me, to which I have not received a satisfactory answer, is relevant to the court case S. v. An Bord Uchtála in 2009.  The case involved an intersex child born abroad, who had been registered as female at birth. The judge made an order to allow an amendment of the register of foreign adoptions so that the child’s paperwork would reflect his gender of rearing as a boy and enable him to be enrolled in the local boy’s school. The difficulty is that because this Bill excludes children, are we saying to the courts that we do not want them to interfere or do anything on children? We are closing the door on this. As a legislator, I believe we are sending a clear message to children that we will not talk about gender recognition. That is a problem for me. I am also worried about one of the amendments from the Dáil regarding passports. Again, I have dealt with some cases where children have got their gender changed, not on their birth certificate but on their passport. This amendment will not allow that to happen. Even more children have been squeezed out of this. There are four to five children a year who will not now be able to get a passport in the gender they wish because we have tightened the knot again and really made sure that children are firmly outside the room when it comes to gender recognition.

In conclusion, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs wrote to the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection and proposed written amendments. I appreciate that she did not feel she was in a position to accept those amendments. Is the Minister saying that this is now under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs? If it is, I will table amendments to the Children First Bill. This must be made clear because I do not wish to be told when we debate the Children First Bill that it should have been done in the Gender Recognition Bill or that it should be done by the Minister for Social Protection. Will the Minister clearly state whether this is in the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs? When will the meeting with the education partners take place? I am not asking for an exact date, but a timeframe for when it will take place.

One of the proposals sent by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs was that we would explicitly state that children and young people would be included in the strategic review. Will the Minister give a firm commitment on that? I do not wish to be told two years hence: “Children are not in the Bill so how can one strategically review children if they are not in the Bill?” I wish to be told clearly that this issue will not be left behind. It is a joyous day for adults, but there are children whom I have met and to whom we have said: “Go sit in the corner; we are not ready to deal with this yet.” In fact, we have slammed the door.

 

Press Release: New cross-party group seeks greater efforts to counter childhood obesity and food poverty

New cross-party group seeks greater efforts to counter childhood obesity and food poverty

Children's Future Health Launch

A new cross party Oireachtas group set up to seek a more effective policy response to the twin problems of childhood obesity and food poverty was launched in Dublin today.

The Oireachtas Children’s Future Health Group, chaired by Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout, was launched by RTE presenter Miriam O’Callaghan, along with Irish Heart Foundation spokesman and consultant endocrinologist, Professor Donal O’Shea.

The group is being established amid growing concern across the political spectrum over the health status of children in Ireland at a time when one in four children are overweight or obese and one in five children go to bed hungry at night. The Irish Heart Foundation is providing a secretariat, along with expertise to support the group, which is also being assisted by organisations, including the Children’s Rights Alliance, Healthy Food for All and Social Justice Ireland.

The members of the informal group include: Senator Ivana Bacik (Labour), Deputy Clare Daly (Technical Group), Deputy Billy Kelleher (Fianna Fail), Deputy Sandra McLellan (Sinn Fein) and Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor (Fine Gael).

“To date actions to tackle obesity have focused on individual behaviour change through education, awareness and media programmes. But these don’t take into account the key drivers of obesity – the increasing availability and intense marketing of unhealthy food and drinks that are becoming cheaper all the time compared to healthy produce,” said Senator van Turnhout.

“Meanwhile, as the numbers living in food poverty grow, health workers are seeing more and more children who are obese and undernourished at the same time – a phenomenon of modern malnutrition.”

Senator van Turnhout said the objective of the Oireachtas group was to develop proposals for actions which tackle the root causes of childhood obesity – particularly those recognising that childhood obesity and food poverty must be addressed in tandem and that solutions must be primarily targeted at disadvantaged communities.

“The disparity between social classes is demonstrated in the Growing Up in Ireland study which shows that among nine-year-olds, whilst 19% of boys and 18% of girls from professional households are overweight or obese, the rate soars to 29% of boys and 38% of girls from semi-skilled and unskilled households.

“For parents who cannot make ends meet, the worry isn’t feeding their children well, it’s feeding them at all. One recent study shows the cost of a healthy calorie is up to ten times higher than an unhealthy one and it’s high time we woke up to the fact that if we don’t help these families, we are condemning increasing numbers of children to lives dominated by ill-health, chronic disease and ultimately an early grave.”

Specific areas the Oireachtas group will be examining include taxation to fund programmes such as fruit and vegetable subsidies and community food initiatives, school food provision, no fry zones around schools, addressing the impact of low incomes on health eating, food labelling and marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children. Later this year the group will launch the first ever study on food marketing to children via the Internet and social media, which is currently being carried out for the Irish Heart Foundation.

Professor Donal O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist and member of the Irish Heart Foundation Nutrition Council said: “I see this group as strong cross party support for the full implementation of the Healthy Ireland Framework – ensuring that Healthy Ireland will continue beyond the life of this Government. It is really hard to understand why there has been so little sustained action to tackle obesity to date. It is the number one public health issue facing the developed world in terms of driving diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression. Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily even in children with boys and girls in primary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, painful joint conditions and rapidly increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes.”

Speaking before the launch of the group, Miriam O’Callaghan added: “Children and their parents are constantly being bombarded by strategies to encourage them to consume more: Product placement in stores, attractive packaging, toys with fast food meals, promotions to buy one-get-one-free, prizes, discounts, supersizing. As a mother I know well how hard it is to resist such marketing and it’s clear that solutions to childhood obesity must address the fact that treat food and drinks are increasingly being consumed as if they were a staple part of children’s diets.”

ENDS

Media queries to: Caroline Cullen, Communications Manager, Irish Heart Foundation, Main switch: 01-6685001 or Mob: 086-6049282.

Photos taken by Photocall Ireland

Children's Future Health Launch  Children's Future Health Launch

Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly TD

Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Can the Minister provide an exact timetable for the progress of the  Government’s Adoption (Tracing and Information) Bill and advise what is hampering the progression of the Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014 into the Dáil, following the completion of all stages in the Seanad on 18 February 2015 with support from all parties.

My Department is developing the Heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, and work on the Heads of that Bill is nearing completion. It will set out the information to be provided and circumstances in which it can be provided for past and future adoptions.

Officials in my Department are exploring all options with a view to balancing the needs of all stakeholders in this sensitive and complex and very personal matter. While I want to provide adopted people with as much information as possible about their identity, birth parents’ constitutional right to privacy must also be protected in this legislation.

The Heads will provide access to records for birth parents and adopted persons in so far as is possible in line with legal advices. I am proposing as progressive an approach as is possible within the significant legal and operational complexities which arise in giving effect to this objective.

The proposed legislation will provide for, inter alia,

  • Placing the National Adoption Contact Preference Register on a statutory basis
  • Arranging for the management of Adoption Records
  • Setting out the information to be provided and circumstances in which it can be provided both for retrospective and prospective adoptions.

I know that there are many people affected by adoption who are keen to see this legislation progress at the earliest opportunity, and I share that view. However, I am also concerned that we get it right. This is a complex piece of legislation, which must strike the right balance in respecting the rights of all of those involved. Regular and ongoing contact is maintained between my Department and the Office of the Attorney General in that regard.

It is my intention to have the General Scheme and Heads of Bill finalised as soon as possible and submitted for the consideration of Government, in advance of referral to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

In parallel, I have requested officials to commence an examination of operational arrangements for the preservation of, and access to, adoption records both to secure existing service provision and to make ready for any proposed new legislation.

The Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014, introduced by Senators Power, van Turnhout, and Healy Eames, was passed by the Seanad on 19th November 2014 and that the draft Bill is at second stage in Dáil Éireann.

My Department has considered the draft Bill and notes that there is much to be commended in the draft Bill and, in relation to the areas of concern that it addresses, it is very much in line with the tenor of the draft Bill being prepared in my Department. On this basis I did not oppose the Bill.  However the Private Members Bill differs from that being prepared by my Department in that it does not differentiate between prospective and retrospective adoptions. In that respect, it does not fully address the complex constitutional issues that arise in relation to the provision of identifying information to those, and about those who were adopted in the past.

The Bill has been fully reviewed as part of the ongoing work of the drafting of the proposed Bill on Adoption (Information and Tracing).


 

2 July 2015: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly TD

Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Given the new Article 42A of the Constitution of Ireland, will the Minister now conduct a law audit relevant to children to determine where gaps exist in full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and bring in a comprehensive Children’s Rights Bill.

 Article 42A provides an enhanced general visibility for the rights of children under the Constitution.  More generally, the new standard has the capacity to influence the approach to legislation beyond what is required by the letter of the new constitutional provision. The interpretation of the existing statute law is now subject to the new constitutional requirements and this will, no doubt, be reflected in jurisprudence in both public and private law in the years to come.

At the time the wording of the then proposed thirty-first amendment of the Constitution was published by the Government, there was a commitment to bring forward important amendments in adoption law. In order to fully inform consideration by the people of the constitutional change being put forward for their decision, the Government published the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which would flow from implementation of the change. With the thirty-first amendment now standing as part of the Constitution, in the form of the new Article 42A, my Department will proceed with arrangements to submit the promised Adoption (Amendment) Bill for consideration by the Oireachtas.

Specifically the amendment sets certain standards relating to determining the views and best interests of children in specified proceedings which both comprehend existing provisions and require that all future legislation must comply in the areas concerned.  The Government has also provided potent examples of this in the inclusion of provisions relating to the views and best interests of the child in the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

My Department has a number of other proposed legislative initiatives in train that aim to promote the rights and welfare of children.  These include the Children First Bill, 2014 to strengthen fundamental aspects of the child protection system which is currently before the Oireachtas; the Child Care Act (Amendment) Bill, to strengthen the legislative provisions for aftercare which is currently being drafted; and   work is continuing on the Heads of Bill for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill.  I also mention in a separate reply to Senator Van Turnhout, that my Department is working on policy proposals for significant statutory reform of provisions relating to Guardians ad litem under the Child Care Act 1991.

I note that there is a major and wide-ranging initiative underway to advance the rights of children on a cross-government basis.  I refer to the on-going implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, which is demonstrably rooted in the values and principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  These values and principles will continue to guide the implementation and monitoring of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

This universal strategy, covering all aspects of children’s lives, is a challenging and highly-focused whole-of-government undertaking.  Delivery of the 163 commitments set out in the strategy will result in better outcomes for children right across the spectrum of State inter-actions with the child and his or her parents and family. Along with the legislative programme, these are the mechanisms by which the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is being advanced.

A further important underlying process relevant to the question raised concerns the examination of Ireland by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which is scheduled to take place next January.  This provides a basis for engagement between my Department and other Departments of Government, preparatory to the meeting with the Committee, on issues it will raise regarding the State’s discharge of Ireland’s obligations as a party to the Convention.

2 July 2015: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly TD

Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

Can the Minister confirm whether the blueprint set out in the 2009 Children Acts Advisory Board Report “Giving a voice to children’s wishes, feelings and interests” for a properly funded Guardian Ad Litem agency in Ireland forms part of the reform promised for the Guardian Ad Litem services in proceedings under the Child Care Act 1991? And can the Minister outline his plans in this area and a timeline for implementation?

 Guardian ad litem services, under the provisions of the Child Care Act 1991, are currently organised and provided on an unregulated and ad hoc basis and, in the absence of extensive and fundamental reform, the service will not be sustainable into the future. The service now incurs an annual spend of over €16 million, and needs to be grounded as a consistent, accountable and sustainable national service. My Department is currently preparing policy proposals to achieve this objective.

A ‘root-and-branch’ reform is envisaged. Work on the policy proposals is being informed by a number of considerations and sources of information, including work done by the former Children Acts Advisory Board. The objective is to put in place a comprehensive legislative basis for the delivery of a high quality and sustainable service, on a national basis.

The reforms must ensure the best interests of the child, the centrality of the courts and the independence of guardians ad litem, but must also put in place a nationally managed service that is cohesive, accountable and sustainable. In Ireland, as in other jurisdictions, the service is subject to increasing demand and finite resources. I am determined to achieve best possible use of the substantial level of funding that has already been allocated to this area.

Reflecting elements identified by the Children Acts Advisory Board, proposed statutory arrangements will aim to address such matters as guidance as to circumstances for appointment, the qualifications that will be required for appointment, a well-defined role and responsibilities for the guardian ad litem, their legal status in proceedings, and legal representation. The reforms will take full account of the importance of listening to the views of children in relation to their own future.

My Department is well advanced in its examination of all aspects of reform of the guardian ad litem service. It aims to have the necessary policy proposals completed as soon as possible and, subject to Government approval for same, to proceed immediately to the preparation of Heads of legislation.

-ENDS-

 

Modern Wife, Modern Life Launch, National Print Museum, 1 July 2015

I was delighted to be asked to launch this exhibition, Modern Wife, Modern Life, curated by Ciara Meehan senior lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire, which explores the representation of women in Ireland through the prism of women’s magazines in the 1960s.

This is such an interesting concept for me and a unique way of documenting a period of Irish history where woman’s lives were almost exclusively restricted to the private domain, where “traditional values” prevailed, women were legally obliged to leave their public sector employment upon marriage, were prohibited from sitting on a jury and for whom many were too young to know or remember the one and only female Minister (Countess Markievicz 1919-1922).

Yet, in parallel, we see magazines such as Woman’s Way, Woman’s Choice and Woman’s View promoting new expectations alongside traditional moral norms, challenging women to negotiate competing demands on minds and bodies in their everyday lives.

It is fascinating to learn that in the 1960s, the media trend was to sell women the idea that the “ideal wife” was synonymous with the “modern wife” and that in order to achieve this coveted title she must have and use the latest gismos and gadgets in her home, particularly in the kitchen.

We have an example of one of these then “New Technologies” on exhibit, Rita MacCready’s sewing machine, which she bought from a door-to-door salesman and, like many mothers in the 1960s, used to make her children’s clothes. Rita’s daughter Audrey is here with us this evening and it would be interesting to know if her mother’s love of haberdashery or sewing rubbed off on her?!!

Despite the “traditional view” of the woman’s place being in the home and ideally married still being enshrined in the Irish Constitution, the majority recognises the view as outdated and sexist.

It did get me thinking about whether this stereotyping of 1960s women as domestic goddesses or wannabe goddesses is any more offensive than the contemporary media obsession about how women of all ages look and perform.

I had a look through the shelves in Easons yesterday evening to get a flavour of the messages Irish women are receiving from magazines in 2015:

“Fifty, fit and flirty”, “How to shift that stubborn baby weight”, “Science validates correlation between hair length and relationship length”, “bikini ready in 7 days”, and enough instructive material that I could re-write the Karma Sutra!!!

Have we really moved on or has the focussed just shifted from the kitchen to the bedroom and incessant talk of weight loss and the quest for eternal youth?!!

Are Irish women destined to be subjected to some form or other of commercial pressure forever?

The exhibition comprises 8 themes:

Inspiration, Print Culture, Advice for the Newly Married Wife, Beauty and Presentation, Housewife of the Year, New Technologies, Women Behind the Wheel and Wives who Work.

Mum and Dads Wedding:

I was drawn to the Advice for the Newly Married section of the exhibition. Admittedly because my own Mum and Dad’s wedding picture is on display.

My mum, Jenny (nee Coleman) who is here this evening married my father, Michael Hassett in the chapel of the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock, Cork in September 1962.

My dad was very involved with the Scouts in Cork and it was expected by mum’s friends from the Red Cross that the Scouts would provide the guard of honour at the wedding.

Just in case, mum’s friends had brought their Red Cross uniforms and left them in a friend’s house close to the church.

It soon transpired at the wedding that dad’s Scout friends hadn’t thought about the guard of honour and the women discreetly left the church and returned in time and in full uniform to provide the guard of honour after the ceremony.

Eileen Crawley’s wedding dress:

Not to sound too biased, but I must say how stylish I think my mum looked on her wedding day. I love her hooped mid-knee vintage style dress that was so popular in the late 50s and early 60s.

There is another splendid example of 1960s wedding dress style in the exhibition with Eileen Crawley’s wedding dress on display.

Joseph and Margaret Teeling’s Wedding:

I also love the images from Margaret (nee Thompson) and Joe Teeling’s wedding in 1965. They had met 5 years earlier as teenagers after Joe, in a remarkably romantic move for a 17 year old, quit his job in a pub to work in the Casino Cinema, where he had discovered his soon-to-be sweetheart Margaret worked.

Not even being stood up on their first date, although Margaret insists she did go the meeting spot, could dampen Joe’s interest. A second date was arranged and the rest, as they say is history!!!

Margaret and Joe just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 17 February this year.  A true love story and I wish them another 50 years of marital bliss.

Are you an ideal wife quiz:

Finally, I have to admit to the laugh I got reading the questions and answers of the Are you an Ideal Wife? quiz.

Question 7 asks: When he comes home from work do you (a) listen to him sympathetically or (b) tell him the troubles of your day?

Answer: You should (a) listen to him sympathetically because you have by now the diplomatic art of TIMING. Let him grouse first. Then he’ll listen to you with more sympathy.

And

Question 15 asks: You are both going to the movies. You want to see (a) and he wants to see (b). What is the solution?

Answer: Take alternative weekends. If you go to the Western with him (and pretend to enjoy it) one Saturday, the following week he should drive you to a thriller.

That’s some pretty important advice about the art of TIMING and compromise in marriage!

My favourite part of the quiz is that there are 17 questions and answers but no marking scheme. Somehow you have to work out if you are in the 100%-50% range that is “learning how to be the ideal wife” or in the less than 50% bracket that needs to “watch it”!!

Thank you Ciara for this opportunity to launch Modern Wife, Modern Life: An Exhibition of Women’s Magazines from 1960s Ireland.

I now declare the exhibition officially open and invite everyone to enjoy this important snapshot of women’s history in Ireland.

The Lancet

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