Senator Jillian van Turnhout, TV3 Tonight Show ‘Politician of the Year 2015’

TV3 Tonight Show ‘Politician of the Year 2015’

Embargoed Statement from Senator Jillian van Turnhout

EMBARGO, 00.01, 18 December 2015, Dublin:  Senator Jillian van Turnhout, Leader of the Independent Group (Taoiseach Nominees) in the Seanad has been announced as TV3’s ‘Tonight’ Show 2015 ‘Politician of the Year’.  The award was adjudicated by a judging panel of 4 leading political correspondents: Sarah Mc Inerney of The Sunday Times; Harry Mc Gee of The Irish Times; Gavin Reilly of Today FM and Niamh Lyons of The Times Ireland.  The panel stated that Senator van Turnhout was being recognised for ‘demonstrating how to bring advocacy issues forward and make a real impact. They noted that her focus on advocacy for children and principled issues have made real and significant changes.’

Speaking after the announcement, Senator van Turnhout said that she was very honoured to accept the award.  She thanked both the ‘Tonight’ show and the judging panel.  “I have worked for many years as a volunteer and CEO in children’s and youth organisations, to try to address continuing and emerging discrimination and to improve the lives of all young people in Ireland.  When Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointed me as an Independent to the Seanad, I saw it as an excellent opportunity to effect change from within the political system.  I am therefore delighted to receive this award in recognition of that.” said the Senator.

“I am especially proud of my work to further children’s rights including: the ban on smoking in cars with children; getting the common law defence of reasonable chastisement (physical punishment) of children repealed and standing up to the drinks industry in an effort to protect children from alcohol related harm.” added Senator van Turnhout, “My membership of the Health and Children Committee has also allowed me to advocate on other important issues like the importance of consent, choice and control in ‘End of Life’ care and neuro-rehabilitation services following stroke and acquired brain injury.”

“I dedicate this award to my late Dad Michael Hassett, who, along with my Mum Jenny, inspired my sense of fairness and social justice.  I would like to thank my assistant and researcher, Amy McArdle, for her support and hard work. I would also like to acknowledge the many organisations and individuals who have supported my efforts in the Seanad with their excellent advocacy and analysis, and with their trust” concluded Senator van Turnhout.


Available for comment:  Senator van Turnhout can be contacted directly on 087 2333784 or via her office at 01 6183375

Note to editors:

Jillian van Turnhout was appointed as an Independent Senator to Seanad Éireann in 2011.  She is the former Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, former Chief Commissioner and current volunteer with the Irish Girl Guides, Chairperson of Early Childhood Ireland, Vice Chairperson of European Movement Ireland and Chairperson of Children in Hospital Ireland.

Over the past 20 years Jillian has undertaken a number of community and voluntary sector roles.  She was a Board member of Women for Election; President of the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI); member and Vice President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC); Secretary General of the ECB-BEC (predecessor to the European Youth Forum) and a Council member of Gaisce – The President’s Award.  She was also a member of the National Children’s Advisory Council and sat on the Management Committee of the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF). Jillian started her career in the private sector, where she worked for more than 10 years.

International Protection Bill 2015: Second Stage, 2 December 2015

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: It is almost ten years since the last substantive legislation was introduced in this area. I am cognisant of what we are trying to do today. It is complex. It has been difficult for Members and the civil society organisations specialising in the areas of refugees, asylum and children’s rights issues – from whom many Members, including myself, seek guidance and advice in advance of parliamentary debates – to analyse the intricacies of this Bill in the time that has been given to us. On the other hand, I appreciate the effort on the part of the Government to bring this important Bill to fruition before the Christmas recess.

I intend to focus my intervention and my engagement on this Bill to issues relevant to children and children’s rights, because I believe this is the area where I can add my expertise. In this regard, I thank the Children’s Rights Alliance for its support in helping me to understand the complexities of the Bill.

Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges Ireland to ensure that children seeking or holding refugee status, whether unaccompanied or not, should receive appropriate protection and assistance in the enjoyment of the rights of the convention and other applicable human rights treaties. The State is further obliged to assist a child in the tracing of his or her family and in obtaining information relevant for reunification. In circumstances where the child’s family cannot be found, the child is entitled to the same protections as other children deprived of their families under the convention.

In 2006, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the State to “take necessary measures to bring [its immigration] policy, procedures and practice into line with its international obligations, as well as principles outlined in other documents, including the Statement of Good Practices produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children”. As the Minister is well aware, Ireland will be examined before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 2016, in other words, in a few weeks’ time. It would be very disappointing if the provisions for children in this Bill were found by the committee to be wanting in respect of our convention obligations. My concern in this regard is further heightened by the fact that the key recommendations of the working group on direct provision in respect of children are not implemented in this Bill. It is disappointing that there have been no positive reforms for the 1,600 children currently in the direct provision system – they are the most vulnerable group of asylum seekers – despite a HIQA report in May 2015 identifying serious child welfare and protection concerns in a number of children and family services areas.

I realise it is outside the scope of this Bill, but the Minister knows of my view on the importance of having an independent complaints mechanism similar to that afforded to the Ombudsman for Children. I have raised the issue with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs as well.

I am also concerned about payments, particularly payments to children. They have not changed in 15 years. At the least, the payments should be brought in line with the qualified child increase as referenced in the working group report. I imagine that is a decision for the Minister for Social Protection but perhaps the Minister for Justice and Equality could advise the Seanad on the matter.

I welcome the provision in the Bill for the new single application procedure to streamline and speed up the application process. It is long overdue. Even ten years ago people were talking about the establishment of an independent protection appeals tribunal and the inclusion of child-specific forms of persecution as grounds for protection. These are referenced in section 7(2).

One substantive area I have difficulty with relates to the notion of the best interests of children and how this is dealt with in the Bill. I thank the Minister and her officials for their engagement in the past 24 hours to try to see how we can strengthen the relevant provisions and work together. Let us consider the provisions relating to the best interests of the child in Irish legislation. It was the current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, who, during her previous role as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs at the time of the passage of the Child and Family Agency Bill as well as recently with the Children and Family Relationships Bill, put the key provisions relating to the best interests of the child into Irish law. I am keen to ensure we progress that legacy with this Bill.

Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as it relates to the best interests of the child is clear. My difficulty is that the Bill only refers to the best interests of the child in a limited way, for example, in cases where international protection has been granted upon recognition of a child’s status in the application of a medical examination to determine the age of an unaccompanied minor or in certain aspects of the conduct of protection interviews for unaccompanied minors. The working group report recommendation stated that the International Protection Bill 2015 should reflect the general principle contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the effect that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.

I submitted an amendment yesterday, but I have since redrafted it to ensure that in introducing the idea of the best interests of the child as the primary consideration, nothing in this legislation shall affect any provisions that are more conducive to the realisation of the rights of the child contained in other enactments or international law. For example, the European Court of Human Rights has asserted the importance of the child’s best interests. It also stressed the importance of reuniting the child with his or her family unless it is not in the child’s best interests. I have submitted an amendment to ensure that the best interest principle is subject to the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Another area I have concerns over relates to training for authorised officers on children’s rights. The working group report made clear that there should be a provision requiring decision-makers who take decisions in respect of children and those who interview children have received appropriate procedural and substantive training. This could be specific training on children’s rights and certified qualifications in interviewing children. Perhaps that is something the Minister could address. I have not tabled an amendment on the matter at this point but I will do so on Report Stage if I believe it is not being dealt with. Section 34(8) relates to how personal interviews by authorised officers may be dispensed with where the applicant is under the age of 18 years and he or she is of such an age and degree of maturity that an interview would not usefully advance the examination.   Will the Minister to look at the Children and Family Relationships Act which includes the provision for a court to appoint an expert to determine and convey a child’s view? I agree with the recommendation by the Children’s Rights Alliance that the Bill should include a provision that section 34(8)(b) can only be exercised upon the appointment of an expert on the views of children. Perhaps that is something we can look at.

Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is very clear on the issue of child detention: “The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”. It was of great concern to me when I read section 20(1)(c) in conjunction with section 20(7). The latter provides that a child under 18 years can be detained as an adult if there are reasonable grounds for believing the person is not under 18 years. I believe this is a breach of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s general comment No. 6 which provides that in cases of uncertainty as to the individual’s age, the individual should be given the benefit of the doubt and should be considered a child. I realise that the Bill’s provision has been inserted to protect a Garda who, using reasonable presumption, makes such a decision. In response, I have submitted an amendment that I hope will provide protection for children’s rights and provide balance. I thank my group colleagues, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, Averil Power, Katherine Zappone and Mary Ann O’Brien, who have supported the two amendments I have tabled for Committee Stage.

Commencement Matter: Neuro-Rehabilitation Services Provision, 2 December 2015

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: The Minister of State is aware that I have been tracking the issue of neuro-rehabilitation services for several years now. Such services are essential to support recovery and prevent disability for people with acquired brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis and a range of other neurological conditions. Thousands of Irish people still cannot get the rehabilitation they need when they need it. They face a lifetime of unnecessary disability, which can prevent them from returning to work and regaining their independence. It is estimated that there are 25,000 patients in need of rehabilitation in Ireland.

I have raised this issue because I am concerned about the deficits that exist in this area such as, for example, with regard to community teams. Since the three-year national strategy was published and came into place, little or progress has been made to deliver on any of its recommendations. For example, nine neuro-rehabilitation teams are needed in the community, but just three partially staffed teams are currently in place. No new teams have been established since the strategy was published in 2011. On the basis of the guidelines set by the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine, our population means that 270 specialist inpatient beds are needed in this country. We currently have less than half of that number.

If we look at other rehabilitation services, we have a lack of longer-term rehabilitation supports, such as step-down units, transitional units and intensive home care packages, to allow people to go home after rehabilitation has come to an end. This means they end up in totally unsuitable facilities. For example, young people have to live in nursing homes, in acute hospital beds or in long-stay units with no ongoing rehabilitation. It is important to remember that people with neurological conditions need intensive therapy within a window of recovery. I know the Minister of State is aware of this. Those who are waiting to get specialist rehabilitation lose vital recovery time every day of their waiting periods. The National Policy and Strategy for the Provision of Neuro-Rehabilitation Services in Ireland 2011-2015 was published by the Department of Health and the HSE in December 2011. A joint HSE and Department of Health working group was established in 2013 tasked with the development of an implementation plan. Earlier this year, the HSE committed to releasing a draft implementation plan for consultation in December 2015. I now understand this will not be released until 2016, which is why I have tabled this matter. Separately, a model of care for specialist rehabilitation services is being developed by the national clinical programme for rehabilitation medicine. The draft of this model of care is being reviewed by the HSE following its submission in September 2015 and no date is available for its publication. Without the publication of the implementation plan for a neuro-rehabilitation strategy no money is being invested, no services are being put in place and thousands of people are not getting the rehabilitation they need. Yesterday, Mags Rogers of the Neurological Alliance of Ireland spoke about condemning people to live with an unnecessary disability. We are speaking about the vital window of recovery. As I have tracked this issue it has been a catalogue of delays, U-turns and no implementation plan. I have met many people in recent years whose quality of life would have been greatly improved if we could have intervened earlier. We have a strategy. Why do we not have a plan and why are we not implementing it?

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: We had difficulty at the outset, which I encountered very quickly, apart from having no money which was the biggest difficulty of all, as there was a difference of opinion as to how it should be delivered. It is very difficult to say to one specialist that what he or she is saying is wrong and say to another specialist that he or she is right. There was a clear difference of opinion as to how it would be delivered. This is why the implementation plan and the national clinical programme are so important.

The report, National Policy and Strategy for the Provision of Neuro-Rehabilitation Services in Ireland 2011–2015, made a number of recommendations for services for people with rehabilitation needs, including clinical, therapeutic, social, vocational and community supports. Following the development of the report, the Health Service Executive established the rehabilitation medicine clinical programme. The scope of the programme covers the whole of the patient’s journey from self-management and prevention through to primary, secondary and tertiary care. This provides a national strategic and co-ordinated approach to a wide range of clinical services. The programme includes the standardisation of access to and delivery of high-quality, safe and efficient hospital services nationally as well as improved linkages with primary care services. This is where the dispute arose with regard to whether it was better to do it within the community or whether it should be attached to an acute hospital.

The rehabilitation medicine clinical programme is nearing completion of a model of care for the provision of specialist rehabilitation services in Ireland, which will be the basis for the delivery of the service. The HSE disability services division has a role in certain key aspects of neuro-rehabilitation services, primarily the provision of community-based therapy services and personal social services. The disability services division will use the recommendations of the value for money and policy review of disability services to focus on disability funded rehabilitation services and enable reconfiguration of existing provisions through the establishment of demonstration sites. Close links will be maintained with the rehabilitation medicine clinical programme to ensure there is no duplication of effort and that all initiatives receive optimal support. Demonstration sites have been identified by disability services and mapping has commenced.

Having regard to the foregoing details, it is not accurate to say that no element has been delivered. A national steering group, chaired by the Health Service Executive social care division, has been assigned the task of developing an implementation framework for the national policy and strategy for neuro-rehabilitation services. The steering group includes representation from the national clinical programmes for rehabilitation medicine and neurology, the Department of Health, primary care, therapy professions and the Neurological Alliance of Ireland. Once the implementation framework has been agreed by the steering group, it will then go for consultation to the wider stakeholder interest groups. Following consultation, the framework will be revised and will guide and oversee the reconfiguration and development of neuro-rehabilitation structures and services at national and local level. The HSE is very aware of the needs of people with neurological conditions – how could it not be – and will continue to work towards improved services, making best use of available resources.

The disability sector is now connecting, and yesterday I met Enable Ireland which could play a very big part, and we all know the other non-governmental agencies with a particular interest in this area. The new hospital in Dún Laoghaire is on its way and it will provide not only outreach therapies but additional beds. It should have been done ten years ago, and the Senator and I know this, but with regard to thrombolysis, while prevention in accident and emergency department has played a significant role, much more needs to be done.

Senator Jillian van TurnhoutI agree with the Minister of State. As she knows I have been tracking this issue since I entered the Seanad. With regard to the people living with acquired brain injuries, strokes, multiple sclerosis and a range of other neurological conditions, if we got in during the window of recovery, we would not be speaking about disabilities but recovery. I said no element has been delivered, but for those looking for services during that period, they are not in place. It is not good enough and we must do more. I appreciate what the Minister of State said. We should see the implementation plan. We must give people hope, and the services should be in place in the way they are needed whether in the community or in settings. The pathway will very much depend on need. I will continue to track the issue for the remaining weeks I am here because it is an issue close to my heart, because of my father and because I have met too many people who would not be suffering every day if we had been able to intervene earlier.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: I believe some of it has been put in place, based on a personal family experience. There is not one of us who will not have had such an experience as we go through life in whatever form. This will have involved going to an accident and emergency department at 12 o’clock on a Saturday and walking out, having been discharged, at 12 o’clock that night.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: That is the window of recovery.

Deputy Kathleen LynchThe difficulty is that it is like suicide in that we will never know how many people we divert from the path of disability. It is difficult to know. However, we need to treat differently those whom we do not divert. The implementation plan and strategy must be published as quickly as possible.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: On that we agree. The plan must be published.