Jillian van Turnhout and the “Future of Europe” debate

Since November 2017, the Irish government held a series of public and sectoral meetings, hearing the views in person and on-line of members of the public and representative organisations. The intention is that the views expressed on Europe will provide an input into the Irish Government’s contribution to the broader “Future of Europe” debate. This process culminated in the National Citizens’ Dialogue on 9 May 2018 in Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

The European Movement Ireland supports the Department in organising these events. Jillian van Turnhout is a vice-chair of the European Movement Ireland and as such was participating in the National Citizens’ Dialogue on 9 May.

In the photo are Tanaiste Simon Coveney, Executive Director of the EMI Noelle O’Connell and Director of External Affairs EirGrid Group Rosemary Steen as well as Jillian van Turnhout.

Zappone appoints Jillian van Turnhout to monitor scouts

Article from The Irish Times, 1st May 2018

Minister says she will restore funding when assured governance at required standard

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has appointed former senator Jillian van Turnhout to assess the implementation of Scouting Ireland’s governance reforms.

Ms Zappone informed the Dáil that “I have asked Jillian van Turnhout as an independent expert to examine this situation over the coming weeks”.

She said: “In accordance with her terms of reference she is being asked to provide me with a clear assessment of the adequacy of Scouting Ireland’s governance arrangements and to advise me on whether I can be assured about scouting Ireland governance and related matters.”

Ms van Turnhout, a former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance and former chief commissioner of Irish Girl Guides, was appointed in the last few days, the Minister said.

She will work with the Minister to ensure the pledged reforms by Scouting Ireland of their governance process “are in the best interests” of the organisation.

This follows the controversy over the handling by senior members of the organisation of a rape complaint in 2016. Four senior volunteers have temporarily stood aside after they were criticised in a confidential review by child protection expert Ian Elliott.

Mr Elliott’s review led to the establishment of a barrister-led inquiry of the handling of the complaint, in which an adult volunteer in 2016 claimed she was raped by a male leader on a camping trip in 2009.

Ms Zappone said Scouting Ireland had pledged to implement all the recommendations of Mr Elliott’s report but “a lot of work” and action had to be completed and Ms van Turnhout will keep her informed about that implementation in the coming weeks.

Confidence

Labour’s Sean Sherlock asked if the Minister had full confidence in the process underway in Scouting Ireland and in relation to historical cases, following reports that a file had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) over an alleged case of child sexual abuse during a scout camping trip in 2014, at Larch Hill, south Co Dublin by an active male leader in the organisation.

Mr Sherlock asked if there was “only one sample cases or are there other further complaints”.

He also asked the Minister when she would restore funding to the organisation and if she acknowledged the work of the thousands of volunteers in the organisation.

Mr Sherlock added that there “seems to be a disparity between what happens at the head of the organisation and the bottom of the organisation”.

Ms Zappone said that all her actions were guided by her “deep respect” for the volunteer ethos of the organisation.

She said she had funded Scouting Ireland until the end of June. They had received €430,000 this year in State funding. “Scouting Ireland have informed me that they have reserves,” she said.

But Ms Zappone said when she is assured “that I can accept their governance, at that point I will restore their funding”.

She said she had not seen Mr Elliott’s report and expected to receive his review with the inquiry report, which is due at the end of May. She said it would be useful if the report was published, but usually legal advice was necessary for this.

Jillian van Turnhout appointed to Governance Committee of WAGGGS

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is the largest voluntary movement dedicated to girls and young women in the world. The diverse Movement represents ten million girls and young women from 150 countries. For more than 100 years Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting has transformed the lives of girls and young women worldwide, supporting and empowering them to achieve their fullest potential and become responsible citizens of the world.

I was recently appointed to its GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE, the purpose of which is to evaluate and advance effective governance policies and practices at the global, regional and Member Organisation level:

  • Oversee all matters relating to Member Organisation constitutions and bye-laws and WAGGGS Constitution and Bye-Laws;
  • Apply knowledge of CIO regulations and responsibilities and of relevant UK Law to ensure compliance as well as strengthen WAGGGS’ current and future position;
  • Review key governance policies which pose potential benefits or barriers to MO success and make recommendations for improvement;
  • Communicate and promote adoption of best practices in Board governance to continually strengthen leadership from the MOs to the World Board;
  • Plan and oversee preparations for governance aspects of Regional and World Conferences, including development of conference Rules of Procedure and training and guidance of Procedural Teams;
  • Offer advice and support for board orientation and development throughout the Movement;
  • Monitor Committees’ and Working Groups’ compliance with Terms of Reference and recommend changes to processes and practices based on these observations.
  •  

    Members:

    Jayne Wachira (Kenya) (Chair)
    Katerina Agorogianni (Greece)
    Helene Gestrin (Sweden)
    Fiona Bradley (New Zealand)
    Deborah del Duca (Canada)
    Jillian van Turnout (Ireland)
    Candela Gonzalez (Argentina)
    Ana María Mideros (Peru) (ex-officio)
    Tashia Batstone (Canada) (ex-officio)
    David Coe (ex-officio)
    Staff lead: Clare Parry

    Governance Workshop

    I was honoured to train the Board of Aidlink Ireland. It is great to see the passion, diligence and rigour it brings to its work. And very happy with the feedback on Twitter:

    “Many thanks to @JillianvT and @CarmichaelCntr for an excellent workshop with @AidlinkIreland board of directors today on governance and effectiveness. Challenging, relevant & current.”

    10:22 AM – 27 Jan 2018

    Jillian van Turnhout receives INSEAD Certificate in Corporate Governance

    I recently completed my INSEAD International Directors Programme and was honoured to receive my Certificate. This further strengthens my Corporate Governance experience, enabling me to serve companies as an effective member of their supervisory boards or help them review their governance structure and/or processes. 

    The INSEAD Certificate in Corporate Governance (IDP-C) is a global credential for board members operating internationally

    The International Directors Programme is INSEAD’s flagship course in corporate governance that aims to develop effective directors for the global business scene. Today’s supervisory boards have to contend with a host of new pressures, challenges and risks in addition to evaluating the performance of the CEO and senior executives. They must therefore set the company’s strategic direction, often across diverse product markets and geographies, and monitor the firm’s risk profile.

    Set within an international context that is unique in director education, the programme offers practical and tested frameworks and tools to sharpen judgment and decision-making skills. It also augments the oversight abilities of directors seeking to boost their existing competencies or to be better prepared for new board mandates. It enables its graduates to master strategies for the following fundamental areas: board effectiveness and dynamics; board decision-making and oversight; and director effectiveness and development.

    About INSEAD

    INSEAD is one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools. INSEAD offers participants a truly global educational experience. With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and Middle East (Abu Dhabi), and alliances with top institutions, INSEAD’s business education and research spans around the globe. Our 145 renowned faculty members from 40 countries inspire more than 1,400 students in our degree and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD’s executive education programmes each year.

    INSEAD’s innovative programmes are internationally recognised. Of particular note, the Financial Times has ranked INSEAD as the #1 MBA programme in the world for two years in a row (2016 & 2017).

    My graduation

    Below you can see two collages of the ceremony at which I received my Certificate.


     

    Contact Me

    Jillian van Turnhout, Candidate, WAGGGS World Board

    Follow the links to view the letter of support by
    the Council of Irish Guiding Associations of Jillian van Turnhout‘s candidacy
    for the World Board of the
    World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS)

    bit.ly/JvTCandidateWAGGGSWBArabic Arabic – عربى 

    English: bit.ly/JvTCandidateWAGGGSWBEnglish

    Français – French: bit.ly/JvTCandidateWAGGGSWBFrench

    Español – Spanish: bit.ly/JvTCandidateWAGGGSWBSpanish

    Open Letter to Government calling for release of 1926 Census of Ireland

    14 July 2016

    Dear Taoiseach, Enda,

    It is great to see the 2016 Census data released – and I know this is only top level figures. However, it reminded me of the quest for information by genealogists around Ireland and the World to trace our family lines.   I am baffled why the Central Statistics Ireland (CSO) will not allow the release of the 1926 Census information.   I am writing to you as I understand from the 1993 Statistics Act the CSO comes under your remit (or can be delegated).

    The law to bring in the 100-year rule to lock records was introduced as part of the Statistics Act 1993 and even then a commitment was given to the Seanad to reduce the lock to 70 years.  Every attempt to change the law since has been blocked.  You made a commitment to release the records in your 2011 Programme for Government and yet, each attempt to change the law to allow for the release of records was blocked. The 1926 Census would be a powerful genealogical tourism tool. For us family historians it would be wonderful to track each part of our family line between the 1911 census and 1926 census during this period of Irish history.

    Using myself as a case study in point. You know me as Jillian van Turnhout, my family name is Hassett.My Dadabt 1930 John Francis Hassett and Mary Catherine Foley my Grandparents, Michael Hassett was the fifth of six children. His parents (photo to the right) married in Dublin in 1930. My Dad, Michael was born in 1936 in Dingle, Co. Kerry.  His mother, Mary Catherine Foley was born in 1905 in Cromane, Co. Kerry and she died in Ballintemple, Cork, in their then family home, in December 1944. His father, John Francis Hassett born in 1904 in Glin, Co. Limerick grew up in Knockanean, near Ennis, Co. Clare.  John Francis died in February 1945 after an accident on his bike. My Dad was only 8 years of age when he lost both his parents within 3 months.

    On a side note, my Dad recounts when his father John Francis had the bicycle accident and ended up in hospital.  My Dad always says he remembers being the happiest he had been in his life the day his father was due out of hospital.   He knows this was a strange thing to say as he had only lost his mother less than 3 months beforehand but they had got such a fright after their Dad’s accident they were ecstatic as children to hear he was coming out of hospital.   I can’t imagine what it was like for them to hear the devastating news that their Dad died on the morning he was due home.  Only in recent years I got a copy of the inquest report from 1945 and was able to tell my Dad that his father died of a brain injury most likely caused by an undetected hairline fracture.

    Dad was fortunate that his Aunty Helen moved to their then home in Beaumont, Ballinabt 1947 Dad Michael Hassett with his 5 siblings in Cromanetemple, Cork to look after him and his five siblings (photo from about 1947) including his older brothers Tom, and Sean and baby brother Liam who would still like to know more about their parents’ history.   My Dad, as you know, died last November and I am still on the trail of his parents and their ancestors through available records and newspaper cuttings.  I know the 1926 census would provide such rich data and add to our knowledge and yet these records are ‘sealed’ until January 2027.

    I can access the 1940 US Census, the 1939 Register of England and Wales, the 1920 Canadian Census but alas not the 1926 Census of Ireland.  The 1950 US Census will be released in 2022 – 5 years before Ireland releases the 1926 Census.   And before you ask, the information in the 1926 Census comprises of forename, surname, age, marital status, relationship to head of household, religion, occupation and townland where born, employer, if unemployed normal profession – and so I wonder why the need for secrecy.  Why can’t the 1926 Census be released?  My Dads three brothers are currently aged between 73 and 81 years.  The 1926 could potentially fill in important gaps of where was their mother and father in the years before they married in 1930.  It is absurd that we have to wait until 2027 to access this information?  The story of my family history is just one of countless who hunger for information on their identity and roots not to mention the benefits to tourism a release of this nature will attract.

    I call on you to bring in amending legislation to allow for access to this vital genealogical tool, the 1926 Census of Ireland.  I am, of course, at your service if I can be of any assistance in furthering this cause.

    Yours sincerely

    Jillian van Turnhout

    April 2016 – My final newsletter

    Please click below to access my final Newsletter and find out more about the contributions I’ve been making and events I’ve been attended, both inside and outside the Oireachtas:

    April 2016 Newsletter

    Children’s Rights Alliance lecture marking the work of Jillian van Turnhout

    Children’s Rights Alliance lecture marking the work of Jillian van Turnhout
    Senator in Seanad Éireann from 2011 to 2016
    in The Ark, A Cultural Centre for Children

    13 April 2016

    Speech by Jillian van Turnhout

    Thank JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (1)you Children’s Rights Alliance for this wonderful opportunity to reflect on my path to children’s rights advocacy and my term of office in Seanad Éireann.

    So, what can you expect from this evening? I plan to start by sharing a bit about myself and my journey. I will use some of the legislation we dealt with in the Seanad to offer insights into both success and failure and how best to avoid the latter.  I hope you will find it interesting and to the NGOs in the room, I hope it will help you both understand life inside the bubble and how best to shape it.

    As I look around the room I see so many friends and supporters.  I know I couldn’t do what I do without you.  On this note I want to begin by giving a very special thank you to my husband Michael who is my rock.  A huge thanks to my Mum, Jenny Hassett and my late Dad Michael Hassett for always believing in me and nurturing the eternal optimist in me who believes she can make the world a better place.  To my brothers John and Gerry for the reality checks and keeping me grounded. And to my sisters-in-laws Philo and Gina for always cheering me on.  My Researcher and Assistant in the Seanad over the last 5 years, Amy McArdle, is also here tonight and I want to pay her a special thanks for all her support and expertise as our time working together comes to an end.  Amy, I wish you good fortune as you move to your exciting new challenge.

    My Dad lost his Mum at the age of 8 and lost his Dad less than 3 months later following a bicycle accident. Unbeknownst to him, my Mum, living only a short distance away, would soon be grieving the loss of her Dad. So much tragedy in their early years and both tell of how narrowly they escaped a fate in one of the children’s institutions we are only too aware of today. They were lucky you see. They both had strong, determined adults who believed in them. So, while they grew up in hardship, they grew up knowing they were loved. This is the gift they gave to me and my brothers, the gift of growing up wrapped in love. When asked what one thing I would want for every child?  My answer is always “to have an adult who believes in them fully and strives with them to realise their dreams”.  It has taken me until now to realise that their experience, and the experience they gave to us their children, was a key factor drawing me to children’s rights.

    JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (2)For the first 12 years of my career I worked in the private sector but throughout this time I was working with children and young people in a voluntary capacity not least through my involvement with the Irish Girl Guides. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Girl Guide! I have endeavoured in every role and position I have held to date to live by my Guide Promise and Law to ensure that “I think of others before myself”.

    Just over 20 years ago I was elected as Secretary General to one of the then three European youth platforms – it brought together all the International Youth Organisations at a Council of Europe level.  Over three years I worked in Brussels with the leadership of the other two youth platforms to successfully merge into the European Youth Forum – a sole platform for youth organisations across Europe.

    On returning to Ireland I was honoured to be elected as President of the National Youth Council of Ireland.  Now, I know I’m showing my age here but I remember getting my first mobile phone in this role and the excitement of waiting for it to ring.  I also remember doing my first radio interview and my Mum, who remains my dedicated media consultant to this day, giving me her first piece of advice “I hope you are not going to be one of those moaners who is always complaining.  If you want to be a game changer then you need to focus on how to solve the problems”.

    I went on to be a member of the European Economic and Social Committee which is an advisory body of the EU and was honoured to be elected to the position of Vice President.  As part of my work on the EESC I was a member of the EU-China Round Table, which took me back and forth to China over several years.  In this role I was the rapporteur on its Children’s Rights Report.

    I still remember my job interview in the Central Hotel for the Children’s Rights Alliance in May 2005. I remember thinking it was a long shot since my professional experience until then was primarily in the private sector, albeit with the advantage of significant performance driven results expertise, but still it was only my voluntary work that was directly relevant to the work of the Alliance.  Perhaps I needed to think more like a man and focus on all the things I could offer.

    In accepting the role I met every metaphor going-baptisms of fire, roads hit running, and deep ends plunged. Within my first year in the Alliance we produced a Shadow Report and had appeared before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, we also produced a children’s report to the Committee and had agreed a Social Partnership deal entitled, somewhat optimistically, “Towards 2016”.

    In my time in the Alliance I worked with many wonderful and talented people and I would like to take this opportunity to wish one of them, Maria Corbett, every success with her exciting new venture.  Maria recently announced she is going to take up a full time PhD with NUIG to examine the process of how we decide to take children into care. I can’t think of a better person for the job.  During this time, I also developed a great relationship with Prof Geoffrey Shannon whose legal expertise I have always appreciated. Thank you both for your firm and lasting friendship.

    It was on taxi ride through Shanghai’s equivalent of Temple Bar in 2011 that I received the fateful phone call from the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, inviting me to accept his nomination to the Seanad. I hope you will appreciate just how surreal a moment that was for me! To this day I remember clearly him stressing that he wanted me to be truly independent and keep my own voice.

    So this evening, in the spirit of ‘keeping my own voice’ I intend to peel away some of the layers of legislative mystery. While the Seanad transcripts will give you the “record” of how various Bills pass through the House, I will give you a behind the scenes look at what really influenced and shaped some of the legislation I worked on.

    Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012
    In preparing for the Local Property Tax Bill in 2012 I knew that many children and youth JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (3)organisations owned residential venues and was concerned they would face paying significant Property Tax bills. I rang the Department of Finance to explain my concerns. As it happened, the Official I spoke to had had a daughter in the Girl Guides and got exactly what I was talking about.  In December 2012 I tabled an amendment to the Bill to exempt venues owned by children and youth organisations from the Property Tax. The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, did not accept my amendment but did commit to come back with an amendment to achieve the same aim in a few months.  I took him at his word and in March 2013 he came back and granted the exemption and specifically cited Guiding and Scouting as an examples of why he was doing so.

    As we all know, there is often a disconnect between law making and the practical reality on the ground.  There is no better feeling in the world than knowing you have bridged that disconnect and won a victory for civil society.

    Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically propelled Vehicles) Bill 2012
    On New Year’s Day 201JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (4)6, the Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Act of 2014 came into effect in Ireland. This legislation extends the workplace ban on smoking to all vehicles where children are present.  The impetus for this important legislative change was in fact the Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012, which I initiated with Senators John Crown and Mark Daly with the support of John’s assistant Shane Conneely. We started the process optimistically in spring 2012 with a view to its passage before the summer recess.  Instead what ensued was months of tedious meetings and games of tag with John Crown stressing the urgency of the Bill, Mark working the political aspects and me bringing the children’s rights expertise but also the diplomacy necessary to calm the waters and steady the ship.  Each of us played to our strengths. In the end, some three years later, even though only a handful of words from our original Bill remained due to amendments but we got it over the line.

    Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014
    Tens of thousands of Irish adoptees don’t know their original names, who their parents JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (5)are or their medical history.  In November 2014 I co-sponsored legislation with Senators Averil Power and Fidelma Healy Eames to recognise the right to identity of adopted children.

    As an adopted child, an adoptive parent and a children’s rights advocate, we each brought our own unique perspectives to the table.  Thanks to cross party support in the Seanad we persuaded Government to allow the Bill pass through Second Stage (no mean feat!!).

    For those who are not au fait with the legislative process, there are 5 Stages in the passage of a Bill but it is the middle 3 that are the most substantive.  In short:

    • First Stage initiates the Bill and gets it on the agenda of the first House (Dáil or Seanad);
    • Second Stage is the general debate on the purpose, intention and scope of the Bill;
    • Third Stage (aka Committee) goes through the Bill section by section and considers individual amendments;
    • Fourth Stage (aka Report) allows you to review issues raised at Committee and table additional amendments; and
    • Fifth Stage (Final) sees a vote on entire Bill.

    A successful Bill then goes to the other House, and follows stages two to five and then hopefully it is enacted into Law.  Many Bills, particularly those not initiated by Government, fall or stall at one hurdle or another…and some reappear as a Government Bill down the line!!

    Back to our Adoption Bill and we are now at Committee Stage the third stage of the Seanad process.  Unusually, since we were the authors of the Bill, we had tabled a considerable number of amendments to address issues raised by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly, at Second Stage.  Averil and I worked as a tag team and it was the one and only time I occupied the Fianna Fáil front bench seats in the Seanad.  It became clear as we were working through the amendments that the Minister and his officials had decided to neither engage nor oppose our amendments.

    While this was allowing us to whiz through the changes we proposed it was all very bizarre.  It was at this point I got a text message from an Official in the House kindly pointing out that the schedule did not limit us from pushing the Bill through all stages.  So, following a speedy consultation with Averil, we agreed to give it a go but not before giving the Minister his opportunity.  I took to my feet and asked the Minister if he would be willing to engage with us on our Bill before Report Stages, which we were willing to take another day otherwise we would progress all Stages.

    At the end of Committee Stage we asked again and there was still no comment.  So we pressed ahead to Report Stage and then with thanks to the Government Senators jumped the final hurdle and took the fifth and final stage.  These last two stages took all of 30 seconds maximum.

    We now had a powerful tool in our armoury on the Right to Identity for all adoptees.    We had a Bill that had passed unopposed through all stages in the Seanad.  Surely the Dáil could pick it up and amend it if and where necessary.

    Our efforts pushed the Minister and the Department to publish its own Heads of Bill on Adoption (Information and Tracing).   The Heads had come a long way from formerly stated positions. There are still obstacles, which were highlighted during the excellent hearings by the Health and Children Committee and detailed in its subsequent report.  There are over 50,000 adult children whose right to their identity could soon be realised.  This issue is a ticking clock as many are aging and many not see the legislation published let alone enacted.  It is urgent.

    Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014
    Passing legislation is never easy and unfortunately things don’t always go to pJvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (6)lan! Case in point, a Bill proposed by Senator David Norris and myself to provide a pathway to residency for asylum seekers who have been awaiting a decision on their protection application for 4 years or more.  We had worked on the substance and intention of the Bill with a number of individuals and organisations working with refugees and migrants.  We knew the Bill we initiated wasn’t technically perfect but we hoped for the support of the House to move the Bill to Committee Stage where the necessary changes could be made.   However, Senator Norris and I were blindsided by Sinn Fein.  They had been approached by another NGO working in the area who did not agree with the use of the term ‘amnesty’ and so lobbied to block its passage.  Sinn Fein voted with Government against the Bill and we lost the passing of Second Stage by 1 vote.  We never expected our Bill to pass into law rather we saw it as an important opportunity to highlight the appalling reality of Direct Provision and to put pressure on the Department of Justice and Equality to act.

    I appreciate the motivation of the NGO concerned but I still think it was a short sighted step that showed scarce respect for their fellow NGOs and more importantly removed an important lever to effect change.

    Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015
    The Children and Family Relationships Bill really illustrates the importance of JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (7)collaboration and I wish to commend the Children’s Rights Alliance not only for their work on this Bill but for their unstinting support and expertise during my tenure.  Tanya Ward, Chief Executive, has proven her leadership, vision and acumen in spades since taking over the reins in 2011.

    The Children and Family Relationships Bill was tabled and debated against the backdrop of the impending Marriage Equality Referendum.  This coloured much of the debate on the Bill but this legislation was so much more.  It represented the most significant reform of child and family law for a generation and finally put children at the heart of family law.

    I watched in admiration as the Alliance united voices by forming a working group of members with diverse views to analysis and co-ordinate advocacy action.  They provided briefings and strategic communications at every level needed to effect changes to the Bill.  The Alliance built consensus amongst their membership, generated media and organised events.  Indirectly their work built consensus and support for the recognition of LGBT people as parents.  At this point, I also commend Minister Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality who personally steered this legislation through both houses.  It took 30 hours in Seanad Éireann alone.

    As I talk about the Marriage Equality Referendum one of my greatest regrets in office is that we could not embody the same level of public engagement when it came to the Children’s Referendum.  The closest I got to tapping into mass public sentiment was JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (8)when I took on Child Beauty Pageants. I was inundated with support from parents and the public.  It showed me there is a strong public appetite to protect childhood but we haven’t been able to able make the link in the public mind with children’s rights.

    Marriage Age
    Not everything must be done through legislation. Tabling Motions under group speaking time can be equally effective.  In May 2014, we had a Seanad debate on the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria that Boko Haram had threatened to sell into forced child marriage. I took this opportunity to voice my concern that exemptions to the marriage age in Ireland mean that, strictly speaking, child marriage is not prohibited here.

    In June 2014, Senator Ivana Bacik brought forward a Motion calling on the Government to remove the court ordered exception to the legal age for marriage of 18.  Aware of my own interest in this children’s rights anomaly, Ivana invited me to second the motion and I detailed how in 2012 28 child marriages were permitted to take place in Ireland.  Just before Christmas the Government committed to setting the marriage age to 18 without exceptions.  I hope this is brought into law soon.

    On a side note, I must take this opportunity to thank Ivana and wish her every success in her Seanad campaign.  I have grown in respect and admiration for Ivana – she is a great person to collaborate with. She’s whip smart and has an expert legal eye for legislative scrutiny.

    My lowest moment
    If you had asked me a few days before the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill I JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (9)would have said that this would be my most tense vote.  The debate was fractious, bigoted and filled with misinformation.  Little did I know my toughest vote would be within hours of that vote.

    To set the scene, we were now operating in a Seanad where the Government was in the minority and needed Independents or opposition to support them.   In the short period of 3 hours leading up to my toughest vote I was shouted at in the corridor, grabbed, cornered and at one stage even pinned up against a wall – all by opposition parties and independent members– who felt they could ‘bully’ me into voting a particular way.   On a side note we are all friends again.  The vote in question was on a motion to delay the passage of the Referendum Bill proposing the abolition of the Seanad.  If I voted with the opposition, we would delay the passage of the Bill for 90 days.  However, in my head all I could think was that only six months previously we were one vote short of delaying the passage of the Social Welfare Bill that brought in the cuts to the Respite Care grant. If we couldn’t get our acts together to frustrate this utterly unfair cut, how in good conscience could we justify delaying the passage of a Bill that was about keeping our own jobs!!

    No one from Government approached me about my vote.  On pressing the button I voted with my gut.  Along with my colleagues Senators Marie Louise O’Donnell and Fiach MacConghail we made the difference and ensured the vote for the Referendum would be put to the people.  The footage of the day will show how I was jeered and shouted at by opposition for being a ‘traitor’.  Funny how they changed their view when the people of Ireland gave the Seanad a mandate.

    IndependentJvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (10)
    Being independent should not mean you are automatically in opposition.  As a Taoiseach’s nominee I had to work out what independence meant for me?  From the outset I believed it meant dealing with issues on merit. I voted with the Government where possible and clearly articulating my position where not. In the end we were operating in a minority Seanad and so each time I voted it counted – a power I had to use wisely.

    Following my low point in the Seanad I was feeling increasingly isolated from both the Government Senators and Opposition Senators.  Some Government Senators felt I should automatically vote with them as I was a ‘Taoiseach’s nominee’.  Coupled with this I felt an increased sense of responsibility as the people of Ireland had voted to keep the Seanad.

    So, I sought a meeting with the Taoiseach and despite everyone thinking we were in regular contact this took a few months to set up.  In fact, prior to this meeting the only advice I received from him was during my first days in office to pick a few key issues and stay on them if you want to effect change. Sound advice that I endeavoured to follow.

    I met the Taoiseach and he listened.  I explained my frustration with the system, with trying to put forward amendments and feeling I was working in an echo chamber.  He repeated the advice he gave me when he first appointed me “I want you to be yourself and be Independent”.   It was only when I reached out that he leaned in to help and provide support to me.

    Following this meeting he set up a weekly meeting for me with an advisor from his Department.  The only thing he asked was where possible I would give advance notice when I was not in a position to support the Government.  The payback for doing this was access to influence and in particular securing wins on a number of policy fronts.  At no stage during my time as a Senator has the Taoiseach ever tried to influence my vote.

    Reform
    There is much debate and talk about Reform.  I find most Members are very happy to JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (11)discuss any aspect of reform that won’t directly affect their lives.   I believe that reform begins with the individual.  I decided when I started to take a new approach to politics and so used my social media – twitter primarily – to account for my work and I also publish each year a statement of my salary and allowances to ensure maximum transparency.   Indeed, each year I return the unspent portion of my allowance and as there was no procedure up until last year I had to ‘gift’ it back to the Department of Finance.

    An example of some of the reform introduced in my time is pre-legislative scrutiny to a significant number of proposed laws.  This allowed for Committees to bring in experts, civil society groups, public officials and the Minister responsible to provide testimony.

    Health and Children Committee
    My experience is on the Health and Children Committee.  In reality only five or six members keep each committee going.  If you attend for one minute or three hours your attendance is recorded in the same way.  I was fortunate that my Committee was under the excellent chairmanship of Jerry Buttimer who ensured we worked collaboratively and respectfully.  I am very proud of our work, much of it in areas I have already highlighted, but additionally our hearings on End of Life Care. I hope the report we published will come to fruition.

    Many NGOs supported my work at the Committee. A particular thanks to Chris Macey of the Irish Heart Foundation and Angela Edghill of the Irish Hospice Foundation.  Their advocacy expertise was so helpful especially in my early days as was Chris’s sage advice when I was faced with a legal threat from tobacco industry stooges.

    In a similar vein, I was happy to draw on my European experience in challenging the alcohol industry and its attempts to frustrate and stymie legislative efforts to address alcohol related harm.  The drinks industry has a role – to make profits for its shareholders.  They have no role, whatever guise they choose to wear, in the formulation of health policy.   I think my views are clearly known.

    Constituency
    Senators shouldn’t have constituencies. Certainly not geographical ones.  As an independent Taoiseach’s nominee I definitely didn’t have one but I did endeavour to use the platform I was given to continue working with NG0s, civil society organisations, community and voluntary sector organisations and interested members of the public to JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (12)help achieve our shared objectives.  I want to thank each and every one of you who has helped and supported Amy and I throughout the past five years across a broad range of issues. Your insight and expertise has been essential to the quality of our input and in helping us to convey the reality on the ground.

    One thing I would stress to you is the importance of collaboration. It is the missed opportunity I see all too often in Leinster House. An organisation will come to meet me in my Seanad office and say “A is critically important” and then the next day another group within the same sector will come to me and say “B is the most important”.  These groups need to work together to determine and agree the priorities, not offer a choice for politicians to decide.

    Coin drop machine
    One of the greatest privileges of being a Senator is theJvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (13) opportunity to meet and engage with a wide range of peoples who bear witness to their personal circumstances.  We
    have done so much damage in the past and the only way we can truly demonstrate we have learnt from our mistakes is through the actions we take now.  I wish I had a magic wand or a do-over. Instead I feel I am operating one of those coin machines you see in arcades.  You have to put a lot of coins in to hit the tipping point for change.

    There are many issues where I feel I have put in a considerable amount of coins but we have yet to see progress. In particular, I highlight the situation for transgender, non-binary and intersex children.   In 2015 Ireland passed ground breaking gender recognition legislation into law.  However, it is silent when it comes to children under 16 –despite my efforts to introduce an interim gender recognition mechanism.   Minister James Reilly has committed his Department to doing more research in the area in time for the review of the Gender Recognition Act in 2017.  I am also sitting on a Working Group hosted by TENI and hope with several others to ensure children have a voice and a place in our laws.

    Shelter
    JvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (14)
    I cannot leave today without mentioning the untenable homelessness crisis faced by children and their families, which is compounded by the shortage of social housing and the State’s failure to regulate the private rental sector.  It is incumbent on us to ensure all children – homeless children, children from the Traveller community and children in Direct Provision –  have secure and appropriate accommodation.

    Corporal PunishmentJvT Speech 14 April 2015 Photo (15)I want to end on a high and the achievement of which I am most proud- havingchampioned and secured the effective ban on the physical punishment of children in Ireland.  A few months before this win a high level official in the children’s area told me that it would be impossible.  I succeeded by drawing on all in my armoury – all that I have amassed and using every ounce of social and political capital I had built up.   I have documented the official story in the Irish Journal of Family Law but let me take you behind the scenes here.

    As early as 2011 I had spoken in the Seanad on the need for Ireland to repeal the defence of reasonable chastisement and I continued to raise the issue throughout my tenure. Behind the scenes I researched the issue, drew on International experiences and identified the piece of Legislation I would use as my vehicle.  The Children First Bill was perfect as it was about child protection and yet it contained no penalties or sanctions and so no one could say I was trying put parents in jail.  I also knew the Government would work to ensure this Bill was brought into law as it was a key plank of its reform of child welfare and protection.

    The Committee Stage of the Children First Bill was taking place on 23 September last.  At 10am the previous day I met an Advisor and several officials from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to discuss my amendments to the Bill.  Over the summer recess I submitted several substantive amendments and I had been waiting for this moment.  In our meeting I said I was willing to concede on the other amendments but that corporal punishment was my red line.  They tried very hard to dissuade me but I did not see any other Oireachtas Member willing to put their head above the parapet on this issue and so I had to do it before my time was up.  Even if I lost, I intended to force a vote and let the record show who in the Seanad was willing to be listed as saying it is acceptable to hit children.   It was a tense meeting.

    At 4pm that same day, I was invited to meet Minister Reilly and the Secretary General of the Department.  My persistence on the issue meant he had spent the day trying to find a way forward through discussions with his officials and the AG.  In that meeting he gave me a commitment he they would do the change but I needed to buy them some time to work out the how.  We agreed that I would postpone a vote at Committee Stage but one way or the other we would be voting on an amendment at Report Stage.

    I had been working with the NGOs and in particular the Children’s Rights Alliance, ISPCC and Mummy Pages who were all outstanding in playing a subtle but vital role in getting the ban on corporal punishment over the line. It worked, with thanks to my fellow Senators who all supported me; the NGOs and children’s rights advocates; and some really outstanding civil servants and advisors.

    Through this action the Government has put children first and provided leadership that will hopefully give confidence to other countries across the globe, including our nearest neighbours, to protect children from violence.

    There is so much more I could mention but let’s keep it for another day!  It has been a roller-coaster ride that I feel so privileged to have been on. I learnt so much, not least how to hold my nerve and persevere with my eyes fixed firmly on the goal.  I believe I made the most of the opportunity.  I worked extremely hard to effect the most change I could. I don’t know what my future holds but as ever I am optimistic and confident that I will rise to my next challenge.

    I would like to thank my fellow Senators from across the house for their collaboration and cooperation.  It has been an immense honour.  Most of all I wish to thank all of you for your input and support during my tenure.    Thank you the Children’s Rights Alliance for giving me an opportunity to share my experiences and to the Ark for providing such a wonderful venue.  Thank you ALL.

    END

    Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013: Report and Final Stages

    I move amendment No. 3:

    In page 10, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:” “best interpretation” means the interpretation of the relevant person’s past and present communication (using all forms of communication, including, where relevant, total communication, augmented or alternative communication, and non-verbal communication, such as gestures and actions) that seems most reasonably justified in the circumstances;”.

    The Minister of State is extremely welcome to the House. Before I speak to this amendment, I want to congratulate her on her work on the mental health (amendment) Bill which seeks to remove the use of coercion in the application of ECT. I acknowledge that a Bill was published by the former Senator, Dan Boyle, as she knows, and I would particularly like to pay tribute to my cousin John McCarthy, God rest him,I can almost hear him using wonderfully colourful language and including words “about time” but it is great that this Bill will be progressing and well done to the Minister of State for doing that.

    In association with my colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone I want to acknowledge the support of NUIG Centre for Disability Law and Policy and Tallaght Trialogue. While most people simply require recognition of their legal capacity and support to express their will and preferences there will still be a small minority of individuals who are not expressing a will and preference in a manner that others can understand. The Bill must establish the lawful response to such circumstances. However, I do not believe that a functional assessment of a mental capacity, and a subsequent denial of legal capacity, is the correct response to these difficult situations. A person in a coma or in a minimally conscious state, for example, will not be communicating their will and preferences to others and may not have made their wishes known in advance through an advanced health care directive or granted a power of attorney to anyone in respect of their relevant decision.In these circumstances decision making assistants, co-decision makers, decision making representatives, attorneys or designated health care representatives may need to make a decision on the relevant person’s behalf in accordance with their best interpretation of his or her will and preferences. While the Bill does require all interveners to respect the person’s will and preferences as part of the guiding principles included in section 8, further reference to the concept of best interpretation of will and preferences is needed for the hard cases in which it is very difficult to tell what a person’s wishes are.

    The term “best interpretation” needs to be defined in section 2 of the Bill to guide those in the supportive roles I have outlined. Best interpretation of a relevant person’s will and preferences means taking into account past express preferences, where known, and includes knowledge gained from family and friends and other evidence available. Best interpretation can also be arrived at in seeking to communicate with the person in every possible way, including by using, where appropriate, assisted and augmentative communication, facilitated communication, signs, gestures and total communication, all of which are noted in the regulations and code of practice.

    The use of best interpretation will rarely be an easy task. However, the best interest determinations used currently are similarly difficult in these circumstances. The provisions of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are merely shifting these difficult decisions from focusing on judgments existing outside the individual to the individual’s own will and preferences. That is why I am trying to insert a definition of best interpretation. We do need to deal with the hard cases, too.

    I move amendment No. 6:

    In page 15, to delete lines 10 to 36 and substitute the following:“3. (1) Legal capacity may be exercised:
    (a) by the relevant person with decision-making supports as needed (including a decision-making assistant) and/or reasonable accommodation; or

    (b) by the relevant person and their co-decision maker, acting jointly; or

    (c) in a situation of last resort, where all efforts to ascertain the relevant person’s will and preferences have been made and the relevant person’s will and preferences remain not known, legal capacity may be exercised by the person(s) selected to represent the relevant person in exercising the relevant person’s legal capacity (i.e. decision-making representative, attorney, or patient-designated healthcare representative in advance healthcare directive).
    (2) Where legal capacity is exercised with the support of a decision-making assistant, codecision-maker, or is being made by a person selected to represent the relevant person (decision-making representative, attorney, or patient-designated healthcare representative), and where the relevant person’s will and preferences are not known, the decision shall be guided by the individual’s best interpretation of the relevant person’s will or preferences and how these are to be applied to a specific decision(s).

    (3) In applying subsection (2), decision-making assistants, co-decision-makers and persons selected to represent the relevant person must be able to provide a reasonable account of how this interpretation was arrived at.”.

    I propose this amendment to change the definition of “capacity” in the Bill and to move away from a functional test of mental capacity which is used in the current text of the Bill to deny the legal capacity both of adults with disabilities or mental health experiences and of older people. The amendment would replace the definition of “mental capacity” in the Bill with a recognition of the legal capacity which all adults enjoy.

    This amendment is based on the explicit recognition of legal capacity and the principle set out by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that a functional assessment of mental capacity should never be used to restrict or deny a person’s legal capacity, even in respect of a single decision. The amendment draws on a proposal contained in A Statutory Framework for the Right to Legal Capacity and Supported Decision-Making by the Canadian Association for Community Living, CACL, which was published in 2012. The CACL was a key actor in the reform of Canadian adult guardianship law in the 1990s.It resulted in innovative statutory mechanisms such as co-decision-making and representative decision-making agreements, which influenced the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill here.

    Functional assessments of mental capacity are now understood to violate human rights. In the terms of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, functional assessments of mental capacity are “discriminatorily applied to people with disabilities”. In April 2014 the committee stated:

    [The] functional approach is flawed for two key reasons. The first is that it is discriminatorily applied to people with disabilities. The second is that it presumes to be able to accurately assess the inner-workings of the human mind and to then deny a core human right – the right to equal recognition before the law – when an individual does not pass the assessment. In all these approaches, a person’s disability and/or decision-making skills are taken as legitimate grounds for denying his or her legal capacity and lowering his or her status as a person before the law. Article 12 does not permit such discriminatory denial of legal capacity, but rather requires that support be provided in the exercise of legal capacity.

    Instead of requiring a person who needs support with decision-making to undergo an assessment of his or her mental capacity, these supports should be provided for the person to avail of at his or her own discretion. The availability of supports should also be combined with a parallel process to explore the person’s will and preferences, something we have debated quite a lot on the floor of the House, so that the decision the person wishes to make becomes clear. This approach avoids any need for an assessment of mental capacity.

    Section 3 of the Bill makes a person’s ability to enter into different support arrangements contingent on the individual’s mental capacity. This is quite a high standard for an individual to reach and will mean that some people will not be found eligible to make assisted decision-making agreements and co-decision-making agreements, even where this is the form of support the individual and his or her supporters would most likely use.

    Under the Bill in its current form, the term “presumption of capacity” is used to try to prevent discriminatory application of functional assessments of mental capacity. However, two international human rights scholars, Oliver Lewis and Michael Bach, stated at a meeting in Belfast in April 2014 that a presumption of mental capacity is meaningless as it does not help to protect the individual’s human rights. They argue that the right to equal recognition before the law, from which the right to legal capacity stems, is a guarantee, not a presumption. In contrast, a presumption can be rebutted if evidence is provided to demonstrate that a certain individual is not worthy of equal recognition before the law.

    This amendment is required to ensure Ireland meets its obligations under international human rights law and will, upon ratification, comply with Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which we all wish to do. This is why I have tabled the amendment.

    Full debate https://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2015-12-15a.222&s=speaker%3A393#g287