1 June 2011
I extend my congratulations to the Leader and deputy leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and whoever else needs to be congratulated.
I confirm that the Independent Taoiseach’s nominees will form a group. We come from very different civil society groups and have different representations. Our diversity is our strength. We wish to maximise the opportunity that has been presented to us. We all have issues that are close to our hearts. However, I can guarantee that we will knock on the Leader’s door to discuss Seanad reform.
I thank my colleagues in the group for putting their trust in me to lead the group for the time being. I will do my best. We have people of excellent calibre in the group and we will use our time wisely.
I thank the Leader for his agreement to a debate on an important report by Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, who is a special rapporteur on child protection. Too often, reports come and go and we wait for television programmes like a Prime Time Investigates to expose the horrors. I recommend to colleagues that they read this report before we debate it next week. I hope we do not use the time allotted for the debate simply to complain but to discuss the solutions required and the legislation and policies needed to achieve them. These solutions include the provision of a 24 hour out-of-hours social work service, a range of reforms for children with mental health difficulties and reform of elements of the criminal justice system, including the introduction of legislation to disclose confidential records.
There is a long overdue need to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis, which would ensure there is a duty to report concerns of neglect or abuse of a child, a point which was very much highlighted this morning at the launch by the Ombudsman for Children of her annual report.
I welcome the opportunity that will be presented to us tomorrow to discuss the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011. This is an issue that is very close to my heart and I have seen the horrific ramifications the practice can have for women. I hope we will be able to strengthen the Bill and help it move through the Houses as quickly as possible.