Email Newsletter – November 2013

We are now midway through the new Oireachtas term and already so much has happened. On the future of the Seanad, the people have spoken and decided it is an institution of democracy they wish to retain. Their decision adds to my sense of purpose and I feel encouraged and revitalised in my efforts to secure positive change.

 

My newsletter is just a snapshot of the work I am doing and for those of you who wish to follow my work more closely, and input more directly, I invite you to view my website http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/. In particular, I am interested in hearing from people who wish to contribute a written piece to my guest blog spot. The idea behind the guest blog is to give space to civil society, NGOs and interested members of the public to raise the issues that concern them, many of which I share. I am eager to ensure that I remain plugged in and connected with people’s realities and the challenges they face. I do not necessarily stand behind each and every position expressed in the blog pieces. Rather they are intended to provide food for thought and discussion

www.jillianvanturnhout.ie

 

I am providing links to some selected activities for you to view at your leisure:

 

Childline Breakfast Morning

Budget 2014

Direct Provision

Non Seanad Contributions

 

There are a number of important Bills that I will be working on in the coming weeks and months, including the Child and Family Agency Bill 2013, revised Heads of Children First Bill, Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013, Freedom of Information Bill 2013 and the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013. I will also continue to pursue health and children related issues through my membership of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children and I hope to have a dedicated section on my website in place in the coming weeks where progress can be monitored.

 

Best wishes,

 

Jillian.

Childline Breakfast Morning

Childline, which celebrates its 25 year anniversary this year, provides an invaluable service for children and young people in Ireland. Childline receives over 2,350 calls and messages daily. Sadly, 38% of these calls and messages go unanswered. This represents the unheard voices of 800 vulnerable children and young people each day. Childline doesn’t only listen to and support young people. It saves lives. Childline needs more funds to answer more calls from children. And so, to mark Cheerios Childline Breakfast Together Week, 7-13 October 2013, myself and Deputy Jerry Buttimer co-hosted a fundraising coffee morning for all Members and staff in the Oireachtas. We were delighted to be joined on the morning by Ashley Balbirnie, CEO of ISPCC, staff from ISPCC as well as Childline volunteers.

 

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It was a lively morning and very well attended. Thanks to generous donations from friends, colleagues and supporters to ensure much sought after raffle prizes we managed to raise €1250. This means an extra 250 calls from children and young people will be answered!

 

 

Budget 2014

As a Senator, this was my third Budget and Social Welfare and Pensions Bill respectively. In setting out my stall at Second Stage of the latter Seanad Debate, I made it clear to the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, that I accepted the need to find savings in public spending. I also emphasised the importance of addressing budgetary measures, fiscal adjustments, and social welfare cuts and changes against the backdrop of six extremely difficult budgets since 2008 and in the context of their cumulative impact-since this is the reality of how they are being experienced by people.

 

Upon careful consideration, I focused my interventions on three Sections of the Bill: Section 5 Maternity Benefit; Section 6 Adoptive Benefit; and Section 9 Jobseekers Allowance. I tabled three amendments opposing the Sections and endeavoured to be constructive in my opposition. Ultimately, my amendments were defeated when pushed to the vote and I in turn voted against the Sections at Final Stage of the Bill.

 

It can be easy to feel disillusioned and powerless in the face of debates on policies and decisions that have been made long before they reach the Seanad, which is often the case with Budget, Finance and Social Welfare Bills. However, these debates provide scope to secure commitments around important issues. My probing on the Youth Guarantee yielded important information and clarity and I was delighted that my initiative ultimately secured the commitment from Minister Burton to have a debate on the Youth Guarantee in the Seanad before it is finalised. I was also very pleased by the commitment I got around the Government’s intention to address surrogacy in the forthcoming Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013and its intention to consider surrogacy leave. When the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 is debated in the Seanad on 11 and 12 December I will be raising my serious concern over the decision to replace the One Parent Family Tax Credit (OPFTC) with the Single Person Child Carer Tax Credit (SPCCTC), which will only be available to the primary carer of the child and will negatively impact children.

 

 

Direct Provision

I am continuing to explore every avenue available to highlight my concerns over the welfare and development of asylum seekers, particularly the children of asylum seekers, who are spending on average 4 years and in many cases between 5-10 years in State sponsored Direct Provision Accommodation Centres. Most recently I used out Group’s Private Members Business in the Seanad to table a Motion calling on the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, to:

 

  • Outline his response to the recommendations of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, in the Fifth Report (July 2012) for:

i.            An examination to establish whether the system of Direct Provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children; and

 

ii.            The establishment in the interim of an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and give consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints).

 

  • Outline the legislative basis for payments to asylum seekers in direct provision accommodation; the effect on these payments, if any, of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No.2) Act 2009 which precludes asylum seekers from being granted habitual residency status; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
  • Further to the Minister’s announcement in January 2013 that “[r]eform of the immigration system will be sustained in 2013 and I will be focussing on major legislative and procedural measures such as the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill”, to debate with Members of Seanad Éireann how best to reform Ireland’s reception and asylum system.””

 

Minister Shatter’s response to the Motion was very disappointing. Ultimately his message was that Direct Provision in its current manifestation is here to stay. I am not willing to accept this and was bolstered by the Seanad debate, which saw full cross party agreement that the current Direct Provision system is in need of urgent reform.

 

Furthermore, by raising the issue regularly as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, I am very pleased that on my initiative the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, has agreed to meet with members of the Seanad Cross Party Group on Direct Provision, where I hope to secure her commitment to commission the examination into the impact of the system on children.

 

Non Seanad Contributions

I am delighted when I am asked to speak at conferences and events outside the Seanad.  I think these forums are a wonderful opportunity to share our collective knowledge and expertise, so much of which I take back into my work as a legislator. Over recent weeks I have participated and spoken at a number of diverse and exciting events including: delivering the Carmichael Centre’s Kate O’Sullivan memorial lecture; giving the key note address at the Youth Work Ireland’s National Conference: chairing a panel at Dublin City Council’s seminar on Participation and Intergenerational Dialogue: presenting to young professionals about leadership and wrath at the National College of Ireland’s Seven Deadly Skills event and interviewing Gordon Jeyes, Chief Executive-Designate of the Child and Family Agency, at a Social Work Conference in Cork.

 

 

 

 

Statements on Budget 2014

 

Seanad Éireann

Statements on Budget 2014

Minister of State for Public Service Reform and the Office of Public Works, Brian Hayes TD

Speaking Notes

Tuesday 15 October 2014

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Senator Jillian van Turnhout: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will premise my statement by underscoring the importance of addressing today’s budgetary measures and fiscal adjustment, the sixth in line of extremely difficult budgets since 2008, and the context of their cumulative impact since this is the reality of the way they are being experienced by people.

As a Senator this is the third time I have made a statement on the budget and it is safe to say, and no doubt the feeling is shared by many members of the public, that my sense of disillusionment and powerlessness has been compounded on each occasion. It is a sense that nothing has changed about the way we do our business. I welcome what the Minister said about the European aspect but as far as we do our business, I do not believe anything has changed.

I have said on numerous occasions in previous statements on the budget and in response to various social welfare provisions that Ireland, while on the road to recovery, is still in serious financial difficulty and money must be saved and generated but how this money is saved, be it from cuts to existing provisions and services or exploring alternative revenue-generating measures such as tax increases and against whom the cuts are made, are ultimately political decisions. There is a strong public perception that the decision has been made to persistently target vulnerable groups and re-hit already stretched and hard-pressed families.

Accusations have been made that such decisions are made with political capital considerations in mind. There is a certain class of people that have remained largely unscathed by successive budgets. They are young employed individuals without children and without a mortgage. Effectively, that grouping has remained unscathed. I have spoken with many of those people in the course of my work and I have heard time and again that they are willing to shoulder their share of the burden more fairly. After each budget they are grateful they did not get hit.

I believe it is a mark of a decent and humane society to ensure that those with the lowest income and least resources are protected from further cuts. I recall when dealing in April 2012 with the impact of the provisions on lone parents in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012 feeling that anything I had to say was futile since the relevant decisions had already been made. It almost felt disingenuous to be kicking up a fuss knowing that whatever I said, nothing would change but I spoke to the groups advocating for lone parents on the ground and they convinced me of the importance of ensuring that their voices, and the voices of their constituents, made it on to the record.

The voices of civil society organisations and NGOs on the ground, which witness the impact of the decisions and cuts we debate in these Chambers, must be heard. We need to reconsider our mechanism leading up to the budget, to have a greater engagement with those organisations and not have a showpiece hearing where the relevant decision makers are not present. This is also why I feel so strongly about the move to restrict the access of the NGOs to the AV room to have political briefings. We need to be very careful about our decisions. We should not close off or close down dialogue and open ourselves to accusations that political decisions are being made in a vacuum.

Moving to today’s budget, I very much welcome the decisions made, particularly in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and the additional funding of €6.7 million in 2014 to reform child protection. I know that money will go to the new child and family agency. It is really positive that it is being moved into the Vote of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I am very concerned at the talk that the new agency will start with a deficit. The agency will be taken out of the HSE and created, and there is talk of transferring a deficit. That will be regressive and I will watch it closely.

I welcome the implementation of the preschool quality agenda for which there is funding of €4.5 million. Additional inspectors will be recruited. There should be nationwide coverage. I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a preschool mentoring service. We need mentoring in that sector to bring quality up to a consistent level and not to see more scenes such as those we saw in the “Prime Time” programme entitled Breach of Trust. We need to support staff training.

I also welcome the initiatives to tackle child poverty at a local area level. A cut of €3 million in youth work funding was projected for 2014, and we are supposed to heave a sigh of relief that it is only €2 million. This sector has been disproportionately cut. We know that for every €1 the State invests in youth work it saves €2.22 in the long run. Youth work organisations around the country are under huge pressure. The youth council proposed the introduction of a 1% social responsibility levy on drinks manufacturers. I notice in the budget that €145 million is saved in the excise duty added to alcohol. Why can youth workers not receive some of that additional money? They do not take funding from drinks companies. All too often we hear it said of the sports organisations “Oh dear, they cannot afford to let go of the drink sponsorship”. Youth organisations say “No” to drinks companies because of the ethos of their organisations. They work with young people, as do the sports organisations. Youth organisations say “No” and I do not see why a measure like that cannot be found for them. I welcome and note the increase in tax on tobacco.

If one is in the 18 to 25 year age category one had no hand in creating the situation in which we now find ourselves yet there is a disproportionate reduction in the jobseeker’s allowance. That is very tough on young people. Yes, they should be encouraged into education and training but the reality is that the places are not available for them.

Minister Hayes: There is a 100% increase as announced today in the budget in places for that age cohort.

Senator van Turnhout: The places are not there. There is an urban-rural divide. I hear all too often that young people are being forced back into the family home. Once again, there is a geographical lottery.

On the tax exemption for starting one’s own business, does someone need to wait to be unemployed for over 15 months? We know most businesses do not make money in the first two years. I wonder what this measure solves.

It is great that the €14 million youth guarantee has been announced. I am however a little concerned about the figures and I will study this more closely. It seems very low. Much of this is based on the Swedish model but the Swedes estimated that it would cost €6,600 per participant. They estimate that it will cost €273 million to implement in Ireland, based on their figures. That is phased over several years but €14 million seems very low, given that we need to spend it before we recoup it from the EU. While it seems like a large sum it is too low to implement the youth guarantee as it is envisaged—–

Minister Hayes: Is it not matching?

Senator van Turnhout: No. The Government must spend it first then recoup it. That is why I am concerned about the €14 million because we must spend it before we recoup.

I warmly welcome the free GP cards for children aged five years and under but we must ask ourselves about the discretionary medical cards. What children will lose out? In the Irish Examiner there is a very good case study profiling some of the cases that have lost out. It is excellent to have a rights-based approach to introducing the free GP card and they should not be confused with one another. I am concerned about this and I am hearing these concerns from parents around the country. I welcome the grant for the protection of the homeless.

I am concerned about the tax credit for the one-parent family. I want to explore it further to see what implications it has for families. I hear that the mental health budget has been reduced. We never seem to be able to spend the money.

 Minister Hayes: It has been increased by €20 million.

Senator van Turnhout: I hear that the overseas development aid budget has been reduced by €14.1 million. I have a difficulty with the kind of society we are creating. I have voted for tax increases. I voted for property tax.

Minister Hayes: It is not enough.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: Some 3% on those over €100,000.

Senator van Turnhout: Senator Mary Ann O’Brien and I have put forward ways in which the Department of Health can save a significant amount of money on children with life-limiting conditions. The Minister of State should not talk to me about solutions. I keep putting them forward.

Minister Hayes: It is not enough.

Senator van Turnhout: I keep putting them forward. The Minister of State has not even taken one step in the right direction on that issue. I have concerns about maternity and adoptive benefit. I ask the Minister of State to look at my record. I have put down solutions in this House. I have tried to be fair and equal in what I have said. Some of the measures are hidden. These small cumulative cuts will affect people.

 

Budget 2012 – Statements

6th December 2011

When I was speaking earlier this morning, I should have wished a happy St. Nicholas day to my colleagues in the Netherlands, for whom today is gift-giving day. I do not think the same can be said for here. I can understand now what people mean when they say that something was a game of two halves. There are many aspects of the budget about which we can speak positively, and there are some good initiatives, but due to the time constraints I am going to highlight the areas in which I have concerns and which I feel need more considered attention. Also on the subject of the time constraints, we need to consider having a debate in which Senators have an opportunity to make statements, because in this debate, the Minister, whom I greatly admire, took up a quarter of the time Senators had to give their statements.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, said yesterday in the Chamber that we need to ensure the burden of our economic recovery is shared fairly. Sometimes I wonder about this. We talk of Ireland having experienced four years of hardship, which conjures up a notion that before that, everything was all right. Unfortunately, it was not. For many of the groups we are discussing today things were not just fine. The painful process of adjustment that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform spoke about yesterday impacts overwhelmingly and disproportionately on those who are and were already vulnerable. At the same time, there remain significant numbers of Irish citizens who are insulated and largely unscathed by this afternoon’s and yesterday’s announcements.

I understand it is unrealistic to expect that everybody should have the same standard of living, but we should be striving for greater equality of opportunity. The foundation for that must be protection from poverty, hardship and despair. Can the Minister confirm that the VAT increase of 2%, which will absorb 1% of the disposable income of the bottom 10% of earners but only 0.35% of the disposable income of the top 10% of earners, is an example of every effort being made to ensure that the burden of economic recovery is being shared fairly?

The budget was announced in two segments but it is actually split into multiple pieces. We still have a situation where each Minister is producing statements and I am still trying to work through all the details. Reducing the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance has a severe impact on families. The Minister for Education and Skills hinted that he might examine directly off-setting that towards school uniforms or books. I would have liked that announcement to have been made. I also urge caution to my colleagues and the Minister for Social Protection. Yesterday, she compared child benefit rates with those in other countries. If one wishes to compare, one must compare like with like. While child benefit rates in Ireland are high, other countries provide free child care, free school books, free uniforms and free health care, so we should compare like with like.

This morning I raised the issue of the disability allowance for young people. The rationale is that we do not want young people with disabilities to be dependent on an allowance. However, many of these young people have profound and multiple disabilities. They are not going into training schemes or work placements, irrespective of their desire to integrate and participate fully in society. I realise that many people are getting allowances which might be questionable, but I am referring to the people with multiple and profound disabilities. There is no rationale for this and I urge that it be reconsidered. In addition, there is confusion about to whom the cut in disability allowance will apply. Will the Minister of State confirm that nobody currently in receipt of the allowance will have the payment reduced?

On the Order of Business this morning I took the opportunity to raise a number of questions and I am disappointed that I received no answers in the Minister of State’s opening statement today. Lone parents are very fearful at present. I talked to a number of them today. The budget introduces a number of measures which will have a severe impact on parents. There were a number of measures last year and they expected more, but they did not expect the drastic changes to come upon them so quickly. I looked at the figures in an attempt to justify the decisions, because I am trying to consider these decisions and their justifications fairly. I cannot find the rationale for this. We put questions to the Department of Social Protection but there are no figures to justify the decision. Again, there is a lack of clarity about how the cuts are to be implemented and what the transitional arrangements will be.

Budgets are about choices. The Minister can say it is easy for me to make these remarks but the Government decision to keep excise duty on alcohol at the same slashed levels as previous Governments, for example, means it has lost the opportunity to generate €178 million. If it had generated that amount, it would not have been necessary to make the changes to the lone parent, disability and fuel allowances or to student fees.

Order of Business, 16 November 2011

16th November 2011

I echo the congratulations to the Irish team, which has given us all a boost. Perhaps we would like to skip over the budget and get straight to the European matches. Unfortunately, we cannot.

I have concerns at the kite flying that is happening. Vulnerable hard-pressed families are reading headlines every day and wondering what will happen. We should all be careful with our comments.

I echo what Senator Bacik said about St. Patrick’s Institution and seeking a debate in the House. It is of extreme concern and a gross violation of our human rights record. For the sake of the children in vulnerable situations we need to act as soon as possible.

Today, I raise the issue of transition year students. Most of us are aware of the transition year programme which promotes the personal, social, vocational and educational development of students and prepares them for their role as autonomous, participative and responsible members of society.

Recently, I received an application from a transition year student to work for one week in Leinster House as part of the work experience programme. I was informed that this is not possible. What better way to achieve these goals than by allowing young people to experience a working environment through one of the work experience programmes offered by most schools that conduct the transition year programme? The Houses of the Oireachtas lacks any dedicated structure to facilitate students who wish to experience the working life of the Parliament. Work experience is available for second level students with members of parliament in the European Parliament and the British Houses of Parliament. Why can we not do it here? Even closer to home, Dublin City Council offers second level work experience.

This experience is extremely valuable, would give students an insight into our work and would help them understand what we are doing here. I call on the Leader and the House to examine ways in which the Seanad could put in place a one week programme once a year to provide transition year students with an opportunity to listen to some of our key debates and a chance to partially shadow a Senator. The programme could be open to a lottery and provide to a limited number of transition year students an opportunity to see what we do. I ask that this be given serious consideration and I would be happy to give any support and assistance I can.

The Lancet

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