27 March 2014: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD

Questions submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout and response received:

Question 9: Figures in relation to Special Care Placement.

Question 10: EU Commission Recommendation ‘Investing in Children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage’.

Question 11: Amendment to Childcare Act 1991.

 

Question 9: Figures in relation to Special Care Placement

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to provide the most up-to date figures on the following, in relation to Special Care Placements:

a)   What is the current waiting list for Special Care Placement?

As of 11th March 2014, there was one young person waiting for a special care placement. There have been ten admissions to Special Care since 1st January of this year.

 

b)   How many applications have been made to date since the beginning of 2013?

From 1st January 2013 to 5th March 2014 there were 116 special care applications – 22 of these applications were re-referrals.

 

c)    How many of these applications were successful?

Forty applications were successful, 27 were withdrawn or removed by the relevant Social Work Department, 46 were not approved and there were three in 2014 where further information had been sought and a decision has not yet been made. A Social Worker making an application for a Special Care place will also work to put in place other supportive mechanisms for the child while they await the outcome of the application. Where it is found that the alternative supports are meeting the needs of the child without the necessity of detaining the child for his/her own safety, the preference is to continue with the alternative programme. Where a child has been sentenced to detention in a Detention School, the child’s application for Special Care is withdrawn.

There is an appeals process available to Social Workers if they disagree with the decision where a child’s application to Special Care was unsuccessful. The Social Worker will also consider the Care Plan for the child and make other arrangements to find the most appropriate placement for that child. An unsuccessful application does not preclude the Social Work Department from applying at any other stage, especially in light of a child’s needs changing.

 

d)   How many State provided places are there in mainstream residential care and

e) How many are provided by Private Providers?

All Special Care placements in Ireland are operated by the Child and Family Agency and placements are under the direction of the High Court. There are no private providers of Special Care Services in Ireland, however some children with complex needs are placed out of State.

More generally, in December 2013 there were 142 Children’s Residential Centres in operation throughout the country; 47 of which were Agency-managed; 28 were run by the voluntary Sector; and 67 were operated by private providers.  These centres are typically found in domestic homes in housing estates, on the outskirts of towns and villages. The centres typically have between three and six children. These children are usually in their teens.  There is always some flux in placements available as services adapt to meet the needs of the resident children.

In December 2013, there were 356 children in care placed across the different types of residential care. Of these there were 143 children placed in the 67 privately run centres.

 

f)    What is the allocated budget for private provision?

The cost of the provision of mainstream residential placements in the privately-owned children’s residential centres for 2013 was approximately €50m. To date private placements have been commissioned on the basis of a child’s needs which will influence staffing ratio, the need for live-staff at night and additional supports to the child in the placement. There has been a consistent and predictable spend in respect of this type of residential provision, which reflects demand.

Significant work is under way within the Agency to secure the most appropriate and cost-effective care for children in the different settings in which they are accommodated. In early 2012 the HSE’s Children and Family Services undertook a tendering campaign to secure 80 places at a cost of €18.7 m per annum or €4,500 per place purchased for a two year period (extendible for a further two years if required). This arrangement will be for children whose needs can be met in a centre caring for 3 or 4 children. The process is now complete and contracts are currently being awarded in respect of 2014. It is estimated that the procurement arrangements utilised will reduce the spend in this area by €3.9m in 2014.

Any additional places that will be required will be purchased on an individual basis and in some cases may be more expensive where bespoke placements are commissioned for young people with particularly challenging needs.

The Agency has been working to increase value for money in this area by, as outlined above, seeking to promote cost effectiveness within the different options available and also moving to fostering where appropriate.

The Agency intends to undertake a centre activity audit of all aspects of residential care in 2014, and this will allow for a level of comparison of cost of placement across private and public group children’s centres and individual placement arrangements.

 

Question 10: EU Commission Recommendation ‘investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’.

To ask the Minister what action the Government is taking to implement the EU Commission Recommendation (20 February 2013) Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage, concerning child poverty and well-being and, having acknowledged that tackling poverty requires a whole-of-Government approach, will DCYA carry out a social impact assessment on any fiscal adjustments in Budget 2015 and onwards?

Ireland, led by the Department of Children & Youth Affairs (the first such Department in any EU member state), is committed to improving the lives and experiences of Ireland’s children and young people.

Many of the actions being implemented by this Government are in line with the EU Commission recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2013. These actions include:

·     Protecting and enhancing children’s rights on foot of the decision of the people in the Children’s Referendum 2012;

·     Improving child protection, welfare and family support services through the newly established Child & Family Agency;

·     Implementation of the recently-reviewed Youth Homelessness Strategy;

·     Continuing to be a world leader in both the areas of children’s participation (through the national Dáil na nÓg and local Comhairle na NÓg model); and childhood research (through the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ longitudinal study and ‘State of the Nation’s Children’ reports).

Tackling Child Poverty

The EU recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ includes a significant focus on tackling child poverty, referencing the ‘setting of national targets for reducing child poverty’ and access to quality services.

The draft National Policy Framework for Children & Young People, which is being prepared by my Department and which is due to be considered by Government shortly, currently includes a commitment to address child poverty.

With respect to services, my Department is responding through initiatives such as establishment of the Child & Family Agency (with an enhanced focus on prevention, early intervention and family support) and the roll-out of the €30m Area Based Childhood (ABC) Programme.

 

Early Years/Childcare

The EU recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ recognises the importance of early childhood education and care. The EU Commission has set a target of member states having at least 95% of four year olds in pre-school. Ireland is in compliance with this target through provision of the free pre-school year.

The EU recommendation on ‘Investing in Children’ also recognises the importance of access to affordable childcare. In this context I announced a review of existing targeted childcare schemes to consider how best to structure future childcare support, to both support working families and to incentivise labour market activation, which could be expanded to more families as resources allow.

Delivering improvements in quality standards and staff qualifications is a critical precursor to any future expansion of universal childcare provision and/or Government supports. I have prioritised implementation of an eight-point Quality Agenda, and there has been significant and unprecedented progress in the implementation of this agenda over the past eight months. This will continue in 2014 with establishment of landmark new National Quality Support Service, which is being seen a significant development in the context of developing EU policy.

 

Social impact assessment

In February 2012, the Government decided to develop an integrated social impact assessment to strengthen implementation of the new national social target for poverty reduction and to facilitate greater policy coordination in the social sphere.

Work in the area of social impact assessment is being led by the Department of Social Protection. A social impact assessment of Budget 2014 was published in February 2014 by that Department.  My own Department liaises regularly with the Department of Social Protection to ensure a child-centred approach informs such assessments and consequently provides learning to use in the development of our policy and service responses for children.

 

Question 11: Amendment to Childcare Act 1991.

 

Can the Minister provide a timeline for the delivery of the legislation to amend the Child Care Act, 1991, to provide a statutory right to the preparation of an aftercare plan for eligible young people leaving care and will the Minister consider extending this statutory support to young people leaving detention, as they often present with very similar needs?

The amendment to the Child Care Act 1991 to strengthen the aftercare provisions for children in care was approved by Government on 25 February 2014 for publication, and has been submitted to this Committee for its consideration.

I understand that the Committee plans to consider the matter during the month of April. Following the Committee’s deliberations the text of the amendment may need to be refined in conjunction with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, after which a timeframe for the progression of the legislation will be discussed and agreed with the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am very appreciative of the work of the Joint Committee and the contribution of the members.

Regarding children leaving detention, on average approximately one third of such children normally would have care orders and so would, in the main, be required to have an aftercare plan prepared by the Child and Family Agency.

At present, the mechanism for supervision of a child post-release from a sentence of detention (other than those who were in the care of the Child and Family Agency) is by the Probation Service if the courts impose a “detention and supervision” (i.e. in the community) order at conviction stage. Extending the right to an aftercare plan to all children completing a sentence of detention would require significant and detailed examination by officials in the relevant units of my Department, and the relevant other Departments and agencies involved, before any recommendations in relation to the matter might be formulated.

19 April 2013: Questions to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, for answer before the meeting of the Committee on Health and Children.

Question 17: Child and Family Support Agency

Question 16 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Question 18 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Question 17: Child and Family Support Agency.

To ask the Minister to share with the Joint Committee on Health and Children the Implementation Plan for the new Child and Family Support Agency; including details of the transfer arrangements from the NEWB, Family Resource Centres and HSE; and the referral pathways for children and families to the new agency.

Vision for Child and Family Agency
The Programme for Government commits to “fundamentally reform the delivery of child protection services by removing child welfare and protection from the HSE and creating a dedicated Child Welfare and Protection Agency, reforming the model of service delivery and improving accountability to the Dáil.”

I established a Task Force to advise on the establishment of this new Agency. I requested the Task Force to base its work on “best practice in child welfare, family support and the delivery of public services, and according to principles that:

• The welfare of the child is paramount;
• Children and families should be supported in their local communities to the greatest extent possible;
• The welfare of children is founded upon strong and loving families and supported by the purposeful and shared responsibility of the state and society to always protect and promote their welfare;
• The Agency will operate to the highest standards of performance and value for money;
• Children will receive the best parenting when received into the care of the state.”

The final report of the Task Force was published in July last year and made recommendations on a number of key issues. The Task Force provided a specific chapter on the vision for the Agency, amongst which included the following:

“The Child and Family Support Agency, working in collaboration with the Department, provides leadership to relevant statutory and non-statutory agencies, ensuring that the conditions needed to achieve children’s wellbeing and development are fulfilled.

The Agency is responsible for the wellbeing of children and families who require targeted supports due to family and social circumstances. These range from support to families in the community to highly specialist interventions where children are at risk of being unsafe. Such children and families are not an isolated grouping nor are they a static grouping as children and families can move in and out of needing support as their life circumstances change.

In fulfilling its statutory role, the Agency ensures that:
• The needs of such children and families are identified at the earliest sign of their emerging need;
• A coordinated set of supports that addresses all the facets of a child’s wellbeing is put in place which incorporates and utilises well-developed interagency working mechanisms;
• The effectiveness of the supports is monitored;
• For the services provided directly or funded by the Agency, service delivery systems and practice are continuously reviewed to ensure they respond successfully to changing needs, and unmet need is clearly identified as a part of ongoing planning and reporting processes to the Department and the Minister;
• It provides mechanisms to engage with children, families and communities regarding the design and quality of service provision.”

I share the view of the Task Force that in order to achieve genuine improvements for children and families, the Agency must have a broader focus than child protection. Prevention, early intervention, family support and therapeutic & care interventions are all key to the provision of integrated multi-disciplinary services for children and families based on identified need.

It is my intention that the new Agency will address the persistent and difficult issues which have been found regarding the standardisation of services, communication, professional collaboration and coordination, and sharing of risk assessment, management and treatment for many children and families with the most complex needs. At the same time, the Agency will have a role in supporting families more universally – providing less complex, less intrusive, less expensive responses which have a preventive function.

The new Child and Family Agency and the wider transformation of children’s services represent one of the largest, and most ambitious, areas of public sector reform embarked upon by this Government. The reforms are much deeper than structural or organisational change as they embrace operational, cultural and inter agency improvement. As such, they will not be delivered overnight and the organisational arrangements are intended as an enabler of the improvement in outcomes which will be the real service goal in the years to come.

Progress on Planning and Implementation
On 13th July 2012, Government approved the drafting of Heads of a Bill to provide for the establishment of the Agency. The detailed policy decisions to inform the drafting of legislation were set out in these Heads of Bill and approved by Government in November last. Such policy includes:

• The functions and legal remit of the Agency;
• The constituent services that are to make up the new Agency;
• The governance arrangements between the Minister and the Agency and between the Board and the Executive;
• The funding relationship between the Minister and the Agency;
• The arrangements for the Agency to contract others to provide services on its behalf;
• The arrangements for dissolving the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board; and
• Provisions for the transfer of staff, assets, liabilities and contracts.

The Government decided that the constituent elements of the Child and Family Agency on establishment day will be made up of:

● Child welfare and protection services currently operated by the HSE including family support and alternative care services.
● Other child and family related services for which the HSE currently has responsibility including pre-school inspections and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.
● Psychologists working in the community setting in relation to children and families
● The Family Support Agency.
● The National Educational Welfare Board.

The scope of these services is sufficiently broad to capture an enhanced range of both universal and targeted services operating to a unified management structure. These will constitute the immediate service responsibilities of the new Agency. Further consideration will be given to the subsequent transfer of additional services to the new Agency after the initial set-up phase and following further consideration of relevant recommendations of the Task Force in consultation with relevant departments.

The Agency will function as a separate statutory body with strong governance and a framework of public accountability underpinning its operations. The Agency will have a board appointed by the Minister based upon expertise and competency. Therefore, accountability and transparency will be a key feature of the governance and performance management frameworks to be introduced in the legislation.

The legislation must provide for the reassigning, under law, of the sensitive and complex legal responsibilities which arise in relation to the care and protection of children and the promotion of their welfare. Particular care is also being taken in respect of the disaggregation of the functions from the HSE to ensure that there are no unintended consequences (for either the Agency or the services remaining within the HSE) in the separation of functions, either in legal terms or in terms of the practical operation of day-do-day services for children and their families or other HSE clients.

Work on the drafting of the legislation has been progressing in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. The legislation is at an advanced stage and once it is finalised it will be brought to Government for the purposes of approving its introduction to the Oireachtas. The legislation is on the A list of the Government’s legislative programme and I intend to bring it before the House in this current term.

While the legislative process is under way, all necessary organisational preparations are continuing in parallel. These preparations are being led by the Programme Director/CEO Designate of the Child and Family Agency, Mr Gordon Jeyes. The preparations are being supported by an oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. In addition to the CEO Designate, its membership includes officials of the departments of Children and Youth Affairs, Health and Public Expenditure and Reform; HSE Children and Families and a representative of the CEO of the HSE.

The oversight group is supported by a joint Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Child and Family Agency project team (led by the CEO Designate) which is driving day to day delivery of the overall project. Its responsibilities include the full range of activities required to bring the project to completion. Representatives of the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board are also members of the team and are actively involved in leading the requisite change management programmes within those agencies. The project team undertakes integrated project planning, risk management and reporting. It reports to the Oversight Group and relevant matters are escalated to the Oversight Group if necessary.
Progress achieved to date in preparation for the Agency includes:
• the separation of children and family services within the HSE from other health and personal social services, with discrete management responsibilities and budgets;
• recruitment of a senior management team to lead the agency. All positions with the exception of the Chief Operations Officer and Head of Education Welfare are currently filled. These two positions are currently being re-advertised/advertised;
• the establishment of a dedicated sub-head for children and family services within the HSE Vote to bring transparency to the current budget of HSE children and family services;
• the undertaking of an external due diligence process, under the auspices of the two Departments, to inform the reassignment of budgets from the HSE to the Child and Family Agency;
• the establishment of an industrial relations process to communicate with staff representatives and resolve issues to facilitate the transition to the new Agency;
• the issuing in January 2013 of personal letters to almost 4,000 staff across the HSE, NEWB and FSA informing them of the plans to establish the new Agency and that it is intended that upon establishment their employment will transfer;
• commencement of external inspection by HIQA of the child welfare and protection services, in line with the goal of promoting enhanced transparency;
• the continued implementation of a comprehensive national change programme for the operational improvement of children and family services. This includes detailed design of referral pathways and assessment frameworks in order to ensure national consistency;
• continued implementation of the integration of education services within the NEWB and the development of the Family Resource Centre network in advance of the relocation of responsibilities to the new Agency;
• the appointment from January 2013 of Mr Gordon Jeyes as fulltime Programme Director for the establishment of the Child and Family Agency; and
• the recent approval of the Government that name of the new Agency will be the ‘Child & Family Agency’.

In line with the public service reform programme the replication and duplication of transactional or support functions such as payroll, financial transactions and property management will be avoided. These can be more effectively provided on a shared service basis in order to ensure that costs associated with disaggregation are entirely minimised. Accordingly, preparations are in place for the HSE to provide significant levels of such shared services to the new Agency. This will involve process and technical development within the HSE. HSE has recently received approval to contract for IT system enhancements necessary to facilitate this service which will be implemented this year.

In addition to these organisational preparations the decision has been taken to commence governance preparations on a shadow basis pending the enactment of legislation including its provisions for a Board. The Government has approved the appointment of Ms. Norah Gibbons as first Chairperson of the board of the new Child & Family Agency. Ms Gibbon’s expertise and experience in the area speaks for itself. It is intended that Ms. Gibbons will initially be appointed as Chairperson of the existing Family Support Agency which is one of the agencies being incorporated into the new Child & Family Agency. The appointment process will include appearance before the Oireachtas Health & Children Committee in line with procedures for the appointment of the chairpersons of state bodies. My Department will also be seeking expressions of interest for other board members by means of advertisement on the publicjobs and Department websites.
These appointments will reflect the intention, pending the legal establishment of the Child and Family Agency, to have the FSA Board prepare in advance for the governance task associated with the new Agency and provide oversight and direction to the preparations at an organisational level which are underway for the new Agency. The newly appointed board of the Family Support Agency will play this role on an administrative basis in addition to its existing statutory functions. Day to day statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection services and education welfare services will remain with the HSE and the NEWB respectively until these are transferred on the enactment of the necessary legislation. This approach reflects the overall strategy to undertake as much preparation as possible in advance of legislative enactment and the consequential transfer of onerous operational responsibilities.

It is important not to underestimate the scale of change involved and the absolute necessity for a carefully planned approach to be adopted while embarking upon such large-scale change within this crucial area of the public service. The approach to the project is informed by learning from the establishment of other major agencies, particularly where preparatory time was inadequate. Such preparations include allowance for sufficient consultation and consideration of the legislation by the Oireachtas and stakeholders in the period immediately ahead. A precise date for the establishment of the Agency will be set when consideration of the legislation by the Oireachtas has advanced.

Conclusion
In conclusion, it is considered that the intensive preparations underway and summarised here will provide for the effective establishment of the Child and Family Agency and will bring a dedicated focus to child protection, family support and other key children’s services for the first time in the history of the State, contributing in time to the transformation of what are essential services for families and communities.

Question 16 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to set out and provide details on the process for the selection of the sites; programmes; interventions; and supports to be provided under the new Area Based Approach to Child Poverty Initiative in 2013.

Written Response
The Area-Based Approach to Child Poverty Initiative was allocated €2.5m in Budget 2013. The amount allocated will rise to €4.75 in 2015. It is hoped that this Initiative will be co-funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and discussions are ongoing to this end. This Initiative will build on and continue the work of the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme (PEIP) which supported projects in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale/Belcamp/Moatview.

The new Initiative reflects the Programme for Government commitment to adopt an area-based approach to child poverty in co-operation with philanthropic partners, drawing upon best international practice and existing services, to break the cycle of child poverty where it is most deeply entrenched.

I can confirm that the focus will be, very firmly, on outcomes, rather than inputs and outputs, and these will be referenced in (a) the selection of areas where children are most disadvantaged, and (b) in measurement of the success of interventions.

It has been proposed that the Initiative will consist of the following components:

• Continuation of interventions, where appropriate, in the 3 existing PEIP sites, subject to those programmes being supported by positive evaluations and evidence regarding impact and cost effectiveness
• Selection of 6 sites (including as appropriate proven programmes in existing PEIP sites), where multi-faceted approaches to addressing Child Outcomes via evidence based programmes will be implemented. The impact of these interventions will be monitored in a cost-effective manner, to ensure they have the intended outcomes on child well-being
• In time, the mainstreaming of proven, cost-effective evidence-based programmes into service delivery in a wider context than the areas specifically participating in the Area-Based initiative.

The Initiative is being overseen by a Project Team, chaired by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs with participation of the Departments of An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste, Public Expenditure & Reform, Environment Community & Local Government, Education & Science, Health, Social Protection, HSE, and including Atlantic Philanthropies. The Project Team is supported by the Centre for Effective Services (CES) and Pobal, which has been asked to act as the fiscal agent for the Initiative.

A Working Group to Support the Project Team has been established. At present it consists of DCYA, CES, Pobal and Atlantic Philanthropy.

My Department published details on its website on 12th April last outlining the overall selection process. Details of a seminar arranged for 25th April where the Initiative will be explained to potential applicants have also been published. It is intended that Applications will close by the end of May, and Stage 1 of the selection process is expected to be completed at the end of June. It is inspected that the finalisation of proposals may be effected more quickly in the case of some successful applicants than with others, depending on their readiness. Shortly and in advance of the seminar my Department will publish detailed guidance for applicants and an application form. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will be happy to supply the committee with copies of these documents as soon as they are published.

The criteria for selection of proposals to attract support under the programme are as follows:

• Evidence of need – The level of poor outcomes for children in the target area
• The quality of the proposal
• Additionality & Sustainability – The degree to which the proposal leverages other resources
• Understanding & ability of the applicants to capture outcomes

The Working Group and Project Team will conduct assessments of the proposals and recommend projects for selection.

Who should apply?
Applications are invited from area-based groups of not-for-profit organisations, with a proven track record of working with statutory and non-statutory service providers and local community groups with a capacity to form consortia. These consortia must be in a position to propose and deliver an area based initiative that delivers on the programme’s objectives of:
Breaking the cycle of child poverty within areas where it is most deeply entrenched and where children are most disadvantaged, through integrated and effective services and interventions that address:
1. Child development, and/or
2. Child wellbeing and parenting, and/or
3. Educational disadvantage,
From pre-natal to 18 years of age.

Proposals are invited across all elements but particular consideration will be given to proposals that focus on the quality and effectiveness of services and interventions from birth to 6 years of age.

What will the programme provide?
Successful applicants will receive funding to implement proven and cost-effective early intervention and/or prevention programmes and practices. The level of funding which will be available to individual projects for the duration of the programme will vary depending on the scale and impact of each initiative and the level of existing resources allocated to the area concerned. It will be a requirement of funding that the programmes and practices are implemented collaboratively by all relevant service providers in the area, both statutory and non-statutory, using existing resources. Applicants should have regard to the fact that, while the initiative is expected to provide additional levels of funding until 2016, the objective is to work towards withdrawal or reduction of additional funding from then on.

Research and evaluation
Research and evaluation were key elements of the PEIP and will continue to be important components of the new initiative to ensure that the outcomes from the interventions are evaluated and measured. Given that the new initiative will build on trialled and proven leaning from the PEIP, and other prevention and early intervention projects funded by the State and/or Atlantic Philanthropies, the research and evaluation component is expected to be less onerous and will be centrally directed.

Successful applicants will be subject to on-going research and evaluation requirements, overseen at central level by an Expert Advisory Committee. This process will be assisted by the Centre for Effective Services, acting on behalf of the Department.

Mentoring
With the exception of applicants who demonstrate an acceptable record in the delivery of prevention and early intervention programmes (e.g. the existing PEIP sites), successful applicants will be expected to avail of mentoring assistance over the course of the new initiative.

Systemic Change
It is anticipated that the initiative will expand over time, both in terms of the number and type of area based interventions and the degree of systemic change and mainstreaming of evidence based programmes and practices which is taking place. In tandem with this, it is anticipated that the range of area based projects which will be included in the initiative, will broaden.

Applications will also be required to demonstrate an approach which is based on additionality to existing levels of service provision and resources both statutory and non-statutory i.e. the proposal should demonstrate how existing services, practices and resources will be made more efficient and more effective as a result of the proposal. In effect, the initiative is expected to promote improved inter-agency collaboration at local level leading to systemic change which is capable of being replicated on a broader or national scale.

Question 18 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

In light of the Fifth Report (July 2012) of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, to ask the Minister to confirm the status of:
• The examination he called for 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.

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

Written Response

No answer provided.

Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013. All Stages 5-7 November 2013

 Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Fifth Stage (7 Nov 2013)

I, too, thank the Minister and her officials for their co-operation in advance and during the debate and hope the co-operation will continue. I remain concerned about the cuts to the maternity benefit and the jobseeker’s allowance, a concern shared across the House.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to come here to discuss the Irish plan for the youth guarantee. She ably shared the information with us on how she showed leadership at European level on the issue. We are clear that she is committed to ensuring that the youth guarantee is a good plan.

Having listened to the debate, particularly on section 9, some good ideas were expressed from all across the House. We could add and give our support to the youth guarantee in order to ensure that it is successful for young Irish people.

 

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Report Stage (7 Nov 2013)

They are actually from the Department of Social Protection.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I remind the Senator that we are speaking on the amendment. I have given her a bit of latitude in her response but we have had quite an extensive debate on this issue.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

We are speaking on the amendment. I have given the Senator an extreme amount of latitude on this.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

To the amendment.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I remind Senator Harte to speak to the amendments. We cannot revisit the discussion on section 9.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I remind Senator Harte that this amendment proposes that reports be laid before the House. I ask him to confine his remarks to that topic.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

Amendment No. 3 has been ruled out of order because it poses a potential charge on the Exchequer. Amendment No. 4 proposes the insertion of a new section. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I ask the Senator to confine her comments to the amendment.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

Much of what the Senator is saying relates to the debate we had on section 9. I was listening very carefully and I am very involved and I ask the Senator to confine her comments to the amendments that have been tabled.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

Okay.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

Okay.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

Will the Senator keep to this section? In the first round there was a good deal of latitude on the sections, so can we keep to the section?

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I am encouraging the Senator to pursue that.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

Senator, let us keep to the section.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

The Senator should speak to section 9.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

Yesterday on Second Stage I highlighted the fact that this is a critical issue. I believe the cut is regressive and is likely to exacerbate the difficulties that these young people are already experiencing in getting back into employment and training. I noted yesterday that during the boom times young people were at the top of the list for getting into employment. Therefore, there is nothing to support the narrative being spun that young people are sitting on sofas at home or whatever. That is not the experience I have had.

I wrote directly to the Minister and I received replies. We did a follow-up overnight and I am awaiting the subsequent replies. I was talking to the Minister’s officials and I will take them at their word when they say they will come back to me with detailed replies in respect of the questions. Therefore, I will not use my time today to go through each of the questions. However, I am concerned about these cuts because of the overall message we are sending to young people. We are cutting the jobseeker’s allowance but not enough appropriate training places are available. I will discuss the youth guarantee shortly but we have cut funding successively to youth work organisations. We should consider all of these things as a cumulative package.

I welcomed the Minister’s commitment yesterday in the Seanad to the effect that she would come back for a debate on the youth guarantee. It is critical that we have the debate before the Irish plan is submitted to the European Commission.

 

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

According to the Department’s briefing note on the youth guarantee scheme, this will take place before the end of December. I seek clarification on the commitment made to have the debate by then. The timing of the debate should factor in when the plan becomes available to us and the plan should be the basis of the debate before it is submitted to the Commission. That would allow time for us to play a role in ensuring that we get buy-in and include all the people that need to be included in the plan. It is critical that we get this right.

This should be a joint initiative between the Department of Social Protection and the Departments of Education and Skills, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Children and Youth Affairs because labour and activation issues are not in a vacuum. From my own experience of youth work organisations I believe they can play a critical role.

I saw a little of the Oireachtas committee earlier today. We heard it eloquently described how youth work organisations were getting at some of the hard-to-reach young people and how the organisations were able to engage them into the workplace. Youth workers have a real insight and trust with young people. If we think about it, most adults in a young person’s life are not there by choice. We do not choose our parents, teachers or doctors. However, traditionally a youth worker or someone involved in a young person’s life in that way can have a significant role. I am conscious that there were excellent presentations made on the youth guarantee today and therefore I will not speak to it too much. However, I am concerned about the original or initial allocation of €14 million earmarked for it. In reality, and if we are serious, the figure should be approximately €100 million in the first year because a total of €66 million of that sum would be reimbursed from the EU. We have to spend the money first and then it is reimbursed. Therefore, the cost to the State will be €34 million. We need more clarity on the numbers, places and the budget available. Let us consider the €46 million figure. What are the costings for the 1,500 JobBridge places? What are the costings for JobsPlus for young jobseekers? What are the costings for the 1,000 extra places on Tús? What are the costings for the 750 new places on the momentum scheme?

My colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, cannot be here today, unfortunately, but he has asked me to raise with the Minister the situation for professional actors who are currently in receipt of the jobseeker’s allowance. They have been told they must go on Tús programmes for one year. The result of this will effectively mean that they must put their profession on hold for that time. The reason is they are not seeking full-time employment according to the Department of Social Protection. The Department sees their acting as a sideline hobby. Senator Mac Conghail sent me correspondence he received which detailed how a young actor was told that he cannot take up part-time work. By its very nature, acting is about short, part-time work. The person at the Intreo centre said everyone would like to be famous but that when an actor is not working he is not an actor, he is unemployed. The official insisted that the actor should go on a one-year training course with Tús if he wanted to continue to qualify for the jobseeker’s allowance. This individual has said he is happy to do part-time work to supplement his income and he is only seeking the half-time jobseeker’s allowance. There is something about understanding the nature of acting because it tends to be short work unless one gets a job in a soap opera. Even then, one is at the discretion of the writer.

The difficulty is that the Tús programme involves working for 19.5 hours per week, which is great when the employer will give actors the flexibility to do acting jobs. However, if not, ultimately, they cannot take up the work that they are keen to do. This applies not only in the case of actors. I have heard from many young people about the need for flexibility and the opportunity to take a chance when a chance comes upon them. A person could be offered a three-month placement. If a person takes a three-month work placement or a job it is fantastic but the transition to get back onto jobseeker’s allowance is so long that we must question whether it is worth it. Naturally, it is worth it to have a job but what if it represents a detrimental decision financially? We need to consider how people transfer in and out of jobs. We are in a far more flexible workplace now. If a person takes a three-month opportunity, often a job will come out of it. However, it is a leap of faith and it is a case of trying to find the flexibility and ensure that people can transition.

Yesterday in her speech on Second Stage the Minister referred to JobsPlus. She stated, “I want to tell Members here, many of whom are actively involved in employment or familiar with many employers, that on 1 January, young jobseekers aged under 26 will qualify for JobsPlus if they are without employment for more than six months”. My understanding was that this was for people aged under 25. Will the Minister clarify that she meant under 26 years? Was that correct? It would be welcome news if this was the case.

We have discussed flexibility and training places and the issues I have outlined in my questions. Let us consider the figures and leave aside the quality of the places, which is one of the arguments. Let us consider the increase in payments if a person goes back on an education programme and the differentials that arise. A person aged 25 years on jobseeeker’s allowance gets €144 up to a maximum of €160 per week if she goes on the back-to-education allowance scheme. The incentive in that case is €16 per week. Likewise, a young person aged 18 to 24 years will get €100 on schemes such as JobBridge with a maximum of €150. This is a low income to live on, especially if people have to pay the costs of getting to their place of internship, lunch, clothes and all the things that come with it. Can we consider working towards having a basic rate for all those in education or training and having the same rate across the board? It could be an allowance of €188 or something that would represent an incentive, something we could look at in time to work to such that not every scheme is different.

I agree that every young person is different and for some, the back to education programme or the JobBridge scheme is the right choice at present. For the sake of €10 or €20, I would not like young people to make a different choice that is not in their best interests on a purely monetary basis. Members do not want that as they want such people to get back on the pathway to the right place to which they wish to go. Consequently, streamlining should be considered and a way found to have all young people on the same rate. I will leave it there for the present but these are some of the issues I have with regard to the cuts.

 

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I endorse what the Minister said about surrogacy. The case I was citing to her is just one case, but we know there are other cases. I welcome the briefing note that we received on the Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013. I look forward to it being debated in this House.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I will not rehearse the discussion we had on section 5 but I endorse it and it is related to this issue. Has the Minister given consideration to providing surrogacy leave? The Equality Authority has advised on this; I refer to the Ms Z case. A teacher with a rare medical condition preventing her from carrying a pregnancy, although she had healthy ovaries, arranged for a surrogate to give birth to herself and her husband’s genetic child using IVF. The child was born in April 2010. The woman applied to the Department of Education and Skills for paid maternity leave and was refused. She was offered unpaid parental leave by her employers. She took a case to the Equality Tribunal and it ended up before the European Court of Justice. One of the court’s advocate generals suggested that since adoptive parents are entitled to maternity leave under EU law, the national courts could assess whether it is illegal to apply different rules to adoptive parents and parents through surrogacy while another advocate general said that where surrogacy is allowed in a country, the mother taking care of the baby was entitled to leave to ensure the unhindered development of the mother-child relationship. The Equality Authority has advised the Minister for Justice and Equality to provide support to the small number of families availing of surrogacy similar to that provided to adoptive parents. Has that been considered?

 

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

The Minister mentioned arrangements in other countries. I could provide a list of other countries in which there are preferential arrangements in relation to maternity and paternity benefits. I want the record to show that Ireland is not a leader in the world in respect of maternity benefits and leave.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Committee Stage (6 Nov 2013)

I echo and agree with everything Senator Power said. I spoke about this on Second Stage yesterday so I will not repeat myself but I am concerned because I know part of the narrative is that the payment is going up for some people while it is going down for others. The payment is going down for 95% while it is going up for 5%.

Ms Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council said a reduction of maternity benefit will force many women to go back to work earlier than they wish to. This is not in the best interests of women, their children or society as a whole. Senator Power has clearly outlined that some employers pay a top-up payment to women on maternity leave. In this case the employer may take a financial hit but some will not choose to take such a hit. We may see that significant classes and types of job will be directly cut by this reduction. Ms Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance has stated that Ireland is currently in the middle of a baby boom and to reduce maternity benefit at this time is economically counterproductive, counter-intuitive and will discourage women from having babies.

The difficulty is that the taxation measure came into effect from 1 July 2013, so it is beginning to hit now. That figure of €3,500 combined with this cut and the taxation measure sends out a damaging signal to women. I would like to see Ireland move to a combined system of maternity and paternity leave. In that way we could bring about greater gender equality because employers would regard men and women in the same way. However, it is a regressive step to reduce the amount.

It is not just NGOs who are warning about this. IBEC has also warned that some companies may have to review their maternity benefits as a result. Top-up payments to bring salaries up to normal levels during maternity leave are standard practice in most companies. For example, IBEC’s head of HR development, Ms Mary Connaughton, said the change could cost the typical large employer with 12 employees on maternity leave an extra €10,000 a year. That is something they would have to consider. That is why I have tabled an amendment to oppose these cuts.

 

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) (5 Nov 2013)

The Senator is taking time from his colleagues.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) (5 Nov 2013)

Senator Zappone, without interruption, please.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) (5 Nov 2013)

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Seanad: Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Second Stage (5 Nov 2013)

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is important to realise that this is the sixth in a series of cumulative cuts for many people. While we are discussing individual cuts in the Bill, I am very aware that many families and individuals have been hit six times in one way or another. It is my third time to discuss the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill in this House.

I feel slightly disillusioned because of the way the budget process is handled in Ireland. No matter how we cut and slice the Bill, it is about how we make political decisions. There is a strong public perception that the decision has been made to target vulnerable groups and hit already stretched families and individuals. I look at countries such as Denmark which has an open and transparent budget system. The Danish Government lays out the budget targets, debates in which people will get involved ensue and then the budget decisions are made. I question our processes, including the way we can invite groups to appear before committees, such as the Joint Committee on Health and Children without any real influence on the decisions that are made in the budget process. This is an issue for a wider debate on another day.

Today, I wish to discuss the aspects of the Bill on which I have particular concerns and have tabled three amendments. First I will address section 5 dealing with maternity benefit. I understand the rationale for the cuts and the argument that it will bring the level of payment up for some and down for others, but it will decrease the payment by €32 per week for 95% of the recipients. This reduction will affect the vast majority of recipients. Any parent will be able to articulate the significant costs associated with newborn babies. The cuts have a cumulative impact and this comes on top of the cuts in the 2012 budget, in which the maternity benefit was taxed and reduced the real value of the payment even further. The National Women’s Council of Ireland has calculated that in less than one year the cut to maternity benefit is nearly €3,500 per mother. I have the details of that calculation. We know from studies conducted internationally and in Ireland and Government reports that the first year of a child’s life is very important. I have major concern that over two budgets we have cut that payment by €3,500 per child. That is a matter of concern. I have similar concerns on the adoptive leave and the rate of payments to a person adopting a child as the same arguments will apply.

As the Minister will be aware from my e-mail last Tuesday, to which she responded with detailed answers, I have substantive issues with section 9 which deals with jobseeker’s allowance. I am extremely concerned as are others about these cuts to the payments to young unemployed people. I think it is regressive and is likely to exacerbate the difficulties these young people are already experiencing trying to get into employment and training. I am also very concerned about an urban-rural divide on this issue. It is easier for those based in Dublin to go for an interview, but the young people who are based in rural areas may have great financial difficulty in getting to the interview. Some young people who are offered a three month job placement face obstacles when going on and off social welfare benefits. This is a major issue because it is difficult to have one’s allowance restored after a three month placement.

I refer to the availability and appropriateness of training places and to the youth guarantee. I do not believe we are investing enough ,nor do I believe enough has been announced. Over the years, there have been successive cuts to youth organisations. I am interconnecting these issues because it is all about young people and the message we are sending to them. I listen to the narrative which is saying to young people that it is to incentivise them to go to work but the figures do not support that. During the boom times, the take-up rate among young people was the highest across the EU. Young people want to go out to work and want to be in education and training.

I am concerned the OECD report, Getting Youth on the Job Track, which was only published this September, clearly stated:

A comprehensive national strategy to tackle the very high unemployment rates among young people is lacking. Youth policy is fragmented, with several Government departments taking individual action. A more co-ordinated and tailored approach to the youth unemployment problem is required.

It is talking about Ireland. That is probably at the heart of the issue. We can debate the cuts but it is about the alternatives for young people.

In 2011, 40% of our young people aged between 16 and 24 were at risk of poverty. That is the highest rate in the EU and that is the group whose payments we are choosing to cut. It is at the highest risk of poverty but we are saying we might cut the payments.

I asked for details on the €32 million in savings on the basis of the cuts to jobseeker’s allowance. I also asked for the estimated number of recipients affected and I was informed that it would be 13,767 for 2014, which does not tally with the figures I worked out. The reply to a parliamentary question asked in September showed there were 20,853 young jobseekers aged between 21 and 24, the two years affected by the cut in 2014. That does not take into account any new entrants. If I take the €72 million saving to be made and do a simple calculation of the €44 per week, it shows 31,468 persons are affected. I will go back to the Minister’s Department because the sums do not make sense and I cannot work out these figures. I am trying to understand how many places and how many young people we are looking at.

The Minister highlighted the back to education allowance scheme, but a person must be 21 years of age to qualify for that scheme. There were 25,000 people on that scheme in 2013, of which 6,500 were under 25 years of age. That is approximately 26% of the people on that scheme. The Department said it was not possible to be precise when giving a number for the total of education places available for young people. Part of the problem is that we do not know the number of places available. We are saying to young people that we want to encourage and incentivise them to take up appropriate training and work, but I am hearing from young people that the places are not available.

In regard to the savings from the cuts, the Department said the cuts will affect 13,767 people. I estimate the figure to be approximately 20,000, but even if we differ on that, the reality is that the answers I have received show there are 5,250 places available. Where is the incentive? Young people are told that for every job for which they apply, there are 32 applicants. We are sending mixed messages to young people.

I mentioned the youth guarantee. The Department said it held consultations. There was a briefing on the youth guarantee on 14 October last and there was a general presentation by the Minister’s Department and some discussion in smaller groups. Organisations were invited to make submissions to the Department. The plan is being finalised by an interdepartmental working group but nobody, including myself, as a Senator, and organisations working with young people, has any idea what is in that plan.

An Oireachtas committee will meet tomorrow at which organisations such as the National Youth Council of Ireland will be represented but they do not know the detail of the plan. Will the Minister come to the House for a debate on the youth guarantee and the plan the Government will submit to the European Commission on labour activation measures for young people? All of us regularly consult organisations that represent the group to whom I refer and a debate would be healthy.

 

Seanad: Order of Business (5 Nov 2013)

I thank the Leader for ensuring that the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 will not be guillotined. We need to have a very important debate. I have put down three amendments to the Bill and I tried to be constructive. I have also been in touch with the Minister’s office over the past week with several questions, so I look forward to the debate over the coming days and will make my decisions based on what we hear on the floor of this House.

I echo the calls for a debate on water supply in the Dublin area, especially with regard to the quality of the water as well as the communications issues involved. Communications issues also apply to the local property tax and medical cards and I wonder whether the State should use organisations such as NALA in communicating to people in plain English exactly what is happening and when it is happening.

The major issue I would like to raise is about what took place yesterday in the Hague in respect of child exploitation material. We have had some good debates in this House on the issue, and I have issued a report on it as well. I believe Ireland needs to bring in a system of filtering for child exploitation material. I do not believe that will be a panacea, but it has been proven to be a deterrent and that is what we need to do. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to clarify to the House the steps he will take in transposing the European directive into Ireland. That was one of the recommendations in the directive. We have had a considerable debate in the House, but we should continue to play a role in leading the debate and calling for action on behalf of children in Ireland who are being exploited in order to have images to upload to these horrendous sites.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. David Begg

Wednesday, 25th September 2013

I too wish to join in the welcome to David Begg and thank him for his very interesting address. Like all Members I have plenty to say about how present-day Ireland compares with the Ireland of the 1913 Lock-out. I refer to areas such as child poverty, socioeconomic disparities, the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights, sub-standard housing and accommodation – Priory Hall and the ghettoisation of direct provision – vested interests, property development and the relationship with banks. It is interesting to note that at the turn of the 20th century it was lawful to hit one’s dog, one’s wife and one’s child. Sadly, in 2013 it is still lawful to hit one’s child – and arguably, someone else’s child – in the absence of an explicit ban on corporal punishment of children in the home and in alternative day-care settings. This is, perhaps, a subject for a further discussion. However, it is interesting to highlight the rights of children.

Because of time constraints I will limit my contribution to the following comments. I commend the ICTU 1913 committee on the Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout project, which was delivered in collaboration with Dublin City Council and the Irish Heritage Trust. I met the Irish Heritage Trust this morning and I was informed that the project received a community grant and the trust is looking for a reinstatement of community grants. In August I had the pleasure of visiting 14 Henrietta Street. It is no exaggeration to say that I felt completely transported during that hour. The poverty, disease, desperation, pride, spirit and fight portrayed by the actors were tangible to all present. Will this become a permanent project, and how can we support it? The way in which the arts were brought together for such an experience is tremendously powerful, both for the people of Ireland and for visitors to the country.

I was delighted by the decision of Dublin City Council to name the Marlborough Street bridge after Rosie Hackett in recognition of her dedication to the trade union movement and her struggle for workers’ rights. It is very important to recognise the role of women.

It is also very important to recognise that Rosie Hackett was just a girl of 18 when she helped to organise the strike in protest against the poor working conditions in Jacob’s factory. To galvanise and lead as many as 300 women at such a young age is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the potential of the young to be the driving force behind positive change. We need to keep this firmly in mind when we speak of youth activism and we see organisations such as SpunOut, which has been in the news this week, the National Youth Council of Ireland and all its member organisations.

Mr. Begg mentioned the figures for those not in education, employment or training, NEETs, which is an obvious concern, as well as the youth guarantee, so what can we do to support this youth activism? Rosie Hackett was 18 when she was involved in that strike and there are many Rosie Hacketts today that we should support as we look to bring about positive change in Ireland.

Early Intervention and Economic Benefits: Statements

Wednesday, 6th March 2013

As always the Minister is more than welcome to the House and we are delighted that she is here. Her statement and speech to us today are seminal. It should be circulated generally. She was very fair in trying to give us a summary of what she has said to us today and it lays a strong foundation for a new home for children. I cannot commend enough what the Minister has said. More people should read her statement. We often focus on only one part of a child’s life but it is important to consider the child’s journey. I thank the Minister for providing that vision and starting this discussion with a very strong foundation. Everybody supports prevention and early intervention but it is music to our ears to hear a Minister promoting these strategies and putting them first and foremost. All too often people only talk about these theories in seminars and symposia while in the House we talk about firefighting and dealing with crises and do not give prevention and early intervention the thought and deliberation that they need.

I welcome the area-based approach to the child poverty initiative but have a difficulty with the selection criteria for the three new sites and the additional four that will come on stream. How do we ensure that the selection process is transparent, that the programmes are rooted in evidence and best practice? Programmes may look good but how do we ensure that they provide the outcomes for children and the delivery that we all want ? I want to see more details.

Often when we talk about early intervention we refer only to early years. That is why I welcome the Minister’s speech because she has looked at the child’s journey, the key transition points, the flash points in a child’s life that are all too often missed. This is true of disability services, where life chances are affected at an early age if we do not intervene when the child is very young. Mental health problems tend to become more apparent in early adolescence. The Minister mentioned the Heckmann curve. In 2010 Cunha and Heckmann wrote a working paper on investment in our young people. Their research showed that the effect of early intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children is reduced if it is not followed up by investment at later stages. We all talk about the importance of investment and what we reap from investing in early years but if we do not provide that continuum of support the investment is lost.

I welcome the Minister’s focus on how to provide services and the suggestion that we might take a step back and ask what is the purpose of child benefit and how do we ensure that it delivers the outcomes it should and that people want. The Minister mentioned the advisory report on which we had a good brief debate in the House with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, which we will continue. We were glad that she came in so soon after the report was published. There are different ways in which we can provide services and support to children. Should we consider the affordable, accessible and quality child care, or extending the scheme to a second year, or after-school care which is ad hoc and does not have a defined structure. Should we consider universal primary health care for all children or school book schemes?

The Minister mentioned the development in data which is very welcome. I welcome her approach to ensuring that we have an evidence base for moving forward and that we understand why we are doing something. Very often when I hear economists talk about demographics I shout at the radio “That is birth rate”. We have an increasing birth rate but economists do not want to talk about that. Too often children are forgotten in these issues.

The Minister mentioned Eurofound, the foundation based in Loughlinstown for the improvement of living and working conditions. I recently visited the foundation. It is doing some really interesting research on how parenting supports can best be delivered to children. Ireland has the fourth highest rate in the EU of young people who are not in education, employment or training, the NEET category. We do not want to be so high up on that list. Schoolteachers and youth workers can point to those young people much earlier in the cycle. That is where we should intervene. Eurofound did research on the loss to the economy that jobseekers represent. It calculated that they cost Ireland in the region of 2% of GDP which indicates that the cost of youth unemployment is €3.16 billion. Those are the figures but it has been proved that if a young person lives in poverty he or she is likely to continue to be unemployed. The pathway is laid. It is important to intervene early and help to change those young people’s lives. I welcome the fact that the Minister has asked the youth work sector to investigate how we could intervene and best ensure that we do so. We need to find the tipping point at which the young person ends up unemployed rather than going into education, training or employment and see how we can support those young people.

I know that next week the Minister is hosting the EU Youth Conference on social inclusion. It is significant that Ireland has chosen to host that conference under its Presidency and I was delighted to see that the Minister is doing so in co-operation with the European Commission, the European Youth Forum and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The European Youth Forum was born during the fifth Irish Presidency. It held its inaugural meeting in Cork on 6 July 1996. I was there. I am a co-founder of the forum. I was a secretary general of one the three youth platforms. We came together to merge into one. Two of the three secretaries general were Irish. That is why I am so delighted to see them coming back to Dublin.

I welcome the development of the child and family support agency and look forward to seeing the Bill. I have made public my opinion of it to ensure that we debate this. The new agency will have a budget of approximately €545 million for 2013 and at hearings held by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last week we heard that approximately €100 million will go to NGOs and services. When my opinion of the new agency was published in The Irish Times I was surprised by the number of organisations which contacted me because they are afraid to speak publicly about this fearing that their funding will be cut. There is a chilling effect. We need to create an environment in which people can make constructive proposals to ensure that the agency works. I know that the Minister does not intend this chilling effect but I was surprised by the number and types of organisations that came to me about this matter.

I thank the Minister. The statement she made to us today should be circulated to all Deputies and Senators.

Order of Business, 19 February 2013

Tuesday, 19th February 2013

I thank everyone who attended a joint briefing I organised on the Magdalen report with Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Justice for Magdalenes. I hope we will debate the issue at the earliest opportunity, and I hope that today is day one of justice. When we have the debate I ask for appropriate time to scrutinise any proposed redress scheme; there should not just be reflection of the past but also consideration of how to restore into the future.

I welcome the publication yesterday by the Children’s Rights Alliance of its report card for 2013, which is a really comprehensive report on the Government’s promises to children. Overall, the Government got a C grade, and I will refer to Senator O’Brien’s comments with regard to child poverty. I do not know if it is “the” Mangan report but the first report of the Mangan group was put online today, and it is dated March 2012. I would like to see clarification on the report and its content. I am concerned by the leaks we read over the weekend. As a legislator, I cannot believe I must speak about leaks of a report. We have had debates on the Social Welfare Bill and we have been asked to act responsibly but we have not been provided with the relevant information.

In the Children’s Rights Alliance report and relevant to child poverty, the Department of Social Protection got an F grade. Rarely does the Children’s Rights Alliance hand out an F grade. We have seen increasing child poverty figures in Ireland and if child poverty is left unaddressed, the issue can continue into a person’s teenage years and cause significant life poverty risk.

Reading the reports at the weekend on whether we should means-test or tax child benefit, as well as what the Mangan report would come out with, it felt like it was Groundhog Day. It was first mooted in April 2009 by the then Minister, the late Brian Lenihan, that we should examine this issue and I recall when debating it that I used the same speaking points that I am using now. I have not had to change them. The debate should be moving on. I ask for a debate on the matter in this House.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality for clarity on when the family leave Bill will be published and the consultation process on it with the social partners is envisaged? As the EU parental leave directive needs to be transposed into law by March 2013, the clock is ticking. I know the Bill is on the legislative list, but when will it be published in order that we can uphold our obligations?

Order of Business, 15 February 2012

My question to the Leader today relates to the growing levels of child poverty here. Ireland is near the top of the table for OECD countries as regards percentage of children living in poverty. Figures for 2011 show that 19% of children live in poverty and 9% of children experience consistent poverty. The OECD has clearly identified that child poverty rates are significantly higher for jobless families than for families with at least one parent in employment but also lone parent households compared to two-parent households. Many more children are at risk from poverty due to the cumulative effect of successive budgets. This means that children in Ireland are living on poor diets, they are missing developmental milestones, they are suffering more ill health, they are struggling at school and they experience increased isolation because they are unable to participate in ordinary childhood activities. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Social Protection to the House to debate how best to tackle growing child poverty and how to reverse this unacceptable trend.

In this regard I have organised a briefing today at 5.30 p.m. in the audiovisual room and I have brought together four organisations, SPARK, Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids, One Family, OPEN and Treoir. They will give a joint briefing to Deputies and Senators on the cumulative effects of the budgets. Child poverty is something of concern to Members on all sides and it is vital that we work together to safeguard the future of our children.

Human Rights in Ireland – Guest Post: Van Turnhout on Criminalising the Purchase of Sex

21st November 2011

 

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Senator Jillian Van Turnhout on the efforts of the Independent Group in the Seanad to criminalise the purchase of sex.

On 12 October 2012, the Independent Group of Senators tabled a motion in Seanad Éireann to criminalise the purchase of sex in Ireland in order to curb prostitution and trafficking. The impetus for the motion was twofold. First, recognition that demand for prostitution in Ireland is intrinsically linked to increased cases of woman and girls being trafficked into and around Ireland for sexual exploitation. Second, recognition that trafficking for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery, an egregious human rights abuse and a violation of international law.

Having given my consideration to a number of arguments against criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland, I find myself unconvinced by them. One argument contends that criminalising the purchase of sex violates a sex worker’s right to exercise self-determination over their own body. I must respectfully disagree. It is my belief that when we peel away the complex layers of how and why women, and to a lesser extent men and boys, sell their bodies for the sexual gratification of others, it is clear that the path into prostitution did not start with the simple exercise of their right to self-determination over their body. Indeed, research indicates that a significant number of women end up in prostitution as a result of poverty, debt, homelessness, addiction, or having been groomed by a partner, family member or friend. Many will have experienced serious abuse or neglect in childhood or early adulthood.

I believe that the inherent coercion, whether the result of violence or economic hardship, and the exploitative nature of the sex industry, which in Ireland alone is estimated to be worth €250 million each year, renders free and informed consent to prostitution all but impossible. Furthermore, for those who argue in defence of prostitution on the basis of consent, I would ask these people to be mindful that the age identified internationally for entry into prostitution is 14, an age at which consent cannot be given.

The Turn Off the Red Light Campaign (TORL) to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland has done tremendous work in this area. Most TORL members are civil society groups and NGOs that have direct experience of the devastating effects prostitution can have on women, children and men involved in its practice. These devastating effects are physical, such as sexually transmitted infections, injuries sustained as the result of beatings and rapes, gynaecological difficulties owing to multiple terminations, and many other health complications relating to prostitution. There are also mental and emotional injuries, deeply embedded in the psyche of sex workers and victims of trafficking, which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. As devastating as these effects are for adults, the impact is almost unimaginable for children and child victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. I am particularly concerned about the vulnerability of homeless and separated children in Ireland to prostitution and trafficking.

Focus Ireland has estimated that as many as 1,500 children are homeless in Ireland each year. 800 of them are unaccompanied, and a quarter of these are under the age of 12. Inadequate resourcing in this area, coupled with an insufficient number of places for children in safe, sheltered accommodation, is said to be forcing some children to resort to prostitution to survive. An increase in substance abuse amongst homeless youths, particularly males, has also seen increased recourse to prostitution. There is evidence to suggest that boys as young as 13 are involved in prostitution in Dublin City. Cognisant of the link between youth homelessness and child prostitution, and in addition to the introduction of the legislation called for in our Seanad motion, I believe that the Government needs to breathe life into its pledge to address the issue of existing homelessness, with a specific focus on youth homelessness, by reviewing and updating the existing Homeless Strategy.

Separated children or unaccompanied minors are defined as being under 18 years of age, separated from both of their parents or their legal/customary primary caregiver, and outside their country of origin. Separated children are an extremely vulnerable group owing to their unaccompanied status. Many have experienced war and violence, and some have been trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. There have been a number of improvements in the situation for separated children in Ireland under the Ryan Report Implementation Plan, particularly in relation to accommodation arrangements. Measures are also being taken to tackle false family reunifications through the use of DNA identification.

Nevertheless, instances of children going missing from care are of deep and ongoing concern. Minister of State for Disability, Equality and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch TD informed the Seanad debate that there are 16 cases of children missing in Ireland still outstanding in 2010 alone, and 11 of those are unaccompanied minors. There is strong anecdotal evidence that a number of these children could have been trafficked into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. In September 2011, the Children’s Rights Alliance submitted to the Department of Justice and Equality’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit collated case studies of suspected and confirmed child victims of trafficking in Ireland. The case studies paint a dreadful picture of exploitation and include:

A 15 year old Somali rescued from a brothel in 2006 after being trafficked into Ireland; a 16 year old Nigerian girl who arrived to Ireland as a separated child in 2009 and was enticed out of HSE residential care by a man who later got her involved in prostitution; and a 16 year old girl from Burundi, held captive in a house in Co. Louth and abused. She had been taken from her village in Africa at the age of 12 and introduced into sex slavery in different countries before being trafficked to Ireland for more sexual exploitation. I have also heard dreadful accounts by an NGO, which were subsequently documented, of Eastern European girls as young as 14 being trafficked to Ireland, brutally and systematically raped over a number of days to “break them in,” before being shipped off to various brothels around the country.

These are just a few examples, but I fear they represent just the tip of the iceberg. This is an intolerable situation. The sex industry in Ireland is extremely lucrative. Children continue to be victims of prostitution and trafficking because it is good business for organised criminals and traffickers.

After much research into the issue, I firmly believe that legislation is needed. I was very disappointed that our motion did not succeed on 12 October. Instead, the Government proposed a six-month timeframe in which to hold a considered public debate before the issue is revisited. I look forward to this renewed debate. As Leader of the Independent Group of Senators, I have extended a number of invitations to the Turn Off the Blue Light Campaign, a sex worker led association campaigning against calls to criminalise the purchase of sex in Ireland, to come and discuss their concerns with the authors of the motion. They have indicated that they will do so after completion of a survey they are currently undertaking with sex workers.

Readers may be interested in following the debate as it unfolded in the Seanad;

http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2011-10-12.192.0

 

Article link: http://www.humanrights.ie/index.php/2011/11/21/guest-post-van-turnhout-on-criminalising-the-purchase-of-sex/

The Lancet

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