Joint Committee Questions to the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs

Question 10 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Can the Minister give his considered view on the recommendations in the Report of the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the General Scheme of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015?

My Department is examining the Report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme and Heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015, recently published by the Joint Committee on Health and Children.

I would to thank the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Jerry Buttimer TD, and members of the Committee for their work in producing the Report without delay. I know that a considerable amount of work has gone into this Report and it is being studied in detail as we continue the preparation of the legislation.

The Report has made key recommendations as follows:

  • That the definition of ‘compelling reasons’ be further clarified and more tightly defined in the Bill.
  • In cases where non-disclosure is sought citing ‘compelling reasons’, this should be supported by medical evidence.
  • that consideration should be given to excluding the Statutory Declaration provision from the Bill. This could possibly be replaced by an alternative provision where the applicant is required to attend one preparatory session to discuss and explore the issues concerning privacy and respect, before the Birth Certificate is released.
  • that consideration should be given to reducing the lead-in to a much shorter time period, and to holding a shorter, more intense information / awareness campaign over a six-month period, to include engagement with social media and a wide range of community groups who can help to raise awareness about the new Register.
  • in the case of the illegally adopted, that consideration should be given to establishing a dedicated unit to actively investigate those cases.  
  • that a review of service requirements arising from the Bill is undertaken.   

All the recommendations of the Committee will be fully considered with a view to incorporating the Committee’s views where appropriate and subject to legal advice.

The Committee also recommended that I give consideration to issues highlighted during the pre-legislative scrutiny process in relation to step-parent adoption. I am addressing this matter in the context of the Adoption (Amendment) Bill.

Question 11 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Can the Minister provide an update on the progress by the Child and Family Agency of a national seven day, 24-hour social work service for children and families at risk?

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency provides a range of services aimed at addressing emergency situations in the area of child welfare and protection. In the main, these emergency situations arise out of hours.

I am pleased to inform the Committee Members that Tusla commenced the new Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service last month. The key objective of the service is to co-operate with and support An Garda Síochána in the execution of their duties and responsibilities under the Child Care Act, 1991 and the Refugee Act, 1996.

Prior to this new development Tusla provided, in an emergency situation, for residential and foster care placements for children under Section 12(3) of the Child Care Act, 1991 and placements for children referred under Section 8.5 of the Refugee Act, 1996;

The additional service now available allows the Garda Síochána to contact a national emergency social work out-of-hours phone service for general advice or consultation. This on-call service will be staffed by social workers operating from the Out-of-Hours services in Dublin, supported by on-call social workers in different parts of the country. 

The social workers are currently employed by Tusla in its children’s services.

I welcome this new development. Up to now, under the Emergency Place of Safety Service, An Garda Síochána could access an emergency placement for children found to be at risk out of hours, but they did not have access to a social worker regarding the case or particular circumstances. In these circumstances, a child deemed to be at risk by An Garda Síochana was placed in a family setting until the following working day, when the local social work service would assume responsibility for the case.

Tusla and An Garda Síochána are the key agencies empowered by law to protect and promote the welfare of children and they have separate yet complementary roles. Mutual understanding and cooperation is essential in ensuring that these roles are carried out effectively and in a child-centred manner.

The aim of the Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service is to ensure that the disruption and upset to which children may be exposed in emergency situations is minimised and the rights of parents and guardians are respected. The introduction of the Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service assists in maximising inter-agency co-operation and promoting the safety and welfare of children.

Question 12 (Senator Jillian van Turnhout)

Can the Minister advise if he plans to legislate to vindicate children’s constitutional rights; including enacting legislation to satisfy Article 42A provisions on the best interests of the child, views of the child, and adoption.  And if he plans to carry out an audit of laws, judicial and administrative practices and policies to identify gaps in the implementation of the best interests principle and to address these gaps without delay?

At the time the wording of the then proposed thirty-first amendment of the Constitution was published by the Government, there was a commitment to bring forward important amendments in adoption law. In order to fully inform consideration by the people of the constitutional change being put forward for their decision, the Government published the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which would flow from implementation of the change. With the thirty-first amendment now standing as part of the Constitution, in the form of the new Article 42A, my Department is progressing the promised Adoption (Amendment) Bill, in which the best interests of the child are a paramount consideration, for consideration by the Oireachtas.

The Constitutional amendment was the subject of consultation with Government departments to ensure their compliance with the provisions therein. While the amendment has set a standard that must be observed, there is nothing to constrain measures being taken in the public legislative or administrative domain that exceed the standard set. The impact of the amendment, and the willingness of the Government to foster a child-centred approach, are to be seen in provisions relating to the views and best interests of children in certain legislation enacted or introduced since the referendum, such as the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the Children First Act 2015.

The on-going implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, is demonstrably rooted in the values and principles that the Constitutional amendment represents. The implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures is a ‘whole-of-Government’ commitment which is being driven with involvement by non-Governmental interests in the sector.

The policy framework relates to five specified outcomes for children and young people, which include that they will be connected, respected and contributing to their world. A major commitment by my Department in that regard is to greatly enhance the basis, and opportunity, for participation by young people in decisions that impact on them.  To that end, I published the first National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making 2015-2020 which is a constituent strategy of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. The Participation Strategy specifies a number of commitments to be delivered by various public bodies.  In my Department’s case this includes a commitment to bring about a major development by way of the establishment of a Children and Young People’s Participation Hub to become a centre of excellence on children and young people’s participation.  

While an audit of the kind referred to in the question is not planned at this time, emerging developments in the legislative and policy domains indicate that possible change is already underway and more is in prospect.

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.

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

Question 9: U.N Committee on the rights of the Child report.

Question 10: Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Reports

Question 11 Youth work budget.

Question 9: U.N Committee on the rights of the Child report.

On 16 July 2013, Minister Fitzgerald advised that her Department had finalised and submitted to Government for approval Ireland’s consolidated Third and Fourth State Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The submission of this Report, which is already considerably overdue (April 2009), are essential components of Ireland’s international obligation in relation to the review and monitoring process of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Can the Minister provide a definitive answer as to when Government approval will be secured and when the consolidated Reports will be furnished to the UN Committee?

The Government approved a consolidated 3rd and 4th Report in July 2013 and the report was submitted to the on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in August 2013.  The report is available on www.dcya.ie and outlines the most significant developments for children and how Ireland has been implementing the main aims of the UN Convention during the period 2006 to 2011 inclusive.

Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. Ireland submitted our second progress report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2005. Following the establishment of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in June 2011, I directed that a substantial progress report, combining the 3rd and 4th reports, to cover the period 2006 to 2011 inclusive should be submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.  An Inter-Departmental Liaison Group was established to prepare the report and a draft of the report was completed in December 2012.  This draft report formed the basis of consultations with the NGO sector and subsequently the Children’s Rights Alliance, on behalf of the NGO sector, submitted its observations on the draft to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.  These observations were considered by my Department in conjunction with other Departments and a draft report prepared for consideration by Government.

With the Report’s submission now complete I look forward to attending a hearing of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on the report, although the timing of the hearing will be a matter for the UN Committee.  I understand there is currently a backlog of hearings to be dealt with by the Committee.  The hearing when it takes place will provide an opportunity to further bring the Committee up to date on what we have achieved as part of the programme of this Government since 2011.

Question 10: Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Reports

There have been a number of important Reports concerning children over the last number of years. Significant amongst them are the Fifth and Sixth Reports of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon. In each of these Reports, recommendations are outlined to Government to improve the experiences and lives of children in Ireland. In the interests of transparency and accountability, and indeed to facilitate the tracking of said recommendations, will the Minister consider adopting a formal response to the recommendations similar to Ireland’s response to the Working Group Report on the Universal Periodic Review, whereby indication is given to each recommendation as follows: examined and supported; to be examined and responded to in due time; not supported? And, will the Minister ensure that implementation mechanisms and timelines are developed and published as part of the formal response to each Report’s recommendations?

There have been a number of important reports concerning children published over the last number of years, among them are the reports of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection and, significantly, the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (referred to as the Ryan Report) published in May 2009. Currently the monitoring mechanisms vary between no formal mechanism, once off responses or annual monitoring.

The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection is appointed by the Government and his recommendations are relevant to a number of Government Departments and Agencies. The reports of the Child Protection Rapporteur are circulated to all relevant Departments and it is a matter for individual Departments to take the appropriate action on any recommendation relevant to its work. Where recommendations are proper to the DCYA they form part of the process of policy development and, if appropriate, are incorporated within the Department’s business planning process.

The most formal response to a report is that of the Implementation Plan in response to the Ryan Commission Report, which was published in July 2009. The Plan sets out a series of 99 actions to address the recommendations in the Ryan Report, and includes additional proposals considered essential to further improve services to children in care, in detention and at risk. The Government committed to implementation of the Plan. The 99 actions identified in the Implementation Plan are the responsibility of a number of Government Departments and Agencies.  I, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, have had the responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the actions set out in the plan.  I chair a high level monitoring group with representation from the Department of Education and Skills, the Irish Youth Justice Service, the HSE, the Gardaí, the Children’s Rights Alliance and my Department. Three Progress Reports have been published so far and the final Progress Report is due at the end of this year.

My Department is currently preparing a monitoring framework for higher level oversight of recommendations from all significant child care reports, which is intended to be put in place following the completion of the formal monitoring process for the Ryan Commission Implementation Plan. In this regard the intention is to review current monitoring and reporting mechanisms, with a view to capturing all relevant recommendations and streamlining progress reporting, to provide effective and sustained implementation of recommendations.

My Department has also commissioned independent research on the extent to which previous reports have influenced policy and practice.  This research also identifies learning as to how to improve the influence and usefulness of recommendations made in such reports.  It is my intention to publish this research as I believe it will be of general interest and particularly useful to anyone engaged in conducting reviews or investigations in the future.

Question 11 Youth work budget.

 To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to share with the Committee the discussions her Department had with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform concerning the budget for youth work in the next round of the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure from 2015-2017. Did the Minster emphasise the disproportionate cuts to youth work in the overall budget adjustments for her Department in the last round from 2012-2014, and also will the Minister give details of when youth work organisations will receive details of funding for 2014 following the budget on October 15th?

 Officials of my Department have met with representatives of all the national organisations that are funded under the Youth Service Grant Scheme to share information and to hear from the organisations about the impact of the reductions in funding on the services that they provide. I have met with and continue to meet with, many youth projects and groups to try and see how we can work together to minimise the impact of these necessary savings in order to ensure that the provision of quality youth services to young people is sustained in these challenging times.

 Funding requirements and how resources should be prioritised and allocated across each area of Government spending are generally considered as part of the annual estimates cycle and budgetary process.  I am sure the Senator will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time on any decisions that may be taken by Government in the context of Budget 2014.  The Committee can be assured that the benefits of youth work have been fully considered as part of my Department’s input to Budget 2014.  As soon as Budgetary figures are available my Department will assess the implications for youth funding and engage with the sector in planning the approach to 2014.  It would be my hope that the earlier timing of the Budget will allow for the notification of allocations to be brought forward so that they can take place prior to the commencement of the year.

Independent Group Motion: Asylum Seekers and Direct Provision

Wednesday 23 October 2013

For full debate please see http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-10-23a.178#g180

Senator Jillian van Turnhout

“That Seanad Éireann –

notes the calls from civil society organisations, legal practitioners, academics, human rights activists and Members of the Oireachtas for reform of Direct Provision, the administrative system for accommodating asylum seekers;
notes that, according to the latest available statistics from the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) Monthly Report June, 2013, there are 4,624 RIA residents ‘live on the system’ of whom 1,732 are children;
welcomes the commitment by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to meet with the Seanad Cross Party Group on Direct Provision, made at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children on 10 October, 2013; and
calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to –
– outline his response to the recommendations of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in the Fifth Report (July 2012) for
– an examination to establish whether the system of Direct Provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children; and
– the establishment in the interim of an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and give consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints);
– outline the legislative basis for payments to asylum seekers in direct provision accommodation and the effect on these payments, if any, of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2009 which precludes asylum seekers from being granted habitual residency status; and
– further to the Minister’s announcement in January, 2013 that ‘[r]eform of the immigration system will be sustained in 2013 and I will be focusing on major
legislative and procedural measures such as the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill’, to debate with Members of Seanad Éireann how best to reform Ireland’s reception and asylum system.”.

I thank everyone who has signed and supported this motion, particularly my Independent group colleagues for allowing group time to be used. I wish to acknowledge the years the Minister spent as the Opposition spokesperson for children. He demonstrated a real understanding and commitment to the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Ireland and I am confident it has been continued under his remit as Minister for Justice and Equality.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to re-publish in revised form the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill, which is currently stalled on Committee Stage in the other House and which has been eight years in production.

I welcome this opportunity to have an open and frank discussion about the direct provision and dispersal system and to make suggestions for its reform process. This is a sensitive societal issue and I appreciate that the Government has decided not to table a counter-motion, thus allowing the debate to continue in a constructive and inclusive manner. All too often we perpetuate a political environment where Government concedes little for fear of exposing itself to liability. I wish this were not the case but I understand that it is. My hope is that the Minister and the relevant Departments are listening to what we are saying in a spirit of constructive engagement. We are all striving to make the society in which we live a better place for all who live in it. I also note that a root and branch challenge of the direct provision system taken by three families, has been given leave to proceed by Mr. Justice Colm MacEochaidh in the High Court yesterday.

It is very important that we as parliamentarians and legislators take ownership of the need to reform the currentdirect provision system rather than waiting and being forced into it by judicial imperative.

My entry point into the issue of direct provision is from a children’s rights perspective. This perspective has been informed by my work on related issues as the former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance; the recommendations of the Government-appointed special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon; and the concerns raised by advocacy groups. On that note I welcome to the Gallery for this debate Sharon Waters from the Irish Refugee Council and Lassane Ouedraogo and Reuben Hamakachere who have personal experience of the direct provision system and actively campaign to bring about its end. I also welcome the media coverage of the issue and in this regard I would like to commend the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund, set up to advance ethical investigative media coverage of three key issues – mental health; immigrant rights and integration; and children and young people’s rights. It has recently funded Tom Mooney, editor of the Wexford Echo, and his series “The Children of Operation Hyphen”, which included an article on the state of mental health of people in direct provision. The Minister facilitated my own recent visits to two direct provision asylum accommodation centres, with my colleagues Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.

It has taken me a long time to wade through the mire that is the political discourse on direct provision. It has been difficult to establish which features of the system belong to the Minister’s remit, the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs or that of the Department of Social Protection. I have struggled to understand the distinction drawn between children “cared for by the State”, as is used to describe children in direct provision, and children “in the care of the State”. I have argued strenuously that children are children, irrespective of status, and that it is a stretch in credulity to claim that children in direct provision are in the care of their parents in circumstances where the parents’ autonomy to make even basic decisions about their children’s care – for example what and when to eat – is so limited as to render it absent. This is a concern shared by the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, which I will refer to again later.

My overwhelming concern is that the administrative system of direct provision, which has been operating in Ireland since April 2000, is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers, and in particular the 1,732 children currently residing in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland. I am also very concerned that between 2000 and 2010, the direct provision and dispersal system has cost the State an estimated €655 million in contracts to private companies which are operating the centres on a for-profit basis.

In a recent letter to me as part of ongoing correspondences between our offices on direct provision, the Minister stated that the current system allows the State to provide a roof over the head of those seeking asylum in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances where the State is in financial difficulty. I am not convinced the current system is the most economical and my colleagues, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Martin Conway, will elaborate on alternative models and cheaper options. Furthermore, the best interests of persons seeking asylum should outweigh financial considerations in the discharge of our international, regional and humanitarian obligations.

In my time as a Senator, I have identified and spoken on the Adjournment about a plethora of difficulties, including the dubious legality of the direct provision system, the lack of an independent complaints mechanism for residents, the absence of independent inspections of direct provision centres where children reside, the decision by Ireland to opt out of the EU directive to allow asylum seekers to enter the work force if their application has not been processed after one year, the fact that there are no prospects for post-secondary education for young asylum seekers, which is like hitting a pause button for an uncertain and doubtlessly lengthy period of time, the fettering arid erosion of normal family dynamics and functioning and the lack of autonomous decision making. I do not intend to elaborate on each of these concerns but I will say a few words about the lack of specific legislation underpinning the provision of direct provision.

I know the Minister is aware of this specific concern as we have corresponded in its regard. I note in the same letter I mentioned previously what I took to be a suggestion that since existing laws – and although it is unspecified in the letter I presume social welfare law would be a good example – would “otherwise specifically prohibit asylum seekers from being able to be provided with the basic necessities of life”, we should simply ignore said provisions and carry on regardless. I fully accept and welcome that Ireland has an obligation under international and European human rights law to meet the needs of asylum seekers while their application for refugee, subsidiary protection or leave to remain is being considered. However, this must be done in a manner that complies with our own domestic legislation.

Direct provision was introduced in a haphazard manner in 1999 and 2000, with little concern for its relationship with Irish social welfare law. For several years, direct provision was viewed as part of the supplementary welfare allowance system, and this is evidenced from extensive documentation obtained by Dr. Liam Thornton under freedom of information and which I have furnished to the Minister in previous correspondence. Concerns were expressed by officials in the Department of Social Protection that the payment of €19.10 per week per adult and €9.60 per week per child was ultra vires, and the payment advice slips to asylum seekers continue to view the entirety of the direct provision system as being closely aligned with the system of supplementary welfare allowance, with deductions for accommodation, as administered by the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA. As the Minister is aware, supplementary welfare allowance can be provided in cash or in kind, and it appears that RIA, the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality had until recently considered supplementary welfare allowance as the legal basis for direct provision. To state that this scheme is wholly administrative, or that the Departments of Justice and Equality or Social Protection can act since the introduction of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act in 2009 contrary to legislation that debars asylum seekers from receiving supplementary welfare allowance displays a worrying approach of both Departments, which seem to consider that law does not apply to them.

Ultimate the failing of direct provision is the length of time asylum seekers remain in the system waiting for their claims to be processed. It is important to remember that when first introduced 13 years ago, direct provision was viewed as a time-limited system that would be for a maximum of six months. If this was the case, I would not be standing here today and I could tolerate the inadequacies that would present in that time period rather than the outright failings that present in this system, where the average length of stay is four years and a significant number have remained in the system for between five and ten years. This is far too long and leaves asylum seekers de-skilled, institutionalised, vulnerable to mental health issues and socially excluded.

The impact on children is particularly worrying. According to the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, “the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in the system of direct provision [is] the potential or actual harm which is being created by the particular circumstances of their residence, including the inability of parents to properly care for and protect their children and the damage that may be done by living for a lengthy period of time in an institutionalised setting which was not designed for long term residence”. The long-term solution has got to be a streamlined status determination system where decisions are taken fairly and speedily, with quick recognition of those identified as in need of refugee or subsidiary protection or leave to remain, or a speedy human rights compliant removal or deportation process. I hope this will be delivered through the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. I will make some recommendations when summing up the debate.

Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD

I thank the Senators who proposed the motion and all of those who have spoken on an issue of great importance in which I have had great personal interest for a considerable time. This important debate coincides with some events which have taken place over the past 48 hours in the State, which are not directly related to the direct provision issue but are related to the welfare of children.

I want to say to the House, and it is important I have an opportunity to say this, two children were removed from two families in the State in the past 48 hours in circumstances in which An Garda Síochána had serious concerns about the welfare of the children. Normally I would not address any specific cases which arise, and up to now when asked I have stated these are matters to be dealt with by the courts, but I want to report to the House the concerns which arose relating to the children have been proved to be groundless. I understand the two children concerned are children of the parents concerned and there is no reason for any doubts in this regard.

I am conscious An Garda Síochána has a very important role in dealing with child protection issues, particularly under the child care legislation of 1991 as amended, and circumstances do arise where for the protection of children it is necessary that An Garda Síochána intervenes and takes them to a safe place. I have no doubt the gardaí in this instance acted in good faith in the intervention which took place. However I have concerns with regard to each of these matters and I will ask the Garda Commissioner for a report on the background to each of these instances with a view to reviewing the procedures which applied in a manner which ensures An Garda Síochána continues to perform the very important role it must play for the protection of our children while also ensuring the type of situation which has arisen in each of these cases, which impacts on family members, mothers, fathers and children, can be avoided in so far as it is possible

I am conscious these events took place in a background or backdrop of events which have taken place outside the State, but it is very important in ensuring the welfare of all children is safeguarded and that every child in the State is afforded, where necessary, the protection of the State, that no group or minority community is singled out for unwarranted attention or suspicion with regard to child protection issues.

 

It is important that events which take place off this island in other states are not automatically assumed to be replicated in this State or in other states throughout Europe to the detriment of any particular group or minority being singled out. I am not suggesting this in any way was a motivation of the members of An Garda Síochána who in good faith acted in a manner they deemed appropriate in the interests of children, but it is important we do not get caught up in some of the concerns and the media spotlight which have arisen in the context of cases in other states about which there are genuine causes for concern. One case elsewhere, which is very high profile, is still a matter of investigation and a matter to be dealt with in the courts of another jurisdiction. I hope Senators will forgive me if I have taken this opportunity.

As I sat here, Members may have wondered why, on occasion, I was accessing my phone. It was not out of a discourtesy to anyone but because the results of certain tests were coming through to me and I was anxious to ensure I knew as soon as possible. The families concerned are being informed and, indeed, the court and the HSE are being informed. I believe these matters are sufficiently serious to warrant being mentioned in this House. I am conscious there is a very substantial interest in these matters outside this House, across the country and, indeed, elsewhere across Europe. It is important that the record on these matters be addressed.

I now want to return to the issue we are dealing with this evening and perhaps the House will give me some latitude by way of time to address these very important issues.

As I said earlier, I welcome this debate and the opportunity to respond to the points raised by Senators, and to speak, if I can, more generally about the subject in order to assist Members gain a fuller understanding of all the issues involved. At the outset, as Members will be aware, I have on several occasions in this House and in the other House responded to many, if not all, of the points referred to in this motion, and one of the earlier speakers referred to the number of times I have addressed this issue in this House. I am, of course, happy to address these issues again in the course of my contribution to this debate.

In saying this, it is important that I state that, for the avoidance of any doubt or misunderstanding and as has already been referred to, the issues under discussion here are currently being litigated through a judicial review application in the High Court, which essentially challenges the legal validity of the direct provision system. An application for leave for judicial review in that Mundeke case, so named after the applicants seeking the review, was formally heard in the High Court on Monday of this week, and the likelihood is that a full hearing of the case will take place early next year. I mention this with no purpose other than to ensure that all Members are aware of the most recent developments in this highly contested area of public policy. This can give rise to sharp differences of opinion among the wider community and, on occasion, is discussed in simplistic terms and in the colours of black and white when, unfortunately, in the complexities that arise, there are various shades of grey.

I do not know, and it may not be the case, whether this motion is being co-ordinated with developments in the case that is taking place in the courts as part of what is obviously an ongoing campaign against direct provision. Regardless, the House will understand that I cannot say anything here which will pre-empt the State’s response to the legal challenge that is taking place.

In the context of legal challenges generally, it is worth noting that a substantial number of those residing for long periods within the direct provision system are adults living with their children who have challenged in the courts, by way of the judicial review process, decisions made refusing applications for asylum and-or permission to remain in the State and whose cases await hearing or determination. There are presently approximately 1,000 such cases pending before the courts. Indeed, in many of the direct provision homes and accommodation I have visited, an overwhelming number of those being so accommodated, either themselves or their spouse, are engaged in litigation by way of judicial review, having been refused asylum. I believe that is an important statement to make. I am not challenging their right legally to bring judicial reviews but it is important to make the case clearly, as someone who comes from the perspective that, where someone is a genuine political refugee he or she should get refuge in this State, that there are many who claim to be political refugees who are not. I can say this having read the papers and seen the files.

These judicial reviews are taking place notwithstanding the existence of a detailed system of examination of asylum claims involving two bodies statutorily independent of the Minister, namely, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. These bodies are to fulfil the State’s obligation to distinguish between genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants who have not obtained the appropriate visas for permission to remain in the State or work permits to obtain gainful employment.

I am aware that some of the strongest critics of the direct provision system outside of this House have said all that is required is “one last push” to have it brought down. They have been very slow to explain what they will replace it with. It is, of course, their right in our democratic system to take such an approach. However, in opposing the system of direct provision, which I have already freely admitted has many faults, I have yet to see any proposals, or at any rate, proposals grounded in the reality of the economic conditions we face, as to what could replace it without, in short order, recreating the crisis which led to its establishment in the first place. There is no gainsaying that truth, and anybody who believes otherwise is, at best, simply not prepared to face reality.

I listened with great interest to Senator Hayden telling me we should provide housing for practically everyone in direct provision and every future person who comes to the State seeking asylum. I do not know where I am to obtain the funding to do that. There is no reality in that. We have people born and living in this State who are currently in difficult financial circumstances but for whom the State cannot afford to provide housing because of the parlous financial circumstances of the State. We have to discuss these issues with a degree of realism. What would be the effect if we were providing a house for every applicant for asylum in the State? How many tens of thousands of people who are economic migrants would arrive in the State and say, “Hello. Could I have a house, please?”

Could we have some realism in this discussion? We must provide properly for those who are genuinely seeking political asylum, coming from some parts of this world where people are treated appallingly. However, let us not fall into the trap of believing that everyone who claims asylum is always, in all circumstances, telling the truth. Sadly, they are not.

The system of direct provision in this country is sui generis. There is no real comparator with any other form of accommodation being provided by the State. To understand the system, as well as its strengths and weaknesses, one has to take account of the circumstances which prevailed when it was first set up. The number of asylum applications in Ireland increased dramatically in the late 1990s. In 1998, some 4,426 asylum seekers applied for refugee status. In 1999, this figure rose to 7,724. On the basis of these trends, it was anticipated that between 12,000 and 15,000 would claim asylum in Ireland during 2000. At that time, the majority of asylum seekers arrived in Dublin, and still do, and the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers was handled, in the main, by the then Eastern Health Board, which treated the asylum seekers as homeless. In late 1999, the shortage of accommodation reached crisis point and the Eastern Health Board, understandably, could not cope. There were reports of asylum seeker families sleeping in parks because no accommodation was available for them. We have now forgotten that.

In November 1999, the Government decided to deal with the crisis by having the needs of asylum seekers met by a system of direct provision which also involved dispersal throughout the country. The Government’s decision was also made in the context of measures taken in other EU countries to control illegal immigration and to process large numbers of asylum applicants. The body set up under the auspices of my Department to carry out the Government policy was the Directorate of Asylum Support Services, DASS, which later became the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA. It was an important objective of the policy to ensure the availability of accommodation for all asylum applicants while their applications for asylum and leave to remain in the State were being processed and determined.

Since then, RIA policy has been to procure commercial properties such as hotels, hostels, boarding colleges and so on, from private operators through public advertisements seeking expressions of interest. This procurement policy is reflected in the current RIA portfolio. Of the 34 current centres, only seven are State-owned and, overall, only three are “system built”, that is, built specifically to accommodate asylum seekers. In terms of room capacities and facilities, RIA centres operate in compliance with relevant legislation. In regard to determining minimum room capacities, RIA relies on the Housing Act 1966, with particular reference to section 63 thereof dealing with the definition of overcrowding. In regard to shared bathroom and toilet requirements, RIA relies upon the Tourist Traffic Acts 1939 to 1998.

Where a family member, already in RIA accommodation, reaches ten years of age, RIA offers that family alternative accommodation which is deemed suitable for their needs.

In many cases, where the family profile has changed on the basis of age or a newly arrived family member, the Reception and Integration Agency can only offer alternative accommodation at another centre to keep within these rules. A family may, however, choose to refuse the offer of a transfer to an alternative centre because it prefers the current arrangement or wants to await a better offer. Where a family refuses an offer of alternative accommodation in such circumstances, the RIA keeps the family details under review and further offers are made as deemed suitable. The key point is that the Reception and Integration Agency must adapt existing premises for the purposes of accommodating asylum seekers. It is not realistic to expect bespoke accommodation for asylum seekers in accordance with what one may ideally wish to have in a centre.

In the current campaign against the system of direct provision there can be a tendency at times towards extreme claims which do little to help the residents involved. Regardless of how many times it is refuted, the canard continues to surface that asylum seekers in centres resort to suicide as a matter of course. Claims are also made that residents resort to prostitution in centres. Such claims have been investigated by the Garda in the past and found to have no basis. Any such allegation will continue to be investigated by the appropriate authorities in accordance with the law. Assertions about suicide, child abuse and prostitution among residents in asylum accommodation centres are still made by purported supporters of asylum seekers who would not dare to make such assertions in respect of any other identifiable group of persons in society.

While the direct provision system is not ideal, it facilitates the State in providing a roof over the heads of those seeking asylum or seeking to be allowed, on humanitarian grounds, to stay in the State. It allows the State to do this in a manner that facilitates resources being used economically in circumstances where it is under financial difficulty.

No Government can afford to ignore the likely consequences of a change to the system of direct provision. The system was examined in considerable detail in the 2010 value for money report which found there were no cheaper alternatives. If we were operating a system which facilitated asylum seekers in living independent lives in individual housing with social welfare support and payments, the cost to the Exchequer would be double what is currently paid under the direct provision system. I remind Senators that Ireland has still not exited the troika programme and even when we do, the State will next year spend €10 billion more than it receives through the many ways in which it obtains funding. If the State was to allow all asylum seekers to avail of full social welfare supports, including rent supplement, the immediate impact would be for all asylum seekers, including those not currently in accommodation provided by the Reception and Integration Agency, to avail of this financial support. As matters stand, not all asylum seekers live in direct provision accommodation as they are not compelled to do so. Accommodation is provided for those who cannot provide accommodation for themselves and do not have friends, family or others in the State who are willing to provide accommodation for them. Some asylum seekers live with friends or family or provide, from their own resources, for their accommodation needs.

A further concern is what is known across Europe as the “pull factor”. While the State has an important obligation to provide refuge for those in genuine need of protection and asylum and it is crucial that we comply with our international obligations in this regard, it is also appropriate to acknowledge that a significant number of those who have during the years sought asylum here have been economic migrants evading our immigration and visa requirements whose personal narratives have ultimately proved to be both untrue and unreliable. The State at this time cannot afford to provide supports and accommodation for individuals who so behave.

The decline in the number of those applying for asylum arriving in Ireland, from 11,600 in 2002 to 1,000 in 2012, is bucking the generally upward trend in the European Union. It must be borne in mind that the common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom, which for many decades has delivered immeasurable economic, social and cultural benefits, would possibly be abused by those using the asylum system simply to avail of better economic advantages in a context where Ireland provided better social supports and housing than are available in the United Kingdom.

No asylum seeker has ever been left homeless in the State. Unfortunately – it gives me no pleasure to say this – the same cannot be said by the public authorities responsible for homelessness issues among the indigenous population. Asylum seekers receive nourishment on a par with and, in some cases, superior to that available to the general population. They receive a health service on the same basis as Irish citizens and it is, in many cases, far superior to what is available in their countries of origin, rightly so. Children of asylum seekers are provided with primary and secondary education in the local community on the same basis as the children of Irish citizens.

The direct provision system remains a key pillar of the State’s asylum and immigration system and I have no plans to end it at this time. I accept, however, that the length of time spent in direct provision accommodation and the complexity of the asylum process are issues that need to be addressed. I have visited a number of asylum accommodation centres, most recently last Friday when I visited the Ashbourne centre in Glounthane, County Cork. I am concerned at how long people spend in the system. My resolve, therefore, is to deal with the factors which lead to delays in the processing of cases in order that asylum seekers spend as little time as is necessary in that accommodation system.

As with other states, Ireland has individuals and families who apply for asylum and have genuine grounds for seeking asylum under the relevant international provisions in place and our domestic laws. Of those granted citizenship in the ceremonies in which I was engaged on Monday last in the convention centre in Dublin, 195 were political refugees. A substantial number of people who are economic migrants present with stories seeking asylum which turn out to lack validity. There are individuals who adopt false identities and pretend to come from troubled parts of the world when they do not. There are also individuals who will claim to have been in war zones and when the matter is further investigated, it transpires they were in London, Birmingham or elsewhere when they alleged they were in Sudan, Somalia or some other troubled region. This is a real problem in dealing with the asylum system. Many also play the system by instituting one legal challenge after another to delay the inevitable, sometimes to the point of launching legal challenges as they are about to board an aircraft to be returned home. That is their right, but we should not lose sight of the fact that the right of easy access to the courts in this respect is almost without equal in the world.

There is a need to bring balance to the discussion on asylum seekers. In the context of the wider community and those campaigning, there is an assumption that every single individual who applies to seek asylum is giving a truthful account of his or her circumstances and is a genuine asylum seeker. On the other side of the debate, there are small numbers of individuals who doubt whether any applicant for asylum ever tells the truth. We must adopt a balanced approach and ensure no individual who truthfully documents events or circumstances in respect of which asylum should be granted is refused the protection he or she seeks, while also ensuring those who deliberately abuse the asylum process to evade our immigration laws do not benefit or, by their conduct, undermine our asylum system and the basic humanity it is right to afford to those in need of protection. We must ensure the integrity of the asylum and immigration system is upheld in order that assistance is afforded to those who genuinely seek asylum, while not allowing the system to be undermined by those seeking unfair advantage.

Having made these general points about the direct provision system, let me deal with the various points raised in the motion, the first being the view of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in his fifth report in July 2012 that the system should be examined with a view to establishing whether it is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation should be adopted which is more suitable for families, particularly children. The Reception and Integration Agency affords the highest priority to the safeguarding and protection of children through the full implementation of the Children First guidelines. It has a fully staffed child and family services unit, the head of which is seconded from the Health Service Executive. Any review of the type proposed would have to take account of the wider purpose of thedirect provision system in the overall context of the State’s response to the issue of asylum seekers and immigration control generally.

The accommodation system cannot be in place solely in its own context. It is inextricably linked with the surrounding international protection process. An amended immigration, residence and protection Bill will be published, the purpose of which will be to substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements for asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain applications. It will do this by making provision for the establishment of a single application procedure in order that applicants can be provided with a final decision on all aspects of their protection application in a more straightforward and timely fashion. I had wished to bring forward this legislation much sooner. It has been one of my great frustrations that it has not yet proved possible to publish the legislation in its final form.

However, as Members will be aware, by necessity, troika-related legislative requirements have had to trump all other proposals, no matter how meritorious. The available pool of legislative drafting expertise is quite small and is subject to the same resource restrictions as all other areas of the public service. However, I expect that this situation will be alleviated shortly and that the Bill will definitely come before the Oireachtas next year. It was originally my hope to have seen it in 2012 but that proved impossible. Everything possible is being done on the legislative drafting side to bring about publication by 2014.

In relation to the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism through the Ombudsman for Children and independent inspections of direct provision centres undertaken through HIQA, it is not clear from the rapporteur’s report that he was aware of how these issues are actually dealt with. I see no basis for HIQA involvement. Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, centres are already subject to inspections three times a year, twice by Department of Justice and Equality staff and once by an independent company called QTS. Indeed, the media reports last week about shortcomings in some RIA centres came about from the release under FOI of inspection reports carried out by RIA which showed that the inspection system was indeed working. Where problems within direct provisionaccommodation are identified, I ensure that these are addressed. RIA will publish on its website all completed inspection reports on its centres undertaken since 1 October 2013. In future, anyone seeking these reports will not have to make any application under freedom of information legislation. I want these reports to have maximum transparency.

Although not stated explicitly in the report, the rapporteur appeared to be making an analogy with the HIQA inspections of children’s detention centres but there are several distinctions to be drawn. Senator van Turnhout had some difficulty with some of these distinctions but they are valid distinctions. First, only a small number of children are at present in detention while approximately 1,200 children are in the 34 RIA centres around the country. Second, HIQA carries out the inspections on a contract basis for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and not under the specific HIQA legislation. The inspections are based on the standards drawn up by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, not by HIQA. Third, the inspection standard of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs takes into account that these children are in the care of the State, that the State acts inloco parentis, in the context, in most cases, of proceedings having been taken in respect of child care matters. While the RIA has, of course, a duty of care to all its residents, both adults and children, in no case is it acting in loco parentisin respect of children in the centres.

On the recommendation to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to direct provision centres, I see no basis for changing the law in this regard. Section 11(1)(e) of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, provides that the ombudsman shall not investigate any action taken by a public body where the action was taken in the administration of the law relating to, inter alia, asylum. While the office currently does not have the power to investigate asylum-related matters, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INS, including RIA, has administrative arrangements in place with the office to assist and provide information and to help resolve any matters brought to its attention. The rapporteur’s report also does not make clear that the ombudsman does not serve as a first instance appellant authority for day-to-day administrative complaints mechanisms. It is a requirement that a person who wishes to appeal to the ombudsman must first try to solve the problem with the public body concerned using formal local appeals mechanism.

With regard to the legislative basis for payments to asylum-seekers in direct provision accommodation, asylum-seekers cannot work under section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996, they cannot access rent allowance under section 13 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003, nor are they entitled to a range of benefits, including child benefit, as they are deemed to be not habitually resident under section 246(7) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

The Minister for Social Protection has already responded to Dáil questions on this matter, to the effect that under thedirect provision system asylum-seekers are provided with full board accommodation and other facilities such as laundry services and access to leisure areas. To take account of the services provided, a direct provision allowance of €19.10 per adult per week and €9.60 per child per week is payable in respect of any personal requisites required. Following the introduction of the statutory habitual residence condition in May 2004 and subsequent legislation, asylum-seekers are not entitled to receive most social welfare payments. The payment of the weekly direct provisionallowance is made on an administrative basis by the Department of Social Protection on behalf of my Department. It continues to be open to any asylum seeker to seek assistance for a particular once-off need by way of an exceptional needs payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme as contained in section 201 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. There is no automatic entitlement to an exceptional needs payment as each application is determined based on the particular circumstances of the case.

With regard to the final issue raised concerning a debate with Members of Seanad Éireann as to how to best reform Ireland’s reception and asylum system, only someone unfamiliar with parliamentary affairs would think that there has been little or no debate about the merits or otherwise of the direct provision system. I have answered over 50 parliamentary questions on the topic this year, as well as five Seanad Adjournment debates, not including this one. RIA has facilitated three visits by Members to asylum accommodation centres. Senators are welcome to visit any further centres they wish to visit. It is one of my practices as I travel around the country and without media attention to quietly visit our prisons and our courts and to meet with members of An Garda Síochána. Quietly and without any great fanfare I have visited a number of our asylum-seeker accommodation centres and met and talked to many of the people residing therein. I intend to continue this practice. In its previous iterations, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill has been extensively debated in the Oireachtas and no doubt will be debated again when finally I can introduce the new Bill which we hope to publish.

I wish this were an issue with an easy resolution but this is not the case. It is a challenge, not just for Ireland but for the EU as a whole and the issue is discussed at practically every Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting at the various locations. The direct provision system is a necessary feature of this country’s asylum and immigration system. It is a system which ensures a roof over the head of every asylum-seeker. However, I would prefer to have a system where asylum seekers spend less time in that system. That is where my energies will be devoted. I want to see the new Bill published. I want us to get to a position, which we have not as yet achieved, where all the applications made by those seeking asylum, including all the different applications that can be made, are dealt with in one application. I want to have an appeals system which is to the satisfaction of everyone so that in the future, those seeking asylum do not feel the need to make multiple applications to the courts.

In conclusion, after we have enacted our legislation, which I hope will meet with a widespread welcome, which will ensure that we are fully meeting all our international obligations and which will address issues of concern to some, I will then revisit the possibility of our becoming parties to some of the EU measures to which Senators have referred. There is merit in looking at a system which ensures that we treat those who are genuine asylum-seekers as best we can, with the caveat that in all contributions on this issue, I urge Senators to take note of what I have said that many people are genuinely seeking asylum but, unfortunately, others are economic migrants masquerading as asylum-seekers. This is a problem right across Europe. We live in a State that does not have an open-ended fund into which we can simply dip to provide ideal accommodation and supports for everyone who arrives at our borders. We cannot provide the ideal within the current economic climate for all of our citizens. There are limits to what we can do. We need to take a reality check when debating this issue.

I am very conscious, in the context of those who are currently within the direct provision system, as well as those still involved in the process but living with friends, relations or in their own accommodation, of the welfare of children resident in this State for many years. It is an issue that will have my continuing attention, and Senators should notice that the number of people currently in direct provision is a smaller than it was on 9 March 2011.

I will first deal with the Minister’s statement on the events of the past 48 hours. I thank him for his honesty in sharing his concerns and the plans for the proposed review. I agree the Garda Síochána has an important role to play as part of the child protection system. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the amount of detail that went into the public domain with these cases, and I support the Minister’s proposal for a review.

I have plenty of food for thought arising from this evening’s debate and I thank all colleagues for the contributions. I assure the Minister I am fully aware of the separation of powers, and the motion today is a culmination of my work as a Senator and that of my colleagues. Senator Moran raised the 2010 value-for-money report, which clearly indicates that the social welfare option costs are the same as direct provision, so I am finding it quite difficult that we are being played against each other. Examining the current funding of some providers, it seems many have moved to unlimited companies to hide profits. I would happily sit down with colleagues to work on an alternative model that would be based on human rights and be economically sound, if we felt it would get a fair hearing.

I have been careful with my wording on this issue and I am disappointed at the response. I wanted to have a constructive debate; instead the Minister’s response has added bricks to the wall. I do not want to table Adjournment debates and use up departmental time going back and forth. I would like to sit down to talk about how we reform this system. I do not want to ask questions about this case or that case. That is why I worded the motion as I did. Along with my colleagues, civil society organisations, legal practitioners, academics, human rights activists, I am calling for reform. I am sure Senators would be happy to co-ordinate with a grouping to sit down to talk about the solutions if we believe they will get a fair hearing.

The Minister mentioned Dr. Geoffrey Shannon’s report. Why not ask him to conduct the examination he proposed in his special rapporteur report if he is so assured of the facts? There is merit in doing a report on the effects of direct provision on the welfare and development of children.

I worked to have a constructive debate but I feel like I have had a few wallops. The Minister said “No” to any independent mechanism and to investigating conditions for children and he refuted the economic arguments, even though the value for money report defends what we said. There has to be a better way for us to reform policy. We are here together and we want to work with the Department. I read what the Minister said when he was in opposition. His comments were much stronger than mine during this debate. Why can we not find a way to sit down to reform this system? The difficulty when it is all boiled down that is my colleagues and I can put faces to the many figures that have been provided in this debate. I realise what we are doing and I do not want in ten years’ time to stand anywhere and say, “Well, we knew that was happening but we did nothing”. We have to do something.

 

Order of Business, 11 December 2012

I will save my comments on the budget for next week, but I am very concerned about the cumulative cuts. We cannot just consider this year’s budget but must also consider previous budgets and how they affect children and families directly. Our group has tabled a motion for debate tomorrow on the value of youth work. Youth work organisations are being affected by the cuts and I hope we will have our colleagues’ support in that debate.

This morning the Supreme Court has handed down its full judgment, which was unanimous, in its ruling that the Government acted wrongfully by spending €1.1 million on its information campaign in the recent referendum. I call for this House to have a debate on how we hold referendums to ensure we have a fair and balanced debate.

While I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record, last week’s budget announced €546 million for the new child and family support agency. The task force report was published in July. Nobody in this House could say what the remit and scope of the new child and family support agency entail, yet we have allocated a budget of €546 million. We urgently need a debate. We cannot wait for the legislation to be placed before us and then fine-tune the legislation. If the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is not available, I have suggested to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges three individuals of high calibre who could come before this House and discuss the new agency with us. I do not understand the reason for the delay.

I repeat the call I made during the debate on Senator Quinn’s excellent Bill on employment permits. We should have a debate on forced labour in Ireland.

I asked that the Minister for Justice and Equality publish the International Labour Organisation’s report on criminalising forced labour in Ireland. This report needs to be published, we need to criminalise this and there needs to be urgency on this issue. I repeat my call for that debate.

Services for People with Disabilities – Motion

25th January 2012

I welcome John Dolan from the Disability Federation of Ireland, who is joining us tonight, as well as the aforementioned people. I would like to focus in my statement on what I believe are three fundamental failings in the provision of disability support services. One is that there are currently no independent inspections; the second is that the €1.5 billion of health budget that is spent on disability services is allocated to service providers rather than individuals; and the third is Ireland’s current capacity laws, which date back to 1871. Each of these is totally unacceptable and leads one to question what we have learned from our egregious failings towards vulnerable groups in State care in the past.

We can all agree that the only way to ensure we never repeat our past failings is to understand why they happened and for current and future policy to embrace what we learned. This is exactly what the recent Amnesty International report, In Plain Sight, responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports, sought to achieve. Its aim was encapsulated by its executive director, Colm O’Gorman, when he said “The past only becomes history once we have addressed it, learnt from it and made the changes necessary to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes and wrongdoing.” In fact, the report identified a number of causal and contributory factors to the institutional abuse of children in State and church-run institutions, which unfortunately I see as being equally valid in today’s debate: the absence of a voice, the absence of statutory inspections, deference, and the failure of the State to operate on behalf of the people and not interest groups. While the debate we are having is in the context of disability supports and services, it is not really about disability – it is about justice, equality and human rights for all of our citizens.

With regard to the regulation and inspection of disability services, recommendation 11 of the Ryan report implementation plan states that independent inspections are essential. I will quote from the implementation plan, but I will take the liberty of substituting the word “children” with “people with disabilities”.
All services for [people with disabilities] should be subject to regular inspections in respect of all aspects of their care. The requirements of a system of inspection include the following:

– There is a sufficient number of inspectors.
– The inspectors must be independent.
– There should be objective national standards for inspection of all settings where [people with disabilities] are placed.
– Unannounced inspection should take place.
– Complaints to an inspector should be recorded and followed up.
– Inspectors should have power to ensure that inadequate standards are addressed without delay.

We are all aware of the commitment in the programme for Government, which we welcome, to put the draft national standards on a statutory footing. In fact, the second progress report on the Ryan report implementation plan, which was published last year, notes that a new target date of the fourth quarter of 2012 has been set. The report also notes that the commencement of the Health Act 2007 by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to allow the independent registration and inspection of all residential centres and respite services for children with disabilities is contingent on the aforementioned action being taken. We still have not learned from our past and we still do not have the required systems in place. When will the Minister be in a position to give the necessary mandate and legal power to HIQA to inspect the centres?

In my research I was appalled to find that there has been no official audit of the number and location of centres, so we actually do not know where all the centres are and who is running them. I hope the Minister of State can show me evidence that this is not right. I also ask the Minister of State to explain why interim measures such as instructing the HSE and social services inspectorate to commence inspections of centres where children or those with disabilities live have not been put in place until an inspection regime is operational.
The second issue I want to discuss is the individual resource allocation system. Everyone agrees that we need to provide an individualised budget. We have spoken in the past about deference to the State and the church, but what about the deference that people in receipt of disability services are forced to pay to the HSE and service providers in circumstances in which they are unable to question or provide any input into the services they receive, where they receive them or who provides them? I have heard of cases in which an individual has chosen not to avail of a service, yet the State makes payments to the service provider, so the State is paying for a service that is not being accessed. It does not make sense. As the system currently operates, it seems that people with disabilities are expected to feel lucky and grateful for the supports and services they receive. The supports and services are provided by the State because we value all of our citizens. We recognise that we have different needs at different stages of our lives, and our system should reflect this.

We are all aware of and welcome the commitment in the programme for Government to introduce modern capacity legislation. I will not rehearse what has already been said, but I will give a quote from one of our briefings which clearly shows why the law is so archaic. Frieda Finlay, the chairperson of Inclusion Ireland, described the situation of herself and her daughter. She said: “As the parent of a 38 year old woman with an intellectual disability, who is a citizen by birth of an independent sovereign republic, I burn with anger every day at the thought that her capacity to make basic decisions about her life is governed by an Act signed into law by Queen Victoria and brought in by Gladstone’s Government 140 years ago.” The failure to repeal this law flies in the face of Ireland’s commitment to the right of all people in Ireland to live with dignity and exercise self-determination.

In conclusion, we all know what needs to be done. What we do not need is more reports; we do not even need more debates. We do not need pilot projects or think tanks. We need action and implementation. That is the reason for my disappointment that amendments have been tabled by both the Government and Sinn Féin. I urge my colleagues not to push them to a vote. The original motion that was tabled should be a catalyst for change. Let us show this to be a Seanad motion. It does not have to be an Independent Group motion. Let us collect around this motion and make it a Seanad motion, and let us show a strong sign of unity. That is what I urge my colleagues to do.

Order of Business, 18 January 2012

18th January 2012

I join in the sympathies expressed by colleagues. Will the Leader call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House to address several issues of concern to Members? There is agreement in regard to child protection and adoption, but several outstanding issues are of great concern to me. The first of these relates to the promised referendum on children’s rights. Concern has been expressed by various children’s organisations and in the media that the amendment to the Constitution (children’s referendum) Bill is included under section C of the Government’s legislative programme rather than as a priority Bill under section A. Is this a reflection of a reduced commitment to holding the referendum without delay? I hope the Minister can provide an assurance to the House that the referendum will take place in 2012 and that she will update us and involve us in the thinking and the process to date.

The delay in the construction of the national children’s detention centre is a cause of great concern to me and others in this House. The Government, like its predecessors, is acutely aware that the continued detention of children under the adult regime at St. Patrick’s Institution is one of the State’s most glaring violations of human rights and children’s rights. This goes back to the Whitaker report of 1985; I will not rehearse all that has been said on the subject since. The programme for Government includes a firm commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution. An announcement regarding the promised detention centre was expected in the capital expenditure programme, but I was extremely disappointed to discover it was not included. I understand the situation now is that responsibility for building the detention centre has been passed to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and that the project must be redrawn in light of current economic circumstances. I wish to ask the Minister for a timeline for the redrawing of the costs of the project and an indication of when the project is expected to be completed. She should inform the House of the interim measures her Department intends to put in place to ensure the boys in question are more suitably accommodated until such time as the national detention centre is operational.

I am also concerned about the proposed new agency to oversee children and family services and how it will be decoupled from the Health Service Executive. I understand plans are being drawn up in this regard; it is important that this House be involved in the development of those plans. The report of the child death review panel was lodged with the Minister before Christmas. Will the Leader ask the Minister to outline the panel’s findings to this House? Instead of doing so at a media launch, the Minister should give us an opportunity to discuss how we can prevent future deaths of children in the care of the State.

Address by Dr. Mary Robinson

24th November 2012

On behalf of the Independent group of Taoiseach’s nominees, I warmly welcome Dr. Robinson back to Seanad Éireann and congratulate her on her truly formidable career to date. I thank her so much for her inspiration. She has clearly articulated and illustrated to us the tremendous role she has played as a human rights activist. I commend her particularly for her steadfast and committed work in the fields of human rights, justice and equality, both in Ireland and internationally. In 1999, when she was United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she articulated her understanding of the aim of human rights as follows:

To push beyond standard-setting and asserting human rights to make those standards a living reality for people everywhere … to move beyond the design and drawing-board phase, to move beyond thinking and talking about the foundation stones, to laying those foundation stones, inch by inch, together.

She was true to this understanding of human rights long before her appointment as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. During her 20 years as a Senator she was a human rights activist in the truest sense. She was never afraid to engage with difficult and controversial issues. Her vocal opposition and active campaigning on different issues have been instrumental in shaping the Ireland we, as Irish women, live in today. In her campaign to eliminate discrimination against women she was a key player in improving the living reality for women in Irish society. Many of the present generation of Irish women entering into employment in the Civil Service are blissfully unaware that until as recently as 1973 they would have been legally obliged to leave their employment upon marriage. It is equally difficult to comprehend that it was not until 1975 that women were deemed eligible for jury service.

There have undeniably been advances in the promotion of gender equality in recent years. However, considering the fact that there have been only 86 female Senators since the first Seanad, as Dr. Robinson said, there is room for improvement. To share my own memories, almost 20 years ago I attended a training course of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in Mexico on the diversity of women in our cultures and how we could achieve leadership. At the time Dr. Robinson was President of Ireland and I can tell her she clearly inspired so many women from around the world, both at the time and afterwards. In fact, I admire her because she has never deviated from her principles, irrespective of the high level political positions she has held. Like my colleagues, I would be interested to hear her opinions. If she were a Member of the 24th Seanad, on what issues would she focus?

As the outgoing chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, I have been campaigning for many years to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution. In 1976 Dr. Robinson was, in fact, the first public representative to recognise the need to insert some changes in the Constitution to safeguard the welfare of children. During the Seanad debate on the Adoption Bill 1976 she expressed her disappointment that a constitutional amendment on adoption would only paper over some of the defects and consequently fail to deliver a broad-based reform of the law in line with the charter on children’s rights. While it is beyond disappointing that in the subsequent 35 years we have not managed to ensure children’s rights are upheld in the Constitution, we have arrived at a unique juncture at which there is consensus across the Houses on the need to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution and we have an assurance from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that a referendum will be held in 2012. This action is necessary to positively change the living reality for children in Ireland. I ask Dr. Robinson for any advice she might give us on how we can get over the line in this referendum.

I wonder whether Dr. Robinson would share with us her thinking on how best to implement and breathe life into the human rights recommendations made to Ireland during the universal periodic review in Geneva in October.

Order of Business, 15 November 2011

15th November 2011

I also wish to address the infrastructure and capital investment plan, which I believe needs to be debated in this House. In line with the questions put forward by Senator Bacik, I also wish to raise the question of St. Patrick’s Institution. As Senator Bacik has stated, the Government has committed in the programme for Government to end the practice of sending children to the aforementioned institution and has put forward the new national children’s detention facility on the Oberstown campus in Lusk as a solution to the unacceptable and untenable position that obtains at present. For example, in 2010, 221 children aged between 16 and 17 were committed to adult prisons, of whom 219 were boys who were committed to St. Patrick’s Institution. On average, that facility has 40 boys in detention.

In response to a Dáil question on 20 September last on the plans to proceed with the development of the first phase of the said project, the Minister of Justice and Equality stated the Office of Public Works was “in the process of preparing the required tender documentation for the project” and that the Government’s decision on funding, approval for which is required before tendering for the construction phase, would be informed by the outcome of the Government’s capital expenditure review. Unfortunately, when this review was published, it was silent on what would happen.

Therefore, given that development of the Oberstown project is now the responsibility of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, I ask that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, come into the House to clarify the position, to outline her plans on how to proceed with the project as a matter of urgency, to confirm whether one can expect the project to be completed by mid-2013, as was the commitment given by the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in December 2009, and to address formally the concerns expressed by the Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, in her press release this morning.

The Lancet

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