Order of Business, 6 June 2012

I agree with Senator Bacik’s proposal for a debate on the future of the Seanad in light of the announcement concerning the constitutional convention.

I also send my best wishes to those sitting the junior and leaving certificate examinations. I would not swap places with them but I wish them the very best, having dropped my nephew to his first exam today.

I warmly welcome the announcement by the EU for funding for the missing children hotline on Missing Children’s Day. This House played a strong role on that matter by having an all-party, all-group motion seeking the hotline to be up and running. This funding has now been announced by the EU but the ISPCC, which has been awarded the hotline and the funding, will need additional funding from the Government. I therefore repeat my call of 22 May, asking the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the House to discuss her Department’s plans to provide the necessary funding and support for Ireland’s missing children’s hotline, so we can have it operational in the coming months.

We should also discuss with the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, how her Department and the Government can support the exceptional work done by the ISPCC through its Childline service. I also ask the Leader to seek from the Minister a date for the publication of the report into child deaths. She should give a commitment to attend the House shortly after it is published so that we can discuss it with her.

I commend the joint policing operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI into organised prostitution, brothel keeping and money laundering. On Tuesday last, 29 May, searches were carried out at over 120 houses, apartments and flats on both sides of the Border under Operation Quest, which led to a number of arrests. I particularly welcome the fact that three suspected victims of human trafficking were rescued during the course of these searches. I welcome the Garda Síochána’s recognition of the link between prostitution, organised crime and money laundering, as well as the additional link between prostitution and human trafficking, which this case demonstrates. I commend the gardaí for their approach.

The Minister for Justice and Equality has advised us that he will shortly publish his public consultation document. I am disappointed, however, that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has banned a radio advertisement campaign by “Turn off the Red Light”, which seeks to highlight abuses in the Irish sex trade. That is very disappointing.

Order of Business, 16 May 2012

My colleague, Senator Quinn, raised the matter of the missing children’s hotline, 116000, on the Order of Business yesterday. The theme of this year’s international missing children’s day, which is 25 May, is child abduction safety. Senators will be aware that 25 May will also mark the first anniversary of this Seanad. It would be fitting if the hotline could be in place and operational by that date. On 12 October last, the Seanad agreed an all-party, all-group motion calling for the missing children’s hotline to be brought fully into operation. Since then, ComReg has allocated the number in question to the service. I welcome the changed message that now directs anybody who rings 116000 to the Garda or to the ISPCC Childline. I note that the number cannot be telephoned from an Oireachtas handset. Hopefully, we will not have to report it. I will follow that issue up with the Oireachtas authorities. The number has been allocated but the service is not yet in operation. Similar hotlines in other EU member states take calls from and offer support to anyone concerned about a missing child, including parents and children. They take calls regarding different types of child disappearance, including runaways, parental abductions, missing unaccompanied migrant minors, criminal abductions and children who are lost, injured or otherwise missing.

The EU has been asking Ireland for five years to put this hotline in place. It is not too much to ask for the Government to ensure it is fully operational by 25 May next. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come before this House at the earliest opportunity to confirm that the hotline will be operational by 25 May? If the hotline will not be up and running by that date, will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister the reason for such a delay? I suggest that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, should outline the plans of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to publicise and promote the missing children’s hotline so that Ireland is not a missing link in child abduction cases. We need to ensure that every child in Ireland, including those who might be going away over the summer, knows this number. They should be made aware that if they are in another EU member state, they can ring the number and talk to someone who can help them.

Missing Children Hotline

12th October 2011

I thank the Minister for coming before the House and accepting the motion. I also thank her for the detailed statement. I wanted to hear that the hotline would go into operation without delay but I accept the Minister’s integrity and the proposals laid before us.

I welcome that and I will obviously monitor it.

As the Minister said, this dates back to a decision of the European Commission in February 2007 requiring member states to reserve a six digit number range starting with 116 for the harmonisation of access to services of social value in the European Union. This decision was based on reason and pragmatism, which I fully commend.
This line is critical for the parent of a missing child and for a child who is scared and vulnerable having run away from home or for a person who finds himself or herself outside his or her home country and is in dire need of help having been smuggled or trafficked into Ireland. It is also critical for someone who has been abducted by perhaps one of their own parents to know there is a number he or she can call day or night to find assistance, support and guidance.

This was the rationale behind the European 116000 missing children hotline. It was part the EU strategy on the rights of the child, which recognises that every missing child is, as the Minister said, a tragedy and that member states have not only a legal obligation but a moral one to implement whatever measures are necessary to prevent such tragedies.

The service is currently operating in 16 EU member states. A parent, guardian, professional, concerned member of the public or child who lives in Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungry, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom can call this missing children hotline on a 24-hour basis.

The value of the missing children hotline, in particular in the context of increasing cases of cross-border child disappearances, is exemplified by a recent cross-border parental abduction case. In Belgium, a father took his daughters aged seven, ten and 14 and hid them for nine and a half months in very poor and dangerous conditions. In September 2008, following a request from the Belgian and Portuguese missing children hotlines, the evening news on Portuguese television opened with an appeal for information about these missing children and concluded by showing the 116000 missing children hotline number on screen. Minutes after the broadcast, the case was resolved. That is the power of this line. This shows the real and urgent need to establish a systematic exchange of information, standardised operational procedures and increased cross-border co-operation to resolve cross-border cases of missing children in the EU.

It is a sad indictment of the priority afforded to the safety and well-being of children in the EU that there are still 11 member states in which the missing children hotline is still not operational. European Commission Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, recently commentated that:

It is hard to come to terms with the fact that measures that could help are not yet fully operational across the Union. It would be a double tragedy to imagine a missing child trying to call the 116000 hotline only to hear an answering machine playing a prerecorded message announcing that the service will be operational in 2012.
Unfortunately, this has been the case in Ireland.

When preparing for today’s debate, I decided to dial 116000 and I got the following message:

We are sorry but we cannot connect your call because the number you have dialled is not in service. Please check the number you have dialled and try again.

What about those children from the 16 member states who are aware of this line? We have a border with the United Kingdom but what happens if children from the United Kingdom are here and they telephone that number and get that message?

It was against that backdrop and following the interventions of a number of Senators, notably, Senators Daly and Quinn, that I worked over the summer to co-ordinate and seek the approval of my fellow Senators for their support for this motion. As Senator Leyden said, the Seanad is about us working together and not just raising issues but seeing how we can make a difference and put things in place.

The Minister mentioned the situation of runaways and children in the care of the State. This line has been proved in other EU member states to be a safe contact point for these missing children to be able to telephone. They do not wish to telephone the Garda or the HSE. By using this line, perhaps we could save resources for the Garda and the HSE and know a child is safe and try to reconcile the difficulties.

The Minister said that five missing children was too many but I was disappointed when she updated us on the situation in regard to unaccompanied minors. She informed us that 11 of those children from 2010 are still missing. For me a child is a child and his or her status is of secondary importance. For me, there are 16 children from 2010 still missing and cases are still open. That is the accurate figure.

The Minister outlined the importance of the statutory agencies working together. They are doing some invaluable work but the line for me is about children and parents having easy access to those services and to give them a voice.

The Minister mentioned that ComReg has advertised the line four times but there have been no applications. I should note that a non-governmental organisation has submitted two funding proposals over the past few years to Government seeking funding in order to be able to apply for the line.

I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Cabinet gave her memorandum time, that it will be put into operation and that the Departments of Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs, the Garda and ComReg will work together on a project team. I urge her to follow the lead of 13 of the 16 member states in which the service is operational by assigning the number to a member of Missing Children Europe because it has built up the links and the contact points.

I noted my colleague, Senator Henry, spoke about cost-effectiveness but we also need to ensure there are minimum quality standards and a practical guide for hotline providers to ensure the hotlines operating throughout Europe are run professionally, efficiently and effectively and meet the European standards for best practice for service requirements.

The Seanad will not go away. People may talk about its abolition but we will monitor this to ensure it is implemented in full. We will work with the Minister to do what we can. We want to see that Ireland moves from being good on paper when it comes to the rights of the child to being good in operation and implementation and that we uphold those rights.

Senator van Turnhout Regrets No Commencement Date for 116 000 Missing Children Hotline

Press Release
12/10/2011: For Immediate Release.

Senator van Turnhout Regrets no Commencement Date for 116 000 Missing Children Hotline

Following a Seanad motion initiated by Senator Jillian van Turnhout, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, today announced a commitment from her Department and the Department of Justice and Equality to support the establishment of the long awaited 116 000 Missing Children Hotline. The motion, which received support from all parties and groups within the Seanad, pressed the Government for clarification as to why the Irish branch of the 116 000 Hotline had not yet been made operational.

In response to the Minister’s announcement, Senator van Turnhout said: “While I welcome Minister Fitzgerald’s expression of a commitment to the 116 000 Hotline in 2012, I must express my disappointment that the announcement was not that the Hotline would be established without delay. I truly believe this service is one of vital importance, not only in terms of raising the alarm about missing children but also as a support to the families of missing children, and indeed to missing children themselves. Consequently this further delay must be met with some regret.” Despite the cross party support for the motion, it has taken four years of campaigning to arrive at this announcement.

“While I am saddened that the announcement did not go further, I am encouraged that we in the Seanad could help bring attention to this issue, and to the tireless campaigning done by the ISPCC and other NGOs that has led to this announcement,” Senator van Turnhout said today. “However,” the Senator continue, “I feel it is essential that ComReg assigns a suitable service provider as soon as possible. Furthermore, I would strongly encourage ComReg to follow the lead of 13 of the 16 EU Member States in which the service is operated by members of Missing Children Europe. Who, in conjunction with Daphne, have developed the Minimum Quality Standard Framework within “A Practical Guide for Hotline Providers” to ensure that Missing Children Hotlines throughout Europe are run professionally, efficiently, and effectively and meet European standards of best practice for service users.” The Senator concluded by calling on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to engage effectively and regularly with which ever service provider is assigned the Missing Children Hotline number and to ensure that the service is operating at its full potential without further delay.”

The 116 000 Missing Children Hotline is currently operational in 16 European Union Member States, and aims to provide assistance to families of missing children, particularly those facing a language barrier when dealing with local authorities, by providing a single point of contact whether at home or abroad.

For more information, please contact:
Senator Jillian van Turnhout Leader of the Independent Group (Taoiseach Nominees)
Phone: 01-6183375
e-mail: jillian.vanturnhout@oireachtas.ie

Notes to editor:
• The motion was presented to the Seanad on 12/10/2011.
• On the 15th of February 2007, the European Commission reserved the 116 000 phone number in all EU member states as a common number for emergency action whenever a child goes missing.
• The hotline is currently operational in 16 EU Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
• In the Seanad today Senator van Turnhout cited the case of a group of Belgian children who were taken and hidden by their father in very poor and dangerous conditions. Following a request from the Belgian and Portuguese 116000 Missing Children Hotlines, the Portuguese evening news broadcast an appeal for information which concluded by showing 116 000 Missing Children Hotline number on screen. Minutes after the broadcast, the case was resolved.
• General information on the 116 000 Missing Children Hotline can be found at: http://www.hotline116000.eu/