Gender Recognition Bill 2014: Committee Stage 3 February 2015

Progression of the Gender Recognition Bill 2014 can be followed here

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:“ “child” means a person under the age of 18 years;”.

 I welcome our visitors to the Visitors’ Gallery and I congratulate Senator Zappone. I did not speak on that amendment because I intend to say a great deal on this substantive point. I do not plan to speak on other matters, but this is an issue that is very close to my heart. I thank my colleagues Senators Mac Conghail and Zappone for supporting me in the grouping of amendments I tabled. I see that colleagues have similar intentions with the amendments they have put forward. I also thank the Minister for engaging with us.

 

 

Children’s rights:

I will outline the reason for this amendment. I do not intend to push it to a vote today but I intend to press it, or a similar wording of it, to a vote on Report Stage as I am very passionate about this issue.

The rationale behind the amendments I have tabled derives from what will be Article 42A.1 of the Constitution, depending on the Supreme Court judgment, which states: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.”

In my Irish Mirror column yesterday I spoke about Ireland’s shocking record in respect of the treatment, welfare and well-being of children in Ireland, especially vulnerable children whose vulnerability we appear to compound systematically.

I noted the significance of the successful passage of the children’s rights referendum on 10 November 2012, which sought to incorporate into Irish constitutional law the principles that children have rights as individual human beings, independent of adults and that their best interests and opinions are vital when important decisions are being made about their lives. The Irish people have spoken out and spoken up for children.

To my great frustration, these principles, which Ireland is already bound to respect under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, have not yet taken constitutional effect because we are still awaiting a final decision from the Supreme Court on the legal challenge to the referendum. I am very aware of the pressure and backlog of cases at the Supreme Court but part of me wonders why, after 26 months of delay, we do not have a public outcry. Despite a systemic change of mind set in recent years, we still have a long way to go to fully embrace the urgency of children’s rights.

It is very clear to me, having actively engaged at all levels of the consultation and debate around the wording of the constitutional amendment, that it was the intention of the Legislature and of the people in passing the referendum to enshrine children’s rights in the Constitution so that their rights will be safeguarded and vindicated in all future legislation.

The aforementioned UN convention, which Ireland ratified in 1992, sets out an integrated and holistic approach to the rights of children and is internationally accepted as the model of implementation at domestic level.

As far as I am concerned, in the drafting of any Bill which impacts on children’s lives, it is now incumbent on us as legislators to ensure that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration, the views of the child are heard when key decisions are being made about the child’s life and that the evolving capacity of the child is facilitated.

I believe that this Bill, specifically section 11 as currently drafted, fails to safeguard and vindicate children’s rights in accordance with international law and the constitutional imperatives. In fact, the rights of children under the age of 16 are not even open to consideration.

I will refer now to amendments Nos. 15 and 17.

Gender recognition is an established human right to which children, as individual rights holders, should be entitled.

 

The development of gender identity in children:

In preparing for this debate today, I have looked for commentary or evidence about the age at which gender identity develops and was struck by the real dearth of research into transgender children. In fact, there is no incidence or prevalence data from Ireland or the UK on the number of transgender young people under 18. Of the research that was available, I noted that some paediatric specialists put the age of gender identity in children, whether transgender or not, at two or three. Other research cites gender identity development as occurring between three and five years of age.

Elizabeth Reilly et al published a very interesting piece of qualitative research on the issue which solicited the views of transgender adults about the needs of gender-variant children and their parents in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy – the peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Routledge – in 2013.

The researchers found that 94% of transgender adults had identified their gender before the age of 18, some 48% had identified their gender between zero and five years of age, while 44% had identified their gender between the age of six and 14.Only 2% identified their gender between 13 and 18 and only 2% after the age of 18, while 4% of the respondents did not reply. That is a pretty good indication of what period of a child’s life is important in terms of gender identification and goes to the essence of what we are talking about here.

There was a time in Ireland, during the last century, when it was widely believed that people did not become aware of their sexual orientation until they reached adulthood. It was commonly believed that this was something a person decided or determined but thankfully, we are more enlightened as a society now and more understanding of the reality. When it comes to gender recognition, however, we are still back in the last century and that way of thinking. I would like us to understand that it is actually at an earlier age that one’s gender identity is realised and understood. We need to accepted that fact.

 

The exclusion of children under 16 years from the Bill:

That is why I have an issue with this Bill, which actively excludes children under 16 from its provisions for making an application for a gender recognition certificate. It denies outright any consideration of their best interests in the context of their personal circumstances. I believe that this runs contrary to the best interest of the child principle.

A good example of how this outright denial has serious implications for the transgender and intersex child is seen in the S v. Bord Uchtála case of 2009.

That case involved an intersex child, born abroad, who had been registered as female at birth, was subject to a foreign adoption order and brought to Ireland to live. Upon examination by medical experts in Ireland and the United States, it was concluded that the child would most likely identify as a male and the decision was taken by the adoptive parents to raise the child as a boy. The parents sought an amendment of the register of foreign adoptions so that the child’s paperwork would reflect his gender of rearing and so that he could be registered at the local boy’s school. The Adoption Board refused the application on the basis that it did not believe it had the authority to grant this request. On judicial review in the High Court, Mr. Justice Sheehan granted the request but the difficulty is that this was an ex tempore judgment and not a precedent.

I am concerned that a different judge, even in similar circumstances, might feel that he or she lacked the authority to grant such an order, given the discourse on this issue. In fact, I am worried that by introducing this legislation and being deliberately silent on children under 16, we are sending a clear message to the courts that they should never grant such an order. I will be seeking advice on this because a judge in a future case, similar to the one to which I referred, may find it extremely difficult to make a similar order.

In the aforementioned case, those involved – both the parents and the child – agreed with the order. With this legislation, we are saying, “We know best. Go to a girl’s school”. We would be telling a young boy to go to a girl’s school because we know best what is good for him and what is in his best interests. I believe that the best interests of that child were served by allowing him to be identified with the gender of his preference, with which his parents concurred.

 

International precedent:

Argentina

In terms of international precedent, in October 2013 the Argentinian authorities granted a female identification card and amended birth certificate to a transgender six year old Luna, formerly Manuel, under that country’s ground-breaking gender identity law which allows people to change their name and sex without approval from either a doctor or a judge.

Under Argentinian gender identity law, individuals have the right to the recognition of their gender identity. Individuals are also legally entitled to the free development of their person according to their gender identity and to be treated according to that identity, particularly to be identified in that way in the documents proving their identity, including the first name, image and sex recorded there.

According to the law, gender identity is understood as the internal and individual way in which a gender is perceived by persons that can correspond, or not, to the gender assigned at birth including the personal experience of the body. This can involve modifying bodily appearance or functions but it can also include other expressions of gender, such as dress, ways of speaking and gestures.

 

 

Malta
I have heard this legislation before us described as progressive but as I speak, similar legislation is being debated in Malta which definitely is progressive. That legislation takes into consideration the lived life which is what we should be aspiring to here.

The Gender Identity Bill, which is today having its second reading in Malta’s Parliament and is expected to pass with cross-party support, proposes to change its civil rights legislation by removing the requirement that a child be given a gender at birth.

The Bill states: “The persons exercising parental authority over the minor, or the tutor of the minor whose gender has not been declared at birth, shall, before the minor attains the age of 14, by means of a public deed, declare the gender of the minor”.

I thought that perhaps Malta would not face the same issues as we do in the context of single sex schools but I discovered that the majority of State-run secondary schools there are also single sex. Malta is able to deal with this issue and ensure that it acts in the best interest of the child.

 

Access to education in the child’s preferred gender:

I am particularly concerned about the mechanisms we need to have in place to minimise the challenges currently faced by transsexual and intersex children in Ireland.

Examples of challenges are the segregated nature of our educational system and the requirement that parents must submit birth certificates for registration. Education, on which there is an amendment tabled, is a specific area to be considered but there are other settings in which children experience challenges. We may find a work-around.

 

Efforts being made in other jurisdictions:

In preparing for this debate, I was looking for examples.

 

California

In California in January 2014, Assembly Bill 1266, or the school Success and Opportunity Act, came into effect for K-12 students, who are between four and 19 years old, in the public school system.

The law inserted the following provision into the existing legislation: “A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

In response to the new provision, Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, stated: “Now, every transgender student in California will be able to get up in the morning knowing that when they go to school as their authentic self they will have the same fair chance at success as their classmates.”

 

Compounding vulnerability:

Transsexual and intersex children are inherently vulnerable because of their age and lack of legal protection. We have an opportunity to lessen this vulnerability but instead we choose to turn a blind eye or put up an artificial barrier, despite the fact that evidence suggests, and adults have said, that it is in children’s younger years that their gender identity is developed.

I am thinking of the six year old child who has clearly articulated his preferred gender and which has been fully embraced by his parents, friends, extended family and community. Is this young child, a boy, really going to be forced to go through a girls’ school wearing a girl’s uniform and using the wrong name and pronouns to gain access to the education available in his locality? That is what we are doing to children in these circumstances.

Are we really preparing to stand over legislation that in the case of the boy in question would cause unnecessary distress, embarrassment and humiliation, and potentially serious psychological harm, for ten years before he is eligible to apply to have his gender identity recognised?

Legislation that fails to listen to the voice of children or consider their best interests is not legislation I want to stand over.

Where a child has clearly articulated views regarding his or her preferred gender, or where the child has an intersex condition that might merit a change in gender and legal recognition, he or she should be facilitated in achieving this end, especially where all parties agree.

 

We do not even have a system where all parties can agree. In the amendments we have tabled, we have sought to find ways in which all parties can agree and, where they do not, where disagreement can be dealt with.

 

Issues around consent:

According to the Bill as currently drafted, 16 and 17 year olds will need an order from the court allowing them to apply to the Minister for a gender recognition certificate. The amendment I have tabled puts the best interest of the child front and centre in the court’s consideration, which is where it should be. I do not believe it should be a matter for any medical practitioner or psychologist. We should allow cases to be dealt with in court to ensure the child’s rights are upheld and protected.

The amendment is to secure the consent of the person referred to in subsection (4)(a) since the current drafting means the court has no authority to override the non-consent of an individual.

We need to have the measure I propose because we need to adhere to the principle of the best interest of the child. We do this with other types of legislation, such as adoption legislation.For me, the current provisions fly in the face of the requirement to ensure in our laws that the child’s best interest should determine the process.

Furthermore, the fact that the process for achieving gender recognition is open only to 16 and 17 year olds on consent does not make sense to me. Under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997, 16 and 17 year old children can choose, if they wish, to seek medical services as part of a medical transition process in their own right. They have full consent to go through the medical processes, yet the Bill requires parental consent to apply for a gender recognition certificate. The thinking is that children can undergo any medical procedure they wish but, to get the piece of paper, we need to protect them and involve their parents. It just does not add up.

I am genuinely concerned about the absence of a provision ensuring the best interest of the child. When the general scheme of the legislation was made available, the Ombudsman for Children advised that, if we had this process, an “illogical situation would arise in which the State would countenance a young person receiving the relevant medical treatment on the strength of his or her own consent, yet that consent would be insufficient to obtain legal recognition of the young person’s preferred gender and the outcome of that treatment”.

I hope the constitutional amendment will come into effect shortly. In any case, we have an obligation, having ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensure we have the best interest of the child at the heart of all our legislation.

That we are silent about those aged 16 and below would not allow for the court case I spoke of or any other court cases in which a judge could use his or her discretion. As legislators, we cannot stand over that. We need to go back to the drawing board and consider the best interest of the child and find a mechanism on which everyone can agree, allowing children to live their lives as they desire.

Can you imagine trying to live your life as another person with a different identity? One might regard oneself as a “she” but be called “he” and be expected to conform by wearing certain clothing. We know clothing is a big issue for young people in schools. Are we really to deny their voice, best interests and what we now know about children, that is, that they have an evolving capacity and are able to make these decisions? We can find a structure that safeguards them and regards their best interest as paramount.

-END-

Gender Recognition Bill 2014: Second Stage 21 January 2015

I very much welcome the Bill but note that Ireland has lagged behind. There are issues that concern me. Subject to the time limitations in this Second Stage debate, I will confine my intervention to three main areas of concern to me, arising out of this Bill. I say “of concern to me,” but that is not strictly true; my life will not be directly impacted by the legislation we will bring forward as a result of this process. Rather, these are deeply felt concerns of the transgender community itself, which were articulated to me by transgender young people and adults and, more generally, by transgender activists – for example, at the public hearings of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection in October 2013. These are the voices to which we need to listen most carefully. Nobody is better placed to know what is best, more appropriate and most just in respect of the lived reality of transgender people’s lives than transgender people themselves. In that regard, I welcome our visitors to the Visitors’ Gallery. Part of me wishes we were switching who is actually debating this Bill and who is listening to this debate. I am sure some of my colleagues would share that wish.

In researching this area, I was most impressed with the Maltese approach to this issue. It has yet to be finalised but it is taking a very people-centred, lived-lives approach whereby the major focus of consultation is with the transgender community itself in developing the legislation. I was also very interested to learn that in Malta there is no requirement to register a baby’s gender at birth, nor is a gender disclosure required in applying to schools.

I want compliment TENi, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, Amnesty International, FLAC, and, particularly, my colleague Senator Zappone. We have been extremely well briefed on the issues before us. I have listened to the interventions and I really support what all my colleagues have said, so I really hope we can do good work on Committee Stage.

The issues about which I have concerns include the single status requirement as a precondition for gender recognition and its implications for transgender people, happily married or in a civil partnership – my colleagues have explored that issue – and the current medical criteria, which medicalise and pathologise gender identity and act as a barrier to gender recognition through an unnecessarily onerous process and which actually fail to meet the standard as laid out in the Yogyakarta principles that such procedures should be efficient, fair and non-discriminatory and respect the dignity and privacy of the person concerned. I do not understand why we need to put these very unnecessary and onerous hoops in place.

The third area of concern to me – several colleagues from across the House have mentioned this issue, so I hope we can make progress on this issue – relates specifically to young transgender people. On this point, I believe we have serious work to do in upholding and respecting our international human rights obligations to children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 2 relates to non-discrimination, Article 3 relates to the best interests of the child, Article 6 relates to the right to life survival and development of the child, and Article 12 relates to the voice of the child and the protection of privacy. The UN convention speaks to me so much about many of the issues raised with me by those in the transgender community.

In this Bill, no account whatsoever has been given to inter-sex youths. There is no process for them to have their preferred gender identified. Furthermore, there is no legal protection for transgender children under the age of 16. We can think of cases where people are not in agreement, but what about situations where everyone is in agreement and where the six-year-old boy has clearly articulated his gender identity and his parents, friends and family all agree on his gender identity? As is the case at the moment, is this young child really going to be forced to go through a girls’ school wearing a girl’s uniform in order for him to access education available in his locality? Whose best interest are we serving? Surely, in this Bill, we could do something for that young person. In this Bill, we are saying we will bring in the process at 16 years. I would not advise anybody to go through that medicalised process. I do not understand it and I do not see why we are doing it. If one applies for a college place, one’s gender identity is assigned to one. We have to go further.

We have an opportunity here to bring in a law. We are probably talking about a handful of young people, but we can go further, which I will explore more on Committee Stage. As said by my colleague Senator Hayden, and as Sam Blanckensee said earlier, this goes beyond birth certificates. This is about real lives and it has a real impact, and we can do more in this House.

 

Newsletter November 2014

I hope you had a wonderful Halloween. I bring you this Newsletter as a mid-term round-up of my work over the last few months:

 

Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014

Budget 2015

Valuation (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2012

Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014

Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning

Oireachtas Childline Coffee Morning

2014 EESC Civil Society Prize Ceremony, Brussels

 

I hope there is something that will spark your interest and as ever I encourage you to get in touch if you would like to discuss or contribute to any of my work.

 

This week I will have the pleasure to meet a great range of volunteers, firstly I am speaking at the Volunteering Ireland Conference in Dublin Castle and then on Saturday and Sunday respectively I will be speaking the ISPCC Volunteer Conference in Athlone and the Scouting Ireland Conference in Dublin.  Volunteers do such outstanding work both locally and nationally and I always find their commitment so energising and motivating.  A huge thank you to all who volunteer.

Best wishes,

 

Jillian


 

Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014:

On Monday 3 November, myself, Senator Averil Power and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames launched our new Adoption (Information and Identity) Bill 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to allow adopted people over the age of 18 years to access information relating to their birth and adoption, and in particular to obtain their original birth certificate. The natural parent of an adopted person is also permitted to request certain information. The overall aim of the Bill is to vindicate the adopted person’s right to know his or her identity. Due weight is given to the privacy rights of all relevant persons. The Bill is also designed to make it easier for adopted people and their natural parents to make contact with each other.

 

We need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland. Our current system of closed adoptions means there are more than 50,000 adopted people who have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate or early care records, no legal right to relevant medial information, or any legal right to trace information about their identity and genealogy. The impact of this State supported vacuum can only truly be known by the adopted people affected and we cannot ignore their voices or their needs any longer. Surely there is nothing more basic, more necessary, than the right to know who you are?

 

This right is afforded to all persons from the outset, for example the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland has both signed (1990) and ratified (1992) expressly recognises the right of the child to preserve (Article 8.1) and know (Article 8.2) his or her identity.

 

We believe the Bill strikes a careful balance between the child’s right to their identity and their birth mother’s right to privacy

 

We look forward to wide consultation on the Bill to make it as robust and supportive to adopted people in Ireland.

 


Bill Photo

Caption Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, Senator Averil Power and Senator Jillian van Turnhout.

 

 

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014:

The Civil Registration Bill recently completed its passage through the Seanad. It will make it compulsory to register the name of the father on all birth certificates. In an attempt to reverse a change made in the Adoption Act 2010, I requested an amendment to the Adoption Act to ensure that the document used by adopted people as a birth certificate must refer to the fact that they are adopted. I was not successful but will continue to pursue this issue.

 

Budget 2015:

Senators were only afforded a short few minutes to respond to Budget 2015, on 14 October, and so my statement was brief to say the least. I do intend to raise some of my concerns when the Social Welfare Bill is debated in December. The main issue I raised in October was the failure to invest in services, such as childcare along the lines of the Scandinavian model we have been promised. You can read my statement here.

 

 

Valuation (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2012:

In the Seanad I raised how the Rates can vary greatly for providers of Early Child Care and Education around Ireland. I am working with Minister Simon Harris TD to see if we can find a workable solution to support this essential service. Check out what I said here

 

Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014:

Thank you to all who supported Senator David Norris and I in our Bill that hoped to provide a pathway to residency for asylum seekers who have been awaiting a decision on their protection application for 4 years or more. This Bill was not drafted in the belief that it was a panacea for all the shortcomings of the current status determination system and we had hoped to strengthen it further along the legislative journey. Sadly we did not get the support of Sinn Fein or the Government – the Minister was “opposed to the Bill even at a conceptual level”. And so we just missed out on getting the Bill to next stage. I am very disappointed, particularly at the lost opportunity to keep the asylum system and Direct Provision on the legislative agenda of the Seanad, but I will keep fighting for a radically reformed and fair system. See press release from NASC Ireland showing their support.

 


 

Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning:

It was such a pleasure to attend The Irish Hospice Foundation’s Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning, the main annual fundraising event to provide much needed support for local hospice services, which was held in Bewley’s on Grafton Street on 18 September.

 

Insert Photo

Caption Senator Jillian van Turnhout, Deputy Olivia Mitchell and Miriam Donohoe, Head of Communications with the Irish Hospice Foundation

 

Oireachtas ISPCC Childline Coffee Morning:

I was delighted to co-host with Deputy Jerry Buttimer the second annual Oireachtas coffee morning in support of ISPCC Childline on 9 October. Childline has issued an emergency appeal for funds to help save its night-time call service. Thanks to a great turnout and generous contributions from Members and staff we raised an impressive €860, which will go toward Childline answering more calls and messages from vulnerable children and young people day and night. I want to say a massive thank you to all involved: those who donated raffle prizes; the Oireachtas Restaurant for sponsoring the teas and coffees; my assistant Amy for organising the event; and the ISPCC and Childline Volunteers who attended on the morning. I want to specially thank Childline Volunteer Monica Rowe whose short presentation to attendees gave a unique and moving insight into the importance of Childline’s work. I was particularly moved by her description of the three typical calls Volunteers in Childline receive:

 

  1. The silent Call – We don’t know what’s up, but whatever it is, these children stay on the line as we reassure them, telling them that whatever’s bothering them we will not judge them, and they are safe to talk about it or not – the decision is theirs – and that we are always there.

 

  1. The Crying Call – This is where the child on the end of the line cannot talk, they simply cry and cry, and often, after a length of time, simply hang up. These calls are upsetting, they would be for anybody – but we can be reassured that when a child is at their lowest and feeling like there is no other shoulder in the world. We can tell them that whenever they are ready to talk we are there for them 24/7.

 

  1. The engaging call – this is where the child engages with the volunteer – may be for the first time, and many may even be children who have been in one of the other categories and have finally plucked up the courage to disclose what has been happening. Engaging calls can vary from the little 4 year old rang because his babysitter was on the phone and he was packed off to bed his mum had given him the Childline number in case he had no one to talk to. This little fella wasn’t in trouble, but if he or a friend ever is he will know that we are safe to ring and that we are there all the time – The little lassie under the bed, in the middle of the night distraught and shaking – whispering in case her abuser comes back and hears her on the phone. These kids know that whenever they need us we are there for them.

 

2014 EESC Civil Society Prize Ceremony, Brussels:

On 16 October, as a member of the assessment panel, I had the honour of attending the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee) 2014 Civil Society Prize Ceremony in Brussels. This year’s prize was aimed at organisations or individuals who have undertaken outstanding projects to improve the economic and social inclusion of Roma people and communities. ETP Slovakia-Centre for Sustainable Development received first prize for their project A bridge of hope in Slovakia, through which they teach Roma communities in Slovakia how to construct their own houses. In accepting their prize, ETP director Slávka Mačáková said, “We hope that our self-empowering initiative will be a role model for European policy-makers”. IQ Roma servis from the Czech Republic and Reverend Archimandrite Athinagoras Loukataris from Greece shared the 2nd prize.

Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014: Second Stage 19 November 2014

Welcome Minister.

Welcome visitors to the gallery.

I wish to thank Senator Averil Power for her tremendous work initiating the Bill and to Senator Fidelma Healy Eames for joining with us in bringing it forward.

A special thanks to Dr Fergus Ryan, law lecturer who drafted the Bill.

Thank you to so many of my colleagues who have spoken with me over the past two weeks and shared their stories and why they support this Bill.

I feel very strongly about the Bill and it is a real honour to second it in the House today.

There are a number of salient parts to the Bill, which my colleague Senator Power has already outlined and you will also hear shortly from Senator Healy Eames, who brings to the process her experience as an adoptive parent.

My intervention will focus on a critical component which is all too readily brushed aside diminished or dismissed… this is the right to identity.

In 1976, Alex Haley, author of Roots, articulated what so many adopted people in Ireland have described to me over the years, when he said “In all of us, there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from.  Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness.”

The right to know who you are is so fundamental, so necessary and so basic. Its absence can be a source of considerable pain and anguish. Its absence, where the necessary information exists but is being withheld, can leave people with a feeling of deep injury and injustice.

By focusing on the right to identity I in no way wish to undermine or diminish the identity that an adopted person has developed in their life with their adopted parents and families.

There are many adopted people who have no desire whatsoever to access their birth information.

However, there are many for whom the information is a burning need.

I have spoken in this House on several occasions about forced and illegal adoption.  All too often we have cloaked adoption in secrecy and as a society we have been complicit in supressing women, their children and their respective rights.

A startling figure by Claire McGettrick of the Adoptions Rights Alliance that in 1967, a staggering 96.95% of all children born outside marriage were adopted, typifies this.

We cannot allow our shameful past or fear that further shames may be exposed justify the perpetuation of a shameful practice against at least 50,000 people in Ireland. And yet we do?

This is why the Bill is so necessary, so important and indeed so overdue.

We need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland. Our current system of closed adoptions, which automatically extinguishes a child’s and then adult’s right to their identity, will ideally be changed to an open system where biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact from the outset.

In the meantime, this Bill will ensure, however retrospectively, the adopted person’s right to identity.

We are here on the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  How fitting it will be if we can give life to the Convention’s express recognition of a child’s right to know and preserve his or her identity

This has been the law in Scotland since 1930 and in England and Wales since the mid-70s with no dire consequences or legal wrangling over rights to privacy.

According to the Supreme Court in I’OT v B, an adoptee’s right to their identity is not absolute and is subject, in particular, to the right to privacy of the natural parent. However, it also pointed out that the right to privacy does not automatically trump the right to identity. The court stated that the two rights must be balanced against each other. It is clear from Supreme Court decisions such as Tuohy v Courtney [1994] 3 IR 1 that the precise balance to be struck is a matter for the Oireachtas to determine. This bill achieves that balance in a way that is sensitive to the needs of all parties.

We must let in the light; we must start now in a new era of openness and understanding.  We should not stand in judgement and I believe that this Bill strikes the balance, mooted by the Supreme Court, as longed for by many adopted people, their families and their friends.

Let’s do this. Let’s do this now.

Protecting Childhood: Motion on the Marriage Age

Wednesday, 25th June 2014

“That Seanad Éireann:

– notes the need to ensure adequate protection of children and of children’s rights in our laws, and in particular to ensure that children are not coerced or forced into ‘arranged’ marriages;
– notes that sections 31 and 33 of the Family Law Act 1995 allow exemptions from the normal rule that parties to a legal marriage must be over 18; and that the possibility of seeking this exemption by way of court order was retained in section 2(2) of the Civil Registration Act 2004;
– notes further that this exemption was criticised by the High Court in a judgment in June 2013 in a case concerning an ‘arranged’ marriage; and
– proposes that the Government would consider whether to remove or amend the statutory provision allowing minors to marry on the basis of a court exemption.”

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I would like to thank Senator Bacik, who like me has worked on this issue, for initiating the motion before us. I am very happy to second the motion and thank her for her co-operation.

I raised this issue back in May during the Seanad debate on the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria that Boko Haram had threatened to sell into forced marriage. Like many people, I felt helpless looking on at the situation and it made me wonder if there was anything we could do. For me, this is one area that we can do something about. We can send the clear message that the age for marriage is 18. That is something that we must take responsibility for doing. During the debate I made the worrying correlation between Nigeria and Ireland because, in certain court ordered special circumstances, exemptions to the ordinary legal age for marriage of 18 years can be made. That means Ireland does not currently prohibit all child marriages.

It is important to note that Ireland is bound by a number of international human rights laws and standards, the provisions of which are profoundly incompatible with child marriage, for example, the International Bill of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, CEDAW, the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the slave trade, and institutions and practices similar to slavery.

In September 2013, Ireland, with its fellow EU member states, supported the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution, Strengthening Efforts to Prevent and Eliminate Child, Early and Forced Marriage: challenges, achievements, best practice, and implementation gaps. The European Union as a negotiating block at the international fora condemns the prevalence of child marriages yet makes provision for it in a number of its own jurisdictions, for example, in Germany and Italy. In Germany, if one of the parties to be wed is at least 16 years old, but not yet 18 years old, the German age of emancipation, that party needs to seek approval from the family court in order to be wed. Consent of the concerned party’s parents is not sufficient. In Italy, a sworn statement of consent to the marriage is required by the parents or legal guardian if the child is under the age of 18.

Exploitation of young girls through violence and abuse, including forced and arranged marriages, is a global problem. According to Girls not Brides, every year, approximately 14 million girls are married before they turn 18 across countries, cultures and religions. They are robbed of their childhood and denied their rights to health, education and security. According to UNFPA, by 2030, the number of child brides marrying each year will have grown from 14.2 million in 2010 to 15.1 million, a 14% rise if the current trend continue.

In March 2014, the Iraqi Justice Minister tabled a Bill to allow girls as young as nine years old to marry. While reports have indicated that it is unlikely that the law will pass, it represents a worrying trend toward religious tendencies usurping girls’ human rights. In response to the Bill, prominent Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar said: “The law represents a crime against humanity and childhood. Married underage girls are subjected to physical and psychological suffering.” This contention is known to be true. The more than 60 million girls married under the age of 18 worldwide have a higher risk of death and injury during childbirth, fewer marketable skills, lower lifetime income, a higher rate of HIV, exposure to domestic violence, and illness for themselves and their families than their unwed peers.

It is inappropriate and, frankly, contradictory that we in Ireland speak out against child marriage in countries such as India, Nigeria, Malawi, Iraq, Nepal, Ethiopia and Bangladesh while our Statute Book still allows for exemptions to the normal marriage age, and fails to specify a minimum age for such exemptions. As outlined by Senator Ivana Bacik in 2012, some 28 marriages were registered under the exemption. As stated by the Senator, the exemption threshold is very broad and it uses standard language giving the court wide discretion. This means that decisions pertaining to allowing children to marry are made behind closed doors, often subject to the in camera rule since the parties to the application are children. Yet, from the moment they are married, they become adults and are outside all the child protection laws. We never hear about those decisions and those vulnerable children. In this regard, the Family Law Reporting Project has come across many of these cases, and may be able to shine a light on the prevalence and general circumstances in which they occur.

There is no written judgment in the High Court case referenced in this motion. The case concerns the annulment of a 16 year old girl’s marriage to a 29 year old man on the basis of the girl’s lack of capacity to give true consent. How can a 16 year old girl give consent to a marriage to a 29 year old man? I am not speaking of a case in Iraq but in Ireland. This happened in Ireland. However, Mr. Justice MacMenamin felt the case raised concerns of such a magnitude that it warranted his making a general comment about the danger of the legal loophole to children. We are faced with a choice. As the Legislature, we must provide guidance for the courts to implement the statutory provisions as intended or, and this would be my preference, we can lead by example and remove or amend the statutory provision currently allowing minors to marry. I believe Ireland should send a clear signal to children here that we protect childhood and that the age for marriage is 18 years. We have had excellent debates here on protecting childhood. We are talking about consent, the age for which should be set at 18 years. That would mean that Ireland, as part of the European Union as a negotiating block, is not saying that it can understand cultural differences and our courts can adjudicate, but we do not trust the courts in other countries. We need to send out a message that we are setting the age at 18 years without exemption.

Link to full debate here.

5 Key Organisations join Senator van Turnhout to Endorse Yes Vote

Press Release: For Immediate Release

30th October 2012

5 KEY ORGANISATIONS JOIN SENATOR VAN TURNHOUT TO ENDORSE YES VOTE

Arc Adoption, Childminding Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Irish Youth Foundation and Treoir joint with Senator van Turnhout to call for a YES vote in the Children’s Referendum on 10 November 2012

Senator Jillian van Turnhout today, Tuesday 30 October 2012, hosted a joint press conference to announce the support and share the views of some key NGOs who through their work will be affected by the provisions of the Children’s Referendum.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout says: “the question I have been asked most frequently about the Referendum is whether I think strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution is really necessary? My answer is an unequivocal YES. This is not a time for complacency. I believe by strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution we will protect and support children in Ireland.”

The NGO’s participating in the press conference; Arc Adoption; Childminding Ireland; Inclusion Ireland; Irish Youth Foundation and Treoir were equally unequivocal in their support for a YES vote:

Shane Downer, Arc Adoption says: “This referendum will allow us, as a society, to choose to protect and cherish our most vulnerable children. It is time to vote yes. It’s time to make a clear, strong statement that all our children matter, and that Ireland can be a great place to be a child. Arc Adoption urges everyone to vote yes on November 10th.”

Paddy Connolly, Inclusion Ireland says: “The rights of children with an intellectual disability and autism have been disregarded by successive Governments. Inclusion Ireland, in calling on its members to vote Yes, believes that the Children’s Referendum marks a progression towards the recognition of the rights of all children, including children with a disability. A Yes vote on the 10th November will tell parents of children with disabilities that the people of Ireland support the rights of their children to the supports and services they need.”

Niall McLoughlin, Irish Youth Foundation says: “The Irish Youth Foundation (IYF) supports children who, due to a wide range of social factors are denied their most basic rights – the right to be supported by caring adults, the right to a way of life that is free of fear and discrimination and the right to an education which meets all of their needs. The IYF strongly supports a strengthening of the rights of children in Ireland and encourages a Yes vote in the Children’s Referendum.”

Margot Doherty, Treoir says: “The Children’s Referendum, if passed, will mean that for the first time there will be a clear statement of children’s rights in the Irish Constitution. Treoir believes that inherent in these rights are a child’s right to identity and to a relationship with both parents.”

Patricia Murray, Childminding Ireland says: “Childminding Ireland urges every man and woman over 18 to remember our own childhoods, whether happy, wholesome, and healthy, or difficult, even dangerous, to vote YES in this referendum so that everyone of us will play our part to secure for each child the right to fair play, i.e. equal treatment with other children, as a young citizen of Ireland and the right for each child to have his or her own voice heard.”

ENDS

For Media Enquires please contact:

Senator Jillian van Turnhout, on 087 2333784
Shane Downer, Arc Adoption, on 087 207 0634
Patricia Murray, Childminding Ireland, on 01 2878466
Siobhán Kane, Inclusion Ireland, on 01 8559891
Niall McLoughlin, Irish Youth Foundation, on 01 676 6535
Brenda Forde, Treoir, on 01 6700120

Note to Editors:

– Senator Jillian van Turnhout is a leading children’s rights activist and Leader of the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees)

– Arc Adoption is an intercountry adoption mediation agency enabling ethical adoption of eligible and available children in need of loving and secure home, into suitable adoptive families.

– Childminding Ireland is a membership organisation founded in 1983 to promote the development of quality in family based care for children

– Inclusion Ireland is a national organisation advocating for the rights of people with an intellectual disability and their families.

– Irish Youth Foundation is a non-governmental organisation seeking to provide opportunities for children and young people facing adverse and extreme conditions to experience success in their lives.

– Treoir is a membership organisation which promotes the legal and social rights of unmarried parents and their children in Ireland. Treoir provides a National Information Service to unmarried families and those involved with them.

Independent Group Motion: Condemning the Holding of Child Beauty Pageants in Ireland

Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Link to full debate http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2014-03-05a.159
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I move:

“That Seanad Éireann –
-recognises that childhood, as a time-specific and unique period in a person’s development, is a distinct space from adulthood;
-appreciates the difficulties and pressures faced by children and parents as the distinct space between childhood and adulthood becomes increasingly blurred through media, advertising and popular culture;
-believes that every effort must be made to protect children and childhood against sexualisation and undue gender stereotyping;
-echoes the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs endorsement of Responsible Retailing: Retail Ireland Childrenswear Guidelines (June 2012) and her statement that ‘the preparation of these guidelines is yet another example of how working together we can, as a State and society, help to foster a culture where childhood is preserved and children are protected’;
-commends An Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha, The Irish Dancing Commission, for introducing additional rules prohibiting the use of make-up including false eyelashes, tinted moisturiser, or any artificial tanning products for the face for all dancers aged 10 years and under. (Effective 1 March 2014.);
-believes that the participation, for financial gain, in a competition by minors, judged on attractiveness and physical attributes rather than discernible skill is contrary to the protection of children and preservation of childhood and therefore condemns child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-further holds that child beauty pageants run contrary to the values set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;
-cognisant of the current economic climate, greatly appreciates the significant decision by each of the hotels approached by Universal Royalty back in September 2013 to decline hosting a child beauty pageant on their premises and welcomes the support of the Irish Hotels Federation in opposing child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-calls on all stakeholders to be resolute in opposing child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-calls on all Senators to formally endorse the appeal made by Senator Jillian van Turnhout in Seanad Éireann on 19 September 2013 to send a clear message that child beauty pageants have no place in Ireland; and
-seeks political consensus in its opposition to child beauty pageants across both Houses of the Oireachtas and invites Dáil Éireann to pass a similar Motion.”.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank her in advance for her support. I also thank my Independent Group colleagues, Senators Fiach MacConghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell and Katherine Zappone for allowing our time to be used for this debate. In particular, I thank Senator O’Donnell who will be seconding the motion. I thank each and every Senator for their unanimous support of the motion. It is wonderful, heartening and exciting to see Seanad Éireann united across political divides and ideological differences and to hear Members speak out for children and protecting the sanctity of childhood.

I have made my opposition to the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland well known since the ultimately futile efforts by Universal Royalty to secure a hotel venue for a child pageant in September 2013. The campaign started from the floor of this House. Regrettably, albeit on a much smaller than anticipated scale, the event did go ahead in a beer garden in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, and Universal Royalty pageant organiser, Annette Hill, has reportedly confirmed her intention to host at least one more child beauty pageant in Ireland in the near future. This is why, with the support of my group, I have tabled the motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland.

We are old enough for long enough. I firmly believe that childhood is a time-specific and unique period in a person’s development and that participation, for financial gain by others, in a competition by minors who are judged on attractiveness and physical attributes rather than any sort of discernible skill is seriously problematic and contrary to protecting childhood. I am not alone in the strength of my conviction in opposing child beauty pageants taking place here. I have already referred to the support from the House. In particular, I commend the transition year students in Mount Mercy College in Cork. They developed a transition year project, “Don’t Let the Wrecking Ball Wreck You”, a clever reference to Miley Cyrus’s hyper-sexual music video and the negative impact of an increasingly sexualised pop culture on our young people. As part of the project they launched a petition on change.org to help stop child beauty pageants being held in Cork. The students contacted me in the early stages of the project development and I was most impressed by their initiative, commitment and drive.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, has also spoken out against child beauty pageants and communicated publically the harm it believes such pageants can inflict on the self-esteem and self-image of children. Children at Risk in Ireland, CARI, has also come out in support of the cause and I agree fully with them.

Negative body image, especially but not exclusively affecting women, starts early. I presume it starts as early as children and teens become cognisant of the relentless images of perfection we are all bombarded with through the media, advertising and popular culture and it can be very damaging. Negative body image can cripple people’s confidence and prevent them from participating in sports and other activities with health benefits. There are numerous health risks associated with crash and fad diets and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, negative body image is linked to self-harm, anorexia, bulimia, depression, and anxiety. It is becoming a major problem throughout the world, so much so that in 2009 the Australian Government set up a national advisory body on body image to recommend initiatives to improve the body image of Australians. In Israel, where the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 years is anorexia, Photoshop laws have been introduced whereby any Photoshopped image must have a clear warning covering 7% of the surface area of the photo. The law there also requires that all models must have a body mass index of 18.5. In France, specialists involved in the research behind the parliamentary report, Against Hyper-Sexualisation: a New Fight for Equality, which is the report that prompted the French Senate to introduce a ban on child beauty pageants, concluded that precocious sexualisation affected mostly girls and caused psychological damage that is irreversible in 80% of cases.

I have had the displeasure of watching several televised child beauty pageants from the USA in the lead-up to this debate. I heard some frankly grotesque statements from so-called pageant moms. One said:
When I see Ronnie up on stage I can’t believe she is only two. She did her sassy walk and really shook it. She also did her blow kisses.

Her mother went on to translate for us that “blow kisses” means “Hey judges, come get it, baby.”

She is two. I need not elaborate on why this is inappropriate behaviour for a two year old child. It became clear to me that the best personality prize is in fact the default prize for the children who did not win in the real categories of beauty, casual wear and swim wear. If it is obvious to me then it is obvious to everyone involved in pageantry, including the children. The suggestion is that those with the best personalities are the losers. This is not acceptable and it does not bode well for the development of well-rounded, grounded and confident children with strong internal value systems.

I emphasised the point earlier about beauty pageants not involving any discernible skill in an effort to distinguish child beauty pageants from Irish dancing, which was frequently drawn as a comparison when I was discussing the pageants in September last year. I did not know much about the Irish dancing world. My gut said that it was an unfair comparison since Irish dancing is rather technical and timing, rhythm and footwork are of the utmost importance. It takes years of practice and discipline to master these skills. However, as I have acknowledged in the motion, I am aware of the difficulties and pressures faced by children and parents trying to navigate the world and make choices in the face of an increasingly sexualised and adult world. I tried to find out whether anything could be done to protect children from this in Irish dancing. I was pleased to learn from An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, the Irish Dancing Commission, that as of 1 March 2014, it has introduced new rules prohibiting the use of make-up, including false eye lashes, tinted moisturiser or any artificial tanning products for the face, for all dancers under ten years of age. Ten years of age seemed a low threshold to me initially but a representative from the commission explained that it would be virtually impossible to impose the rule on dancers worldwide beyond the age of ten years because they are competing in world championships, but I will continue to urge them to go further.

Also, the new rule is in addition to an existing rule that has been in place for many years which prohibits make-up for any dancer in the first two dancing grades, the Bungrad and Tusgrad and their equivalent, up to and including the 12-year age group worldwide. Let me give another example. The British Dance Council has introduced a strict requirement that costumes must be of one colour and without glitz so we can see that there have been moves in this direction.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has rightly stressed the importance of a right to play for children. A few years ago the Children’s Rights Alliance consulted children before going to the UNCRC and the children put their right to play as the number one recommendation and priority to be raised with the UN committee.
It is clear to that this is an issue on which society is eager to stand united. Last September when I spoke against the pageants I received more telephone calls, emails and notes of support from the public than I have for any other issue that I have worked on. The issue is not about us being a nanny State; it is about collective social responsibility towards children.

Some people have asked whether I would consider bringing legislation but that would be a sledge hammer approach. The unanimous support that we got in the House is a strong call to action that we, as a society, have a responsibility. For me, tonight is a call to action not only to my colleagues here as I hope Dáil Éireann will pass a similar motion. It is a call to action for civil society organisations, parents, young people and society at large. We need to send a clear and unified message that there is no place in Ireland for child beauty pageants.

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.

Adoption Amendment Bill 2013

20 December 2013

Speaking Points

Jillian van Turnhout

Welcome Minister.

Minister both you and colleagues have clearly outlined that the scenario leading up to the need for this legislation.  Minister, it is evident that you, your officials and indeed the Tánaiste, have sought resolution through other channels and at every level but that proved impossible.  Changes to Russian family court laws have had serious implications in conjunction with existing Irish legislation for prospective adoptive parents. Which brings us to the legislation before the house today.

I believe it is tightly framed with limitations added and will address the calls you have received from approximately 5 prospective adoptive parents.  However it also opens up any unused Russian Declarations as of 31 October 2013 which you have clarified is a maximum of 23 prospective adoptive parents.

Anyone who talked or has met the prospective parents appreciates the heartbreak and emotional roller-coaster of the journey that they have had and so I realise that for them today is a good day.

I will not oppose the Bill.  I do not want to frustrate the resolution to this particular situation. However, I am duty bound to raise my general concerns and some specific questions about how we approach adoption in Ireland.

Ireland has a very chequered history when it comes to Adoption.

In 2010 we incorporated the Hague Convention into Irish Law.  The Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) .  It protects children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. This Convention reinforces the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 21) and seeks to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights

Article 21 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child addresses the protection and promotion of children’s rights in the context of adoption. It establishes the paramountcy of children’s best interests in all adoption arrangements and details minimum requirements for adoption procedures.

Yet, let us not forget that while Ireland signed the Hague Convention in 1993 we had to be dragged kicking and screaming to incorporate it into our law.  When we brought in the Adoption Act in 2010 we were the last EU country to ratify and over 55 countries had already done so.

I think we need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland.  I believe our system of closed adoptions is not always in the best interest of the child.

  •  Closed adoption is the process by where an infant is adopted by another family, and the record of the biological parent(s) is kept sealed.
  •  Open adoption is a form of adoption in which the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact.

 

In my experience children can cope and distinguish.  It is us adults who tie ourselves in knots.

It is my sense that some people misunderstand the rationale behind adoption is the right of couples who cannot conceive to have a child.  It was not.  Adoption is about, where needed, finding alternative family arrangements for a child and fundamentally it is about the best interests of the child.

Minister, I am keenly aware that as we stand here today there are approximately 50,000 adopted people in Ireland who have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate, no legal right to their medical information or history, or any legal right to tracing information about their identity.

I believe that we will be able to partly address these issues via legislation but aspects of this issue will need to be addressed at constitutional level. I noted last October when we were discussing the Children’s Referendum Bill that it was a missed opportunity not to address right to identity.

I realise that information and tracing is complex but we have to start moving on where change is possible.  There is a clear lack of a legal framework.  Is the State collecting and ensuring that it has access to important and vital records in relation to children’s identities?  Have, for example, the religious orders handed over records to the State that will help when the necessary legislation is in place?

Specifically on the Bill here today, I say well done to the drafters who have worked hard to produce a clear, tightly constructed Bill.

As I stand here I am thinking that in less than 18 years these children will be adults – will they have access to information on their identity?

We saw the fall of Communism 14 years ago and the rush for adoptions?  Will Ireland over the coming years have issues to deal with?

I think of Ireland’s history in relation to adoptions and how many ‘went to America’ or in reality were sold to so called ‘good called families’ for a better life.

I don’t think anyone who went to see the movie Philomena wasn’t touched and conflicted by her story.  We don’t want to creating situations today that will be the films of tomorrow.

Are we setting a precedent today?  The adage ‘hard cases make bad law’ springs to mind. Will we change the law for other groups of people who are not in line with our law and the Hague Convention?  Does this not open the gates for other “one-off” fixes?

We have all heard the understandably emotional calls from the 4 or 5 prospective adoptive parents.  But let us remember the law today will extend the period for up to 23 prospective adoptive parents.

When a country ratifies the Hague Convention we have seen again and again how the number of children eligible for adoption dramatically falls.  Why? Obviously it is because the children were never legitimately available for adoption and often have fallen foul to criminal activity, including corruption and the sale or trafficking of children.

Can we be assured that in any one or more of these cases that significant money has not and will not change hands?

I ask these questions now because one or more of these children, upon turning 18, may have the same difficult questions for their parents. Will we be able to give answers?

It is critical that a rigorous verification process be put in place for all adoptions.

In ending, may I wish each of the children who are to be adopted and to their prospective parents a really happy and fulfilling life.

Nevertheless lets us not forget that adoption is the right of a child, not of adults, and we must ensure that this is not lost sight of. If anything is to be learnt from the Reports such as  Ryan and Murphy, it is how crucial it is to have adequate systems in place to protect vulnerable children.

We urgently need to re-examine our approach to adoption. Let us lead and show that we really have learnt from our chequered past.

Email Newsletter December 2013

Before we break for the Christmas period I wanted to send you a short update on my recent work.

Child and Family Agency Bill 2013

Tobacco Related Bills

Comhairle na nÓg/Dáil na nÓg

Launch of the Youth Media and the Irish Presidency Report

Children’s Rights Alliance Dinner with Young Film Makers

 

I want to warmly thank you for your support, ideas and encouragement over the last year. I would especially like to thank my researcher Amy McArdle and intern Conor Booth, whose support is invaluable to my work.

I am looking forward to 2014 and the opportunities and challenges it brings. We have a full legislative agenda ahead. I plan to actively engage on a number of Bills including the: revised Heads of Children First Bill; Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013; Family Relationships and Children Bill; Freedom of Information Bill 2013;, Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010; and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014. As always, I welcome any contribution you have to these and other issues and I invite you to contact my office at any time.

All my interventions, speeches, and media contributions can be viewed on my website http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/ and you can follow me on Twitter https://twitter.com/JillianvT for regular updates.

Wishing you a very happy Christmas and peaceful New Year.

Best wishes,

Jillian

Child and Family Support Agency

The Child and Family Agency Bill completed its passage through the Seanad on 5 December 2013. From the outset I have supported and welcomed the establishment of the new Agency. It is an historic and unique opportunity to ditch ineffective systems and to finally make sure that children get the treatment they deserve, and families the help they need. I engaged extensively with the Bill at all stages of its passage and my contributions can be read from my website http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1084

The new Agency is set to become operational on 1 January 2014. I will continue to pursue issues relevant to the proper and effective functioning of the Agency, particularly around resources and staffing. I have sought additional information on these issues from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and await her written responses in advance of our next Quarterly meeting of the Health and Children Committee this Thursday.


Tobacco Related Bills

I am very happy to co-sponsor the Protection of the Public Interest from Tobacco Lobbying Bill 2013 with Senator John Crown and Senator Sean Barrett. The Bill will start in the Seanad this Wednesday and I hope it receives support. Then on Thursday, we will re-start the process for another tobacco related Bill, the Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012, which I initiated with Senator John Crown and Senator Mark Daly.  The Bill aims to ban smoking in cars in which children are travelling. Having been stalled by the Department of Health for the last 19 months, we have tabled amendments to our own Bill in order to restart the process.

Comhairle na nÓg/Dáil na nÓg

I have long been a supporter of Comhairle na nÓg, which through a National Executive coordinates 34 youth councils across the country giving young people a voice on local services and policies. I was therefore delighted to have been asked by the Ceann Comhairle to join a team of TD’s and Senators to work with the incoming Comhairle na nÓg National Executive to enable a more effective link between the work of Comhairle na nÓg and the work of parliament.

Launch of the Youth Media and the Irish Presidency Report

I was delighted to launch the Report of European Movement Ireland’s flagship Presidency Programme, Youth Media and the Irish Presidency (YMIP), Final Report on the Irish Presidency of the EU: A Youth Perspective, on 20 November in the European Commission’s office in Ireland.

YMIP was an all-Ireland Programme, which succeeded in opening up the Irish Presidency of the EU to young people in Ireland by recruiting a team of 25 young journalists to report on the Presidency and broader European affairs.

The launch doubled as the graduation of the young journalists from the programme and it was wonderful to see, in addition to YMIP partner organisations, Oireachtas Members, and national press, their friends and family there to cheer them on!

Children’s Rights Alliance Dinner with Young Film Makers

I was delighted to host a dinner in the Oireachtas last Wednesday for a number of the young people (15-18 years) who, in conjunction with the Children’s Rights Alliance, made an excellent short film about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child called “Do Children’s Rights Matter?” The young people identified three problems that they face on a daily basis: bullying; poverty; and the lack of recreational spaces. I have long advocated the importance of listening to and hearing children’s voices. They are often best placed to develop solutions to the issues concerning them. Check out their video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUB1n83mvD9MTbbiu3qkrtbQ&v=TqrjjVeZNY0

The Lancet

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