5 Key Organisations join Senator van Turnhout to Endorse Yes Vote

Press Release: For Immediate Release
30th October 2012


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.”


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.

Social Protection: Statements

24th October 2012

I welcome the Minister to the House. We are all very acutely aware of the facts and reminded on a daily basis of the serious financial difficulty we have and the shortfall of €16 billion. There are also requirements under the terms of the EU-IMF bailout agreement to reduce our borrowing for 2013 by €3.5 billion. The Minister’s Department has a budget of €20.5 billion, accounting for 40% of overall Government expenditure, and I am very aware she is required to reduce the budget by €540 million in 2013. I appreciate the difficult decisions that have to be taken and cuts that must be made.

To build on the comments of my colleague, Senator Zappone, in the first part of this debate last week, there is a question about how these cuts are made and against whom they are directed. These are ultimately political decisions. There is nothing more disheartening as a Senator than to feel my interventions about any budgetary cuts are futile in the face of a done deal, so I welcome the Minister’s reassurance that no decisions have been finalised in respect of the 2013 budget.

We need to stop plugging the dam and looking for immediate savings, which are ultimately bankrupting us of our moral fibre. As a Government and society we must firmly establish our red lines, or the values and principles that we are unwilling to yield. An example of this was aptly articulated yesterday in the audiovisual room by the community and voluntary pillar, when it presented an alternative budget for 2013, with values such as dignity, sustainability, equality, human rights and working for the common good. Such values inherently seek to protect children, the elderly, disabled, weak, vulnerable and marginalised, it makes for a value system that I support and endorse.

We must articulate a vision for the Ireland we want in ten years, developing strategies that are necessary to achieve this vision by incorporating values and aligning them with national policies. We can do this and I do not agree that Ireland is bound by the current policies for achieving the €3.5 billion reduction in borrowing as set out in the letter of intent, memorandum of economic and financial policies, and the technical memorandum of understanding. Within the document I note the paragraph following the proposed revenue measures and expenditure reduction in the memorandum, which states:

Without prejudice to the minimum consolidation amount referred to in the previous paragraph and to the requirements to achieve the agreed fiscal targets, the Government may, in consultation with the staff of the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB, replace one or more of the above measures with others of equally good quality based on the options identified in the comprehensive review of expenditure.

I am not alone in reading this to mean that Ireland is free to change the method through which the requisite saving is made, once it is made.

It is interesting to note that Social Justice Ireland agreed with 130 of the 131 recommendations made by the Commission on Taxation report from 2009 on tax breaks. The exception was the recommendation on child benefit. Lists of savings are possible, and I strongly encourage the Government to consider the proposals. I do this on behalf of the more than 700,000 people in Ireland, of which 200,000 are children, at risk of poverty, and the more than one in four children between age 12 and 17 already living in poverty. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service gave a good presentation earlier this morning on the survey on income and living conditions, SILC, demonstrating that households with children are at more of a disadvantage and are more likely to enter poverty. Our current policy is not working, although it may satisfy the troika and meet international requirements. It is not working for the raft of Irish people bearing the brunt of the cuts.

In preparing for today’s discussion I pondered how we have a multi-annual plan for the troika and education officials are considering school infrastructure, responding to change in demographics with a multi-annual plan. The action plan for jobs brings us up to 2016. The plan for the country’s people, however, is missing. Where is that plan? I have spoken with friends who are holding on to savings despite being encouraged to spend. When there is no plan for the people, it is an issue.

Those living in extremely marginalised and vulnerable conditions do not know where the safety net is and feel it keeps moving. They are walking on this tightrope and are asking where the safety net is because it has moved again.

We need to look not only at one budget – all the focus now is on budget 2013 – but at things much more in advance. The programme for Government referred to working across Departments. If one looks solely at the issue of child benefit, the question is whether we tax or means test it rather the Minister’s Department looking outside itself and asking why we are giving child benefit and the purpose of it. Is there a better way to achieve the outcomes we wish other than by purely looking at cash transfers? I suppose I am trying to encourage the Minister and her colleagues in Cabinet not to look simplistically at cash savings but to have a plan for the people to say this is where we are going. We can do it for jobs and for the troika but can we do it for the people?

National Dementia Strategy: Motion (Private Members’ Business)

24th October 2012

I welcome the Minister. I thank my Labour Party colleagues for tabling the motion. It is great that there is harmony in the House as everyone welcomes the initiatives and strategies to deal with mental capacity legislation, dementia, Alzheimer’s and positive ageing. I would like to move beyond words and explore ways we can make the issues before us tangible. We can all say these words but we all know action speaks louder than words.

I would like two issues to be fed into the national dementia strategy before it is published. First, expert opinion is that earlier and accurate diagnosis is important, as colleagues have said, for the individual but also for family members because of what such a diagnosis will deliver for them and it is imperative that coming out of the implementation of the strategy, resources will be put in place or reconfigured that will result in a nationwide health service, which provides timely diagnosis and provision for early intervention supports and services. A crucial component of this will be access to a uniform assessment of needs for both the patient and their carer. My understanding is that the HSE is piloting a single assessment tool, which will need to be such that it provides the necessary early indication of the onset of a dementia and acts as an early detection mechanism which leads on to the necessary follow up of interventions and support services.

Currently, the first port of call for most patients who present themselves to our health service with possible symptoms of a dementia is at GP level. Making a diagnosis of dementia is not easy and Irish research, including anecdotal evidence from my local GP, has shown that many GPs, like their counterparts in other countries, are reluctant to get involved in the area because of lack of confidence and training, stigma, difficulties differentiating normal ageing from the signs and symptoms of dementia and resource issues. There is a requirement, therefore, to ensure all health care officials at GP, primary care or residential care levels are skilled in the detection and diagnosis of dementia and are suitably equipped with the necessary people skills to handle the delivery of the diagnosis to patients and their families.

The second issue relates to community-based services. Following on from the early diagnosis of dementia and consistent with the Department of Health’s stated policy to shift the emphasis of care back into community settings, there is a need to ensure these settings are age and dementia friendly. Access to clinical dementia experts at local community levels will form the basis of key community services for those with dementia and their carers. People who need and receive community care, whether through home help, respite, home care packages, hospice and palliative care services, value these supports enormously. However, access is discretionary, unequal and problematic. The root of this issue is the lack of legislation to underpin access to these services. There is no statutory entitlement to home care and community care services. Since access is discretionary, it is extremely difficult for individuals, families and carers to get information and reliable access at critical points for example at discharge from hospital, onset of disability, diagnosis of dementia, long-term or life-limiting illness. I agree with the Ombudsman who obverses that “people do not know where they stand in terms of their entitlements and in terms of the HSE’s obligations to provide services”. I also support the call made by Older and Bolder for the inclusion, as part of a national dementia strategy, of the development of long-promised legislation to establish a clear right to community care. Only this can provide the clarity and security to individuals and families.

I stress that I welcome this motion and I recognise the Government’s achievements in this area such as the publication of the national carers strategy in 2012, which was broadly welcomed by carers groups as an aspirational document that provides a solid basis for informing future policy decisions. However, I also note the reaction from some groups I work with in the areas in question that a motion such as this is nothing more than a series of platitudes unless accompanied by action such as the tangible recognition of the vital work carried out by family carers. While 50,000 carers are responsible for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, 137,000 other carers look after other people with disabilities spanning all age groups from children to the elderly. Recognition of their work can be shown by the provision of adequate and ring-fenced resources, including payments to carers, which should not be seen as income supports but as direct supports for their caring duties.

We are all conscious that we are approaching budget 2013. The Minister for Social Protection recently gave us assurances that core benefits will be protected but we are still wondering what are core benefits? For example, is the half rate carers allowance a core benefit? I refer to the funding sources for carers, which include the Department of Social Protection, which covers benefits and allowance; the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, which administers the housing adaptation grant; and the Department of Health, which deals with hospital and respite care. When I consider this, I wonder whether the citizen or the Government is at the centre of policy, as he or she must constantly run around. He or she has to be assessed several times before a decision on his or her care and he or she must repeatedly go through his or her family history.

Junior Certificate Reform and the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy

23rd October 2012

I welcome the Minister’s plans for the literacy and numeracy strategy. I remember working on the National Economic and Social Forum report on this subject. I was alarmed at the figures, with one in ten children leaving school with literacy issues and rising to one in four children in disadvantaged areas. Someone tried to tell me it was okay because other European countries had higher figures but I did not care whether the figures were higher in other European countries. I care about the fact one in ten children leave school with literacy and numeracy issues.

The reports all talk about an all-community approach and how it is not just about the reality in school. In the supermarket, a parent can ask the child to get peas and can spell out the letters. It involves these measures and involving the older generations in the community. While preparing the report, I heard from many parent organisations that, when they bring their loved ones to the school gates, they are told to ensure the children can tie their laces and have a lunch they can easily eat while the teachers will look after the teaching. Parents were told not to teach their children to read because the teachers will have to undo it and reteach them. I heard this going around the country talking to parents groups.

This was the message parents were getting from schools. I do not refer to all teachers. We read all the reports and talk about everyone working together in the community and how education is not just the preserve of schools. It is important that, when examining plans, we should try to involve the community. We have outstanding teachers working with communities but there is also an approach that parents do not have a role in the education of their children.

I welcome the Minister’s plans in respect of the junior certificate. I have examined them quite closely. Continuous assessment is a good principle. I wonder if I am saying this because I think I would have done better on continuous assessment than in exams. Some young people will perform better under one method than another, which makes me wonder whether it is part of my reasoning in favour of it. Continuous assessments are good practice for life and for the ability to deliver consistently. It will have a positive effect on the student’s learning experience, the development of the most-needed skills from an early age and, most important, the capacity to analyse information, communicate, to work in a team and to think creatively.

The proposed focus on the long-term development of literacy and numeracy instead of a one-size-fits-all junior certificate will encourage students and teachers creatively and allow for a more informed and self-aware process of acquiring knowledge. Students will be able to develop their interests and skills without the rigidity of learning specifically for the tests. This will, hopefully, relieve some of the pressure experienced by some students during the formal examination period.

Another proposed reform is the curriculum flexibility, which is great. It will allow schools to design new teaching programmes. Hopefully, they will involve the students in that as they will have a great deal to say. Perhaps there could be subjects on local development, new media and arts programmes. It would facilitate a much wider approach to education.

As far as the proposed assessments are concerned, teachers know their students best and are best placed to reflect on students’ performance, abilities and work. The focus on long-term overview of a student’s development will help parents to see the progress being made by their child. However, I share some of the concerns raised by the TUI and the ASTI generally about the consultation process. Could the Minister clarify this? I have read conflicting reports about it. There have been statements from the Minister’s officials saying they were consulted, while I have heard from the two unions that they have not been consulted.

With regard to the assessment process, I wonder about small communities and the pressures that will come from parents, in a place where everybody knows each other, for a positive assessment. Would we be bringing the concept of clientelism into the school system? How will we ensure that teachers will be trained? I am aware of the Minister’s plans for teacher training, but I am referring to teachers who are already in place. How do we recalibrate how to deliver their training? I would welcome clarification of that from the Minister.

Finally, the Minister talks about phasing this in over eight years. I can understand that on paper but part of me sees it as a slow guillotine descending on the schools over the eight years. How will it work? Will there be a value on the year in which one did the junior certificate? I wonder about the reality of phasing it in and whether we are sometimes better off to just pull off the plaster and go for it. If this is the new system, eight years seems to be quite a long period for it to be introduced. However, I believe we should consider change, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has put the document in the public domain and allowed us to scrutinise it and be part of this process.

Order of Business, 19 October 2011

19th October 2011

A series of reports undertaken by the national review panel for serious incidents and child deaths. This report details the circumstances of child deaths and serious incidents involving children and young people. The first annual report of the national review panel was also published yesterday and it provided an overview of the work carried out by the group since its establishment in 2010. It is the first of what I hope will be an annual report. The report highlighted a number of deficiencies in the current child protection system, including several breaches of Children First guidelines, inadequate supervision of practices in the HSE and family services in a number of cases and the absence of a standardised method of assessing the needs of children and young people who come to the attention of social services. The report also exposed the need for specialist training for social workers to improve investigative skills and to assist in engaging with hard to reach families. It also highlighted the need to develop additional protocols for children who abscond from care and the very real need for after-care support as children make the transition to adulthood. I fully support the review panel’s recommendations. The reason I am raising this in the House is that report raises the question of whether we need greater scrutiny, which I feel we need. I am concerned that the report of the national review panel states its workload is virtually impossible to carry out owing to the number and breadth of inquiries it must instigate. Every one of those inquiries is a child death or serious incident. This is not just a pile of paper, each one represents a child. It has been reported that the panel was asked to review 51 cases, including 35 deaths, since its establishment in March 2010. It is imperative that the panel is adequately resourced to ensure the timely, proper and full investigation of these cases. Each and every childhood counts and key lessons can be learned from the reports, which will inform policy and child protection and welfare and prevent future child deaths. These lessons must be seized on. I call on the Leader to request the Government to entrust the receipt of these reports in full to the Joint Committee on Health and Children so that it will facilitate appropriate scrutiny of the child protection systems within the Oireachtas.

Order of Business, 17 October 2012

I echo everything said in the Chamber this morning about St. Patrick’s Institution. There is a need for greater urgency because, as has been said, there are still 17 to 21 year olds detained at the institution. Therefore, the problem has not gone away. I ask for an update on the development of a detention school at a site located at Oberstown-Lusk. We need to ensure that when children are transferred, it is to a good location, as we do not repeat past mistakes. I listened to the debate. Several colleagues talked about the culture of those in charge at St. Patrick’s Institution and my comments made here last December were brought into sharp focus. I will not break privilege, but I am concerned. Why did we make the appointment to the committee on the prevention of torture? I am greatly concerned about who Ireland appointed to the committee and express my concern again today.

I support Senator Mark Daly’s call for a debate on the plight of the survivors of child abuse. I know the details of the case to which he referred. It involves an appalling injustice and is unacceptable. I have met the person mentioned for several years and can vouch for the fact that he is dying. When we bring him to Dublin to meet colleagues, I ask that Senators attend to demonstrate greater compassion.

Alcohol Consumption: Statements

17th October 2012

I will try to be succinct. I have five specific questions to ask the Minister of State but first I wish to comment briefly on the issue. I am speaking as a Senator, as a children’s rights activist and as a proud Irish citizen. My first concern relates to the social and cultural acceptability of our excessive alcohol usage. It disturbs me how frequently and casually excessive drinking and being hungover are spoken about on the national airwaves, in the media and in discourse following sports events and other everyday conversations. For example, we use such expressions as “How’s the head?” and “I’m dying” and “It is the Irish ‘flu”. This is acceptable discourse for us. We use these references and they are bandied about all the time. I am not trying to sound in any way pious and it is not that I have not misused alcohol myself but it is about the way we use these terms in common parlance. They are acceptable and tolerated. This is where I have a difficulty. We are sending mixed messages in our discourse on drinking. On the one hand there are drink awareness campaigns, especially those targeting young people. During the debate today I imagine we will refer to the scourge of binge drinking among young people and we will highlight the dangers of excessive drinking. On the other hand as adults we laugh it off. We are sending mixed messages.

Our international reputation as a nation of drinkers is seriously undesirable and is becoming increasingly so.

It is something that we should be working hard to overcome. While on holiday in the United States over the summer, I was shocked to see a T-shirt being sold in a tourist shop, among a number of T-shirts of a similar vein, depicting Irish yoga as a series of images of an extremely intoxicated man. I have a fairly healthy sense of humour but I did not find it funny. In fact, I was extremely embarrassed that this is the depiction, on several different types of T-shirt, of Ireland. There was nothing positive about that message.

There is an intrinsic link between excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm in Ireland. The negative impact, as has been testified to by the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, and by my colleagues before me, on individuals, on families and on the Exchequer and society at large can no longer be justified in terms of the revenue the alcohol sector generates in and for Ireland, or how our pub and craic culture attracts tourism. I grew up with a definition of the idea of craic culture being about music, friendship and great fun, but we seem to have redefined what it means and this is something that we must seriously question.

Alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 97% of public order offences and, according to international research, there is a link between increased alcohol consumption and increased levels of public order crime. Alcohol related crime will cost us €1.2 billion this year. All of us here could make a long list of what we would like to spend that €1.2 billion on, and that figure relates only to crime and not the associated health costs.

I had the honour to write two European reports as a rapporteur for the European Economic and Social Committee on the harmful effects of alcohol. Often the employers’ organisations would row in on the side of the drinks industry but, luckily, I was able to persuade many of my colleagues from the employers’ organisations to support me in my work. The figures, for example, for increased absenteeism, show it costs Ireland €1.5 billion a year, according to a recent survey by IBEC, the very organisation that supports the drinks manufacturing industry of Ireland. Employers need to wake up to the cost alcohol imposes. Alcohol is the primary reason for 4% of short-term absences from work by male employees and 1% by female employees. On the impact on health, every seven hours someone in Ireland dies from an alcohol-related disease and alcohol is a factor in up to one third of all deaths of unnatural causes. The figures are quite startling.

The Minister of State mentioned the indirect effects on children. Between 61,000 and 104,000 children aged under 15 in Ireland were estimated to be living with parents who misuse alcohol, one in 11 children is impacted negatively by parental alcohol problems and one in six cases of child abuse is attributed to alcohol. We really must wake up. I am glad the Minister of State said that he will bring back the proposals as soon as possible but there really is need for greater urgency.

I have the following five concluding points. First, the Minister of State mentioned the national substance misuse strategy. I draw his attention to the report on the misuse of alcohol and other drugs, which Senator Colm Burke mentioned, published in January last by the Joint Committee on Health and Children. We came up with 13 recommendations. They were debated heavily at the committee but the meeting was one of those good days in the Houses where all members were on the same side in trying to work out the best recommendations. There is cross-party consensus on those recommendations and I would bring the report to the Minister of State’s attention.

Second, there have been significant delays in the publication of both the alcohol action plan and the sale of alcohol Bill. They were expected in September and before the end of 2012, respectively. Can the Minister of State clarify when these will be published?

Third, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, was due to bring forward the recommendations of the RRAI voluntary code of conduct but he was also supposed to come back, prior to the summer recess, on section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which the Minister of State mentioned, which deals with the structural separation of alcohol from other products. The legislation is in place. It is a bizarre piece of legislation because the Minister has a choice when it comes to implementing it. I have never seen legislation that gives the Minister the choice. I think the Minister of State will find this interesting. I had to reread the legislation several times. I raised it here in the House with the Minister for Justice and Equality under an Adjournment matter. It is something that could be put into place now. We all talk about alcohol products straying into other parts of the supermarket but there is legislation to which we can give effect.

Fourth, given the legal challenge against minimum pricing being put to the Scottish Government, can the Minister of State clarify what changes in alcohol pricing will be introduced in Ireland and if minimum pricing cannot be introduced, will consideration be given to introducing a ban on below-cost selling?

Finally, a significant amount of work has been undertaken in Northern Ireland on alcohol advertising and price promotion. By the end of 2012, Northern Ireland will introduce additional regulations to ban certain irresponsible drink promotions that encourage excessive drinking and specified pricing practices. Further restrictions have also been proposed in Northern Ireland and are included in Scotland’s licensing law which are intended to prevent supermarkets and off-sale premises advertising school offers anywhere other than within a licensed area of their premises. The restrictions would also apply to other advertising material, such as newspapers, in-store magazines and leaflets. Will the Minister of State give consideration to introduce similar measures? It is my understanding that the legislation currently exists in the form of section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 and these changes could be brought forward fairly quickly.

Order of Business, 11 October 2011

11th October 2011

I raise the issue of the forthcoming referendums. The Referendum Commission has a website up and running but I am concerned that the campaign has just recently been launched. Having carried out informal surveys over the weekend, there seems to be very low public awareness that people must vote on two amendments to the Constitution on 27 October, in addition to the forthcoming presidential election. I worry about changing our Constitution without the electorate being sufficiently informed and involved in debate.

I note that last Thursday in Geneva the Minister for Justice and Equality announced that early in 2012 we will have a referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution. I ask that we have a debate at the earliest opportunity to discuss the proposals for that referendum to ensure we do not encounter the pitfalls we encountered before.