I greatly appreciated all the support I received from civil society, parents, grandparents and concerned members of the public around my recent Seanad Motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland. It was extremely heartening to see the Upper House united across political divides and ideological differences in support of children and protection of childhoods from sexualisation and undue gender stereotyping. I welcome Minister Francis Fitzgerald’s response to the Motion by commissioning an international review of other countries’ responses to child pageants to help inform the Government’s response and future actions. I am hopeful that a legislative prohibition will not be necessary, but rather that the environment will be so unfavourable to child pageants that they simply won’t succeed here. Should that prove not to be the case, I am prepared to pursue a legislative route. I invite you to read the Motion, my statement and find the link to the full Seanad debate here (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1200) on my website.
This February, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children held a series of hearings on the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013. I am strongly in favour of plain packaging for many reasons including: 78% of smokers start before the age of 18; children in Ireland begin smoking at an earlier age than in any other country in Europe; the tobacco industry’s biggest growth area is amongst children; and attractive packaging is used to target young people so that they become addicted from an early age. I could go and on. Suffice to say the evidence is clear and I hope I can count on your support as this important Bill progresses.
So much of my work as a Senator is done off the Seanad floor and I would like to draw your attention to a number of wonderful events I have had the privilege of hosting, attending and contributing to over the last few months:
I have received some very interesting guest blog (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?page_id=218) proposals in recent months. The guest blog section of my website is designed to give an additional space for adults and children alike to share their experiences, raise issues of importance to them and voice their concerns. If you, or a young person you know, would like to contribute a piece please email my assistant Amy for further details email@example.com.
Prize Giving Ceremony for Irish Girl Guides Competition Winners
As a committed Girl Guide, I was immensely proud to welcome the three category winners of the Irish Girl Guides article/photo competition: Sarah Condren; Lauren Mooney; and Charlotte Dougherty to Leinster House on Monday 17 February. Through their winning submissions these young and aspiring journalists have captured the fun, adventure, and challenge of Girl Guiding and have brought the incredible experience of being an Irish Girl Guide to life. After a tour of the Oireachtas and lunch we had a prize giving ceremony with myself, author Sarah Webb, who judged the competition and who was an IGG leader for 15 years, and Jonathan Sultan from Canon Ireland.
I remain deeply concerned that the administrative system of direct provision, which has been operating in Ireland since April 2000, is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers, and in particular the 1,666 children currently residing in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland. I raise my concerns at every available opportunity in the Seanad, most recently here (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1064).
While there has been very little movement on the issue politically, I am very pleased to see it appearing much more frequently in media and public discourse. I must commend Dr Liam Thornton, Lecturer in Law and member of the UCD Human Rights Network, for his unwavering commitment to ending Direct Provision and his determination in educating the public and student body about the injustice. It was my pleasure to chair and speak at the recent seminar hosted by the UCD Human Rights Network, Direct Provision in Ireland: A Challenge for Law, A Challenge for Rights. In addition to Liam’s own expertise, Sue Conlon from the Irish Refugee Council and Kirsty Linkin from the Northern Ireland Law Centre gave excellent and thought provoking presentations to the students in attendance.
On 10 April 2014, Direct Provision will be in operation for 14 years. To mark this event, the academic blog Human Rights in Ireland (www.humanrights.ie) will dedicate 14 hours to discussion on the law, politics, policy and experience of direct provision. I will be contributing a blog spot and I encourage you to visit the site and learn more about the issues.
Model Council of the European Union Debate
As a Parliamentarian and vice-chair of European Movement Ireland, I was delighted to chair the Model Council of the European Union debate in Dublin Castle on 4 March, which was organised by the European Commission Representation in Ireland. Students from 30 schools debated hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the 28 Member States of the European Union. It was a lively and very well informed debate and I suspect I had the pleasure of seeing many of our future Parliamentarians and MEPs in action! The winning team from Loreto Secondary School in Kilkenny, their classmates and teachers will now participate in the European Parliament’s Euroscola event in Strasbourg this September. I wish them the very best of luck.
On 11 March I took part in a panel event to launch the Neurological Alliance of Ireland’s national survey Living with a Neurological Condition in Ireland. The survey examines many aspects of living with a neurological condition, such as access to services and the impact of health cutbacks and the overall recession, and makes for very interesting reading (http://www.nai.ie/assets/8/ADEF89E9-0845-E6A8-C4A6FE69B3E2958C_document/NAI_Survey_A4__1_.pdf)
I will be seeking a Seanad debate to draw attention to the need for community services. I have previously noted the deficits in community rehabilitation services facing stroke survivors after their hospital treatment has been completed. The Economic and Social Research Institute has calculated that the direct annual cost of stroke is as much as €557 million, of which approximately €414 million is spent on nursing home care, while only €7 million is being spent on rehabilitation in the community.
I was thrilled to give an opening address at YouTube’s Online Safety Lab on 6 March 2014. The event was attended by young people from a number of secondary schools and universities and online safely was the order of the day. The event was a tremendous success with YouTube personnel remarking on how impressed they were with the tech savvy students and their ability to engage responsibly with online media.
Internet safety, cyberbullying and inappropriate content for children are legitimate concerns for parents and policy makers. I will be very interested to read to the outcome of the Internet Content Advisory Group, which was established by Minister Rabbitte in November 2013 to provide expert advice on Internet Governance. As part of their open consultation process I sent the Advisory Group a copy of my report “Online Child Abuse Material: Effective Strategies to Tackle Online Child Abuse Material”, published in September 2013. My report and its findings can be read in full here (http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1025)