WE DID IT!! A sincere thank you one and all who strived for and supported the successful passage of the 31st Amendment, enshrining children’s rights into the Irish Constitution. I would like to pay a particular tribute to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, who delivered on the Government’s promise. I was exceptionally proud of the campaigning and information provided by so many NGO’s and civil society organisations during the campaign period, which helped secure the YES!
This is a very gratifying time for me both professionally, having campaigned for a children’s rights referendum for many years, and personally, having long felt a profound sadness and sense of the shame and responsibility I bear as a member of a society that has systematically failed to protect our most vulnerable children.
The people of Ireland have now spoken. The successful passage of the referendum was badly needed to overcome the legal roadblocks; preventing us from fully protecting children and supporting families; hampering us from making decisions that are child-centred; and preventing us from reforming our adoption laws. It provides the first, critical step toward fundamental reform. But, it is not a panacea to solve all the issues affecting children and families today and we all have work ahead of us.
Over the coming months I will be working hard to give life to this constitutional change, to ensure that we transform our child and family services, and to improve outcomes for all children. Children’s rights in the aftermath of this referendum remain a priority for me both in the Seanad and as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. I will strive to secure the optimum outcome when the Bills listed below pass through the Upper House. As always, I welcome any specific comments or suggestions you may wish to share in relation to any aspect of my work.
Children First Bill 2012
Earlier this year, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children examined the General Scheme of the Children First Bill and after consultation with a wide spectrum of stakeholders we produced the following report which we presented to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It is anticipated that this Bill will be forthcoming shortly.
Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012
I have made it clear in my discourse around the wording of the 31st Amendment that I would have preferred it to go further in a number of areas, particularly in stating certain rights, such as the right to identity. I am keenly aware that more than 50,000 adopted people have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate, no legal right to their medical information or history, or any legal right to trace information about their identity. I have proposed that this Bill should come to the Seanad first to ensure that its intricacies are given an opportunity for a full and detailed debate.
Bill to Establish the Child and Family Support Agency
In July, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs published the Report of the Task Force on the Child and Family Support Agency. I believe we cannot ignore that some of the No voters in the Referendum were reacting to how they have been treated, or how they perceive they would be treated, in the past, currently or in the future by our social services system. We need to listen to their concerns and ensure that the new agency is fully resourced ; is for all children and families; and is focussed on early and accountable intervention that supports better outcomes for children and families, thus helping to keep families together.
National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012
Having spent many years working in the community and voluntary sector, I am keenly aware of importance of a thorough and streamlined vetting process and I plan to bring my practical experience to the debate.
Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012
I am concerned that the proposals in the Bill do not go far enough to achieve the stated purpose of the Spent Convictions Bill “to assist the rehabilitation of offenders, who often experience difficulties securing employment as a result of having a conviction” due to the overly conservative and restrictive time periods set for the length of sentences the spent convictions regime will apply to and the conviction free period required to enjoy its benefits. These are concerns I intend to address through amendments to the Bill.
Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012
I plan to table an amendment in relation to rates being charged to ECCE schemes throughout the country. Unlike any other business, ECCE services are limited by the subvention they receive and the agreed child/adult ratio. Both of these parameters are set by the State and yet there are currently 88 rating authorities who each charge different rates to early childcare settings.
Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012
I have co-sponsored this Bill with my fellow Senators John Crown and Mark Daly to prohibit the smoking of tobacco products in vehicles where children are present. This Bill is currently stalled in the system. We are working to ensure its progression without any further delay.
Supreme Court Judgment, 11 December 2012
I am anticipating an active and important debate in the Seanad following the delivery of the Supreme Court Judgment that the Government’s information booklet and website was “not fair, equal or impartial”. A full ruling will be given on 11 December 2012 and I have asked the Seanad to schedule a debate in days following the judgment. I would welcome your views on how we can better inform the public about the issues at the heart of future referendums, that doesn’t revolve around YES/NO shouting matches. The Seanad held an urgent debate on the Supreme Court decision on Thursday 8 November and you can find my contribution here.
In addition to these Bills I will continue in my efforts, already underway, in relation to; the care of children in direct provision (asylum accommodation); the independent inspection of residential services for children with disabilities; the value and contribution of the youth work sector; palliative care for children with life limiting conditions; childhood obesity; mental health; neurological services; alcohol related harm; the protection of our national heritage and archives and of course Budget 2013.
As a final note, I would like to sincerely thank all the NGO’s, civil society organisations, community and voluntary organisations and interested members of the public who have shared their concerns and expertise with me. Your contribution to my work is invaluable. I believe we are moving closer in many areas to achieving our shared goals and I look forward to your continued input and support.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout