Please click below to access my final Newsletter and find out more about the contributions I’ve been making and events I’ve been attended, both inside and outside the Oireachtas:
Please click below to access a special Newsletter welcoming awarding of TV3 Tonight Show ‘Politician of the Year 2015’ to Senator Jillian van Turnhout:
Please click below to access a special Newsletter focussed on the Gender Recognition Bill:
Please click below to access my latest Newsletter and find out more about the contributions I’ve been making and events I’ve been attended, both inside and outside the Oireachtas:
Please click below to access my latest Newsletter and find out more about the contributions I’ve been making and events I’ve been attended, both inside and outside the Oireachtas:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
Before we break for the Christmas period I wanted to send you a short update on my recent work.
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.
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.
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
We are now midway through the new Oireachtas term and already so much has happened. On the future of the Seanad, the people have spoken and decided it is an institution of democracy they wish to retain. Their decision adds to my sense of purpose and I feel encouraged and revitalised in my efforts to secure positive change.
My newsletter is just a snapshot of the work I am doing and for those of you who wish to follow my work more closely, and input more directly, I invite you to view my website http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/. In particular, I am interested in hearing from people who wish to contribute a written piece to my guest blog spot. The idea behind the guest blog is to give space to civil society, NGOs and interested members of the public to raise the issues that concern them, many of which I share. I am eager to ensure that I remain plugged in and connected with people’s realities and the challenges they face. I do not necessarily stand behind each and every position expressed in the blog pieces. Rather they are intended to provide food for thought and discussion
I am providing links to some selected activities for you to view at your leisure:
There are a number of important Bills that I will be working on in the coming weeks and months, including the Child and Family Agency Bill 2013, revised Heads of Children First Bill, Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013, Freedom of Information Bill 2013 and the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013. I will also continue to pursue health and children related issues through my membership of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children and I hope to have a dedicated section on my website in place in the coming weeks where progress can be monitored.
Childline, which celebrates its 25 year anniversary this year, provides an invaluable service for children and young people in Ireland. Childline receives over 2,350 calls and messages daily. Sadly, 38% of these calls and messages go unanswered. This represents the unheard voices of 800 vulnerable children and young people each day. Childline doesn’t only listen to and support young people. It saves lives. Childline needs more funds to answer more calls from children. And so, to mark Cheerios Childline Breakfast Together Week, 7-13 October 2013, myself and Deputy Jerry Buttimer co-hosted a fundraising coffee morning for all Members and staff in the Oireachtas. We were delighted to be joined on the morning by Ashley Balbirnie, CEO of ISPCC, staff from ISPCC as well as Childline volunteers.
[Please insert photo already send to you]
It was a lively morning and very well attended. Thanks to generous donations from friends, colleagues and supporters to ensure much sought after raffle prizes we managed to raise €1250. This means an extra 250 calls from children and young people will be answered!
As a Senator, this was my third Budget and Social Welfare and Pensions Bill respectively. In setting out my stall at Second Stage of the latter Seanad Debate, I made it clear to the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, that I accepted the need to find savings in public spending. I also emphasised the importance of addressing budgetary measures, fiscal adjustments, and social welfare cuts and changes against the backdrop of six extremely difficult budgets since 2008 and in the context of their cumulative impact-since this is the reality of how they are being experienced by people.
Upon careful consideration, I focused my interventions on three Sections of the Bill: Section 5 Maternity Benefit; Section 6 Adoptive Benefit; and Section 9 Jobseekers Allowance. I tabled three amendments opposing the Sections and endeavoured to be constructive in my opposition. Ultimately, my amendments were defeated when pushed to the vote and I in turn voted against the Sections at Final Stage of the Bill.
It can be easy to feel disillusioned and powerless in the face of debates on policies and decisions that have been made long before they reach the Seanad, which is often the case with Budget, Finance and Social Welfare Bills. However, these debates provide scope to secure commitments around important issues. My probing on the Youth Guarantee yielded important information and clarity and I was delighted that my initiative ultimately secured the commitment from Minister Burton to have a debate on the Youth Guarantee in the Seanad before it is finalised. I was also very pleased by the commitment I got around the Government’s intention to address surrogacy in the forthcoming Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013and its intention to consider surrogacy leave. When the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 is debated in the Seanad on 11 and 12 December I will be raising my serious concern over the decision to replace the One Parent Family Tax Credit (OPFTC) with the Single Person Child Carer Tax Credit (SPCCTC), which will only be available to the primary carer of the child and will negatively impact children.
I am continuing to explore every avenue available to highlight my concerns over the welfare and development of asylum seekers, particularly the children of asylum seekers, who are spending on average 4 years and in many cases between 5-10 years in State sponsored Direct Provision Accommodation Centres. Most recently I used out Group’s Private Members Business in the Seanad to table a Motion calling on the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, to:
- Outline his response to the recommendations of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, in the Fifth Report (July 2012) for:
i. An examination to establish whether the system of Direct Provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children; and
ii. The establishment in the interim of an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and give consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints).
- Outline the legislative basis for payments to asylum seekers in direct provision accommodation; the effect on these payments, if any, of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No.2) Act 2009 which precludes asylum seekers from being granted habitual residency status; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Further to the Minister’s announcement in January 2013 that “[r]eform of the immigration system will be sustained in 2013 and I will be focussing on major legislative and procedural measures such as the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill”, to debate with Members of Seanad Éireann how best to reform Ireland’s reception and asylum system.””
Minister Shatter’s response to the Motion was very disappointing. Ultimately his message was that Direct Provision in its current manifestation is here to stay. I am not willing to accept this and was bolstered by the Seanad debate, which saw full cross party agreement that the current Direct Provision system is in need of urgent reform.
Furthermore, by raising the issue regularly as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, I am very pleased that on my initiative the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, has agreed to meet with members of the Seanad Cross Party Group on Direct Provision, where I hope to secure her commitment to commission the examination into the impact of the system on children.
I am delighted when I am asked to speak at conferences and events outside the Seanad. I think these forums are a wonderful opportunity to share our collective knowledge and expertise, so much of which I take back into my work as a legislator. Over recent weeks I have participated and spoken at a number of diverse and exciting events including: delivering the Carmichael Centre’s Kate O’Sullivan memorial lecture; giving the key note address at the Youth Work Ireland’s National Conference: chairing a panel at Dublin City Council’s seminar on Participation and Intergenerational Dialogue: presenting to young professionals about leadership and wrath at the National College of Ireland’s Seven Deadly Skills event and interviewing Gordon Jeyes, Chief Executive-Designate of the Child and Family Agency, at a Social Work Conference in Cork.
It’s been another incredibly busy term. There have been highs and lows, meetings of minds and divergences of opinion over contentious issues. Not least the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 and the 32nd Amendment of the Constitution (Seanad Abolition) Bill 2013. In this, my last newsletter before we resume in September, I would like to set out my thinking on these two Bills and give you some of my term highlights. The following hyperlinks will let you peruse the newsletter at your leisure:
My work does not stop when the Houses rise. I will be spending the summer researching, preparing and strategising for the important work ahead, including the Child and Family Agency Bill 2013, revised Heads of Children First Bill, and the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013.
I would like to thank my contributors and team, particularly my assistant Amy McArdle whose professionalism, human rights and legal expertise, helps me maximise my input and engagement.
I look forward to working with you into the future and if there are others who you feel would be interested in my work please forward them this newsletter or invite them to subscribe to it on my website www.jillianvanturnhout.ie
As a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, I was privy to the 6 days of Committee hearings, 3 days in January and 3 in May, on the Government’s options following the Expert Group Report and the Heads of the Protection of Life Bill respectively.
The hearings provided a forum to discuss the legal, medical and ethical issues relevant to the Bill and heard from experts, often espousing very contrary views, from each of these disciplines. It was an extremely useful exercise for me and following serious thought, careful consideration and same examination of conscience I employ before making any decision as a legislator, I found I was able to support the Bill and its passage through the House.
My decision to support the Bill was notwithstanding a number of genuinely held concerns. I was not in favour of the Bill making a distinction between a risk of loss of life emanating from a physical or mental health condition. Aside from being unnecessarily legally, I believe in the wider public debate on mental health and efforts to destigmatise mental health illness is a regrettable and retrograde step. I argued that the threatened 14 year prison term and unlimited fine was barbaric and a wholly inappropriate means of appeasing opponents of the Bill who, let’s face it, would be opposed to the Bill however drafted because they are fundamentally opposed to the principal. Finally, I expressed my concern over the absence of distinct legislation to clarify issues of capacity and consent where the patient is under the age of 16 years. The Minister for Health has given me a commitment to bring forward legislation to address the capacity and consent for children. Click here to read my speech.
I take my role as a legislator very seriously. I am also a citizen, who is directly impacted by the legislation we pass and votes in referenda to change the Constitution, as will be the case when the question of Seanad abolition comes before the Irish people in the autumn.
As such, in coming to the Government’s 32nd Amendment of the Constitution (Seanad Abolition) Bill, I endeavoured to balance my Senator’s hat and private citizen’s hat appropriately and honestly and the truth is I haven’t arrived at a definitive position yet.
As an active Member of Seanad Éireann I see its flaws, I live the frustration and I understand the criticisms. On the other hand, I have seen and experienced the capacity of the Seanad to scrutinise Bills, to secure greater human rights proofing of legislation and policy, and to add a layer of expertise and consideration that is often lacking in Dáil debates. At the very least, the Seanad is in need of radical reform. So too is the Dáil if we are to resuscitate political democracy in Ireland. As it stands, I am not yet convinced about the Dáil’s ability to deliver the self-reform needed to plug the checks and balance gap that would be left by the Seanad’s abolition.
I went into some considerable detail on these points in my Second Stage intervention to the Seanad and made it clear that I would not impede the passage of the Bill through the House.
Arriving at my position on this incredibly important question is a journey that I am still in the process of taking. However, what I do believe, as reflected in my intervention and in my vote against a Motion tabled by my Seanad Colleagues to recommit the Bill back to Committee Stage and consequently delay the Referendum, is that this is a question for the people and the people alone to answer.
You can read my Seanad contribution in full here.
To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, 8 March, I was delighted to host a lunch for participants of the Women for Election Programme. This innovative, non-partisan programme is designed to inspire, equip and inform women to run for political office. My guest of honour was Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator for New York. She gave us a unique insight into being a woman in US politics, the balancing of work/family/life commitments, childcare, and other issues identified as barriers to women entering into the political arena.
I find Senator Gillibrand’s approach to politics very interesting. She is the first member of Congress ever to post their official daily meetings online every day, so her constituents can see who is lobbying their Senator and for what. I also feel strongly about lobbying and recently tabled a Private Members Motion calling on the Government, in addition to the planned Regulation of Lobbying Bill 2013, to introduce transparent and accountable regulations governing Parliamentarians in their engagement with lobbyists. Like Senator Gillibrand, I am committed to transparency and accountability. I believe that every Senator should publish an annual statement of the public money they receive and I invite you to view my statements for 2011 and 2012, which has been endorsed by Transparency International Ireland and can be viewed here.
Back in March 2012, during the debate on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 myself and my fellow Group Senators tabled a series of wide-ranging amendments including one to ensure that allowances paid to Party Leaders and Independent Members of the Oireachtas are vouched. All of our amendments were rejected. I was therefore surprised and very pleased by the Government’s decision to introduce vouching to the party leaders’ allowance system.
In addition to initiating a Seanad debate following the broadcasting of Prime Time’s “A Breach of Trust” in May, which documented instances of maltreatment and emotional abuse at the three Irish Childcare facilities, I also hosted a special briefing session by Early Childhood Ireland on examples of good practice and quality in the provision of early childhood care and education, which was very well attended by Oireachtas Members.
One of my hobbies is genealogy, and I am currently tracing my own family tree. The European Commission is set to consolidate data protection within the European Union and I am concerned that no mention was made of genealogical records. I was aware that the issue of data protection was on the agenda of an informal meeting of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs in Lithuania and I tabled an Adjournment Motion to request that Minister Shatter raise the importance of ensuring the continuing availability of genealogical records at that meeting.
I was delighted to host a briefing session for Oireachtas Members by the Disability Rights Coalition Ireland on the issues affecting young adults with an intellectual disability and/or autism leaving second level education, who need further support from disability services. I fully agree with the Coalition’s aim to promote empowerment of people with a disability rather than conforming to typical charity model. During an excellent debate on the tremendous work of Special Olympics Ireland, I also took the opportunity to put the spotlight on emerging social entrepreneurs who have started HeadstARTS, which endeavours to empower and enable people with intellectual disabilities through the arts.
Along with Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, I was honoured to cosponsor the Legal Recognition of Gender Bill initiated by our fellow Group Senator Katherine Zappone, which seeks to introduce a Gender Recognition Register which would collate self-declarations of gender from transgender individuals. I will continue in the new term to ensure the human rights proofing of legislation and policy and to advocate on a multitude of issues from direct provision accommodation to stroke and heart heath awareness. I will also continue to maximise the Committee structure as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children by addressing real and pressing concerns in health and child related issues and through the quarterly meetings with Ministers Frances Fitzgerald TD and James Reilly TD, and Minsters of State Kathleen Lynch TD and Alex White TD.