Email Newsletter – March 2013

This is an especially busy time for me in the Seanad. I have lots to report but would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to two of my recent contributions.  The first is the content of my Irish Times opinion piece, 28 February, on the new Child and Family Support Agency. I continue to pursue this issue in the Joint Committee on Health and Children and welcome any contribution you have as we work toward establishing this vital agency. The second is the press release I issued yesterday, 6 March, upon securing inclusion in the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013 exempting properties used by a charity for recreational activities from paying the property tax.

The Seanad has seen the passage of important legislation and enjoyed probing and fruitful debates on a wide range of issues over recent weeks and I plan to bring you an update on this in my next newsletter.

Until then, best wishes,

Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

  1. 1.      Jillian van Turnhout: Child protection agency needs more public scrutiny

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2013/0228/1224330605679.html

 

Opinion We have an opportunity to get the Child and Family Support Agency right. But, with so little transparency, we may repeat the HSE’s flaws.

When the Government took office in March 2011, it pledged to “fundamentally reform the delivery of child protection services by removing child welfare and protection from the HSE and creating a dedicated child welfare and protection agency, reforming the model of service delivery and improving accountability to the Dáil”.

For those of us who have campaigned for years to strengthen and uphold children’s rights in Ireland, this commitment to establish the new Child and Family Support Agency was a source of celebration, and heralded a new and long-overdue reform of children’s services.

However, slow progress and questions around the creation of the agency have turned celebration into concern.

What has happened so far? In September 2011, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald established the taskforce on the Child and Family Support Agency as a direct response to the Government’s commitment. Reporting back to the Minister in July 2012, the taskforce described the new agency as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally reform children’s services in Ireland”.

In July 2012, the Minister announced that her department had started to draft the heads and a general scheme of a Bill to establish the Child and Family Support Agency.

Some seven months later, we still have not seen the Bill. We are in the dark about the agency’s remit, function and operation, and about how it will ensure transparency and accountability.

This is an extremely important juncture in the conception and development of the new agency, yet the process appears to be taking shape behind closed doors. If we are to create a new culture of children’s services, child protection and family support, we must avoid establishing what is effectively a rebranded Health Service Executive.

Thus far, there has been inadequate debate and input involving the relevant external stakeholders such as experts, service providers, parents, and children’s organisations. I believe this is a missed opportunity.

Past failings

As someone who campaigned hard for a Yes vote in the children’s rights referendum, I readily admit to being disappointed that it was not the landslide victory so many of us had hoped for. However, the ensuing debate afforded policymakers a real opportunity to learn from and remedy past failings.

We cannot ignore the fact that many No voters had concerns about past treatment by our social services system. We need to listen to these concerns and ensure the new agency is fully resourced, that it works for all children and families, and that it is focused on the kind of early and accountable intervention that can deliver the best possible outcomes for children and families.

The latest Health Information and Quality Authority inspection report of the foster care service run by the HSE’s Dublin North West local health area has found that the area “could not guarantee good outcomes for children” in its foster care service.

This is the fourth consecutive report to identify serious gaps in the HSE’s ability to provide for the safety and wellbeing of children in this foster care region. I am aware that parts of the HSE are already in the process of being transferred into this new agency.

Have the deficits identified in these reports been remedied? If not, is the new agency destined to inherit a failing system of service delivery? How do we insure against this? The Child and Family Support Agency will have a budget of €546 million for 2013 and we are advised that it will have 4,000 staff. Will the staffing needs for the new agency reflect a strong professional mix? Will staff from the current HSE simply be transferred? What is the Minister’s rationale for not including public health nurses in the first phase of the new agency?

The HSE has never been a beacon of accountability. Money set aside for mental health services is routinely diverted to plug other gaps in the health service budget.

In December, we learned that in spite of efforts to earmark funding, the long-promised mental health staff and services are still not in place. To the best of my knowledge, no one at the HSE has been held accountable for this.

Will this new agency have robust checks and balances to ensure oversight and accountability? How do we ensure that in developing this new agency, we do not lose sight of what is best for children and families?

Surely the whole purpose of the consultation and debate was to maximise the potential of this essential agency.

What we need is an informed, integrated approach – one that brings together all the health and support services for children and their families under one roof: child welfare, prevention and early intervention services, child protection, family support, therapeutic and psychological services, public health nursing and accessible mental health services. The new agency will also need to connect with schools and other community organisations and agencies.

Open consultation

To do this – and do it well – the Government should publish the Bill to establish the new Child and Family Support Agency.

In the interim, the heads of Bill should be published to allow for public debate and consultation. As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should appoint an interim board to ensure that there is oversight and governance in determining the vision, remit and resources of the new agency.

We have a unique opportunity here to ditch ineffective systems and to finally make sure that children get the treatment they deserve, and that families get the help they need. An effective and accountable Child and Family Support Agency would be a monumental step forward for a country that has so spectacularly failed our most vulnerable children in the past. This opportunity has been a long time coming – and we know that history is unforgiving. We are duty bound to get this right. Frances Fitzgerald has shown great capacity for change and reform. So, let’s take ownership and publicly debate what we expect from the new agency.

 

  1. 2.      Government responds favourably to Senator van Turnhout’s proposal to grant property tax exemption to youth organisations

http://www.scribd.com/doc/128910361/Senator-Jillian-van-Turnhout-Press-Release-Property-Tax-6th-March13

In a Seanad debate in December 2012 attended by Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout made the case that charities that hold properties used for hosting and accommodating activities for children and young people should be exempted from the Government’s proposed property tax.

Senator van Turnhout, who is the Leader of the Independent Group in the Seanad and a campaigner on children’s issues, argued that the imposition of a property tax on properties owned by the Girl Guides and similar youth organisations would place many of these organisations in a precarious financial position.

Minister Nooan expressed his appreciation of the fact that groups like the Girl Guides and Scouts provide facilities and work with young people and with other sectors for social and personal development purposes. He said in the debate that just as he had granted such organisations an exemption from the household charge for the buildings in question, he would ensure that the exemption would also apply to the property tax.

Today in the Seanad, Minister Brian Hayes, TD, announced that on foot of Minister Noonan’s commitment in December to respond favourably to Senator van Turnhout’s proposal to grant an exemption, the properties used for accommodation purposes by groups such as the Girl Guides or Scouts will indeed be exempted from the property tax.

Section 7 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013 now states that “Properties used by a charity for recreational activities” shall not, for the purposes of this Act, be regarded as a relevant residential property.

Senator van Turnhout:

“Naturally, I am delighted that the Government has recognised the merits of my proposed amendment. The Irish Girl Guides Trust, of which I am a director, holds a number of properties around the country that are used for children’s and youth activities. These are held on a non-residential and non-commercial basis, with the guides spending weekends away in these properties. The guides pay a very low fee for their stay, because no profits are made on the properties, most of which are in need of serious investment and repair. At a time when families are being squeezed, today’s decision by Minister Noonan to exempt these properties from the property tax is very welcome.”

Email Newsletter – November 2012

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.

Best Wishes,
Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Email Newsletter – May 2012 – One Year Anniversary

I am writing to you today to mark the one year anniversary of my appointment to Seanad Éireann as a Taoiseach’s Nominee. The first twelve months has been an incredible experience. I often say “every day is a school day”, and this has been especially true in my role as Senator. I’d like to thank the many people within Leinster House, from the Seanad Clerks to my fellow Senators, for making the learning curve manageable.

I have endeavored since the date of my appointment to make my contribution in the Seanad and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children as valuable and constructive as possible.

I am driven by social justice issues and promoting and protecting human rights, particularly of vulnerable and marginalised groups. I hope this is reflected in the areas and issues I engaging in.

As many of you know, the wheels of change turn slowly and so a lot of what I am doing is work in progress. Some of these notable steps in the right direction include securing Government commitment to: make the 116 000 Missing Children Hotline operational; consider criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland to curb prostitution and trafficking; and to fully consider blocking child abuse material on the internet. I am committed to following these initiatives through to fruition, and I revisit them in the Seanad on a regular basis.

I have spoken on, and submitted amendments to, a number of important Bills including: the Female Genital Mutilation Bill, Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults Bill, Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill, Oireachtas Inquiries Bill, Judges Remuneration Bill, and the Social Welfare Bill. With respect to the latter, I was particularly disappointed that the Government pressed ahead with the cuts to the One Parent Family Payment. I maintain my position that 7 is too young and I will continue to vocally oppose the changes unless and until affordable and accessible childcare is in place.

On 9 May 2012, along with Senator John Crown and Senator Mark Daly I initiated my first Bill into the Seanad on Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke, which has passed the first stage. I plan to initiate more Bills in the future. Until then, a considerable amount of my focus will be dedicated to the upcoming Children’s Rights Referendum.

For your information, I have attached links to a number of my Seanad speeches, which can also be viewed on my YouTube channel

Housing Policy, the Fiscal Treaty, banning of smoking in cars when children are present, International Women’s Day, Rare Diseases, Early Intervention and Child Support Services, Blocking child abuse material online, Foreign Affairs, Electoral Law and Political Funding, Services for People with Disabilities, Ireland’s Human Rights record, St. Patrick’s Institution, Recent Developments in Eurozone and European Council, Social Welfare Legislation, the establishment of a new Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Mortgage Arrears, the Community and Voluntary Sector, the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Plan, Constitutional Amendments, the Irish language, Special Needs Assistants, Missing Children’s Hotline, Child Care and Protection, School Transport, Human Trafficking and Prostitution, Female Genital Mutilation, the National Vetting Bureau, the Cloyne Report, Alcohol Pricing, and Whistleblowing Legislation.

As a final note, I would like to sincerely thank all the NGOs, Civil Society Organisations, Community and Voluntary Organisations and interested members of the public who have shared their concerns and expertise with me along the way. Your contribution to my work has been 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.

Best Wishes,
Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Email Newsletter – April 2012 – Children First) Bill

I don’t propose to send you every press release I issue, but I believe that today’s news is significant enough to warrant a special circulation of my newsletter.
Best regards,
Jillian.

Press Release: Senator van Turnhout commends Government for moving away from the rhetoric of the past toward protecting children today.
Senator van Turnhout commends Government for moving away from the rhetoric of the past toward protecting children today. Senator Jillian van Turnhout today warmly welcomed announcements by both Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, and Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, on the introduction of new child protection and welfare measures. The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill together represent a new, radical and long over due approach to child protection in Ireland.
In response to the announcement, Senator van Turnhout said, “I commend Minsters Fitzgerald and Shatter for taking this coordinated approach to initiate legislation on child protection. Placing the Children First Guidance on a statutory footing will ensure consistency in our child protection procedures nationwide. From now on children presenting with the same situation will receive the same child protection response irrespective of where they are in the country. In conjunction with the new criminal justice legislation, these measures will provide those working with children with a clearly defined statutory responsibility to report and act on suspicions where a child’s safety or welfare may be at risk.”
Senator van Turnhout is looking forward to actively engaging with both Ministers and their respective Departments to bring these crucial legislative measures to fruition. She said “it is all too rare to see Ministers take full advantage of Oireachtas structures. The commitment by Minister Fitzgerald to present the Heads of Bill on the Children First Guidance to the Joint Committee on Health and Children for consultation is most welcome. Equally, Minister Shatter has already facilitated consultations on the failure to report child abuse legislation and is now introducing this Bill into the Seanad, which I believe will ensure a more robust debate. I relish the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and help ensure that this legislation is the best that it can be.”
“These measures coupled with the promised referendum, later this year, to strengthen children’s rights in the Irish Constitution represent a watershed as to how we value childhood in Ireland. For far too long we have examined these issues in an historical context, but by working collectively in this manner, Ministers Fitzgerald and Shatter demonstrate this Government’s clear commitment to move away from the rhetoric of the past towards using the full rigors of the law to realise children’s rights now and in the future.”

Best wishes,
Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Email Newsletter – April 2012

The new Oireachtas session is going to be very busy with several important pieces of legislation coming before the Houses, including the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011. I will be strongly opposing the changes to the One Parent Family Payment in the Seanad. To put my opposition succinctly ‘7 is too young’! I plan to actively engage in the forthcoming Referendum on the Fiscal Stability Treaty and have also published, along with my colleagues Senator John Crown and Mark Daly, legislation to ban smoking in cars with children, which will be debated on 9 May.

The Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill 2012
On 15 March, the Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill completed its passage through the Seanad. During the debate we in the Independent Group tabled a number of wide-ranging amendments to the Bill covering the payment of allowances to Members, corporate donations and gender quotas.

This was a timely and important debate about political reform, which both Fiach MacConghail and I actively engaged. We regret that the Government voted down our amendments to ensure fully vouched expenses to Party Leaders and Independent Members and to ban corporate donations to political parties.

I maintain our position that all independent members of the Oireachtas should have a statutory responsibility to provide detailed accounts of donations and public funding on an annual basis. Accordingly, I will publish an annual statement of the public money I receive as a Senator. Please find a link to my statement for 2011 here.

Likewise I was disappointed that our amendments to gender quotas were not successful. The Bill introduced a 30% gender quota for candidate selection at the next general election with provision for the figure to increase to 40% at the subsequent general election. The Independent Group proposed introducing a 40% quota immediately. I noted during the debate the Council of Europe Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men recommendation that the representation of either women or men in any decision-making body in public or political life should not fall below 40%. I also noted that it could take as long as ten years before we get to a 40% quota. I believe 30% is the bare minimum level of gender parity necessary to achieve critical mass and not introducing 40% immediately does nothing but delay the inevitable.

We also failed to have the quotas extended to local elections. I think this is a missed opportunity that will deny future female candidates the experience and sense of political legitimacy needed to succeed at general election. It may also leave new female candidates vulnerable to allegations of tokenism. I hope we can bring forward measures in the future to deal with this.

Women are not disinterested in politics. There are countless women working tirelessly throughout this country for change and reform but there are undoubtedly barriers to them entering political life. I am therefore delighted to see new initiatives such as from Women for Election to inspire, equip, and inform women to run for political office.

End of the Detention of Children in Adult Prison
On 2 April, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, announced capital funding had been secured to bring about the end of the detention of children in the adult prison regime of St. Patrick’s Institution. I have repeatedly called on the Government to address this glaring breach of our international human rights obligations and I warmly welcome the adoption of a new approach the care and rehabilitation of such children.

The significant progress the Minster has made on this issue illustrates the true value and potential of the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and demonstrates a positive shift in the Government’s policy towards children, which places the best interests of the child at its heart.

I also welcome the commitment by the Minister to bring the Heads of Bill to put the Children First Guidance on a statutory basis and to consult with the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the promised referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution.

Best wishes,
Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Email Newsletter – March 2012

Independent Group Motion on Child Abuse Material on the Internet

As a member of Seanad Éireann and the Independent Group, I relish the opportunity under Seanad Private Members Business to engage with issues I feel passionately about. I am truly proud of our Group’s recent motion, which called on the Government to introduce legislation to block access to child abuse material on the internet.

I would like to say a special thanks to Michael Moran, Acting Assistant Director of Cybersecurity and Crime and Coordinator of Crimes Against Children at Interpol and Pat McKenna, Director of ChildWatch.ie, for their extremely informative briefing to Oireachtas Members in advance of the Seanad debate.

Child abuse material is much more than a clinical definition of “child pornography” can encompass. A child abuse image is a crime scene, a digital record of sexual abuse including, rape, incest, assault, sadism, and bestiality, being perpetrated against a child. I was shocked and saddened by statistics showing that 69% of the victims depicted in child abuse material are between 0 and 10 years of age. The sheer depravity and calculation of the perpetrators is such that they are increasingly targeting children at pre-speaking age because they can’t articulate the abuse they are experiencing.

Where the images are disseminated, there is on-going harm to victims, and the number of offenders continues to grow. I was moved by the testimony of one survivor of this type of abuse who said that “[T]hose who view the image of my abuse are no different from those who made them in the first place. It feels like they are in the room, encouraging my abuse.”

Since the advent of widely available broadband, access to images of child abuse has become far simpler and more widespread. In 1995, Interpol was aware of 4,000 child abuse images in total. Recent data now puts the number of known images at over 1 million!

While other countries-including the UK, Australia, and Sweden-already have systems in place to block access to webpages containing or disseminating child abuse material hosted on servers outside their jurisdictions, there has been some resistance to the idea in Ireland.

The Independent Group motion aimed to encourage the Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, to legislate on this critical issue. Following an excellent debate, Minister Shatter made a commitment to fully consider blocking of child abuse material on the internet in the context of the development of the planned Sexual Offences Bill.

European Citizen’s Initiative

I’m really excited that the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) is coming into force on 1 April. The ECI will allow EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal, and by doing so will put citizens on the same footing as the European Parliament and the European Council. This represents a unique opportunity for European citizens and has been rightly hailed as the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy in the world! I encourage as many Irish citizens as possible to participate. I know only too well from my work with civil society and community and voluntary organisations of the quality we can bring to the process.

Best Wishes,
Jillian
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Email Newsletter – January 2012

Welcome to my first email newsletter! If you don’t wish to receive my newsletter in the future please click on the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email.

As a recently appointed Senator I am working to find ways to communicate my work effectively to you. Being an Independent I have no natural constituency but having worked in the community and voluntary sector for the past six years I see my new role as a great opportunity for engaging with and representing civil society and achieving our shared objectives. I am acutely aware of how difficult it can be for civil society to advocate for and provide services, especially in the current economic climate. Equally, I am eager to ensure that I remain plugged in and connected with people’s realities and the challenges they face.

In my first six months as a Senator I have spoken on many issues including the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Keane Report, the community and voluntary sector, the infrastructure and capital investment plan, job creation and innovation, constitutional amendments, the Irish language, Special Needs Assistants, a Missing Children’s Hotline, child care and protection, school transport, human trafficking and prostitution, female genital mutilation, the National Vetting Bureau, the Cloyne Report, alcohol pricing and whistleblowing legislation.

I am looking forward to working with you in the future and sharing our knowledge and expertise. Please feel free to share this newsletter with anyone you think might be interested in it!

Kind regards,
Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Insights:
On a weekly basis I participate in Seanad debates with various Government Ministers on a variety of issues and Bills before the House. Here, I have the opportunity to voice my support or raise my concerns. To propose amendments to Bills or to support those made by others.

Under Seanad Order of Business I can raise any matter, which I feel warrants immediate attention, and can call on the Leader of the House to invite relevant Government Ministers into the Chamber to address the concern I have raised.

As well as being able to initiate Motions, which call on the Government to take some form of action, I can initiate a Bill.

I also have the opportunity to participate in the new Seanad tradition whereby guest speakers are invited into the House to share their experience and ideas with Senators. To date we have been addressed by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, Dr. Maurice Manning, former Senator and President of the Irish human Rights Commission, and Dr. Mary Robinson, former Senator and President of Ireland.

I welcome your input into any of these debates and processes.

Independent Group:
I am the Leader of the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees), comprised of my fellow Senators Eamonn Coghlan, Martin McAleese, Fiach Mac Conghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell and Katherine Zappone.

In addition to operating in our individual capacities, coming together in a group allows us to draw on our diverse range of backgrounds, experience and skill sets and to maximise our effectiveness in the Seanad.

To date, the Independent Group has brought three Motions before the Seanad on Seanad Reform, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex in Ireland and Physical Fitness in Schools.

We are looking forward to raising many more important issues in 2012.

The Lancet

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