I join in the sympathies expressed by colleagues. Will the Leader call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House to address several issues of concern to Members? There is agreement in regard to child protection and adoption, but several outstanding issues are of great concern to me. The first of these relates to the promised referendum on children’s rights. Concern has been expressed by various children’s organisations and in the media that the amendment to the Constitution (children’s referendum) Bill is included under section C of the Government’s legislative programme rather than as a priority Bill under section A. Is this a reflection of a reduced commitment to holding the referendum without delay? I hope the Minister can provide an assurance to the House that the referendum will take place in 2012 and that she will update us and involve us in the thinking and the process to date.
The delay in the construction of the national children’s detention centre is a cause of great concern to me and others in this House. The Government, like its predecessors, is acutely aware that the continued detention of children under the adult regime at St. Patrick’s Institution is one of the State’s most glaring violations of human rights and children’s rights. This goes back to the Whitaker report of 1985; I will not rehearse all that has been said on the subject since. The programme for Government includes a firm commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution. An announcement regarding the promised detention centre was expected in the capital expenditure programme, but I was extremely disappointed to discover it was not included. I understand the situation now is that responsibility for building the detention centre has been passed to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and that the project must be redrawn in light of current economic circumstances. I wish to ask the Minister for a timeline for the redrawing of the costs of the project and an indication of when the project is expected to be completed. She should inform the House of the interim measures her Department intends to put in place to ensure the boys in question are more suitably accommodated until such time as the national detention centre is operational.
I am also concerned about the proposed new agency to oversee children and family services and how it will be decoupled from the Health Service Executive. I understand plans are being drawn up in this regard; it is important that this House be involved in the development of those plans. The report of the child death review panel was lodged with the Minister before Christmas. Will the Leader ask the Minister to outline the panel’s findings to this House? Instead of doing so at a media launch, the Minister should give us an opportunity to discuss how we can prevent future deaths of children in the care of the State.