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.