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 welcome the Tánaiste. It is with pride that I second the motion. The result of inadequate income for many one-parent families is food poverty, fuel poverty, over-indebtedness, difficulty with education-related costs, cutting out extra-curricular activities and children’s hobbies, living in poor quality housing, risk of homelessness, and homelessness. The latest SILC data for 2013 revealed that in lone parent households, the at-risk-of-poverty rate was 31.7%, the deprivation rate was 63.2% and the consistent poverty rate was 23%.
The particular and distinct vulnerability of this group is further shown by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which has confirmed that one-parent families constitute one of the major groups to which it provides services. The financial assistance the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides is connected with their low and inadequate incomes, particularly those in receipt of one-parent family payment. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has advised that despite incredibly careful budgeting, there simply is not enough money in the house, and they find they need a payment to buy food or meet the costs of school, energy and housing.
Parents who work part-time find that their pay is low and unlikely to rise significantly as they often have low educational levels because of the situation they are in. Child care is an issue in terms of cost of child care and the salaries for those working in child care because all too often jobs that are considered to be women’s work get lower rates of pay.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also supports both two and one-parent homeless families that are in emergency hotel accommodation, in the majority of cases because of the major shortage in social housing or having been pushed out of the unregulated monopolistic private rental sector where market rate far exceeds rent supplement caps and where the housing assistance payment is only available from selected housing authorities. That is an issue that differs around the country.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul volunteers report that their members are finding that the move from one-parent family payment to the jobseeker’s transition allowance is causing them considerable uncertainty and fear, particularly among those who have received the letter from the Department. This is something I found repeatedly as I talked to groups in preparation for this debate.
The proposed changes regarding the one-parent family payment have also caused considerable stress, upset and confusion with Doras Buí, a community-development organisation centre that provides high quality supports and services to one-parent families living in the Coolock area of Dublin. That organisation outlined some of its concerns. Obviously a major cause of concern is the provision of adequate, quality and affordable child care in that area. It claims that the provision of the after-school subvention scheme is not adequate. First, not all private child care providers have taken up this scheme and many parents are unable to find a provider to collect their child from their school. It is great to say that one has the scheme in one place and the child somewhere else, but how is the child supposed to get to the scheme? Second, the subsidised scheme only lasts for 52 weeks. What are parents to do after the first year of the scheme finishes? The Department has advised parents to contact their child care committee after this time.
Many parents have expressed concerns regarding their current working arrangements and qualifying conditions for jobseeker’s allowance. Some are working ten to 15 hours per week, broken down to two to three hours per day for five days, in order to fit around child care arrangements. While working these hours, they do not qualify for jobseeker’s allowance because they work for more than three days per week. Many parents and their employers are not in a position to increase working hours to at least 19 hours, which would allow parents to be eligible for FIS and the back to work dividend. Another example has been clearly illustrated by the Dunnes Stores workers who work 15 hours per week. We see the precarious position they have been put in. A person may be called in to work thinking they might have five hours, and organise child care on that basis, only to go in to find out they have one hour of work.
Due to the current housing crisis and the lack of social housing, many lone parents are in receipt of rent supplement. Under the conditions of rent allowance a recipient cannot work more than 30 hours per week, so we are moving up the scale. If they do, they lose their rent supplement, so parents are left with a choice between working full time and keeping their home.
While there are child care education and training support programmes available for parents who are studying a FETAC level 5 course to help towards the cost of further education, there is no such funding for parents who want to go to degree level. This is limiting their education choices, which in turn limits their ability to gain full-time well paid employment.
I will end by mentioning a lone parent involved in Doras Buí who asked me to share her story with the House. Her name is Leanne and she is a single mother of one. She says:
The new changes in the One Parent Family Payment will really affect me in a bad way. My son turns 7 years old on the 14th of July, so this will affect me immediately. My son has been diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder and takes daily medication. I attend monthly and sometimes weekly appointments in the Mater CAMHS hospital. I am currently working part time and I face a drop of 70/80 euro a week, basically between 280/320 a month. This is a huge stress on a lone parent like me, trying to better myself for my son by getting out and working part time and this strain is unbelievable. I attend counselling over these stresses. I cannot work full time as I don’t have a minder for my child and with these changes I won’t be able to afford one any time soon.
This really illustrates how a number of factors that I have tried to demonstrate come together and compound this downward spiral at a time when we should be supporting and lifting up lone parents and giving them the opportunities we say we wish to give them. I cannot see the evidence of investment in child care and after-school care. There has been investment, but there are no guidelines, no clear structures and no regulations, so the reality is that when people try to access services, be they housing or employment, all these obstacles are in the way. We really need to tackle this issue to lift lone parents and their children out of poverty.
Wednesday 27 November 2013
The Minister is, as always, very welcome to the House, especially so given her introduction of the Bill before us. It provides us with immense potential to streamline and co-ordinate services for children. It is a huge and impressive undertaking involving three source agencies – the HSE, the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board. I see the evidence and appreciate the seriously hard work that has been done by the Minister personally and her departmental officials. I thank Liz Canavan, assistant secretary at the Department, for a thorough briefing on the Bill yesterday afternoon and also the Minister for her clarification at the briefing.
I fully agree that what we are striving for now is to get the agency operational by 1 January 2014, the establishment date. In that vein, I wish to be very clear that I am approaching this Bill in as supportive and constructive a manner as possible. Any issues I raise are in the context of the fact that we are all striving to produce the best possible agency. I will do everything I can to ensure the Bill’s passage through this House.
I followed closely the Bill’s passage through the Dáil. I acknowledge and welcome the fact that the Minister has made significant changes to the Bill, in particular following suggestions from civil society organisations such as the Children’s Rights Alliance and Barnardos primarily. We have a unique opportunity to ditch ineffective systems and to finally make sure that children get the treatment they deserve, and that families get the supports they require also. I am concerned about the emphasis on management and the centralisation of services. I understand it in part but I fear the creation of a bureaucracy. What we want to do is ensure consistent standards throughout the country. An effective and accountable child and family agency will be a monumental step forward for a country that has so spectacularly failed some of the most vulnerable children in the past.
We must ensure consistency and standardised practice on the ground. This opportunity has been a long time coming. I thank the Minister for bringing it to fruition. We know that history is unforgiving. As the Minister outlined, there have been more than 30 reports. We must learn from our failings and demonstrate clearly that is the case. We are duty bound to get this right and everyone is striving for the best outcome for children. I will submit a number of amendments on Committee Stage and Report Stage in an effort to strengthen the Bill before us today. I will make every effort to ensure the Bill’s passage through the House. I look forward to a fruitful debate.
I commend the Minister on her role in securing Government approval of a proposal to strengthen legislation on aftercare, by introducing a statutory right to an aftercare plan. This will be done by way of an amendment to the Child Care Act 1991 and is an essential component to ensure stability in care and to enable young people to make the transition from care to independence in a safe, progressive, tailored and appropriate way. The Minister may be assured of our support when she brings this landmark legislation through the House.
At this juncture I want to focus on how we can ensure that we give the new agency the best start possible and restore public confidence in our child and family services. The Minister mentioned the referendum on children and when I travelled around the country, the biggest concern related to how people had been treated in the past by the agencies or how they perceived they would be treated. These perceptions are significant with regard to how people feel and we should not diminish those feelings. It is important we find ways to instil confidence in this new opportunity we are discussing today.
We heard in the news today about the potential overrun in the HSE. I will not get into a debate on that, but it gives rise to more concerns about the resources that will be transferred from the current HSE operations to the Child and Family Agency. Can we guarantee there will be enough of a budget transfer to do what is planned today? Can we guarantee there will be no loss of services? What improvements can we expect? I am concerned the agency may start with a deficit. That would be like a ball and chain being added on the starting line. I fear that the transfer of resources may mean the transfer of a deficit. This would be totally unacceptable. We have an opportunity with this new agency and we need to use it. During Committee Stage, I will look more closely at the details of the budget for the agency, particularly with regard to outsourcing. We know the agency has a budget of approximately €545 million, and I understand €100 million of that will go to outsourcing. I will seek further clarity on that on Committee Stage.
The issue I want to focus on today is the issue of special care. The issues in this regard are indicative of some of the issues I am raising about confidence and how we go forward. Under the special care order of the Child Care Amendment Act 2011, only children and young people aged from 11 to 17 with serious emotional and behavioural difficulties that put them “at a real and substantive risk to his or her health, safety, development or welfare” and who are unlikely to receive special care or protection “unless the court makes such an order” can access these facilities. An example of this may be a child who is self-harming, suicidal, abusing drugs and-or alcohol, where all other attempts by the Health Services Executive have not stabilised the current, serious situation. Rightly, one has to go to the High Court to obtain such an order. This is an appropriate safeguard due to the nature and seriousness of such intervention and the restriction of the individual’s liberty.
The recent report by the HIQA into Rath na nÓg raised serious concerns. The response from the HSE was to close the facility, which was relativity new. One could be forgiven for thinking as a result of that action that there is no demand for places. However, I understand there are currently 16 children on a waiting list for places and as many as 40 children who have not got onto the waiting list in need of a special care placement. Having read the definition, I cannot understand how there can be a waiting list for special care.
I am conscious that we are sending children to facilities abroad. For this to be done legally involves a time limit. Therefore, this involves returning to the High Court time and again to extend the period. The State is paying substantial costs both legally and for the provision of these places outside the State. Can we not develop a home grown solution that will be in the best interests of children? I am also concerned about the current arrangements around applications and placement for special care. The personnel in the HSE who decide whether to initiate a High Court application for special care are the same personnel who manage the number of special care places that are available. This is a serious concern because of the implicit conflict. Somebody said to me that the philosophy is: “If we do not have a place, we do not make an application in the first place.” Surely need and the best interests of the child should be the driving and deciding factor in whether a special care order is sought. Are we failing children today? Are we failing the 16 children on the waiting list? They have been assessed and identified as needing special care. At the least, I ask for the Minister’s assurance that this practice, as outlined, will not carry over into the new agency. There should not be a waiting list for special care.
The Minister was right to say we need to look at co-operation and bringing services together. I agree we must break down the barriers between agencies and services. We need an informed and integrated approach and for all of them to be under one roof. One of the regrets I have as we move forward with this is that children with disabilities will not be under the roof of the agency. Public health nurses will not be included either. All too often we hear that public health nurses are identifying upstream issues relating to a young child. At a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, the special rapporteur on child protection gave us what could be called a master class on children’s rights. One of the issues he raised was the issue of alcohol as a risk indicator and the need for social workers to consider this.
The issue now is how are all of these other services to communicate and liaise with the new agency. We have talked about integration and working together. Let us look for example at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, CAMHS. We would assume, judging by its name, that this service would transfer to the new agency. CAMHS caters for young people up to 16 years, with an extension on occasion to 18 years. Social workers on the ground say they find it extremely difficult to access CAMHS, particularly once a child has been put into care. It is almost as if the perception is that once they are in State care, the State cannot outsource the facilities to CAMHS and will deal with them in the community. This is a further cost on the State. There is a concern that if CAMHS does not transfer to the new agency, this will further exacerbate the difficulty social workers are experiencing accessing these services for children. We have seen in the child death report the critical role that CAMHS plays. I do not understand why it is not being made part of the new agency. Is it because it does not want to be? This is a serious concern.
There is plenty more I could say, but I will keep it for Committee Stage. I am anxious to ensure the agency will be about all children and child welfare and that its remit is not limited. I do not question the Minister’s commitment, but the Bill is about outlining and putting down a foundation for the future. It is about a future when none of us will be here. We need to grasp the opportunity we have and maximise the potential of the Bill.
Link to Committee Stage: http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-12-03a.189#g193
Links to Report Stage: http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-12-05a.101#g110
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.
Wednesday, 29th May 2013
Anybody who had the opportunity to watch the RTE investigation unit’s broadcast of “A Breach of Trust” last night found it extremely difficult and disturbing. It was unimaginable for parents with children at the locations in question. I e-mailed the Cathaoirleach earlier this morning to invoke Standing Order 30. I seek the adjournment of the Seanad to deal with a motion on a specific and important matter of public interest that has arisen suddenly. Senators know their Standing Orders off by heart.
The reason I have invoked the Standing Order is that it allows for a debate of up to an hour and a half. All Senators have concerns about this issue. I had hoped in the lead-in to the “Prime Time” programme that what would be described would be once-off bad practice. Having watched the programme, however, I noted several instances of maltreatment and emotional abuse at the three locations. For me, it raised some serious child protection concerns. The researcher in each case had reported to management, but no action was taken. Obviously, the programme focused on specific crèches, on which there had been bad reports. A serious question must be asked. Why did it require an RTE investigation unit to expose what was happening?
There has been considerable debate about the quality of child care and investment in child care. We should also focus on child protection. I want to be assured that action will be taken by the HSE and the Garda, where appropriate. The HSE should publish the inspection reports without delay. We need to ensure child care places that have not been inspected within the past 12 months will be inspected immediately. The Children First Bill was launched in April 2012 and the Joint Committee on Health and Children considered the heads. The legislation needs to be published and enforced to ensure there will be a statutory obligation to report a child protection concern. We need to invest in workforce development. These are just starting points for debate. The HSE child and family services have answers to give to us, not just on quality assurance. For me, what has occurred is not good enough and is unacceptable. I hope we can have a debate on this matter of urgent public interest.
Wednesday, 27th March 2013
On behalf of the Independent group of Senators, I pay tribute to and thank Jimmy Walsh. As I will have only been a Member for two years in May next, my memories of Jimmy do not go back as far as those of other speakers. However, I used to read Jimmy’s accounts of Seanad proceedings before I entered the Oireachtas and had the opportunity to meet the legend. I thank him most sincerely for his advice and the insights he gave me in the corridors of Leinster House. His journalistic skills are clear. He is able to get to the heart of an issue and understand what speakers are driving at. He has given me great encouragement in my work as a Senator, including, on occasion, to press a little harder on certain issues as perhaps I seek consensus a little too much. We will, however, leave that issue for another discussion. Even in the relatively short time I have known Jimmy, I feel I have made a real friend, someone who will give critical advice but also explain in his newspaper articles what takes place in the House. I echo the tributes paid to him.
The issues of insolvency and early childhood education and care must be decoupled. The latter is about the child, not the status of his or her parents or whether they are working. We need to decouple these issues and discuss them separately.
On the issue of direct provision, last Saturday The Irish Times featured an excellent article by Breda O’Brien under the title “Inhumane asylum seeker system needs radical reform”. A letter by Dr. Joan Giller in today’s edition of the same newspaper is a must-read for all of us as it provides a marvellously accurate account of the harrowing system of direct provision offered in this country. Given that Dr. Giller has worked in direct provision accommodation since 2007, her comments are not hearsay. I have raised the issue of direct provision several times, primarily on the Adjournment, and recently took it upon myself to visit the direct provision accommodation in Hatch Hall as well as a site in Athlone located behind a Department of Education and Skills building which houses 100 mobile homes for asylum seekers. I was accompanied by Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.
I refer to the work done on this issue by a group of committed Senators from all parties and none. As such, this not a party political issue. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the system of direct provision, in particular, to address the appropriateness of direct provision for the welfare and development of the 1,725 children who have been in the system not for one or two months, but several years. When we speak of institutionalising people, we should not forget this is being done now. I call for the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism and inspection system for direct provision centres. The Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection called for such a system to be introduced one year ago. Let us debate and face up to this issue as it can no longer be tolerated. Will we wait for another 20 years to have another Ryan report published, this time on direct provision?
Wednesday, 6th March 2013
As always the Minister is more than welcome to the House and we are delighted that she is here. Her statement and speech to us today are seminal. It should be circulated generally. She was very fair in trying to give us a summary of what she has said to us today and it lays a strong foundation for a new home for children. I cannot commend enough what the Minister has said. More people should read her statement. We often focus on only one part of a child’s life but it is important to consider the child’s journey. I thank the Minister for providing that vision and starting this discussion with a very strong foundation. Everybody supports prevention and early intervention but it is music to our ears to hear a Minister promoting these strategies and putting them first and foremost. All too often people only talk about these theories in seminars and symposia while in the House we talk about firefighting and dealing with crises and do not give prevention and early intervention the thought and deliberation that they need.
I welcome the area-based approach to the child poverty initiative but have a difficulty with the selection criteria for the three new sites and the additional four that will come on stream. How do we ensure that the selection process is transparent, that the programmes are rooted in evidence and best practice? Programmes may look good but how do we ensure that they provide the outcomes for children and the delivery that we all want ? I want to see more details.
Often when we talk about early intervention we refer only to early years. That is why I welcome the Minister’s speech because she has looked at the child’s journey, the key transition points, the flash points in a child’s life that are all too often missed. This is true of disability services, where life chances are affected at an early age if we do not intervene when the child is very young. Mental health problems tend to become more apparent in early adolescence. The Minister mentioned the Heckmann curve. In 2010 Cunha and Heckmann wrote a working paper on investment in our young people. Their research showed that the effect of early intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children is reduced if it is not followed up by investment at later stages. We all talk about the importance of investment and what we reap from investing in early years but if we do not provide that continuum of support the investment is lost.
I welcome the Minister’s focus on how to provide services and the suggestion that we might take a step back and ask what is the purpose of child benefit and how do we ensure that it delivers the outcomes it should and that people want. The Minister mentioned the advisory report on which we had a good brief debate in the House with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, which we will continue. We were glad that she came in so soon after the report was published. There are different ways in which we can provide services and support to children. Should we consider the affordable, accessible and quality child care, or extending the scheme to a second year, or after-school care which is ad hoc and does not have a defined structure. Should we consider universal primary health care for all children or school book schemes?
The Minister mentioned the development in data which is very welcome. I welcome her approach to ensuring that we have an evidence base for moving forward and that we understand why we are doing something. Very often when I hear economists talk about demographics I shout at the radio “That is birth rate”. We have an increasing birth rate but economists do not want to talk about that. Too often children are forgotten in these issues.
The Minister mentioned Eurofound, the foundation based in Loughlinstown for the improvement of living and working conditions. I recently visited the foundation. It is doing some really interesting research on how parenting supports can best be delivered to children. Ireland has the fourth highest rate in the EU of young people who are not in education, employment or training, the NEET category. We do not want to be so high up on that list. Schoolteachers and youth workers can point to those young people much earlier in the cycle. That is where we should intervene. Eurofound did research on the loss to the economy that jobseekers represent. It calculated that they cost Ireland in the region of 2% of GDP which indicates that the cost of youth unemployment is €3.16 billion. Those are the figures but it has been proved that if a young person lives in poverty he or she is likely to continue to be unemployed. The pathway is laid. It is important to intervene early and help to change those young people’s lives. I welcome the fact that the Minister has asked the youth work sector to investigate how we could intervene and best ensure that we do so. We need to find the tipping point at which the young person ends up unemployed rather than going into education, training or employment and see how we can support those young people.
I know that next week the Minister is hosting the EU Youth Conference on social inclusion. It is significant that Ireland has chosen to host that conference under its Presidency and I was delighted to see that the Minister is doing so in co-operation with the European Commission, the European Youth Forum and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The European Youth Forum was born during the fifth Irish Presidency. It held its inaugural meeting in Cork on 6 July 1996. I was there. I am a co-founder of the forum. I was a secretary general of one the three youth platforms. We came together to merge into one. Two of the three secretaries general were Irish. That is why I am so delighted to see them coming back to Dublin.
I welcome the development of the child and family support agency and look forward to seeing the Bill. I have made public my opinion of it to ensure that we debate this. The new agency will have a budget of approximately €545 million for 2013 and at hearings held by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last week we heard that approximately €100 million will go to NGOs and services. When my opinion of the new agency was published in The Irish Times I was surprised by the number of organisations which contacted me because they are afraid to speak publicly about this fearing that their funding will be cut. There is a chilling effect. We need to create an environment in which people can make constructive proposals to ensure that the agency works. I know that the Minister does not intend this chilling effect but I was surprised by the number and types of organisations that came to me about this matter.
I thank the Minister. The statement she made to us today should be circulated to all Deputies and Senators.
9th November 2011
I wholeheartedly agree with what Senator Zappone said and will not duplicate it. I cite the exemplar, which I believe goes across the board, of the scheme to support national organisations in the community and voluntary sector. We all appreciate that we are in a time of cuts. However, to try to meet the shortfall created by those cuts, organisations are approaching many Departments or statutory agencies such as the HSE. This year far more organisations received grants from this scheme, which disproportionately affected those national organisations for which this is the sole or core funding they receive from the State. That needs to be reviewed within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and also in the wider scheme of funding community and voluntary organisations.
In the Dáil on 16 June the Minister highlighted the need to eliminate duplication, with which I agree. However, we also need to be careful about the gaping holes being created by the funding crisis as we force organisations to move from place to place looking to fill that vacuum of a non-consistent funding policy. We have an opportunity to put in the building blocks consistent with the vision we want for the country in the years ahead. A few years ago the previous Government in a very courageous move dropped the €1,000 early child-care supplement and introduced the free pre-school year. It considered impact and outcomes for children. It was universal with no top-up facility and has a 98% uptake rate. It saves money for the State and has improved outcomes for children. Those are the types of initiatives we should consider for this sector.