Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage

I welcome the Minister and her officials to the House. I thank her for the consultation in advance of the debate and the opportunity for pre-legislative hearings on the general scheme of the Bill in committee. My colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone, was very active in the committee on that issue.

As a person who has advocated for children’s rights for many years and has the privilege of being a voice in the legislative process, this feels like a really important day, and I believe it is. The Children and Family Relationships Bill will bring about essential and long overdue reform, modernisation and legal clarity to many aspects of family law, particularly to diverse parenting situations and diverse family forms. When I say overdue, that is not a criticism of the Government. I commend the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, her predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the officials in the Department of Justice and Equality on their courage and expertise in drafting the Bill and bringing it before the Houses. It is an indictment rather of many previous Governments that it has taken us all until now in 2015 to introduce what will be the greatest reform of child and family law for a generation and finally to put children at the heart of family law. It is the first major reform of guardianship laws since the 1960s. I read an article by Colette Browne in the Irish Independentin February in which she noted that 3% of births in the 1960s were to an unmarried mother. I looked at figures in preparation for today’s debate solely in regard to these areas as married families can break down and issues can happen. Figures which I received from the Children’s Rights Alliance show that 308,000 children are living with 186,000 lone parents, 104,000 children are living with 60,000 unmarried cohabiting couples, 43,000 children are living with 29,000 lone fathers, and there are 230 same-sex couples with children. I want us all to have a perspective on the figures and to understand that these are many of the children we are talking about in debating the legislation.

As indicated by the figures, an increasing number of children live in diverse parenting situations and diverse family forms other than the traditional model of a household headed by married parents. I could use all my time to outline the areas I think will significantly contribute to children’s lives and their positive outcomes. For me the Bill is very much based on children’s rights. It is based on the best interests of the child being the paramount consideration and ensures issues such as continuity of care, right to identity, and the voice of the child are all becoming normalised and part of the legislative process. That is welcome.

I will use my time to indicate the areas where I think we could go further. For example, the Bill does not include definitions of guardianship, custody and access which would be essential to reduce the level of family conflict that may take place when relationships break down and to avoid the existing confusion among the public, professionals and the Judiciary. I understand the options about guardianships and the different levels of guardianship, but will it be difficult for the public to understand which levels of guardianship one person has vis-à-vis another? In future Bills, perhaps we should be look at the Law Reform Commission report of 2010 which examined the legal aspects of family relationships. It suggested new terms such as parental responsibility, day-to-day care and contact rather than the word “access”. These are much more child-friendly terms and state the roles the adult would play in the child’s life. However, I recognise and support the Bill as a monumental step in the right direction and the foundation from which child and family law can continue to be developed and bolstered to meet the needs of our ever-evolving society.

Given the breadth of the Bill, it is disappointing that the debate around it has been limited to a few narrow strands, albeit challenging and emotive issues by nouveauchildren’s rights proponents, whose premise I do not always agree is children’s rights centred. I am especially saddened by the talk of a hierarchy of family structures or some sort of Olympics of family structures meeting gold a medal standard where we now have silver and bronze who do not even get to compete. I am conscious that there are children who will listen to parts of the debate. I am not suggesting that they would be tuning in to the Seanad, although they come and visit us regularly, but I am concerned that in some way we are putting affirmation on one sort of family form or another. There are many different reasons for different family forms. We do not need to look too far beyond our families to understand the different types and diverse types of families in which children are living.
On Committee Stage I will be looking at section 63 which deals with the best interests of the child, particularly in relation to the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. It provides a new and detailed definition in Irish law of the best interests of the child. The factors and circumstances enumerated thereunder are not exhaustive, and therefore the court will be capable of looking beyond them in making a determination concerning the child. The Bill will allow the courts to consider the physical, emotional, psychological, educational and social needs of the child, including his or her need for stability, having regard to age and stage of development. That is welcome.

As has been mentioned, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, special rapporteur on child protection, suggests that in tandem with this welcome legislative development, structural reform also needs to take place, namely, we need to establish a distinct and separate system of family courts. I am aware that is a commitment in the programme for Government to provide a fair and effective forum to vindicate the rights of children and families.

The Child Care Act 1991 is silent on the qualifications, roles and duties of guardians ad litem. A properly funded guardian ad litemagency in Ireland is long overdue. We have a blueprint for this in the Children Acts Advisory Board report of 2009 which gives a voice to children’s wishes, feelings and interests. I hope that as we progress the Bill, we can ensure the voice of the child is certain and guaranteed.

An issue that has been raised with me by Barnardos is the court welfare service. This service would provide a crucial link between the family and the Judiciary, offering services such as mediation, undertaking assessments of the child’s welfare and best interests, ascertaining their view through a child view expert, guardians ad litemand conducting family risk assessments. It would ensure judges received up-to-date holistic information on each case to help them in making their decision. The service would also provide, where appropriate, support such as child contact centres to assist the children in highly contentious and acrimonious splits.Perhaps we should look at other systems in operation, such as the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in the UK.

I will move on to the issue of the right to identity, which my colleague Senator Power has raised. When I see all our colleagues raising the issue of right to identity, I wish many of them had been here when we were debating the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, but we will wait and see. I am concerned that people are misrepresenting and misconstruing the principle underlying a child’s right to identity to fit their own agenda. They are talking about the child’s right to identity from the mother’s and father’s perspectives, rather than from the child’s perspective. This Bill approaches the issue from the child’s perspective, based on children’s rights. We had a good debate in the Seanad on the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill, during which I tabled an amendment on the child’s right to identity. Hopefully, as we evolve in our thinking, we can assert this right to identity more and more. The focus of these groups is often selective, to further an ideological end, rather than a genuine concern for the vindication of the child’s right to his or her identity. This is the crux of our continuous failure on the issue of a child’s right to identity. Historically and culturally, we have constructed a hierarchy of rights, a veil of secrecy, to deny children the right to their identity. What the Minister is putting forward in this Bill and in the Bill on assisted human reproduction is to be welcomed. There are groups that wish we would go further or that we would allow for anonymous donation. The Minister has struck the right balance. I have sympathy with the position of Senator Power in that I would like to see the right to identity here. We have a history of not acknowledging it, but this is a welcome start. The transition period the Minister has proposed is fair and pragmatic. I would prefer that a child have a right to his or her identity, but I am willing to accept what the Minister is putting forward as a strong change, with a focus on children’s rights and ensuring they have their right to identity.

I also want to raise the issue of unmarried fathers. I am worried that we still have a long way to go on this issue. We often feed into the negative stereotypes of unmarried fathers as feckless, irresponsible flakes. It is all too easy for us to do this. Worse still, the justification for not granting automatic guardianship rights to fathers appears to have been conflated with concerns about domestic and sexual violence. These heinous crimes can happen in any type of family, not just unmarried ones. It is wrong, prejudicial and discriminatory to link it exclusively to unmarried parents. The law should presume that the majority of unmarried parents are responsible and reasonable. Where they are not, this should be addressed through relevant legislation. The solution is not to penalise the majority. Colette Browne, in her article on the Children and Family Relationships Bill, says that it compounds our unfair treatment of unmarried parents. She says that currently unmarried fathers have zero legal rights over their children, which means that:
[…] if your partner is away and your child falls ill, you cannot authorise medical treatment. It means that if your relationship breaks up and your partner decides to move abroad with your child, you are powerless to stop her. It also means that you have no automatic right to custody or access to your child. By law, the mother is entitled to sole custody of the child if the father has not been made a guardian. Imagine a worst-case scenario in which your partner dies and you are left alone to care for your child.
How can we make it more natural and how can we ensure that guardianship rights are there?

I have much more to say, but one of the issues I want to raise relates to statutory declarations. All of us have lost precious documents. For example, I lost my driving licence years ago. We are talking about a piece of paper. If one loses it, it is gone and one’s rights are extinguished. I welcome the Minister’s suggestion of piloting a repository. I wonder if we need to do more than that. I acknowledge what she is saying – that she does not want to make it compulsory and add another hurdle – but we have to find a way in which those statutory declarations can be lodged.

I want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no misunderstanding, in saying that I wholeheartedly welcome this Bill. I support it and I will do everything I can do ensure it is brought into law. Its potential is manifold, but at its heart it is about children’s rights. I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill to the House.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness on Children’s Rights in Ireland

Thursday, 19th June 2014

“I welcome Judge Catherine McGuinness. It was a joy to listen to her, but her words have provided us with a stark reminder and challenged us in this House for work ahead. I note her work on the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card, and she rightly pointed to the work of Tanya Ward, Maria Corbett and all the team at the Children’s Rights Alliance. She also pointed to work of the member organisations of the Children’s Rights Alliance which come together to provide evidence and put together the Report Card. I am delighted to welcome representatives of many of them to the Gallery. In fact, we could not fit them all in, so there are people in the wings waiting and listening. I could use up all my time listing every organisation, but I want to focus on some current issues. I want also to note the work being done by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, and his annual report. His report and that of the Children’s Rights Alliance provide an invaluable tool for me as a legislator and policymaker. It is good to see that the state supports these initiatives.

The programme for Government 2011 to 2016 set out an ambitious reform agenda for children and family services. Senator Bacik has listed many of the things that have been accomplished since then. Equally, there are areas of concern that impact on the daily lives of children and we need to shine a light on those. As I am sure Ms McGuinness and my colleagues in this House will know, I am strongly committed to pursuing the gamut of children’s rights through my “senatorship”. We have had in this Senate excellent debates on children’s rights, most recently on beauty pageants and protecting childhood. In the autumn, we had a interesting debate on direct provision and valuing youth work. They were really good, informative debates and I pay tribute to my colleagues.

Other speakers have mentioned survivors. When I have met survivors over the years – we were campaigning before the children’s rights referendum became a reality – many said to me that the real testament would be to see children’s rights articulated in the Constitution of Ireland. Chief among the advancements that we have made was the passage of the children’s rights referendum on 10 November 2012. Unfortunately, the enactment of the amendment Bill, the will of Irish people, has been subject to lengthy postponement pending finalisation of the second part of a legal challenge by Mr. Justice McDermott in the High Court before a full appeal can proceed to the Supreme Court. The delay in the legal process is a source of frustration when I think of the body of legislation that has been passed since November 2011 that could have benefited from a constitutionally recognised best interests of the child principle. I also feel sadness when I think of the number of children of married parents, many of whom have spent the vast majority of their childhoods in the care system, who have now turned 18 since we voted as the people of Ireland and are eligible for adoption. Their rights have been expunged. It is my sincere hope that priority is given to the delivery of the judgment in the High Court, that the challenge will be given priority listing in the Supreme Court and that it is ruled upon as expediently as possible.

While Ms McGuinness is before us, I want to address two specific issues that are facing children today and seek her guidance. Chapter 5.4 of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card looks at children in detention. It states that, according to a communication that the alliance received from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 103 young people were detained on remand in 2013 for 138 different periods ranging from one day to several months. We have to bear in mind that a young person may be remanded more than once pending the outcome of proceedings. The number of children detained on remand, particularly the significant percentage of them who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence, raises serious concerns about Ireland’s compliance with the international and domestic principles of detention as a last resort for children, which incorporate a presumption against detention of children accused of criminal offences. I want to ask Judge McGuinness’s opinion on the practice of the Children Court of remanding children for assessment despite section 88(13) of the Children’s Act clearly stipulating that the court should not remand a child in detention on the basis solely of care or protection concerns. I want to ask her how the absence of a formal system of bail support and services in Ireland impacts on a child’s ability to meet their bail conditions, with the consequent risk of their receiving a custodial remand for failure to comply.

The second issue that I want to raise is that of direct provision, which Ms McGuinness mentioned. Chapter 6 of the Report Card opens with a piece by Dr. Liam Thornton entitled, “Closing Our Eyes: Irish Society and Direct Provision”. Dr. Thornton has done some excellent work, as have many NGOs such as the Irish Refugee Council and Doras Luimní. I put forward a motion on direct provision in this House last October. We were all at one on this issue. Unfortunately, the Minister then was not at one with us, but we will keep pursuing it and we have a very good Seanad cross-party group working on the issue. We know the high number of children who are in the 34 direct provision accommodation centres. Can Ms McGuinness give us advice on what immediate action could provide greater protection to children who are caught in the direct provision system? What could we do in the immediate future? All Senators in this House have agreed that such centres are not places for a child to be accommodated, especially beyond three-month or six-month period. I thank Ms McGuinness again for her address. She has given us many challenges.”

Full debate transcript available here

04 March 2014: Quarterly Meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, The Minister for Health, James Reilly TD, and The HSE.

Questions submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout and response received:

Question 9: Work undertaken by the HSE’s National Oversight group

Question 10: Allowing Pronouncement of death by advance Paramedics

Question 11: Poor performance in Children’s rights alliance report card 2014

 

Question 9: Work undertaken by the HSE’s National Oversight group

To ask the Minister to outline the work undertaken thus far by the HSE’s National Oversight Group that was set up to coordinate a response to requests for day service or rehabilitative training places for young adults with a disability, and to detail particularly the work undertaken in engaging with young people who require these services and their family members.

Revised Process to support School Leavers and those exiting Rehabilitative Training 2014

In line with the Social Care Division Operational Plan 2014, a revised process is being implemented this year to ensure a more streamlined approach to the assignment of places to School Leavers and those exiting RT places. A summary of key elements of the process is outlined below:

 

  • Providing for the emerging needs of the estimated 1,200 additional young people leaving school and rehabilitative training programmes using a newly developed streamlined approach (€7m and 35 WTE) and for emergency cases (€3m and 15 WTE).

Implement a standardised process to:

  • Identify, in conjunction with the Dept of Education and service providers the young people who will be leaving school or exiting a RT Programme who have a requirement for ongoing HSE-funded supports by 1st February, 2014.
  • In respect of those identified as having a requirement for ongoing support, identify and agree the supports required, with a specific focus on responses to those who have complex service needs.
  • Identify the service providers with capacity to respond to the individuals who require support by 1st April, 2014 and agree the allocation of additional resources in respect of individual placements as required.
  • Advise the school leaver and their families of the placement location and service they will be receiving in September, 2014.  Notification of placement will commence in May and all families will be advised no later than the 30th of June.
  • Implement a communications process with all stakeholders.
  • Building on the learning from 2014 review and refine the process for engagement and implementation in 2015.

 

An important aspect of the new process has been the establishment of a National Oversight Group, consisting of representatives of umbrella organisations, representing the Disability Service Providers, service user representation and senior staff from the health service. In addition, the health service has assigned a full-time Project Lead to work to co-ordinate the implementation of the Project in 2014.

Work has been ongoing on the 2014 process since October/November 2013. The Oversight group met and agreed the timelines. A template was agreed for collection of information regarding each individual seeking to access health funded services. A letter was circulated by the National Council for Special Education to all mainstream schools to ensure that individuals with disabilities and their families would be aware of the revised process. The Health Service Guidance officers engaged with the special schools directly. The National Disability Governance Group, which includes Lead Area managers and disability specialists meets monthly and receives updates on progress.

Following the meetings of the Oversight group the Regional Disability Specialists/Disability Managers engaged with local service providers to ensure a complete profile of each individual seeking to access service was submitted.

Each application is being reviewed to establish if the applicant is appropriate to specialist disability services, has the capacity to attend rehabilitative training programme or attend day services.

In relation to engagement with service users and their families the position is that in Dublin for example Individual meetings have occurred with the following:

a) School Leavers

b) Parents/Guardians

c) Teachers/Principals

d) Clinicians/Health Care Professionals (as appropriate)

 

Continuous communication with school leavers and parents/guardians on any issues or concerns arising regarding transition from school are ongoing with the Guidance service.

I am pleased to report that the deadlines set in the Operational Plan have been met in that in excess of 1400 applicants were received by February 1st 2014. The next milestone is 31st March and Disability Services are online to meet that target date where a review of service users’ needs and current service provision will be completed.

Tbe process commenced on October / November 2013

  • We achieved an agreed approach across the disability sector.
  • We will identify and implement a prioritisation process by the end of April 2014
  • We will consider appropriate placement options by end of May 2014
  • We will advise Individuals/Parents/Guardians of placement no later than 30th June 2014

A summary of the current position is that:

A total of 1407 number has been identified, 905 school leavers, 427 RT exits work is continuing on a further 75 who have been classified as other or no category.

Throughout the engagement a range of challenges continue to arise as the process is streamlined. The process is flexible enough to address many of these however a consistent theme that is emerging relates to some locations where the physical infrastructure is at maximum capacity and alternative accommodation will need to be identified. The health service is committed to appropriately supporting this group of young people to ensure that optimum outcomes are achieved

 

Question 10: Allowing Pronouncement of death by advance Paramedics

To ask the Minister for Health/HSE to give an update on progress regarding allowing pronouncement of death by advanced paramedics (as is allowed in other jurisdictions but currently not in Ireland) as recommended by the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council, and on allowing pronouncement of death by senior nurses. 

 The Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) is responsible for clinical practice in pre-hospital care. PHECC approves clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) for all aspects of the clinical work of registered paramedic practitioners in Ireland.

There are two key PHECC CPGs in relation to the death of a patient – for recognition of death and for cessation of resuscitation. The procedures set out in these guidelines allow practitioners to cease treatment and resuscitation where a patient cannot be revived.

Currently, Irish paramedics, unlike paramedics in other jurisdictions, do not pronounce death. After a paramedic makes a clinical decision to cease treatment, a medical practitioner is required for pronouncement of death.  I am advised that PHECC is examining this issue through the Forum on End of Life in Ireland, with a view to engaging in broader consultation on this matter and developing appropriate and recognised clinical and legal procedures to resolve it.
The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) is responsible for specifying standards of practice for registered nurses and midwives. NMBI has developed a Scope of Practice framework to enable decision making and development of practice for all aspects of a nurses’ clinical practice in Ireland. In addition NMBI provides guidance to nurses and midwives on their scope of practice and has published professional guidance to nurses regarding their scope of practice for pronouncement, verification or certification of death. The guidance outlined the processes required to develop an organisational policy to include the appropriate clinical governance supports and the professional responsibilities and authority for nurses to be involved with the pronouncement of death in a care setting. The HSE is consulting with the Directors of Nursing Reference Group on this matter.

 

Question 11: Poor performance in Children’s rights alliance report card 2014

To ask the Minister to give an update on the worrying E Grade his Department received for Mental Health in the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card 2014, with emphasis on a number of key areas including the need to ensure all children under 18 receive age-appropriate and timely mental health services and treatment and can the Minister advise when the Child and Adolescent Community Mental Health teams will have the appropriate provision of in-patient beds and the 150 staffing posts filled to achieve this end. 

 

The Government has prioritised reform of all aspects of mental health services in line with A Vision for Change, including additional and improved quality care for children in both residential and community based settings. Total HSE Mental Health funding in 2014 is significant at around €766m. In this context, additional funding of €90 million, and around 1,100 new posts, has been provided over the last three Budgets. This has been primarily directed to strengthen Community Mental Health Teams for adults and children; specialist community mental health services for older people with a mental illness, improving services for those with an intellectual disability and mental illness, and enhancing Forensic Mental Health services.

Key to developing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), as per A Vision for Change, is the establishment of 99 multi-disciplinary CAMHS Teams providing acute secondary mental health care in the community, including hospital liaison and Day Hospital services. In 2008, there were 54 CAMHS Teams. There are now 66 Teams in place – 60 Community, 3 Adolescent, and 3 hospital liaison mental health teams.

The additional €90m provided for mental health over 2012–14 is being used, in part, to expand and enhance the skill mix of CAMHS Teams.  Around 230 new posts were allocated to CAMHS Teams over 2012-13, and recruitment of these is well advanced.  Of the 150 posts approved in 2012, 136 or 91% are complete with 8 further posts at an advanced stage in the recruitment process.  Of the 80 posts approved in 2013, 35 or 43% are complete, with a further 18.5 or 23% at an advanced stage of the recruitment process.  In summary, of the 230 new posts approved to CAMHS in 2012 and 2013, 197 or about 85% have been filled or are well advanced in the recruitment process.  Outstanding CAMHS posts will be filled as quickly as possible.

There are a number of posts for which there are difficulties in identifying suitable candidates due to various factors including availability of qualified candidates and geographic location. Alternative approaches being considered for posts not fillable in the normal way.

Just over 14,000 referrals were received by the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Teams in 2013.  This represents nearly 1,000, or 8% more, than projected in the HSE National Service Plan 2013, while the target of 70% of referrals being seen within 3 months was maintained.

A Vision for Change recommends the provision of 80 Child and Adolescent psychiatric in-patient beds nationally.  In 2008, there were 16 such beds and at present there are 51 beds operational country-wide, with more planned.   Capacity will be enhanced also, with the completion of the CAMHS Forensic Unit as part of capital developments now underway for the National Forensic Mental Health Service, and the National Children’s Hospital. In addition, improved community based services, coupled with increasing bed capacity, are all aimed at discontinuing the practice of placing children and adolescents in adult acute in-patient units, except in exceptional circumstances.  Admissions of children to adult units have decreased by almost 60% from 2008, when there were 247 reported, to a provisional figure of 106 in 2012.

The review of the Mental Health Act 2001, already well progressed, is a key step in providing a revised and more modern mental health legislation in this country. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to review the Act, informed by human rights standards and consultation with service users, carers and other stakeholders.

The review has been delayed due to a number of factors, including the wishes of members of the Expert Group to first see details of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) legislation, which was published in June 2013. Due to the high level of inter-connectivity between both sets of legislation, members of the Expert Group reviewing the Mental Health Act felt it would be necessary that the Capacity Bill should be finalised before they completed their own review.

Work is continuing on the completion of the report of the Expert Group, and members are carefully deliberating, re-examining and refining their recommendations on key central issues such as consent to treatment, capacity, criteria for detention, and treatment of children under the Act. It is expected that the final report will be completed in the near future, after which its recommendations will be considered at Ministerial level.

While noting the contents of the recent report by the Children’s Rights Alliance on Mental Health services, real and significant improvements have taken place on implementing A Vision for Change and modernising mental health services across the country over the last three years.  Nonetheless, historic deficiencies remain to be addressed.  The aim is to strive for equity in providing high quality services, while balancing residential and community-based provision.  This approach has already been proven in many areas at local level. The Government will retain its commitment to mental health, and focus on up-grading all aspects of mental health care, in line with evolving service demands and resources available overall for the Health sector, for 2014 and beyond.

to move to the following access targets:

–          6 month target inpatient / day care

–          9 month target for outpatient

–          again with hospitals effecting full compliance with performance targets in the first half of the year and subsequent maintenance for the remainder of the year

Independent Group Motion: Condemning the Holding of Child Beauty Pageants in Ireland

Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Link to full debate http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2014-03-05a.159
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I move:

“That Seanad Éireann –
-recognises that childhood, as a time-specific and unique period in a person’s development, is a distinct space from adulthood;
-appreciates the difficulties and pressures faced by children and parents as the distinct space between childhood and adulthood becomes increasingly blurred through media, advertising and popular culture;
-believes that every effort must be made to protect children and childhood against sexualisation and undue gender stereotyping;
-echoes the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs endorsement of Responsible Retailing: Retail Ireland Childrenswear Guidelines (June 2012) and her statement that ‘the preparation of these guidelines is yet another example of how working together we can, as a State and society, help to foster a culture where childhood is preserved and children are protected’;
-commends An Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha, The Irish Dancing Commission, for introducing additional rules prohibiting the use of make-up including false eyelashes, tinted moisturiser, or any artificial tanning products for the face for all dancers aged 10 years and under. (Effective 1 March 2014.);
-believes that the participation, for financial gain, in a competition by minors, judged on attractiveness and physical attributes rather than discernible skill is contrary to the protection of children and preservation of childhood and therefore condemns child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-further holds that child beauty pageants run contrary to the values set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;
-cognisant of the current economic climate, greatly appreciates the significant decision by each of the hotels approached by Universal Royalty back in September 2013 to decline hosting a child beauty pageant on their premises and welcomes the support of the Irish Hotels Federation in opposing child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-calls on all stakeholders to be resolute in opposing child beauty pageants in Ireland;
-calls on all Senators to formally endorse the appeal made by Senator Jillian van Turnhout in Seanad Éireann on 19 September 2013 to send a clear message that child beauty pageants have no place in Ireland; and
-seeks political consensus in its opposition to child beauty pageants across both Houses of the Oireachtas and invites Dáil Éireann to pass a similar Motion.”.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank her in advance for her support. I also thank my Independent Group colleagues, Senators Fiach MacConghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell and Katherine Zappone for allowing our time to be used for this debate. In particular, I thank Senator O’Donnell who will be seconding the motion. I thank each and every Senator for their unanimous support of the motion. It is wonderful, heartening and exciting to see Seanad Éireann united across political divides and ideological differences and to hear Members speak out for children and protecting the sanctity of childhood.

I have made my opposition to the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland well known since the ultimately futile efforts by Universal Royalty to secure a hotel venue for a child pageant in September 2013. The campaign started from the floor of this House. Regrettably, albeit on a much smaller than anticipated scale, the event did go ahead in a beer garden in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, and Universal Royalty pageant organiser, Annette Hill, has reportedly confirmed her intention to host at least one more child beauty pageant in Ireland in the near future. This is why, with the support of my group, I have tabled the motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland.

We are old enough for long enough. I firmly believe that childhood is a time-specific and unique period in a person’s development and that participation, for financial gain by others, in a competition by minors who are judged on attractiveness and physical attributes rather than any sort of discernible skill is seriously problematic and contrary to protecting childhood. I am not alone in the strength of my conviction in opposing child beauty pageants taking place here. I have already referred to the support from the House. In particular, I commend the transition year students in Mount Mercy College in Cork. They developed a transition year project, “Don’t Let the Wrecking Ball Wreck You”, a clever reference to Miley Cyrus’s hyper-sexual music video and the negative impact of an increasingly sexualised pop culture on our young people. As part of the project they launched a petition on change.org to help stop child beauty pageants being held in Cork. The students contacted me in the early stages of the project development and I was most impressed by their initiative, commitment and drive.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, has also spoken out against child beauty pageants and communicated publically the harm it believes such pageants can inflict on the self-esteem and self-image of children. Children at Risk in Ireland, CARI, has also come out in support of the cause and I agree fully with them.

Negative body image, especially but not exclusively affecting women, starts early. I presume it starts as early as children and teens become cognisant of the relentless images of perfection we are all bombarded with through the media, advertising and popular culture and it can be very damaging. Negative body image can cripple people’s confidence and prevent them from participating in sports and other activities with health benefits. There are numerous health risks associated with crash and fad diets and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, negative body image is linked to self-harm, anorexia, bulimia, depression, and anxiety. It is becoming a major problem throughout the world, so much so that in 2009 the Australian Government set up a national advisory body on body image to recommend initiatives to improve the body image of Australians. In Israel, where the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 years is anorexia, Photoshop laws have been introduced whereby any Photoshopped image must have a clear warning covering 7% of the surface area of the photo. The law there also requires that all models must have a body mass index of 18.5. In France, specialists involved in the research behind the parliamentary report, Against Hyper-Sexualisation: a New Fight for Equality, which is the report that prompted the French Senate to introduce a ban on child beauty pageants, concluded that precocious sexualisation affected mostly girls and caused psychological damage that is irreversible in 80% of cases.

I have had the displeasure of watching several televised child beauty pageants from the USA in the lead-up to this debate. I heard some frankly grotesque statements from so-called pageant moms. One said:
When I see Ronnie up on stage I can’t believe she is only two. She did her sassy walk and really shook it. She also did her blow kisses.

Her mother went on to translate for us that “blow kisses” means “Hey judges, come get it, baby.”

She is two. I need not elaborate on why this is inappropriate behaviour for a two year old child. It became clear to me that the best personality prize is in fact the default prize for the children who did not win in the real categories of beauty, casual wear and swim wear. If it is obvious to me then it is obvious to everyone involved in pageantry, including the children. The suggestion is that those with the best personalities are the losers. This is not acceptable and it does not bode well for the development of well-rounded, grounded and confident children with strong internal value systems.

I emphasised the point earlier about beauty pageants not involving any discernible skill in an effort to distinguish child beauty pageants from Irish dancing, which was frequently drawn as a comparison when I was discussing the pageants in September last year. I did not know much about the Irish dancing world. My gut said that it was an unfair comparison since Irish dancing is rather technical and timing, rhythm and footwork are of the utmost importance. It takes years of practice and discipline to master these skills. However, as I have acknowledged in the motion, I am aware of the difficulties and pressures faced by children and parents trying to navigate the world and make choices in the face of an increasingly sexualised and adult world. I tried to find out whether anything could be done to protect children from this in Irish dancing. I was pleased to learn from An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, the Irish Dancing Commission, that as of 1 March 2014, it has introduced new rules prohibiting the use of make-up, including false eye lashes, tinted moisturiser or any artificial tanning products for the face, for all dancers under ten years of age. Ten years of age seemed a low threshold to me initially but a representative from the commission explained that it would be virtually impossible to impose the rule on dancers worldwide beyond the age of ten years because they are competing in world championships, but I will continue to urge them to go further.

Also, the new rule is in addition to an existing rule that has been in place for many years which prohibits make-up for any dancer in the first two dancing grades, the Bungrad and Tusgrad and their equivalent, up to and including the 12-year age group worldwide. Let me give another example. The British Dance Council has introduced a strict requirement that costumes must be of one colour and without glitz so we can see that there have been moves in this direction.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has rightly stressed the importance of a right to play for children. A few years ago the Children’s Rights Alliance consulted children before going to the UNCRC and the children put their right to play as the number one recommendation and priority to be raised with the UN committee.
It is clear to that this is an issue on which society is eager to stand united. Last September when I spoke against the pageants I received more telephone calls, emails and notes of support from the public than I have for any other issue that I have worked on. The issue is not about us being a nanny State; it is about collective social responsibility towards children.

Some people have asked whether I would consider bringing legislation but that would be a sledge hammer approach. The unanimous support that we got in the House is a strong call to action that we, as a society, have a responsibility. For me, tonight is a call to action not only to my colleagues here as I hope Dáil Éireann will pass a similar motion. It is a call to action for civil society organisations, parents, young people and society at large. We need to send a clear and unified message that there is no place in Ireland for child beauty pageants.

10 October, 2013: Questions to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, for answer before the meeting of the Committee on Health and Children.

Question 9: U.N Committee on the rights of the Child report.

Question 10: Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Reports

Question 11 Youth work budget.

Question 9: U.N Committee on the rights of the Child report.

On 16 July 2013, Minister Fitzgerald advised that her Department had finalised and submitted to Government for approval Ireland’s consolidated Third and Fourth State Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The submission of this Report, which is already considerably overdue (April 2009), are essential components of Ireland’s international obligation in relation to the review and monitoring process of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Can the Minister provide a definitive answer as to when Government approval will be secured and when the consolidated Reports will be furnished to the UN Committee?

The Government approved a consolidated 3rd and 4th Report in July 2013 and the report was submitted to the on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in August 2013.  The report is available on www.dcya.ie and outlines the most significant developments for children and how Ireland has been implementing the main aims of the UN Convention during the period 2006 to 2011 inclusive.

Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. Ireland submitted our second progress report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2005. Following the establishment of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in June 2011, I directed that a substantial progress report, combining the 3rd and 4th reports, to cover the period 2006 to 2011 inclusive should be submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.  An Inter-Departmental Liaison Group was established to prepare the report and a draft of the report was completed in December 2012.  This draft report formed the basis of consultations with the NGO sector and subsequently the Children’s Rights Alliance, on behalf of the NGO sector, submitted its observations on the draft to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.  These observations were considered by my Department in conjunction with other Departments and a draft report prepared for consideration by Government.

With the Report’s submission now complete I look forward to attending a hearing of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on the report, although the timing of the hearing will be a matter for the UN Committee.  I understand there is currently a backlog of hearings to be dealt with by the Committee.  The hearing when it takes place will provide an opportunity to further bring the Committee up to date on what we have achieved as part of the programme of this Government since 2011.

Question 10: Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Reports

There have been a number of important Reports concerning children over the last number of years. Significant amongst them are the Fifth and Sixth Reports of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon. In each of these Reports, recommendations are outlined to Government to improve the experiences and lives of children in Ireland. In the interests of transparency and accountability, and indeed to facilitate the tracking of said recommendations, will the Minister consider adopting a formal response to the recommendations similar to Ireland’s response to the Working Group Report on the Universal Periodic Review, whereby indication is given to each recommendation as follows: examined and supported; to be examined and responded to in due time; not supported? And, will the Minister ensure that implementation mechanisms and timelines are developed and published as part of the formal response to each Report’s recommendations?

There have been a number of important reports concerning children published over the last number of years, among them are the reports of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection and, significantly, the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (referred to as the Ryan Report) published in May 2009. Currently the monitoring mechanisms vary between no formal mechanism, once off responses or annual monitoring.

The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection is appointed by the Government and his recommendations are relevant to a number of Government Departments and Agencies. The reports of the Child Protection Rapporteur are circulated to all relevant Departments and it is a matter for individual Departments to take the appropriate action on any recommendation relevant to its work. Where recommendations are proper to the DCYA they form part of the process of policy development and, if appropriate, are incorporated within the Department’s business planning process.

The most formal response to a report is that of the Implementation Plan in response to the Ryan Commission Report, which was published in July 2009. The Plan sets out a series of 99 actions to address the recommendations in the Ryan Report, and includes additional proposals considered essential to further improve services to children in care, in detention and at risk. The Government committed to implementation of the Plan. The 99 actions identified in the Implementation Plan are the responsibility of a number of Government Departments and Agencies.  I, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, have had the responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the actions set out in the plan.  I chair a high level monitoring group with representation from the Department of Education and Skills, the Irish Youth Justice Service, the HSE, the Gardaí, the Children’s Rights Alliance and my Department. Three Progress Reports have been published so far and the final Progress Report is due at the end of this year.

My Department is currently preparing a monitoring framework for higher level oversight of recommendations from all significant child care reports, which is intended to be put in place following the completion of the formal monitoring process for the Ryan Commission Implementation Plan. In this regard the intention is to review current monitoring and reporting mechanisms, with a view to capturing all relevant recommendations and streamlining progress reporting, to provide effective and sustained implementation of recommendations.

My Department has also commissioned independent research on the extent to which previous reports have influenced policy and practice.  This research also identifies learning as to how to improve the influence and usefulness of recommendations made in such reports.  It is my intention to publish this research as I believe it will be of general interest and particularly useful to anyone engaged in conducting reviews or investigations in the future.

Question 11 Youth work budget.

 To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to share with the Committee the discussions her Department had with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform concerning the budget for youth work in the next round of the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure from 2015-2017. Did the Minster emphasise the disproportionate cuts to youth work in the overall budget adjustments for her Department in the last round from 2012-2014, and also will the Minister give details of when youth work organisations will receive details of funding for 2014 following the budget on October 15th?

 Officials of my Department have met with representatives of all the national organisations that are funded under the Youth Service Grant Scheme to share information and to hear from the organisations about the impact of the reductions in funding on the services that they provide. I have met with and continue to meet with, many youth projects and groups to try and see how we can work together to minimise the impact of these necessary savings in order to ensure that the provision of quality youth services to young people is sustained in these challenging times.

 Funding requirements and how resources should be prioritised and allocated across each area of Government spending are generally considered as part of the annual estimates cycle and budgetary process.  I am sure the Senator will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time on any decisions that may be taken by Government in the context of Budget 2014.  The Committee can be assured that the benefits of youth work have been fully considered as part of my Department’s input to Budget 2014.  As soon as Budgetary figures are available my Department will assess the implications for youth funding and engage with the sector in planning the approach to 2014.  It would be my hope that the earlier timing of the Budget will allow for the notification of allocations to be brought forward so that they can take place prior to the commencement of the year.

Email Newsletter December 2013

Before we break for the Christmas period I wanted to send you a short update on my recent work.

Child and Family Agency Bill 2013

Tobacco Related Bills

Comhairle na nÓg/Dáil na nÓg

Launch of the Youth Media and the Irish Presidency Report

Children’s Rights Alliance Dinner with Young Film Makers

 

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.

Best wishes,

Jillian

Child and Family Support Agency

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.


Tobacco Related Bills

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

Child and Family Agency Bill, 2013, Second Stage.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-11-27a.75#g85

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

Order of Business, 2 October 2013

Wednesday, 2nd October 2013

I raise with the Leader, and the Cathaoirleach, a decision made by the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, yesterday to cease allowing Members to invite non-governmental organisations to host briefings in the AV room. I learned of this not as a member of the Seanad CPP.

I learned it from Deputy Thomas Pringle’s tweet. He tweeted, “Dáil CPP closes down presentation room to NGOs too embarrassing it seems to see effective cuts inside Leinster House”. I have verified that information with the CPP.

Yesterday, I organised a briefing on the Child and Family Agency Bill 2013, which everybody says is a significant Bill. We had cross-party and group representatives at the meeting. I invited the Children’s Rights Alliance, which brought in Barnardos, EPIC, Empowering People in Care, Pain, Lifestart, the Irish Association of Social Workers, Focus Ireland, Young Ballymun, Start Strong and the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development. They gave their collective views to Deputies and Senators on the Bill. The Bill has been delayed and will have significant changes made to it which I know were advocated by the NGOs.

The situation asks serious questions of us. I have visited several parliaments around the world and NGOs have much greater access. For example, last year I visited Wisconsin – in case any reporters are tuning in I add that I did so at my own expense – and there is a round space where NGOs can protest inside the Parliament. That allows members to have direct engagement with and the NGOs are not kept beyond the gates.

We often talk about the use of the guillotine in this House. I wonder whether this situation is an example if its over-use. I have some serious questions to ask about this matter: does the Dáil CPP have ownership rights over the AV room? Is it pre-empting a forthcoming vote? Are we only in favour of representative democracy or do we not also agree in participatory democracy? If decisions are made, we need to be involved. The rules in this House about the use of the AV room are ever changing. I would therefore welcome written guidance on what is and is not allowed. The development is a serious one and I seek urgent clarification.

Order of Business, 19 February 2013

Tuesday, 19th February 2013

I thank everyone who attended a joint briefing I organised on the Magdalen report with Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Justice for Magdalenes. I hope we will debate the issue at the earliest opportunity, and I hope that today is day one of justice. When we have the debate I ask for appropriate time to scrutinise any proposed redress scheme; there should not just be reflection of the past but also consideration of how to restore into the future.

I welcome the publication yesterday by the Children’s Rights Alliance of its report card for 2013, which is a really comprehensive report on the Government’s promises to children. Overall, the Government got a C grade, and I will refer to Senator O’Brien’s comments with regard to child poverty. I do not know if it is “the” Mangan report but the first report of the Mangan group was put online today, and it is dated March 2012. I would like to see clarification on the report and its content. I am concerned by the leaks we read over the weekend. As a legislator, I cannot believe I must speak about leaks of a report. We have had debates on the Social Welfare Bill and we have been asked to act responsibly but we have not been provided with the relevant information.

In the Children’s Rights Alliance report and relevant to child poverty, the Department of Social Protection got an F grade. Rarely does the Children’s Rights Alliance hand out an F grade. We have seen increasing child poverty figures in Ireland and if child poverty is left unaddressed, the issue can continue into a person’s teenage years and cause significant life poverty risk.

Reading the reports at the weekend on whether we should means-test or tax child benefit, as well as what the Mangan report would come out with, it felt like it was Groundhog Day. It was first mooted in April 2009 by the then Minister, the late Brian Lenihan, that we should examine this issue and I recall when debating it that I used the same speaking points that I am using now. I have not had to change them. The debate should be moving on. I ask for a debate on the matter in this House.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality for clarity on when the family leave Bill will be published and the consultation process on it with the social partners is envisaged? As the EU parental leave directive needs to be transposed into law by March 2013, the clock is ticking. I know the Bill is on the legislative list, but when will it be published in order that we can uphold our obligations?

Order of Business, 1 February 2012

1st February 2012

I thank the Leader for promising to bring the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to the House next week to discuss the treaty on stability, co-ordination and governance. Like most of us I am in the process of studying it and will form my own view. I look forward to the upcoming discussion.
I will address two matters, the first of which is the universal periodic review. Members are aware that Ireland’s human rights record was subject to its first universal periodic review hearing last October, and the report of the working group on Ireland’s review, also known as the outcome document, will be adopted by the Human Rights Council during its 19th session on 16 March this year. Of the 126 recommendations contained in the outcome document, the Government has examined and accepted 62, and 49 recommendations are currently under consideration by the Government, with responses to be provided before the Human Rights Council session in March. Some 15 recommendations, the majority of which pertain to reproductive rights and combating racism, have been rejected.

The commitments made by the Government during this process and the potential for further commitments to be made before the adoption of the outcome document should yield significant improvements in the area of prison conditions, children’s rights, gender equality, mental health, freedom of expression and combating racism and discrimination. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to the Chamber to advise and debate with Senators as to the status of the 49 recommendations under consideration, and to outline how the relevant Departments plan to build on the exemplary consultation process with non-governmental organisations and civil society in the lead-up to Ireland’s review and the next review of 2016.
There is a second issue, although I will not repeat my requests in detail. On 18 and 25 January I asked that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs be invited to the Seanad to address questions on the proposed children’s referendum, the interim measures for children currently detained in St. Patrick’s institution, the new children and family support agency and the potential to use the Children’s Rights Alliance report card as the basis for this debate. I know there is much talk of referendums in the air but I advise Senators that the children’s referendum needs to take place.

I will give a reason for this. There are 2,000 children in long-term foster care and the referendum would make them eligible for adoption. Once these children turn 18, that right is extinguished, so as the days and months roll on, let us be conscious that as we deliberate, we are potentially denying these children what everybody agrees should be allowed, namely, the security of being part of a family. I repeat my call that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs update this House on the status of the children’s rights referendum. The issue cannot be debated any longer and we must change it. There are 2,000 very good reasons to have that referendum.

The Lancet

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