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

Press Release, 6 March 13

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


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


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


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

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

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


Senator van Turnhout:


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


For further information, contact Amy McArdle at 01 6183375, or email


Email Newsletter March 2014

Prize Giving Ceremony for Irish Girl Guides Competition Winners

UCD Human Rights Network: Direct Provision

Model Council of the European Union Debate

Launch of “Living with a Neurological Condition in Ireland”

YouTube Safety Lab

I greatly appreciated all the support I received from civil society, parents, grandparents and concerned members of the public around my recent Seanad Motion condemning the holding of child beauty pageants in Ireland. It was extremely heartening to see the Upper House united across political divides and ideological differences in support of children and protection of childhoods from sexualisation and undue gender stereotyping. I welcome Minister Francis Fitzgerald’s response to the Motion by commissioning an international review of other countries’ responses to child pageants to help inform the Government’s response and future actions. I am hopeful that a legislative prohibition will not be necessary, but rather that the environment will be so unfavourable to child pageants that they simply won’t succeed here. Should that prove not to be the case, I am prepared to pursue a legislative route. I invite you to read the Motion, my statement and find the link to the full Seanad debate here ( on my website.

This February, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children held a series of hearings on the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2013. I am strongly in favour of plain packaging for many reasons including: 78% of smokers start before the age of 18; children in Ireland begin smoking at an earlier age than in any other country in Europe; the tobacco industry’s biggest growth area is amongst children; and attractive packaging is used to target young people so that they become addicted from an early age. I could go and on. Suffice to say the evidence is clear and I hope I can count on your support as this important Bill progresses.




So much of my work as a Senator is done off the Seanad floor and I would like to draw your attention to a number of wonderful events I have had the privilege of hosting, attending and contributing to over the last few months:

I have received some very interesting guest blog ( proposals in recent months. The guest blog section of my website is designed to give an additional space for adults and children alike to share their experiences, raise issues of importance to them and voice their concerns. If you, or a young person you know, would like to contribute a piece please email my assistant Amy for further details

Best wishes,


Prize Giving Ceremony for Irish Girl Guides Competition Winners
As a committed Girl Guide, I was immensely proud to welcome the three category winners of the Irish Girl Guides article/photo competition: Sarah Condren; Lauren Mooney; and Charlotte Dougherty to Leinster House on Monday 17 February. Through their winning submissions these young and aspiring journalists have captured the fun, adventure, and challenge of Girl Guiding and have brought the incredible experience of being an Irish Girl Guide to life. After a tour of the Oireachtas and lunch we had a prize giving ceremony with myself, author Sarah Webb, who judged the competition and who was an IGG leader for 15 years, and Jonathan Sultan from Canon Ireland.



UCD Human Rights Network: Direct Provision

I remain deeply concerned that the administrative system of direct provision, which has been operating in Ireland since April 2000, is detrimental to the welfare and development of asylum seekers, and in particular the 1,666 children currently residing in direct provision accommodation centres throughout Ireland. I raise my concerns at every available opportunity in the Seanad, most recently here (

While there has been very little movement on the issue politically, I am very pleased to see it appearing much more frequently in media and public discourse. I must commend Dr Liam Thornton, Lecturer in Law and member of the UCD Human Rights Network, for his unwavering commitment to ending Direct Provision and his determination in educating the public and student body about the injustice. It was my pleasure to chair and speak at the recent seminar hosted by the UCD Human Rights Network, Direct Provision in Ireland: A Challenge for Law, A Challenge for Rights. In addition to Liam’s own expertise, Sue Conlon from the Irish Refugee Council and Kirsty Linkin from the Northern Ireland Law Centre gave excellent and thought provoking presentations to the students in attendance.

On 10 April 2014, Direct Provision will be in operation for 14 years. To mark this event, the academic blog Human Rights in Ireland ( will dedicate 14 hours to discussion on the law, politics, policy and experience of direct provision. I will be contributing a blog spot and I encourage you to visit the site and learn more about the issues.

Model Council of the European Union Debate

As a Parliamentarian and vice-chair of European Movement Ireland, I was delighted to chair the Model Council of the European Union debate in Dublin Castle on 4 March, which was organised by the European Commission Representation in Ireland. Students from 30 schools debated hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the 28 Member States of the European Union.  It was a lively and very well informed debate and I suspect I had the pleasure of seeing many of our future Parliamentarians and MEPs in action! The winning team from Loreto Secondary School in Kilkenny, their classmates and teachers will now participate in the European Parliament’s Euroscola event in Strasbourg this September. I wish them the very best of luck.

Launch of “Living with a Neurological Condition in Ireland”

On 11 March I took part in a panel event to launch the Neurological Alliance of Ireland’s national survey Living with a Neurological Condition in Ireland. The survey examines many aspects of living with a neurological condition, such as access to services and the impact of health cutbacks and the overall recession, and makes for very interesting reading (

I will be seeking a Seanad debate to draw attention to the need for community services. I have previously noted the deficits in community rehabilitation services facing stroke survivors after their hospital treatment has been completed. The Economic and Social Research Institute has calculated that the direct annual cost of stroke is as much as €557 million, of which approximately €414 million is spent on nursing home care, while only €7 million is being spent on rehabilitation in the community.

YouTube Online Safety Lab

I was thrilled to give an opening address at YouTube’s Online Safety Lab on 6 March 2014. The event was attended by young people from a number of secondary schools and universities and online safely was the order of the day. The event was a tremendous success with YouTube personnel remarking on how impressed they were with the tech savvy students and their ability to engage responsibly with online media.

Internet safety, cyberbullying and inappropriate content for children are legitimate concerns for parents and policy makers. I will be very interested to read to the outcome of the Internet Content Advisory Group, which was established by Minister Rabbitte in November 2013 to provide expert advice on Internet Governance. As part of their open consultation process I sent the Advisory Group a copy of my report “Online Child Abuse Material: Effective Strategies to Tackle Online Child Abuse Material”, published in September 2013. My report and its findings can be read in full here (

Address by Dr. Mary Robinson

24th November 2012

On behalf of the Independent group of Taoiseach’s nominees, I warmly welcome Dr. Robinson back to Seanad Éireann and congratulate her on her truly formidable career to date. I thank her so much for her inspiration. She has clearly articulated and illustrated to us the tremendous role she has played as a human rights activist. I commend her particularly for her steadfast and committed work in the fields of human rights, justice and equality, both in Ireland and internationally. In 1999, when she was United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she articulated her understanding of the aim of human rights as follows:

To push beyond standard-setting and asserting human rights to make those standards a living reality for people everywhere … to move beyond the design and drawing-board phase, to move beyond thinking and talking about the foundation stones, to laying those foundation stones, inch by inch, together.

She was true to this understanding of human rights long before her appointment as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. During her 20 years as a Senator she was a human rights activist in the truest sense. She was never afraid to engage with difficult and controversial issues. Her vocal opposition and active campaigning on different issues have been instrumental in shaping the Ireland we, as Irish women, live in today. In her campaign to eliminate discrimination against women she was a key player in improving the living reality for women in Irish society. Many of the present generation of Irish women entering into employment in the Civil Service are blissfully unaware that until as recently as 1973 they would have been legally obliged to leave their employment upon marriage. It is equally difficult to comprehend that it was not until 1975 that women were deemed eligible for jury service.

There have undeniably been advances in the promotion of gender equality in recent years. However, considering the fact that there have been only 86 female Senators since the first Seanad, as Dr. Robinson said, there is room for improvement. To share my own memories, almost 20 years ago I attended a training course of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in Mexico on the diversity of women in our cultures and how we could achieve leadership. At the time Dr. Robinson was President of Ireland and I can tell her she clearly inspired so many women from around the world, both at the time and afterwards. In fact, I admire her because she has never deviated from her principles, irrespective of the high level political positions she has held. Like my colleagues, I would be interested to hear her opinions. If she were a Member of the 24th Seanad, on what issues would she focus?

As the outgoing chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, I have been campaigning for many years to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution. In 1976 Dr. Robinson was, in fact, the first public representative to recognise the need to insert some changes in the Constitution to safeguard the welfare of children. During the Seanad debate on the Adoption Bill 1976 she expressed her disappointment that a constitutional amendment on adoption would only paper over some of the defects and consequently fail to deliver a broad-based reform of the law in line with the charter on children’s rights. While it is beyond disappointing that in the subsequent 35 years we have not managed to ensure children’s rights are upheld in the Constitution, we have arrived at a unique juncture at which there is consensus across the Houses on the need to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution and we have an assurance from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that a referendum will be held in 2012. This action is necessary to positively change the living reality for children in Ireland. I ask Dr. Robinson for any advice she might give us on how we can get over the line in this referendum.

I wonder whether Dr. Robinson would share with us her thinking on how best to implement and breathe life into the human rights recommendations made to Ireland during the universal periodic review in Geneva in October.