I congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, his Department, the permanent missions of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva and New York, and everyone else involved in Ireland’s successful bid to secure a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It will be an interesting three years and I look forward to Ireland’s renewed focus on the implementation of the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review recommendations now that we have member status.
With very warm wishes I say “well done” to everyone involved in the successful passage of the referendum on children’s rights, especially to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. This is a gratifying time for me personally and professionally.
I have campaigned for many years for this referendum and I anticipated the margin to be much more narrow as this is a difficult issue involving profound social change. Much comparison has been taking place in the media with previous referendums and I note this referendum pertained to social change. As this was a major difference from previous referendums, it is difficult to make comparisons. I believe this referendum will be transformative and the full extent of its impact is not yet known. A case will appear before the Supreme Court in ten or 20 years’ time, after which people will know that on Saturday, 10 November 2012, they made a difference.
However, I also urge caution in dismissing the “No” vote. I spoke at many meetings throughout the country and some of that “No” vote reflected a real fear of the social services and this is something to which Members must listen. One cannot simply dismiss the “No” vote by suggesting they all were anti-government. People have had negative experiences, in the current period or previously as children or as family or friends. Consequently, the Leader should facilitate the appearance in the House of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs at the earliest opportunity to discuss in particular the report of the task force on the child and family support agency, which was published in July. I believe Members must play a role in shaping that new agency and they should address the fears people have raised.
In addition, Members also could discuss the fifth report of the special rapporteur on child protection and the Ryan report implementation plan, on which a three-year progress report was published earlier today. I also ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to introduce the adoption Bill to this House first. This issue is intricate and some of the relevant concerns were raised ensuring the debate. I believe this legislation will require timely and well thought-out debate.
Finally, I ask the Leader to schedule a debate in a timely manner after the Supreme Court judgment is given on 11 December. As the date on which the Supreme Court will give its detailed judgment is known, Members should have a timely debate to discuss the full implications.
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.