21st June 2011
My first question is on special needs assistants because the lack of clarity is deeply worrying. We know the important role special needs assistants play. If we looked at it in a purely fiscal way we would see that we save money in the long term by supporting children in the early years to mainstream education. Special needs assistance was an indication of a major move from an old Ireland where we hid our problems behind closed doors but instead we have become a society of which we all wish to be a part. It is very important that we get clarity around special needs assistants and that children are allowed to be educated together as we would hope them to grow up in society together.
Second, I ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would update us on the national vetting bureau Bill and her intention to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis. That is often talked about but as we know reports will be forthcoming, not least the Cloyne report. It is a serious discussion because we make the statement that we should put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis but in terms of the way we will do that this House could play a role in framing that.
My third question is on youth mental health. There are many actions in this area but they are not often co-ordinated among Departments. We should consider a debate to examine the various aspects of youth mental health, not just in terms of hospital beds but in schools also and the long waiting lists for children to be seen after a teacher has identified a need.
1 June 2011
I extend my congratulations to the Leader and deputy leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and whoever else needs to be congratulated.
I confirm that the Independent Taoiseach’s nominees will form a group. We come from very different civil society groups and have different representations. Our diversity is our strength. We wish to maximise the opportunity that has been presented to us. We all have issues that are close to our hearts. However, I can guarantee that we will knock on the Leader’s door to discuss Seanad reform.
I thank my colleagues in the group for putting their trust in me to lead the group for the time being. I will do my best. We have people of excellent calibre in the group and we will use our time wisely.
I thank the Leader for his agreement to a debate on an important report by Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, who is a special rapporteur on child protection. Too often, reports come and go and we wait for television programmes like a Prime Time Investigates to expose the horrors. I recommend to colleagues that they read this report before we debate it next week. I hope we do not use the time allotted for the debate simply to complain but to discuss the solutions required and the legislation and policies needed to achieve them. These solutions include the provision of a 24 hour out-of-hours social work service, a range of reforms for children with mental health difficulties and reform of elements of the criminal justice system, including the introduction of legislation to disclose confidential records.
There is a long overdue need to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis, which would ensure there is a duty to report concerns of neglect or abuse of a child, a point which was very much highlighted this morning at the launch by the Ombudsman for Children of her annual report.
I welcome the opportunity that will be presented to us tomorrow to discuss the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011. This is an issue that is very close to my heart and I have seen the horrific ramifications the practice can have for women. I hope we will be able to strengthen the Bill and help it move through the Houses as quickly as possible.