Committee’s proposals for a children’s rights amendment

February 25, 2010 § 1 Comment

Minister for Children Barry Andrews came to the Seanad chamber last night in order to discuss the Final Report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.  This was my contribution to the debate.

I welcome the Minister of State on the occasion of the publication of this extremely important report which is founded on a high level of consensus across the political divide. I endorse the comments of my colleagues regarding the input of all parties into the report. In particular, I commend the Minister of State on his consistent engagement and regular attendance at committee meetings. The commitment shown by Senators in the committee’s deliberations was exemplary and undermines any argument that might be made for abolishing this Chamber.

This issue is characterised by complexity and, often, the presumption of disagreement even where it does not exist. People assumed on the basis of history that certain things cannot be changed but when we began to examine in detail what words actually mean, it was funny how quickly we were able to progress towards agreement. The Minister of State clearly outlined the achievements made in terms of the proposed wording. If this amendment is implemented, we would have a Constitution which protected children as the holders of autonomous rights. It would be a misnomer to say we are putting children’s rights into the Constitution for the first time but we want to ensure they have rights in and of themselves and not just mediated through their membership of families.

The Minister of State has regular dealings with all the organisations engaged with children’s rights and advocacy, including the Children’s Rights Alliance and Barnardos. These organisations offered significant support to the committee and in some cases made multiple submissions. Their universal welcome for the outcome of our deliberations is in itself a measure of the extent to which progress has been made in the course of our work.

In regard to Senator O’Toole’s remarks, it would be more accurate to say the committee proposes to revise Article 42 rather than insert a completely new article because some of the existing wording is retained. This may give rise to confusion in some quarters during the debate. The provisions dealing with primary, physical, moral and intellectual education which are already in the Constitution are simply lifted into this new proposal. The committee debated whether we should unpick the provisions on education or include a right to secondary education. Several colleagues even argued for the inclusion of a right to third level education. However, members did not feel the terms of reference of the committee extended that far and I believe we reached the correct conclusion. The Bill published in 2007 delineated to a considerable extent the work of the committee. A major debate remains to be had, not least in the context of the Constitution, regarding the right to education but it was not within our remit to make proposals in regard to the sections we lifted from Article 42. We have not dropped the word “physical” because the provision in question was simply left unchanged. « Read the rest of this entry »

Banking policy is now an unclear mess

February 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

Senator Joe O’Toole seems to be in a better position to explain Government policy than the Government. He said on the Order of Business today there is double speak and double think on this issue of credit.

The principal basis upon which NAMA was advocated by the Minister for Finance, put through these Houses and supported by Members on the Government side was that it would lead to the availability of credit to small businesses. Every time anybody on the Government side says anything about NAMA, they claim that it is necessary so that credit can be provided to business. It is not leading to the provision of credit to business at all.

We now have a policy that is not clear and is in a mess, and when the Labour Party was told a year ago that our position on nationalisation was ideologically based, the Minister is now doing precisely what we said he ought to have done in the first place.

More :: State forced to take 16% stake in B of I in lieu of €250m cash (Irish Times)

Greens reduced to a circus act

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

When our colleague Senator Deirdre de Búrca resigned from the House last week, she stated one matter of great concern to her former colleagues, namely that the Green Party was having rings run around it by Fianna Fáil. We did not have long to wait to witness precisely what Senator de Búrca was upset about.

We have the spectacle of a Government, senior members of which claim to have confidence in the Minister in the other House, but others that do not have that confidence here.

What possible credibility could attach to any Government, the senior members of which appear not to be able to make up their minds in respect of confidence in a senior, experienced Minister in the Cabinet? We are aware Deputy Paul Gogarty has a background in circus performances but it would appear now the entire Green Party has reduced itself to a circus act. It takes one view in the other House and another view here. It is a matter of grave, considerable moment that should be debated in the House. I defer to Senator Fitzgerald’s proposal to give notice of a motion she intends to raise but this matter should be dealt with urgently today.

Senator Boyle stated in the newspaper, through twitter or whatever this morning that there would be several more chapters to this story. These chapters should unfold now in the interests of the people and the credibility of this Government, which is rapidly disappearing.

Policing and Justice issues fundamental to legitimate society

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

I welcome the past two week’s developments in the North, especially what has been achieved in policing and justice. No society can hope to attain any form of normality or legitimacy without control of something as basic and fundamental as policing and justice issues. They go to the heart of the kind of consensus that any society needs to have and the type of contract people have with each other on how their society is run.

It is a pity reaching the agreement took quite as long as it did. While I do not say that by way of criticism, it was frustrating at certain stages to see it dragging on for so long. It was unfortunate to see the issue of and, admittedly, the important and delicate issues tied up with the Parades Commission as the obstacle to agreement on the more fundamental question of policing and justice. It is, none the less, a great achievement that this stage has been reached. Congratulations are due to those individuals and parties, such as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Taoiseach and the British Government, who participated and brokered the agreement.

We have been here before. My party leader made the point in the Lower House that there must have been half a dozen occasions in recent years when we said to ourselves that was the moment at which we moved on and normality could be attained in politics, public life and society in Northern Ireland. This was what people hoped for and I certainly did.

The national question, as it is often called, or the constitutional imperative has been the fault line of politics in the North. Arguably, it was also the fault line in the South for many years too. While the seeking of a united Ireland is a noble and honourable objective, politics must move on. The issues that preoccupy all the peoples of Northern Ireland, as they do us, are fundamentally social and economic. We cannot shirk from the fact there are different options and ways of approaching economic crises and change. People in the Seanad have different views on how we should address those pressing issues. It is no longer credible, therefore, that the fault lines that divide people are those tied up with the constitutional question.

I raise the recent retirement of Mark Durkan as leader of the SDLP. That party has a proud tradition of upholding solid social and democratic politics, the kind I strongly support. Mark Durkan, a great exponent of this politics, has been a real politician, not just as a fearless and strong representative of his community but as someone who has brought forward real politics and options in respect of addressing economic issues, the most pressing that face any community. I wish Mark Durkan well in his retirement. I have known him personally for more than 30 years. We soldiered together as student politicians in the late 1970s and early 1980s when we were both rookies at the game. In the past ten years, he has achieved a huge amount as leader of the SDLP. He will continue to make a huge contribution as an MP.

Senator Feargal Quinn recalled the contributions to the process made by various Taoiseach-nominated Senators from the North and how they brought a special element into debates in the House. I know Mark Durkan has a position in another parliament but I would hope he might be considered a suitable Member of this House in the future. I know a Taoiseach’s nominee seat is free at the moment and somebody probably has their eye on it. It is a pity we cannot use it to avail of the knowledge and expertise of some people from the North.

I believe Margaret Ritchie will make a terrific leader of the SDLP and will uphold social democratic politics, seeking to foster them in the future.

Report has potential to change constitutional landscape of children’s rights

February 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Labour Party Spokesperson on Children, Senator Alex White has welcomed the publication today of the Report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.

Senator White, who along with Brendan Howlin TD was a Labour nominated member of the Committee said:

“This Report, and the proposal for change which it contains, has the potential to radically alter the constitutional landscape of children’s rights in Ireland.

“For the first time, children will have specified constitutional rights including the right to protection and care, the right to an education and the right to be heard. There is also a provision affirming that the welfare and best interest of the child shall be the first and paramount consideration.

“The Report recommends a change in the threshold of intervention in the family by the State. We believe that such intervention, where necessary, should be proportionate.”

Senator White concluded by pointing to the important body of work represented by the three Reports of the Committee.

“It shows that hard work together with careful and patient analysis can deliver real results.”

More :: Click here to read the report in full (PDF)

Alex in the media

February 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last night, I appeared on The Week in Politics on RTE One. Minister Mary Hanafin and Olivia Mitchell TD were also on the panel to discuss NAMA, the resignations of George Lee and Deirdre de Burca and the potential date of a by-election in Dublin South.

You can view the programme again by clicking here.

Yesterday, I also appeared on The Wide Angle on Newstalk.

You can listen to the show again by clicking here and selecting ‘The Wide Angle’.

Directly-elected Dublin Mayor could be positive change to democracy

February 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

The events of recent days give rise to very important issues which go beyond the personalities concerned. There is a need to have a debate on the nature and quality of representation and what we can expect from politicians and people in public life. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Constitution which is wrestling with issues pertaining to the electoral system and the nature and quality of representation that Deputies and public representatives are able to offer.

Leaving aside who he or she may be, the introduction of a directly elected mayor of Dublin has the potential to bring about positive and important change to our system in terms of representation and the quality of democracy in the city. I note in this morning’s newspapers that the Local Government (Office of the Dublin Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill was apparently discussed in Cabinet yesterday. Can they not publish the scheme of the Bill now? If we have to await its publication next week or in the coming weeks, it will not be possible to have the quality of debate we need on such a profound change. I strongly support the proposal in principle and I want it to work.

There may not be sufficient time for proper debate on the very real changes that could come about. We may need to amend a host of legislation if the proposal is to work. It is not possible to introduce a stand-alone Bill on a directly elected mayor of Dublin without amending local government legislation and, perhaps, the planning and development Acts. If I argue that we need more time when the Bill is published sometime in the next three or four weeks, I do not want to be accused of raising obstacles simply because I want to debate it properly. I ask for sufficient time to tease out the issues and if we have to amend other legislation to improve the quality of our democracy, let us do so.

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