Protection of children a priority, even in difficult times

February 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Speaking at launch of Labour’s Manifesto for Children

If this election is about anything, it is about families, about protecting children, and about securing a better future for our young people.

Ireland has the highest proportion of children in the EU, with almost one-quarter of our population below the age of 18. Yet, for too long, Ireland has fallen short of the aspiration that an independent Ireland would be a country that treated all the children of the nation equally.

We in Labour believe that children should have the best possible start in a world that has become vastly more uncertain and precarious. But this belief is not just a pious aspiration. We are today backing it up with a specific set of proposals in a children’s manifesto that we believe will deliver genuine change for children and for families.

First and foremost, we believe that our children should not be made to pay for the current economic crisis and for this reason, Labour will not cut child benefit, particularly in the wake of recent budgets in which family incomes have already taken a substantial hit.

Labour also believes that the delay in proceeding with the referendum on children’s rights has been unacceptable. Labour will ensure that a children’s rights referendum is urgently progressed.

It is our view that Ireland’s child protection code and system should be more robust. Labour is committed to putting in place the strongest, child-centred legal framework to protect children from sexual, physical, and mental abuse.

We have led the charge in proposing measures to develop, as an urgent priority, a national strategy plan to improve youth literacy levels, and will continue to prioritise literacy as an issue.

We are also putting forward proposals to ensure that every child should be guaranteed a high-quality preschool place with clear curriculum requirements, appropriate staffing professionals, conducted in an appropriate setting.

For Labour, the protection of families, children and childhood will continue to be a priority, even in these difficult times.

To read or download the Manifesto for Children, click here.

More questions for HSE on care of children

December 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

The conclusions of the HIQA report that some children are unsafe in Special Care Units makes for very sobering reading.

It seems that hardly a month goes by without some revelation or other relating to HSE care of children.

Just last week it was confirmed that some 200 children have died in the last decade while in state care.

In October we got the grim details of the Roscommon child care case and we also discovered that almost 800 children ended up homeless and in need of emergency accommodation last year

The system is badly flawed in a number of significant respects. For instance, while HIQA is responsible for inspecting the various centres, including High Support Units and Special Care Units, the number of inspectors is clearly inadequate. The work that HIQA does is very valuable, but their resources are stretched too thinly.

The failure of the HSE to ensure that all staff are properly qualified is a problem in special care units, just as it is in other areas. In Coovagh House for example, it was found that 20 of 109 staff were unqualified. In addition, thanks largely to the recruitment moratorium, these facilities are also forced to rely on agency staff, rather than recruit badly-needed care workers.

While I welcome the appointment this week of a national director for childen’s services, the outstanding HIQA recommendations such as the publication of a national strategy for special care; the appointment of a monitoring office for special care units; and a review of national governance of special care services, need immediate attention

The Child Care Amendment Bill which is making its way through the Oireachtas will provide for some protection to children in care. The Bill should be prioritised ahead of some of the more frivolous pieces of vanity project legislation that are in danger of clogging up the system in the lead up to the dissolution of the Dail.

Roscommon report highlights urgency of children’s referendum

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

I welcome the publication today of the report into the Roscommon child care case.

I also welcome the unreserved and unequivocal apology issued by the HSE today, and hope that it may mark a new dawn in an organisation where heretofore the default response when it came to a crisis like this was to pull up the shutters, and distance themselves from any sense of responsibility.

The report is far-reaching and comprehensive, and Norah Gibbons and the team she led deserve full credit for the work they have done in this respect.

While the authors of the report did not regard recommendations on legislative change as within their remit, they do note that failure to consult with, and to hear the voice of the six children was an important factor in this case.

They also say that the proposed referendum on children’s rights, and the related legislation, would make provision for the voice of the child to be heard, and while they stop short of calling for the referendum to be brought forward, that is certainly the underlying sentiment.

The need for progress on this is one that I would regard as extremely urgent. I would call on the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, to publish wording for the constitutional amendment and to announce a timetable for the referendum. If he is not in a position to do this now he should indicate clearly what the obstacles are.

The all-party Oireachtas committee agreed a wording earlier this year. No-one will disagree with the need to get the wording right, but it’s a pity that the Minister and the government only identified certain ‘unintended consequences’ in recent weeks, and not during the committee deliberations.

The Labour Party will of course co-operate, as we have throughout, with all reasonable efforts to put in place a Constitutional amendment to enhance the rights of children. We will not, however, tolerate any move designed to delay or further postpone this urgent and essential measure.

Labour will not tolerate delay in holding of children’s referendum

October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Responding to the announcement by Barry Andrews, Minister for Children, concerning the wording of the Constitutional referendum on children’s rights, Senator Alex White said:

“The Minister for Children was an active member of the Committee that agreed a wording for the Constitutional amendment. The Minister for Justice was also involved.

“No-one will disagree with the need to get the wording right, but it’s a pity that the Minister and the government couldn’t have identified the so-called ‘unintended consequences’ during the course of the complex, and relatively lengthy deliberations of the Committee.

“We will await the government’s approach to the opposition in order to see what precisely they have in mind when they refer to ‘unintended consequences’. This newly arrived-at view, and the reasoning behind it, must be communicated to the other parties forthwith.

“The Labour Party will of course co-operate, as we have throughout, with all reasonable efforts to put in place a Constitutional amendment to enhance the rights of children.

“We will not, however, tolerate any move designed to delay or long-finger this urgent and essential measure.”

“Gagging the Ombudsman” report reflects poorly on HSE

July 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Report issued by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly this week raises extremely serious issues, including a threat by the HSE to go to Court to seek to prevent the Ombudsman from communicating with the Oireachtas.

It is really regrettable that it is not possible to address these matters now, given that both Houses are in recess and won’t return until late September.

The matters raised reflect extremely poorly on the HSE and must be considered in detail by the Oireachtas. Certainly as far as the Senate is concerned I will be seeking an urgent debate on the Report when the House sits again in late September.

Meanwhile, the HSE should issue a full and detailed response to the Report, in order to explain its extraordinary behaviour throughout this entire episode.

Referendum on Children’s Rights must come in advance of new legislation

July 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

There needs to be clarification on a development in regard to legislation referred to in the newspapers today, which I have not heard previously mentioned in these Houses that, apparently, the Government intends to introduce legislation to alter the legal environment for the placing for adoption of the children of married parents.  We know the children of married parents can only be adopted in very restricted circumstances because of our laws and the interpretation of them.  It is one of the issues that is at the heart of children’s rights, the proposal for a referendum to amend the Constitution, the so-called children’s rights referendum. 

One of the things that will have to be done to facilitate the introduction of the legislation, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, referred in the newspapers today, and which I would welcome, would be that the children’s rights referendum would have to be brought forward, put to the people and passed.  That is important.  Can we take this indication by the Minister of State in this morning’s newspapers of an intention to bring forward this legislation, as an indication that the Government now clearly intends to hold a children’s rights referendum this autumn since the holding of such a referendum would be a necessary precursor to the introduction of legislation of this kind?

Why must Ministers seek legal advice to deal with the HSE?

May 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is true that the accountability issue has been raised again in sharp relief in the investigations into the deaths of children in care. Given how often we are told that there is such a large amount of public resources devoted to the health services administered by the HSE, the blockage between those of us elected to these Houses and the people providing the services, which means it is not possible to establish precisely what is occurring, is incredible. Not even the Minister of State appears to be in a position to establish what is occurring.

The matter of different bodies arranging legal advice between themselves to establish their positions and whether they can move an issue forward is an extraordinary spectacle. Is it €16 billion per annum for the health Vote?

Members and, judging by what he has stated, the Minister of State cannot establish basic information without there being a competition between us and the HSE about legal advice. It is incredible that any democratic country is unable to have a proper debate or to establish information directly in the Houses. The HSE might have the best will in the world, but the manner in which it is configured and organised means it operates as a block to true democratic accountability in respect of child care and health services.

This matter is raised repeatedly in the House. How many more times will it be raised by practising, concerned politicians without anything seeming to happen? That people need to seek legal advice to establish whether they can do the jobs they are there to do is a spectacle.

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