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Departmental Budgets (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] There are implications in terms of both policy and legislation attaching to the proposal to amend the Constitution, with a significant body of work likely to be involved in amending existing legislation, introducing new legislation and review of policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the new improved standards for children. It is not just my Department that will be required to do this, as any Department offering services to children and young people also will be affected. For example, the Department of Justice and Equality, which holds responsibility for custody and guardianship legislation, will also face a significant body of work.

  Some of the principles in the constitutional amendment already are reflected in statute law, such as the principle of "best interests". This "best interest" principle is already well-established in Irish statute law, for example in the Child Care Act 1991 and the Adoption Act 2010. This principle is now reflected in the Constitution as the paramount consideration for judges in making decisions in certain critical court proceedings relating to the care of children. As part of the constitutional proposal, I published the Adoption Bill 2012 which it is envisaged will be introduced to the House, subject to a successful outcome to the referendum. This will place new obligations on the Adoption Authority of Ireland among others and I am satisfied the budget allocation for 2013 will be adequate to meet expenditure that arises in this context.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  In terms of the Deputy’s core question on the question of resources, everyone in this House will be aware we all are operating in an environment of very constrained resources. This is the reality of the context in which I seek to deliver on all my commitments with regard to children and young people. As part of its efforts to address Ireland’s deficit, my Department, like all others, has been obliged to find savings. However our overall approach has been to prioritise investment in child and family services and to reform funding streams and delivery mechanisms to make the best possible use of resources. The Deputy will be aware of the wide-ranging reform of children's services that is under way and will see the establishment next year of the child and family support agency dedicated to the improvement of these services through the combination of the activities and resources of the Family Support Agency, the National Education Welfare Board and the child and family services of the HSE. The agency will have available to it a much stronger and more comprehensive range of resources and expertise than heretofore.

  The focus of the agency will be on early intervention and family support services aimed at delivering proportionate responses to child welfare concerns and to protect children in the home, as envisaged by the constitutional amendment. This approach will be supported by the inclusion of the existing Family Support Agency and its nationwide network of 106 family resource centres. In addition, I am pleased to state the new area-based approach to child poverty initiative, for which €2.5 million has been provided for in the 2013 Estimates, will build on and continue the work of the prevention and early intervention programme, PEIP, which supported projects in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale. These projects involve a range of pilot programmes to improve outcomes in areas such as literacy, speech and language, parenting, health and pro-social behaviour.

  I assure the Deputy that follow-through on the proposal to amend the Constitution is a top priority for me and I will make the necessary resources available within my Department to do so effectively.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Does she foresee a situation in which further responsibilities may be thrust upon her Department arising from the passage of the recent amendment to the Constitution in respect of children or relating to issues that concern parents of children, such as the vulnerability of many children who appear to be the subject of cyber attacks, bullying, threats or whatever the case may be? Does the Minister believe there is a need for an embellishment of the role of her new Department, as it emerges, to deal with such issues, which she has inherited? In stating that, I do not attribute blame to anyone as it simply is a fact of our times. Is the Department of Children and Youth Affairs fully aware of the need for children and young people to be reassured and that in the context of youth services, this would be part of the role she envisages for her Department?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Deputy raised broad questions on young people in Ireland and it is true that Irish childhood has in many ways changed beyond belief in respect of the progress of children, for example, in the changed attitude to violence and the opportunities many children have. Nevertheless, it is clear there are some highly vulnerable children in our society who need the kind of support to which the Deputy refers. The Government needs to be highly alert in this regard and this is not simply an issue for my Department but is cross-departmental. It is very important that the Departments of Education and Skills and Health, as well as my Department, should work together as is the case, for example, in respect of bullying and working with the anti-bullying forum and in ensuring, as the Minister, Deputy Quinn is doing, that increased funding is being provided for initiatives in that area. He also intends to launch, in conjunction with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, stronger guidelines in respect of mental health issues in schools. There have been some very tragic cases recently and it is important to bring in the supports at an early enough stage to those children who are vulnerable.

This is the reason the new Child and Family Support Agency will focus on prevention, on identifying those children and families and on making sure that, as I indicated to Deputy Healy earlier today, the family resource centres and the supports they offer are working with the agency to ensure we get those services to young people when they need them. I will also ensure that the funding streams for the youth services will be reformed. I take the Deputy's point and I believe the youth services around Ireland are doing a wonderful job in engaging with some of our most marginalised young people. In addition, I pay tribute to the Garda diversion programme, which has been hugely successful but does not attract much attention or recognition. A huge amount of support is being given to young people, unfortunately, not always successfully as Members will have seen in the child death report and more recent reports. However, these initiatives will make a difference to the children to whom the Deputy referred.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt As three other Deputies wish to ask questions, I ask for brief questions from Deputies Finian McGrath, Ó Caoláin and Troy.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I have three brief questions. Did I hear the Minister state earlier that her Department's budget was €443 million?

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