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Children First Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 887 No. 1

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Children First Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I move amendment No. 1:

In page 11, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
“(10) A provider who is served with a non-compliance notice shall be liable to inspection by child protection staff of the Agency.

(11) A provider who has been served with a non-compliance notice and has been on the register of non-compliance for 30 days consecutively or more may be liable to an offence and on summary conviction may be subject to a class B fine.”.

The amendment specifies that a provider who is served with a non-compliance notice should be liable to inspection by child protection staff of the agency. There seems to be an error. The amendment I submitted provided that the provider be liable to inspection by HIQA. The Bill also specifies that a provider who has been served with a non-compliance notice and has been on the register of non-compliance for 30 days consecutively or more may be liable to an offence and, on summary conviction, may be subject to a class B fine. We debated the measures at considerable length considerably on Committee Stage.

  I welcome the main provisions of the Bill and, as I indicated on Second Stage and Committee Stage, my party will support it. It is long overdue and has been promised since the new Government came to office. While I should not call the Government "new" given that it is four and a half years into its term, it has taken four and a half years to bring the legislation to this point. It will put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis, which will ensure anybody who has child welfare or protection concerns or who suspects abuse or neglect, will be legally required to report the concerns. Wherever children congregate, there will be a requirement that a child safeguarding statement be in place and on display. In the absence of sanctions and consequences for the failure to display a child safeguarding statement, it will not be robust enough.

  I looked back at a press release I released in 2014, when the heads of the Bill were published. The Government had previously published heads of the Bill in April or May 2012. At that stage, it was envisaged that there would be robust sanctions for failure to comply with Children First legislation, up to five years in prison. The Minister's Department, led by his predecessor, was ensuring such sanctions. We need to put sanctions in place. Without them, we will not achieve sufficient compliance with the legislation. I suggested providers be liable to inspection by HIQA because HIQA's independence is unquestioned and it has carried out much good work during recent years in inspecting nursing homes and other institutions. Nobody questions HIQA's reports, due to its independence. HIQA would also be well placed to exercise discretion.

  When we discussed it on Committee Stage, one of the Minister's main concerns was the cost implications associated with my tow amendments. I do not know if we can, in all conscience, take cost into account regarding child welfare and protection. We must ensure we do not compromise the welfare or protection of children in any way. HIQA will be able to exercise discretion and target areas of greatest vulnerability, issue proportionate sanctions and examine the risks involved in non-compliant institutions. In the business world there are serious sanctions for failure to have a safety statement in place, for example on a construction site or in a factory. If it is appropriate to sanction a business for failure to publish a safety statement, it is appropriate to sanction various institutions which deal with the most vulnerable people in society, children. We should implement sanctions and make non-compliant providers subject to inspection by HIQA. I made the point on Committee Stage, and the Minister asked me to have it costed. I said the Minister would be better placed to do so, given that he had a full Department at his disposal. I would welcome his feedback on it.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Section 12 allows the agency to establish and maintain a publicly available register of non-compliance. It also sets out the criteria by which a non-compliance notice may be removed from the register, namely, on receipt by the agency of a child safety statement or the agency being satisfied that the statement is no longer required. Amendment No. 1 proposes a new subsection (10) to provide that a provider who is served with a non-compliance notice is liable to be inspected by child protection staff of the agency. The new subsection (11), which is also proposed to be inserted by the amendment, provides for a criminal sanction for a provider of service which continues to be on the non-compliance register for longer than 30 days. I will address both these together.

I have been advised that in order to provide for a criminal sanction in a legally sound manner, the Bill would have to provide for very significant operational complexity, including the operation of an inspection regime. After detailed consideration of what an inspection regime would involve, it was decided not to include a criminal sanction. It is my Department's view that introducing an inspection regime would divert significant Child and Family Agency resources away from front line, core child protection work and, therefore, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 1. I understand and share the Deputy's concern that there should be full compliance with the requirement, that providers of relevant services prepare and publish a child safeguarding statement. I expect parents will be a significant ally in this respect and I hope it will become the norm that parents demand that services attended by their children, in both public and private sectors, will, where required by the legislation, have a fully up-to-date child safeguarding statement.

The matter will be kept under review and I will be prepared to revisit the issue if it transpires, following commencement of the legislation, that providers of relevant services fail to fulfil their statutory requirements. Until then, I cannot justify the significant diversion of resources from front line child protection work which would be required for the implementation of the Deputy's amendment.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Minister's position has not deviated at all since Committee Stage. It is somewhat regrettable.


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