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Children First Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 887 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy] I accept the Minister's point about how, at times of scarce resources, we must ensure the provision of adequate front-line services. In this case, however, it involves front-line services where children are being looked after and there is non-compliance.

I accept that the amendment provides for the child protection staff of the agency when it should be the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. Has the Minister examined the possibility of extending HIQA’s remit to include this area? The authority has already proved it can exercise discretion, target areas of greatest vulnerability and issue proportionate sanctions at the same time without compromising scarce resources for front-line services. We must ensure the best allocation of the Department’s resources. I know the challenges it faces in providing an adequate number of social workers and affordable child care services, as well as many other constraints. However, the best way to ensure compliance is to clearly state there are consequences and sanctions for non-compliance. Until a child care service faces sanction for not having a child safeguarding statement publicised or up to date, this will not work. I am concerned that we are putting an additional onus on parents to ensure they monitor various institutions. If a safety statement was not produced on a building site or in a factory, management would be liable to face sanctions.

Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly No one is asking parents to monitor organisations. We are merely asking that they satisfy themselves that there is a child safety statement. If it is not in place, they should reconsider whether they should let their child attend that service or organisation. It is important to point out that there are over 25,000 organisations involved. The burden of the Deputy’s proposal would soak up a significant amount of available resources, not just of money but also personnel, even for an organisation such as HIQA. We are not asking parents to monitor the situation but to satisfy themselves that, as one mark of a facility’s or service’s quality, there is a child safety statement. If there is not one in place, it should lead them to ask further questions about the appropriateness of that organisation, facility or service for their child. If reported to the agency, it will take action regarding the register of non-compliance. I have also given an undertaking to keep the matter under review. If I find it is not operating in a safe and satisfactory fashion, we will revisit the issue. In the first instance, however, the approach we have taken is proportionate and reasonable.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I accept the Minister’s bona fides in this regard. He has undertaken to review the provision in the future if it is not working satisfactorily. However, that goes for all legislation. The reason we are putting the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis is we believe they are not working adequately and want to ensure there is a legal requirement to ensure their implementation.   By virtue of this, we are acknowledging the current system is not fit for purpose and want to improve the status quo.

  Parents can satisfy themselves on the standards applied in, say, a crèche. However, what happens if its safeguarding statement is out of date? What happens if it is published one month but not subsequently? If a crèche is reported as a consequence, the Minister considers it is appropriate enough to name and shame rather than have meaningful sanctions.

  The proposal to introduce tough and robust sanctions came from the Department under the then Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in 2011 when the legislation was first proposed. The proposed sanctions included up to five years’ imprisonment. Why has there been such a change in the intervening period?

  The Minister has claimed this provision will be under review. There will be an election in eight months. Without wishing either of us ill luck, who knows if we will be back in this House? With all due respect, a personal undertaking is not worth the paper on which it is written. If this does not work, how we can ensure child care facilities will become subject to investigation by HIQA and face sanction?

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I move amendment No. 2:

In page 14, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“(13) A mandated person may be held guilty of an offence if he or she is required to report concerns or allegations of abuse to the Agency under subsections (1) and (2) and fails to do so subject to subsections (3) and (4). A mandated person guilty of an offence will be liable, on summary conviction, to a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, or on conviction on indictment, to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.”.

Unfortunately, we have a litany of legacy issues where people in positions of authority ignored the physical abuse of minors in their care and moved predators from one jurisdiction to another. Some of them held kangaroo courts to try to administer justice.


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