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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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Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I have already given the Deputy an international example where what he proposes in this amendment hugely increased the workload of the agency concerned without any benefit to children. If an extra burden can be placed on an agency which is to the benefit of children it is something we would not shy away from doing. However, it has been proven internationally, in the case of New South Wales in Australia, that it does not yield any benefit but merely makes more work because people, paranoid about criminal sanctions, report anything and everything lest they be exposed. The Deputy acknowledged that in Laois-Offaly the issue related to a different problem altogether. There was not a problem with the reporting but a failure to deal with the reports in a way that had been agreed via protocols. The issue has been handled by the agency in a very urgent fashion and the chief operations officer, Mr. Fred McBride, has taken personal responsibility and control of the situation and has done similarly in Louth-Meath.

We are listening to people. The Deputy points out again and again that my predecessor and the Department spoke about an approach not unlike the one he is proposing but they have taken the time to consult and have learned that this may not be the best way forward and could even be counterproductive. We have left ourselves a safety valve in that, if we find our approach is not working, we will review and revisit the situation. We will keep it under review as I believe child safety is everybody's responsibility and I know all Deputies have child safety and protection to the forefront of their minds. They want to see that our children are safe and can enjoy their childhood, that they are well connected, protected and involved in contributing into the future.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Minister cites the example of New South Wales but there are many other jurisdictions, such as in Canada and in the United States of America, where sanctions are in place and where, having brought legislation in without sanctions, they later added sanctions. I referred to these places during the Second Stage debate last year, though it was the Minister's predecessor who was in the House at that time. There is always an international experience that can justify the case one wishes to put but, as the Minister confirmed on Committee Stage, the big issue is resources. Tusla, the new, stand-alone agency which was set up specifically to deal with prevention, early intervention and the welfare of children is not adequately resourced and has not been adequately resourced since its establishment. There are not sufficient front-line staff in social work and that is the real reason we are not bringing forward sanctions for people who fail to report. The agency is not fit for purpose in terms of being adequately resourced.

There are areas internationally where there are sanctions for non-reporting and, given the number of inquiries and reports there have been down the decades, we have a responsibility to ensure this never happens again. One of the ways to make sure it never happens again is to hold people accountable who knowingly and wilfully turn a blind eye to cases of abuse and neglect. This legislation gives us an opportunity to make those people face the rigours of the law with sanctions for failing to carry out their moral obligation. It was always their moral obligation to report these things.

Standing Orders allow that the final contribution of the proposer of an amendment can speak without time limit and the Minister should not be worried about the time limit. He should be more worried about ensuring we get this right. We have been waiting for this legislation for four and a half years and it was promised when the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs was established. We are now in the last week of a Dáil term before an election and it is being rushed through with a guillotine. I do not mind the guillotine because there are only four amendments but we should thrash out those four amendments. I accept that we have a difference of opinion but this amendment should be examined.

The things to which I refer are not in the distant past and are not just legacy issues but are happening now. People in positions of authority fail to live up to their moral obligation and when they do that there should be a legal obligation. If they fail to live up to their legal obligation there should be consequences for those people. I am pressing this amendment as it is worthy of consideration. I am disappointed the Minister has not taken it in the spirit in which it was intended.

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