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 Header Item Order of Business (Continued)
 Header Item Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015: First Stage

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 887 No. 2

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  1 o’clock

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I am actually a great fan of fiction.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Deputy Martin is living it.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin This brings me back to the programme for Government time and again. I want to clarify the position of one legislative proposal that the Government had put forward and promised.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh The Fianna Fáil programme was fiction as well.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Deputy without interruption, please. Thank you.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Deputy Ó Snodaigh can talk. He says Deputy Gerry Adams was never in the IRA.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Hold on a second. Deputy Ó Snodaigh, please stay quiet. Thank you. There are only three minutes left.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The programme for Government states that the legislative basis for universal health insurance will be established by the universal health insurance Act. Can the Taoiseach indicate when we can expect that universal health insurance Act? The programme also stated:

In the first term of this Government, the foundations will be laid for the introduction of Universal Hospital Care Insurance:
- The legislative basis for UHI will be enacted.

- Public hospitals will be given autonomy from the HSE.

- The HSE’s function of purchasing care for uninsured patients will be given to a Hospital Care Purchase Agency which will combine with the National Treatment Purchase Fund to purchase care for the uninsured over this transition period.

I was listening to the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, at the weekend. He indicated that these are no longer legislative priorities of the Government. He also said that the Government and the party he is a member of need to be more honest with the electorate before elections in respect of health policy. Can the Taoiseach confirm whether the legislative basis for UHI will be established by the universal health insurance Act? Will the legislation for the three areas I outlined relating to public hospitals getting autonomy from the HSE come before the House? When can we expect it? When can we expect the legislation governing the establishment of the hospital care purchasing agency that was to be established?

  There is a commitment in the programme for Government to legislate for those in long-term illness to receive medical cards. I understand this is not now proceeding. The bottom line is that thousands of people, especially elderly people, some with terminal illnesses such as cancer, are still being refused their medical cards. The matter has been publicly reported on this morning and Deputy Moynihan has spoken of a horrendous and heart-rending case. When can we expect legislation to restore the medical card - I am not referring to the general practitioner visit card but the medical card - to the over 70s?

  The commitment in the programme for Government to the elderly refers to long-term care places and how additional funding will be provided, particularly in terms of caring for people in the community and the capital plan that the Government had outlined. There is a substantial number of district hospitals throughout the country. The Health Information and Quality Authority has put out major warnings pertaining to their continuation and sustainability without capital investment. When can we expect the Government to make a decision in respect of that issue? When can we expect a review of the fair deal?

  Finally, in respect of NAMA-----

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien Come on.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I did not call a vote.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I do not care.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I did not waste 16 minutes. I did not call the vote. I want to raise these issues. They are important. If Sinn Féin had allowed 20 minutes everyone would have got in.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick We are here too. He is taking time from us as well.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In respect of NAMA, the programme for Government states that there would be transparency and that the Government would bring transparency to the operation of NAMA.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Thank you. Your time is up.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I mentioned yesterday that €229,000 was paid by NAMA to go to the Supreme Court. Will the Taoiseach bring that transparency to NAMA?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I call on the Taoiseach to come in quickly because the time is up.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny In respect of the last question, obviously the Government does not dictate to NAMA what legal cases might arise or how NAMA might contest any legal cases. The case Deputy Martin mentioned went to the Supreme Court and NAMA lost. Obviously the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts is fully entitled to have representatives of NAMA before that committee and bring the transparency, which Deputy Martin rightly mentioned, so that everyone knows exactly what the issues were and how those costs arose.

Deputy Martin mentioned a range of health area legislation. I will send Deputy Martin details of the progress made. I have already indicated that UHI will not be introduced in the lifetime of this Government. It has been very much delayed and while Deputy Martin refers to fiction in the programme for Government, he should also refer to fact. A considerable number of facts required us to re-draft the priorities of the programme for Government last year and we are following through on those. I will advise Deputy Martin of the progress made in respect of the five or six tranches of legislation to which he referred.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin There is a good deal of fiction there as well.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I am afraid time is up. There is nothing I can do about it.

Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015: First Stage

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended), to empower the Minister for Children to make regulations by Ministerial orders under the aforementioned section, to amend section 26(4) to grant a court the discretion to retain a guardian ad litem in circumstances where a child becomes party to proceedings, and to amend section 26(10) of the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended), to provide judicial guidelines for the appointment of a guardian ad litem in child care proceedings.

More than anything else recent reports on the exorbitant costs of the guardian ad litem system highlight the need for reform of this system. For example in March, we found out that a number of social workers, previously employed by the HSE, earned as much as €300,000 each last year to act as court-appointed officers for children likely to be placed in care. There have been repeated Government promises to reform this area and tackle the high payments. Yet, costs have risen, with spending on legal and guardian ad litem fees increasing from €11.9 million in 2013 to €16 million in 2014.

  Let us put this into context. The last budget left the relevant allocation €18 million short of meeting day-to-day expenditure. This has resulted in making savage cuts to rape crisis centres throughout the country as well as domestic violence support services, among others. Tusla simply does not have enough resources to fund child protection and welfare services properly. Given the shameful number of children in care who remain without an allocated social worker and the fact that 3,000 high priority cases throughout the country have yet to be assigned to a social worker, it is scandalous that scarce resources are being spent on an unregulated and chaotic system while we do not have sufficient front-line staff to help vulnerable children.

  When I questioned the Minister about these costs he confirmed that the Child and Family Agency, the body responsible for administering the guardian ad litem system, could not provide the information on exactly how much is paid out to individual guardians. Remarkably, the financial system of Tusla does not have details on the number of individual guardians ad litem involved, despite the exorbitant fees being paid out under the scheme.

  The high fees for legal representation are a gross waste of public money at a time when there is a shortage of social workers. One of the most serious issues arising is the fact that this area remains unregulated. We do not know who can be appointed or what criteria or qualifications they need to meet to be appointed. Moreover, there are serious variations from region to region in appointments. It is shocking that the Minister does not even know how many guardians ad litem are receiving these payments, a clear indication that there are serious management issues in his Department and Tusla with regard to the guardian ad litem system. The system is chaotic and mismanaged at the moment. It is not child-centred or child-focused. It is a cash cow that is being manipulated and abused for the benefit of a few.

  The Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015 will establish and provide for the ongoing regulation of an independent appointment system of guardians ad litem in the context child care proceedings. The Bill mandates Tusla to undertake the supervision, training, monitoring and accountability of all individuals involved in the appointment and the training of guardians ad litem. The Bill obliges the Minister to introduce regulations. Along with this Bill I will submit to the Minister a guideline set of regulations that can be introduced to establish codes of practice and professional standards for the guardian ad litem system.

  The Bill and the regulations deal with a number of key reforms of the current system. The Bill makes a number of key amendments to section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991. It amends section 26(4) of principal Act by granting courts the discretion to retain a guardian ad litem in care proceedings in circumstances where a child becomes a party to proceedings.


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