Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Bill, 1998 changed from Children (Reporting of Alleged Abuse) Bill, 1998: Report and Final Stages.

Thursday, 26 November 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 157 No. 8

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An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Before we commence, I would like to remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 are related and may be discussed together.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman Zoom on Mary Jackman I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“4.—(1) A person who, apart from this section, would be so liable shall not be liable in damages in respect of the communication whether in writing or otherwise, by him or her to a member or members of the governing body of a sport or of the committee of a sports club of his or her opinion that a child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated or sexually abused by a member of or an employee of such governing body or sports club unless it is proved that he or she has not acted reasonably and in good faith in forming that opinion and so communicating it.

(2) Where a report as described in subsection (1) of this section is made, a meeting of the governing body or relevant committee, whichever is the case, shall forthwith be convened and if the committee finds that there are grounds for the complaint, it shall [583] immediately furnish the details of the complaint to a designated officer of a health board and/or a member of the Garda Síochána and the complainant shall be advised of the finding of the committee and the action, if any, taken or to be taken by it as shall the person in respect of whom the complaint is made.

(3) The action taken as referred to in subsection (2) of this section may include amongst other things the suspension from sporting, coaching and training activities of the person in respect of whom a complaint is made and the governing body or relevant committee which suspends any person following receipt of a communication to which subsection (1) of this section applies shall not be liable in damages to such person for so doing if it is proved that it acted reasonably and in good faith in taking such action.

(4) The reference in subsections (1) and (3) of this section to liability in damages should be construed as including a reference to liability to be the subject of an order for any other form of relief.”.

The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, was in the House some weeks ago when, in relation to this amendment, other speakers including myself, called for the protection for an individual who would report to the chairperson — which I was looking for — or the governing body of a sports club, if there was a problem of child sexual abuse. We discussed the matter at length and the Minister of State agreed to come back to the House on Report Stage with an amendment which I hoped would answer amendment No. 1, tabled by myself and Senator Coghlan.

In this amendment what we are seeking, and what Deputy Shatter sought in the Lower House, is that a person would “not be liable in damages in respect of the communication whether in writing or otherwise, by him or her to a member or members of the governing body of a sport or of the committee of a sports club of his or her opinion that a child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated or sexually abused by a member of or an employee of such governing body or sports club unless it is proved that he or she has not acted reasonably and in good faith in forming that opinion and so communicating it”.

In the midst of the debate, the Minister of State was keen to take the thrust of that amendment on board. He also responded to Senator Gallagher in relation to what he requested and, in particular, to Senator Henry and Senator Quill. All of us were in agreement in seeking immunity for a person who would report to the committee of the sports club, a teacher or GP. It was broadened beyond the actual sport in the light of the Murphy report on the Irish Amateur Swimming Association.

[584] When you suggested, Sir, that we take Government amendment No. 5, as promised by the Minister of State, the body language of his officials would not have been inclined towards going further in relation to what we were looking for. I am glad we have this amendment.

Will the Minister of State clarify the part of amendment No. 5 which refers to “the communication by a person to another (whether that other person is an appropriate person or not)”? Obviously, that refers to whether that person is a member of a health board or the person designated by the health board's chief executive officer or the Garda Síochána. Will the Minister of State clarify whether that would include a teacher, a general practitioner, the chairperson of the sports body, a member or members of the committee or the governing authority? I would like to know to whom that part of the amendment refers and if it covers the broad number of people I have listed. That information would have a tremendous bearing on my amendment.

Mr. O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I second amendment No. 1. This legislation is very important. As somebody who has taught in schools for over 20 years, I know it is very difficult at times to be clear about what triggers off the need to form the opinion that there may be some problem.

The issue is that people can form an opinion. It is not a whim, but a sixth sense may inform someone there is a problem. If someone reports such a problem, it has to be done objectively and the Bill will protect them through this amendment.

The whole area of sexual abuse, and particularly child sexual abuse, is one which the Government and the community is making every possible effort to sort out. People who commit these heinous crimes must be brought to justice as quickly as possible. Anybody who genuinely and honestly reports that they believe this may be happening, should be fully protected.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry I am most anxious that the Minister of State should expand the number of people who could be described as designated persons. I realise that Senator Jackman is still concerned that all those people we wanted should be included. My reading of the Minister of State's amendment is that they will be.

I was anxious that there should be an expansion if the Minister of State ever deemed it to be necessary in future. To me, the Minister of State's amendment reads as if that expansion exists now. My concern that it should be limited to people within health boards and the Garda Síochána was because of examples like the McColgan case where many people within the health board had been told about the alleged abuse of these children but nothing had happened.

Outside this jurisdiction, I am sure the Minister of State noticed the case on Teeside where many people reported suspected abuse in a nursery to members of the health board there. This went on [585] for several years despite many people in the health board having received reports from parents and others. There was an unsatisfactory court case at the end of it.

My reading of this amendment is that it will protect those who report to people outside those designated, if they do so in good faith. I am sure the Minister of State will be able to reassure us about that. I praise him for having taken our concerns on board. We did not want to create a culture whereby such reporting would be considered totally acceptable, no matter what sort of evidence a person had. We did, however, want to try to ensure that if there was any suspicion of physical, sexual assault or neglect, it would be possible for people to come forward and not feel they might be prosecuted themselves.

Whistle blowers in any walk of life are never thanked, but this matter is too important to be left to those who feel strongly about it. If people get a notion that they will not be protected, they are much less likely to report. Apart from cases between couples where there are disputes over visiting rights for children, for example — in which, as some other Senators pointed out, malicious claims of abuse can be made — huge numbers of malicious claims are not made. This amendment will give the protection that is required.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill May I speak on amendment No. 5?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly You may speak either on amendment No. 1, amendment No. 5 or both.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill I was very concerned that the Bill as originally drafted had a weakness. On Second Stage I indicated that, if needs be, I would table an amendment. I argued that, since this Bill was initially drafted, the Murphy report on the swimming scandal had been published. Everyone concerned, including the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, and other members of the Government strongly endorsed the report's findings. This is the first legislation we have enacted since the Murphy report was published. I was concerned lest the report's recommendations would not be reflected in any way in the Bill. That is how it appeared in the Bill as initially drafted.

I am pleased with the Government amendment because it covers fully my concerns and will broaden the provisions governing immunity. The amendment will act as a strong encouragement to people other than those designated as reporters in the Bill as originally drafted and it will strengthen their resolve to report abuse or neglect. The Bill will be made stronger by the Government amendment and it will offer immensely better protection to children at risk and vulnerable people. I thank the Minister of State for the work which has been invested in drafting the amendment. The legislation will be better and stronger as a result of its [586] inclusion and it will offer better protection to those who require it.

Senator Henry referred to people other than those regarded as designated officers, such as gardaí or health board officials, who would be aware that abuse is taking place. Members of families are aware of abuse and they require the immunity offered by the Bill. It must always be our primary concern to provide the maximum protection available in law to young people.

This is a good Bill. I thank the Minister of State for the Government amendment which fully meets the concerns expressed by Senator Jackman. We must now proceed to develop a system of mandatory reporting. A sufficiency of protections have been put in place to enable us as legislators to proceed with the next logical step, namely, the introduction of mandatory reporting.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. Fahey): Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey Senators will recall that on Committee Stage a detailed discussion took place on Senator Henry's proposed amendment regarding the definition of a designated officer and the related amendment proposed by Senator Jackman. I indicated at that point that I would return to these amendments on Report Stage. Senator Jackman, with the support of Senator Coghlan, has resubmitted her original amendment.

I assure Senators that I have given careful consideration to these issues in the intervening period. I appreciate that Senators are anxious to ensure that this legislation should operate as effectively as possible to encourage people to report suspicions of child abuse. This is a complex area and, as stated previously, we must be careful with regard to the measures we put in place for the reporting of child abuse.

My officials met their counterparts from the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Office of the Attorney General in respect of the amendments. They examined the legal and policy implications of the amendments and have recommended an alternative approach to resolving those issues. However, before dealing with the Government amendment I wish to set out the difficulties I perceive in respect of the amendment proposed by Senators Jackman and Coghlan. I stress that I have no wish to be confrontational about this issue and that our common concern is to bring forward workable and effective legislation.

Section 3 deals with the protection from civil liability of persons who have reported child abuse to designated persons in the health boards or any member of the Garda. It is designed to provide statutory immunity for any person who reports child abuse reasonably and in good faith. The amendment proposed by Senators Jackman and Coghlan was previously put forward by Deputy Shatter on Report Stage in the Dáil. It proposes that statutory immunity should be provided to persons who report child abuse, reasonably and in good faith, to members of a governing body of [587] a sport or committee of a sports club. Subsection (2) of the amendment requires a governing body or committee to convene a meeting where such a report is received to establish if there are grounds for complaint. If it considers that such grounds exist, the governing body or committee is then required to inform the health board or the Garda. Subsection (3) proposes that actions taken by a club in respect of an employee accused of abuse, such as suspension from training, should also benefit from the statutory immunity.

I will now outline the difficulties surrounding the amendment. The thrust of the Bill is to encourage reporting of abuse to the statutory authorities. This is good reporting practice because trained personnel will be able to investigate reports and take objective decisions regarding allegations. The State has devoted considerable resources to strengthening the child protection service so that reports can be dealt with in a structured, caring and professional way. I need not add that the State must provide an even greater level of financial support in this area.

As I pointed out on previous occasions, the Government has given a commitment to introduce legislation on the mandatory reporting of child abuse. When such legislation is introduced it will be entirely unworkable unless reports are made to the authorities with a statutory responsibility in this area. If we introduce statutory immunity for reporting to club committees, we will be contradicting this central tenet of any future legislation. Senators are aware of the complexities of mandatory reporting and on Second Stage I outlined how I intend to prepare the way for the introduction of this measure.

The proposal to widen immunity beyond the statutory authorities would undermine this work completely and it is one of the main reasons I cannot accept this proposal. In addition, the content of subsection (2) of the amendment effectively represents mandatory reporting for the committees of sports clubs which pre-empts the work in progress on the White Paper on mandatory reporting. The subsection goes further than our proposals on the issue because we envisage that only designated professionals will be mandated reporters.

As a public representative, father, sportsman and former Minister of State with responsibility for sport, I must state that the proposal that reports would be made to a sports club committee could have a negative impact on the ethos of parental and voluntary participation in sport. This would be particularly true in respect of the requirements set out in subsection (2) of the amendment where people would be asked to sit in judgment on those they have probably known personally for many years. I am also concerned that this proposal would muddy the waters in terms of the clear message to voluntary organisations with regard to good reporting practice. That message is that any allegations should be [588] immediately passed to the health boards or the Garda and I wish to convey it to all organisations which provide services to children. These are some of the difficulties surrounding the amendment but I will now examine the reasons change is being sought.

Having studied the debates on Report Stage in the Dáil and Committee Stage in the Seanad, it seems that there are two main reasons people want the amendment to be accepted. First, there are concerns that there will be delays on the part of health boards and the Garda in responding to allegations and that in the interim the abuser could remain at large. Second, there appears to be a perception that people would be more inclined to report their concerns to the chairman of a committee than to the statutory agencies and that they should not be obliged to worry about the risk of being sued if they do this.

With regard to fears about delays, I have made inquiries with management officials of health boards and I have been assured that where there are serious allegations about abuse in a sports club or other such organisation the health boards will act quickly to alert the organisation about the allegation. However, in order to ensure that there can be no doubt about the health boards' responsibilities in this regard, I have asked Maureen Lynott, the chairperson of the working group to review the child abuse guidelines, to refer to this point in the revised guidelines which are currently being prepared. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is also represented on this working group.

The related issue of taking action to protect children where there is an allegation of abuse against an employee or member of a club arises for all organisations dealing with children. It is incumbent on organisations to have procedures for dealing with such incidents as part of their protocols on child protection. For example, I understand it is common practice in the health service to suspend employees from duty, with pay, while allegations are investigated. This issue is also being examined by the working group to review the child abuse guidelines and I am informed by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation that guidance on this matter will be included in the revised code of ethics for sport and sports clubs.

The second reason people want the amendment to be accepted stems from their concerns about being sued if they report internally in a club. Senators will recall that on Committee Stage we discussed the possibility of parallel reporting to both the statutory authorities and the chairman of a club or organisation. I have been advised that to introduce reporting requirements in this manner would amount to mandatory reporting. It would pre-empt the work in progress on legislation in this area and would go outside the remit of the Bill which is primarily concerned with protections for those reporting as distinct from reporting processes. I wish to stress that people who report their concerns about child abuse [589] reasonably and in good faith within a club can avail of the defence of qualified privilege under the common law. I will expand on this when I introduce my amendment which is designed to reassure people on this issue.

Since we last discussed this Bill I met Dr. Roderick Murphy who chaired the independent inquiry into matters relating to child sexual abuse in swimming. Dr. Murphy assured me he is happy with the approach taken in the Bill to granting statutory immunity to people reporting child abuse. He agrees fully that reports to the statutory authorities should be encouraged. Dr. Murphy wrote a letter to me in which he gives the best answer to Senator Jackman's concern:

Section 6 in the proposed amendment as per the parliamentary draftsman's office version dated 23 November 1998 spells out more thoroughly the reference to existing privilege.

That is the essence of the amendment I have tabled. He continues:

This seems to me to constitute a balance which encourages reporting to a central professional body and avoids problems of rumours communication to non-professional committees and risks or threats of legal action in respect of alleged defamation.

There are strong policy reasons why this amendment should not be accepted. I am convinced it would be detrimental to good child care protection practice and could be ultimately unworkable.

I will deal with the amendment I am bringing forward. I have already outlined in some detail why I want the statutory immunity under the Bill to apply to reports made to the statutory authority. However, I appreciate that reporting to health boards or gardaí cannot be seen in a vacuum. Most organisations providing services for children now have their own written procedures for dealing with allegations of child abuse. A person who reports an allegation to the statutory authorities will in most cases feel a duty to pass this information to a person in authority in the organisation. I have emphasised on a number of occasions that in this situation a person who reports reasonably and in good faith is covered by the defence of qualified privilege under the common law. Section 6 provides a saving provision in this regard.

I listened with interest to what Senators said on Committee Stage and I accept the wording of section 6 as it stands may not be that easy to interpret. As a non-legal person, I am conscious of the need for as much clarity as possible in our legislation. Accordingly, to make this point clearer, I am now providing for an expansion of section 6 in the amendment I am bringing forward. I am confident this amendment will reassure people concerning internal reporting procedures.

Taken together with the administrative measures I have outlined to deal with the delays and the treatment of employees accused of abuse, [590] this is an effective and pragmatic response. I accept there are many related issues which will need to be carefully teased out when it comes to drafting mandatory reporting legislation. At this stage however, I urge Senators to accept this amendment.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman Zoom on Mary Jackman I am back where I started. I specifically asked the Minister to explain amendment No. 5 which refers to “the communication by a person to another”. Are teachers, GPs, chairpersons of sports bodies, etc., included in that remit? The Minister did not make this clear in his reply. I need the Minister to give a commitment that reporting by individuals outside statutory bodies who suspect child abuse is covered by the Bill.

I think the Minister is sympathetic to this amendment for which Deputy Shatter pushed so hard in the Dáil. However, there appears to be resistance to it from departmental officials. While I agree that the health boards and the Garda are appropriate bodies to which to report, there can be delays. That was the point of the Murphy report. We should have heard Dr. Murphy's opinion before today. There should have been discussions with him prior to the Bill coming before the Seanad as there was an interim period when the swimming controversy arose. The Murphy report came later and this amendment was tabled by Deputy Shatter in February.

If Deputy Shatter's amendment had been accepted we would not be going through this again. The McColgan case to which Dr. Henry referred highlighted the problem. I am surprised that no leeway has been given to allow people apart from health board officials and Garda to report cases of child abuse.

At the end of the day we are concerned about children. More cases of abuse were referred to on today's Order of Business. It appears from the newspapers that there are new reports coming out every week. This is not an issue which can be neatly tidied up and put away — we do not know what will happen in the future. Deputy Shatter and I are concerned that there should be leeway given to ensure no child is at risk or that no adult who has suffered as a child is prohibited from coming forward. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether the communication referred to in the amendment includes teachers, doctors, etc.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey The people mentioned by Senator Jackman are covered by existing privilege. This amendment complements existing privilege. As Dr. Murphy wrote in his letter, it spells out more thoroughly the reference to existing privilege. It is a misunderstanding on the Senator's part to assume that doctors, teachers or sports club members are not covered by existing privilege — they are. We have strengthened the existing privilege provision. Consequently the people mentioned by the Senator are covered.

This balances the requirement for people to report to statutory authorities. We do not want [591] people reporting to one another. The thrust of this legislation is that we want people to report to statutory authorities. What has bedevilled the issue of child abuse in this country — and this is one of the points Dr. Murphy raised when we met — is that, as in the case of the swimming controversy, people reported to one another but no one reported to the statutory authorities. This must be stopped, otherwise we will never have an effective and efficient reporting system. This does not apply to just officials in the Department of Health and Children, but to officials in the health boards and the Department of Tourism and Sport. We discussed the Murphy report in great detail between the introduction of the Bill in the Dáil and its coming to this House. Therefore, it is not correct to say that we ignored the recommendations in the Murphy report.

The most important principle is setting up a new system of reporting abuse. A child abuse guidelines committee of experts is sitting at the moment. The thrust of our policy is to get people to report to the statutory authorities. In that context, I have taken on board the valid points made by the Senators who said there should not be any misunderstanding or negation of people's wishes and right to report one to another in a sports club. That is provided for in an existing privilege and is confirmed in the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, line 26, to delete “An” and substitute “It shall be a term of an employee's contract of employment that an”.

This amendment was tabled on Committee Stage. At that time the Minister said he felt the protection in the legislation was sufficient. It is disappointing that he is not taking our views on board. The underlying objective of the amendment is extremely important. At present if one is unfairly dismissed on grounds of gender, for instance, he or she has a whole range of labour law protections and mechanisms at their disposal to protect themselves and ensure that their rights are fully vindicated. The equality legislation springs to mind in that it states that non-discrimination is an implied term of a contract of employment. A worker can then sue either through the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the event of dismissal or through the ordinary courts for breach of contract.

The legislation as currently drafted limits the protections and remedies available under this Bill. This is not a satisfactory. The Minister stated on Committee Stage that what is proposed is in line with other employment protection regulations. I would argue with the Minister on that. It is important, given the objective of the legislation, to afford the greatest protection possible to those reporting child abuse, particularly in the context of employment protection and remedy in [592] the event of dismissal. The reason for tabling the amendment is that it would be an implied term of the contract of employment that a person could not be penalised for making such a report in good faith. This would assure employees and state clearly in the legislation that the corpus of labour law and labour law mechanisms could be invoked in their defence and in their protection. This is an extremely important amendment in that it gives assurance, protection and defence to employees which is necessary in the context of this legislation.

On the previous amendment, the Minister outlined in very specific terms the necessity for protection in the context of the seriousness of this subject. It is important that the legislation be as effective as possible. The amendment is in line with the Minister's thinking. The legislation must be more relevant to those who have to report cases of abuse.

On behalf of our group, I commend the amendment to the House and hope the Minister will accept it.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry I support the amendment. Whistle blowers are not thanked and it is essential that they have the utmost protection possible in the event of becoming involved in acrimony with their employers regarding making a report.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey The section as drafted provides statutory protection for concerned employees from penalisation by employers for having formed an opinion of the kind referred to in section 3 and for having communicated it to an appropriate person if the employee concerned acted reasonably and in good faith in so doing. While I accept the Senator's argument, the statutory protection is considered adequate and in line with the approach adopted in other employment protection legislation. Consequently, I cannot accept the amendment.

Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, line 40, to delete “to 10” and substitute “and 9”.

This is a technical amendment which was also tabled on Committee Stage. It relates to sections 8, 9 and 10 of the 1994 Act. We have been advised that the section is unconstitutional. Given that the Minister has not brought forward an amendment, it appears he will not accept my amendment.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry I second the amendment.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey I am advised that the provision in the present Bill is not comparable and that the constitutionality of the provision in section 10 of [593] the Terms of Employment Information Act, 1994, is not in doubt.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, line 36, after “date” to insert “knowledge”

The reason for tabling this amendment arises from a briefing I got from people concerned about allegations of sexual abuse in divorce and separation proceedings. The Minister will recall that I spoke at length on this matter and I hope that some of what I put on the record has alerted people to the problem. People did not realise that such difficulties existed and that a high proportion of allegations made during these cases subsequently turned out to be false. The original draft of the Bill stated “within 12 months of the offence”. Those who briefed me on it pointed out that because of the way in which these matters are processed in the family courts, two or more years may elapse before a determination is reached and the timescale may allow any such prosecution to lapse. The staff of the House are very helpful and they made the amendments accepted on Committee Stage available to me. These seem to meet the concerns I had when I put this down.

I was not being tendentious in proposing this amendment. I was simply working from the Bill as passed by the Dáil. I did not realise the Bill had been changed in the way I wished it to be. I thank the Minister for accepting the amendments

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey There is little the Senator has done that has not caused us to think. I appreciate that his amendment was on the basis of the old Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Government amendment No. 5:

In page 6, to delete lines 37 to 40, and substitute the following:

“6.—Section 3 of this Act is in addition to, and not in substitution for, any privilege or defence available in legal proceedings, by virtue of any enactment or rule of law in force immediately before the passing of this Act, in respect of the communication by a person to another (whether that other person is an appropriate person or not) of his or her opinion that—

(a) a child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused, or

(b) a child's health, development or welfare has been or is being avoidably impaired or neglected.”.

Amendment agreed to.

[594] Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry I congratulate the Minister on the care and attention he and his officials have given to this most important Bill. Sadly on the Order of Business today, Senators requested a debate on yet another case of sexual abuse of children. The newspapers seem consistently full of such reports. I congratulate the Minister on the time and trouble he has taken to ensure this important Bill came before the House.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman Zoom on Mary Jackman As this is a Fine Gael Private Member's Bill, it has changed a little in its passage through the Dáil and Seanad. I thank the Minister for his sensitivity on this issue. In one sense I am disappointed. I hope the powers of the statutory bodies and the Garda will be sufficient to constitute a major deterrent to the most shattering occurrence to people. As I stated earlier, I hope the lid can be put back on that box forever. It has shocked citizens. This is a very sensitive Bill. It did not provoke the sort of exchanges normally associated with legislation because the Minister listened to us. We are not 100 percent happy but I know he is anxious for this area to be tidied up and legislated for. I look forward to the debate on mandatory reporting.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill I also commend the Minister for the skilful way in which he presented, amended and steered this Bill through the Houses. It is an extremely difficult and delicate issue. It is difficult to find the right balance between conflicting rights but the Minister has found that balance. We are moving towards modern legislation, which hopefully will act as a deterrent to child abuse and give stronger protection in law to children of the next generation.

I fervently hope the debate we have had and the attention this Minister and Government and previous Governments have given to this matter will act as a spur to the general public to be more vigilant in their protection of children and more willing to come forward if they strongly suspect that children are being abused or neglected. It is the duty of every citizen to do that. It is a very poor society that does not protect its children. This Bill offers strong protection in law to people who have the conscience and commitment to report child abuse or neglect. I hope the general public responds in strong measure.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I also commend the Minister and his officials for their work on this and other child protection legislation. I agree with Senator Quill and I have no doubt we will revisit this issue in legislative form as we are only now finally coming to terms with the issue of child sexual abuse in our society. We are finally able to talk about it, [595] deal with it and bring it out in the open. This type of legislation is unfortunately necessary. In putting children first and protecting them, we are advancing to a society which is more open, dignified and caring towards children. I commend the Minister for his work in this regard.

Dr. Fitzpatrick: Information on Dermot Fitzpatrick Zoom on Dermot Fitzpatrick This Bill is in response to a veil being lifted on part of the hidden Ireland which is only now coming to light. As previous speakers stated, we are only now coming to terms and dealing with it. While the Bill will not ease the pain of children who have suffered, hopefully it will prevent pain and destruction of innocent lives in the future or help people to deal with it. I commend the Minister for the open manner in which he took the Bill through the House and his willingness to listen to different points of view and take them on board. I also commend the Senators who spoke on the Bill, gave their time and experience and endeavoured to make the Bill the best possible, given our limited understanding of the problems faced by children.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. Fahey): Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey I thank Senators for contributing to the debate. I am pleased that by and large we reached a consensus. I realise Senator Jackman is not perfectly happy but I have no doubt that as the Bill comes into practice, she will see this is the best way forward. I appreciate it is always useful to hear all points of view. We tried to incorporate her requirements as far as we could and hopefully we have done so.

I thank the officials in the Departments of Health and Children, Enterprise and Employment and Justice, Equality and Law Reform for their considerable hard work on this legislation. Often officials are taken for granted but there has been an effort over and above the call of duty from officials on this Bill. I appreciate that very much. I also thank Deputy Shatter who introduced this Bill. We were happy to go along with it in a format of co-operation.

We have invited submissions from the public in regard to the White Paper on mandatory reporting. To date we have received a very poor response. The deadline is 1 December 1998, but we will not hold anybody to that deadline. We are most anxious to receive additional submissions on this complex matter which we wish to deal with in a Green Paper.

Question put and agreed to.

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