Thursday, 11 March 2010
Report of Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children: Statements (Resumed).
Charlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I am delighted to acknowledge the presence of my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke. I deliberately sat on the benches which she controls on our behalf. She looked very well on the front bench. I am not being patronising. I have known the Deputy for a long time and she has always taken a particular interest in this area. I share a constituency with a close relation of hers, which has not affected out relationship, which tells one a lot about the Deputy. In my early days as a community worker and politician she always showed an interest in what I was doing, in particular during her term as Minister for Education. It is relevant to make those comments because the debate is about children.
I have often said I came from a generation, as did others in the House, where life in school was much more difficult than it is nowadays. I went to Synge Street and Drimnagh Castle at a time when children were disciplined in a particular way. I remember a famous broadcaster, whom I will not name in case I get into trouble, said he left a particular school early because he perceived the regime as being brutal. I can look back on my school days. I went to the nuns in Clarendon Street, the Loretto Convent on the Crumlin Road, Synge Street and Drimnagh Castle. I look back on my school days in a positive way and have nothing to be upset about.
I came from a generation which, as one went around the streets, one always heard people saying that if a child did something wrong he or she would end up in some terrible institution. We now know that the gossip on the street among very young children was a reality. The Murphy report was mentioned; I have read recent reports. The situation was horrific. During my time as a politician, like everybody in the House, I have experienced people who come to clinics and advice centres, and whom I meet in my constituency. They come to us with all sorts of stories, issues and problems. I am based in Tallaght and there are many things happening in my constituency which upset me deeply.
People came to me who were victims of abuse and wanted to tell their story. I told them I was no expert and that I am a back bench Deputy. As all Members of the House will know, the people who were badly hurt just want to talk to somebody. They trust people. I am not being virtuous, but in any work I did with a number of people I tried to help them in a positive way. Some of the stories were very upsetting. On the report, it is important that we understand we cannot return to the same place. People in the House have different political perspectives and views on this issue, but I applaud the publication of this report. I complement all my colleagues. Deputy O'Rourke is on record as complimenting all of her committee colleagues on the manner in which the report emerged. There may have been some dotting the i's and crossing the t's, but it is important that the report has been published, and we should do something about it.
On a day in which the business of the Dáil has been dominated by other issues which upset people, it is important to discuss this issue. I will have other opportunities to discuss Tallaght hospital. I wish to refer to the meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Science, of which Deputy Gogarty is Chairman, which was held today. An all-party approach was taken in the discussions with representatives from the NCSE regarding the proposed cuts in the numbers of special needs assistants in various schools. A number of schools were highlighted and gave evidence, included St. Joseph's Special School in Tallaght. It is relevant to discuss it in a debate on the rights on children and the importance of children in our lives.
I watched the committee meeting today and compliment my party colleague, Deputy Flynn, and my constituency colleague, Deputy Hayes, and other colleagues who made strong points on this issue. It is about protecting children and the rights of children. I hope these issues continue to get attention. Like everybody else, I try to bring my life experiences to politics. Like other Members of the House, I have had children and am now a grandfather. I am not being virtuous or patronising. It is important to try to understand that people are upset about the report which was released and the manner in which it was dealt with. One hears different views on the content of the Murphy report, how it affected people and the response of the Church.
Tallaght was in the eye of that storm because the Tallaght-based bishop, Dr. Eamon Walsh, offered his resignation to the Pope. It is an issue which is of concern to people. We are in a time when, politically, there are many issues to be addressed. This week there are many pertinent issues in my constituency to be addressed, but the rights and protection of children must be uppermost in everyone's mind. It is important to do that. I hope the Government is examining carefully the report of the committee of which Deputy O'Rourke was Chairman.
Colleagues have different political perspectives. I have listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, speaking a number of times on these issues. He was in my constituency last Tuesday to launch an initiative with South Dublin County Council and the HSE on the protection of young people who, for one reason or another, might find themselves homeless. It is important that we support them. I am glad Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, and Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, are in the House. I hope they convey my regard for the job the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, is doing. It is important that the public have confidence in the system and be comfortable about what is being suggested.
When the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children was established by both Houses of the Oireachtas in November 2007, Deputy O'Rourke was appointed as its Chairman. I understand due to the complexity and sensitivity of the work of the committee, it had to extend the time-frame for its work on a number of occasions. I understand it met on 62 different occasions. I know from community groups that the committee sought submissions from interested bodies and members of the public, and advertised publically for such submissions.
I was told by Deputy O'Rourke that 175 written submissions were received, which dealt with some or all of the issues which arose from within the remit of the committee. In September 2008 it presented its first interim report to the Houses of the Oireachtas on the proposal to give legal authority for the collection and exchange of information concerning risk or the occurrences of endangerment, sexual exploitation or the sexual abuse of children. Work in this regard was ongoing.
The opportunity to make a brief contribution on these statements is welcome. I have listened to many of the comments of my colleagues. It is important that Dáil business be ordered such that these matters can be discussed. I hope the all-party approach evident in regard to this business continues. I congratulate all members of the committee under the chairmanship of Deputy O'Rourke and wish them well. I expect that they will want to see progress in this matter. They have my strong support in that regard.