Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Reappointment of the Ombudsman for Children: Motion
I welcome the opportunity to give my support to the nomination again of the Ombudsman for Children. Will the Minister make a promise here today that we will have a debate at the very least once a year on the annual report of the ombudsman? It is really worth looking at the report and the ombudsman's submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the list of issues prior to reporting on the fourth periodic examination of Ireland. Reading the two reports together, one could easily despair. Although the ombudsman points to the limited improvements in respect of some legislation, he highlights the more serious issues. I know the Minister is familiar with this, but at this point we have report after report.
One would have to question why we need an ombudsman in the first place, although I am fully supportive of his office. Imagine we need an ombudsman to enforce what should be basic human rights in respect of housing, health, disability and members of minority groups. We need an ombudsman's office to monitor the Health Service Executive, Tusla and local authorities. That in itself is deserving of a debate. I think this is the first time the reports the ombudsman has placed before us have been down as an item for debate. On the previous occasion I think, subject to the Minister's correction, there was absolutely no debate at all. I hope this is the start of a debate.
What are the serious issues the ombudsman is raising? He is raising the most serious issues regarding the absence of mental healthcare for children and the absence of data. We have no proper data. He reinforces the need for housing to be part of the Constitution and the need to look at housing for children and families as a basic human right. He goes on to highlight the fact that we have failed to ratify the optional protocol to the disability convention. He also tells us we need to ratify the second optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The very last page calls on us to ratify the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography without further delay. Imagine we need an ombudsman to tell us this is what we need to do for children.
The Minister is a relatively new Minister, and I am not here to harangue him, but let us do things differently, as I have said to him before. If we have an ombudsman and reports, let us have time in the Dáil to look at the good things that have happened and the gaps and the serious issues that this man and his office of 20-something staff are raising with us. They are pleading with us to look at this and to do something about it. Giving the thumbs up to the ombudsman is good - who could object to that? - but far more useful would be to have a debate on what the Government thinks are its next steps. When will the promised review of the Children Act be done? What about the mental health legislation we have been promised a review and an update on? There has been none of that.