Dáil debates

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Children (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages


1:30 pm

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I want to join with other speakers in thanking the Minister and her officials for bringing this forward so quickly in response to what had been a serious practical problem. The Bill and the amendments have my full support, and the Minister knows that. The cases have been very difficult.

We still have to talk about another group of children who are not encompassed by this Bill. A third category of children are not accused or witnesses; they are the siblings of deceased children and are not protected by the provisions of the Bill. There is a strong privacy case to be made for those children, in particular children whose siblings have died in circumstances where there is a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. It is not the same as murder or manslaughter, but is something very different. We distinguish that form of criminal process very strongly from everything else. We think about and treat it differently in terms of sentencing and recovery. Sometimes, as I said at length on Second Stage, the source of that can be very considerable mental illness.

As the Minister knows, I have engaged extensively with a family at the core of this case. A sibling has been identified again and again in the community and is trying to rebuild a life. My concern has always been around the privacy of the younger child. There is a very strong impetus driving the Bill and the discussion around it, namely, Article 34 concerns around court processes.

I blame myself for not having been more engaged with the Bill at an earlier stage. One issue is giving the same weight to the Article 42A concerns of other children affected by these cases. A sibling is protected if he or she was a witness to an unlawful killing, but not if he or she was in a different room and, therefore, was not a witness. The implications for rebuilding his or her life are the same.

I want to thank the officials for their engagement with me and the discussion on this issue. It is clearly not covered by the Bill but there is an ongoing issue in regard to how children affected by criminal issues of this kind are treated more broadly. Other Deputies have concerns about where that may go in terms of somebody being convicted of theft, assault or something like that, and his or her children being identifiable by virtue of the accused and convicted person being named publicly. This is a slightly different issue.

The privacy rights of a subset of children are being impacted by this, and the Bill does not square this away. There is broader policy work to be done, which I appreciate, but I also know from experience that could take anywhere from one to three years to deal with, as well as homicide review more generally.

I did not table an amendment because I know from a process perspective the House wants the Bill to be passed quickly. There is a measure of speed around it. In any event, the Minister would have to go back to the Attorney General and Cabinet to have that discussion, and it would complicate the Bill very considerably. I know there is no point in doing that. However, I have to put my concerns on the record of the House.

I worry that this issue will come up by way of judicial review. A court may end up looking at this issue under Article 42A in any event. If that happens, I want to have flagged it. I am not trying to be unhelpful. Rather, I want to take the time to flag this issue on the record in order to identify that this is a class of children who may be so affected and that the implications for them and their lives, because of the possible behaviour of media, are significant in terms of trying to rebuild family life with somebody who has committed an unlawful killing but was found not guilty by reason of insanity, something we think about and treat very differently from everything else. I support the Bill and amendments, but I have to take this opportunity to put this very strongly on the record.


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