Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage (Resumed): Second Stage (Resumed)

 

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

2:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Finian McGrath was in possession.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I want to recap some of the points I raised yesterday in regard to children in crisis, early intervention, the role of foster parents, the idea of having good social workers, good gardaí and good teachers and other examples of good practice. I strongly welcome the legislation and I will be supporting the Bill. This is a serious issue in regard to the protection of children and because of our history we must be extra vigilant. We must learn from the bad mistakes of the past and early intervention must be a key part of the process. Legislation is necessary but it is vital to intervene at an early stage to rescue children before they are hurt or damaged. I praise and commend the foster parents on the excellent work they undertake and the great service they provide to the State, to families and to young children whom they have rescued. In my previous contribution I also highlighted the vital role played in the rescue of children by a good Garda, special needs assistant, teacher or a good youth worker who may often save children from worse situations. I commend those who have intervened and are excellent examples of good practice.

Sadly, there are also examples of bad practice. The professional workers in the health and education services may need to improve their efforts in the protection of children. In the past 24 hours I have been contacted by a foster family about the lack of backup support and professionalism in services. It is vital to provide stability for those children and it is not helpful to have a different social worker from one week to the next.

The out of hours service must be available in order to respond to crisis situations. A young child or young person who is at risk in a negative situation late at night or at the weekend needs to have a service available out of hours. I hope the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, will deal with this issue and I am confident that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald is determined to deal with the issue. I emphasise the importance of a quality out of hours service and I emphasise the need for early intervention. As I said earlier in the debate, there is no point in rescuing children when they are 12 or 13 years of age because the damage will have been done at that stage and they are already on the way to being a drug addict or an alcoholic or ending up in Mountjoy Prison. Intervention must be at a very early age. I know this from personal experience of working with children for over 25 years. It is essential that the legislation deals with these issues.

The Bill establishes in Irish law an offence of withholding information in respect of specified offences committed against a child or vulnerable person. The definition of "child" is any person under the age of 18 years. We must focus on the child and the vulnerable person. I refer to the non-intervention and silence regarding the support of children and adults with an intellectual disability who are often left out of the debate. I note that they are included in the provisions of this legislation as a vulnerable person is described as a person suffering from a mental, intellectual or physical disability.

Many people who have been abused as children do not declare the abuse until well into adulthood because of the trauma they suffered in a family situation or in an institution or sports club. They must be treated as victims and they must receive the maximum support. Some victims of child abuse have major concerns about the trust fund for survivors of institutional abuse. They want the arrangements to allow for victims to receive either a trust fund, a lump sum or a pension. This pension scheme would be self-financing and could be run with the minimum administration costs.

The victims of child sexual abuse must be at the centre of the debate. This legislation is very decent legislation and I will support it. However, more than legislation is needed to prevent children being abused; it needs quality people in the service and responsible people and examples of good practice. There are examples of good practice in many State institutions but we need to up our game to protect and safeguard children.

Photo of Seán ConlanSeán Conlan (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 is a piece of legislation which has been notable by its absence from the Statute Book. This Bill, along with the Children First Bill and the National Vetting Bureau Bill is a very welcome piece of legislation to protect children and vulnerable adults which the Government is committed to introducing.

Previous Governments initiated several inquiries seeking to establish how institutions in the Catholic Church dealt with, or rather, failed to adequately deal with the occurrences of child sexual abuse within the church and institutions. These inquiries were needed both by the victims of that abuse which was perpetrated against them while they were of an age not to be able to protect themselves, and also by the public, who needed to know the extent to which members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, knew of these abuses yet failed to act, and in a number of cases, were even complicit in ensuring the perpetrators were protected. These inquiries were also badly needed by the scores of decent members of the priesthood, who were being tarnished by the ongoing acts of those abusers among them who represented a very small fraction of the priesthood.

While the public displayed an ability to comprehend the failure of the church in reporting child abuse and while some Members of this House pursued with vigour those responsible, the Legislature, for whatever reason, failed to do what was clearly wanted by the electorate, to introduce the mandatory reporting of these crimes. A gaping hole was obvious for all to see and it went completely unattended. This Government and this Minister is addressing as a priority many of the matters which ought to have been addressed in the past, in particular, the protection from sexual abuse of the most vulnerable of those among us.

One area with which I have difficulty is the debate surrounding this Bill in the media and in the House and comments made about sacerdotal privilege or rather the lack of it as a defence. Privilege will continue to exist to a large group of prescribed persons providing legal, medical care, counselling or therapy to victims. I agree the church has major issues but I do not recall any incident where the confessional was viewed as being the source of these problems. The hierarchy certainly was a problem. The exposure of children to offending priests through school visits, altar serving, football training etc, were all problems, but in my view, the confessional was never a problem. The sacerdotal privilege of the confessional is a fundamental plank in the fabric of Catholicism. It is acknowledged as such in jurisdictions across the world. In framing this legislation, we have not failed the media nor have we failed any of the professions who enjoy privilege in protecting their source of information. However, we cannot seem to manage to veer outside of our existing legislation to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of the many of our citizens and in doing so, avoid possible constitutional challenges which will follow in the tracks of this omission, with all the subsequent costs attached. In my view, in a pluralist Republic we need where possible to be mindful and respectful of the strongly held beliefs of all our citizens. Reason and religion have essential roles in determining public policy but I believe that the State has the right to put the good of children above all other considerations.

It is vital that this legislation has the backing of those for whom we legislate in order that it is successful in delivering the protection so greatly needed by those affected by the heinous crime which is sexual abuse. Let us, as legislators, do nothing to hinder that success. Let us, as legislators, do nothing to alienate a great number of people from this process. We legislate for an intelligent and informed people; let our legislation reflect these qualities, lest it be regarded as an inoperative irrelevance.

While I agree with the provision of legislation to enhance these protections, I am mindful of concerns raised in relation to the defences which may be relied upon , as outlined in the Bill, and which are so wide a nature as to severely limit the capacity of the Bill to achieve its objectives. The Bill provides get-out clauses through the concept of acting in the child's best interest when failing to report. My concerns in this area are echoed by such reputable child protection agencies as Barnardos, the ISPCC and the Ombudsman for Children. This is essential legislation which must be right. When experts in child protection collectively voice their disagreement and concerns about an aspect of this legislation, it is prudent to ask why such agencies are of one mind. These are people with far more experience in this field than politicians and while I accept that the Houses legislate for the people, I also respect that, on occasions, the greater good might conflict with the priorities of individual groups. In this set of circumstances, I believe the train is leaving the station without some of its better informed passengers. This worries me. We are all of one mind and have one purpose and agenda, the protection of the innocent, so why can we not engage more with those who deal with this on a daily basis and improve on this aspect of the Bill before voting on it?

This is essential legislation and I commend the Minister for bringing it to the House. However, to achieve its objectives, it is more important that it is regarded as fair, is accepted and brings all the citizens of the State with it, than that it is implemented immediately. There is much work needed on this Bill and we owe it to those who need protection to sit down with all involved and get it right.

3:00 pm

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I thank every Member who has contributed to this debate. This is a hugely important issue. It is about ensuring that the children of this country are protected and that where there are individuals who prey on children or sexually abuse them and where third parties know of these events, there is maximum co-operation with An Garda Síochána and all information available is furnished to the Garda. It is about not only ensuring that those who have already perpetrated abuse are brought to justice but also protecting children to ensure that they are not the victims of abuse in circumstances in which it is already known there is an abuser within a community who has already perpetrated abuse on a child.

The Bill is about more than that. It is about ensuring that where a serious offence takes place, such as those against children as detailed in Schedule 1 of the Bill or those relating to vulnerable adults as detailed Schedule 2, there is maximum co-operation with An Garda Síochána and, as the Bill puts it, an individual who knows or believes that an offence has been committed by another person against a child or a vulnerable adult and has information which he or she knows or believes may be of material assistance in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of that other person for that offence, does not fail to provide the information necessary to An Garda Síochána unless there is a reasonable excuse or a defence that is appropriate in the circumstances.

I wish to acknowledge the work of all Members of the House in facilitating this legislation. We published the heads of the Bill in July last year. The Oireachtas justice committee engaged in a very important process of seeking submissions and holding oral hearings. A variety of organisations attended those hearings and made known their views and concerns about the heads of the Bill. My colleague, Deputy Conlon, is not correct to say that many organisations are opposed to certain aspects of the Bill. In the context of organisations that provide counselling assistance to young people who are the victims of abuse or adults who were victims of abuse when they were children there was a variety of views on some aspects of the legislation. Ultimately, members of that committee made a valuable contribution to the report published by the committee. Members have acknowledged and accept that it was right that we gave serious consideration to the views expressed in that report. Indeed, we sought to accommodate those views, where appropriate, in the Bill. We now have more detailed legislation than the heads of the Bill.

That is the benefit of this process. It is a new process. This is one of the first Bills to have come through this process and, hopefully, we will enact the measure within the next week or two. It has enhanced the role Members of the Oireachtas can play and, very importantly, it has allowed non-governmental organisations to play a role in the legislative process inside the Oireachtas, as opposed to outside and being obliged to lobby on a particular issue. As a consequence, we have a better and certainly a more complex Bill. It is a measure designed to do two things. The first is the one I just mentioned, to ensure that those who have crucial information provide it to An Garda Síochána. The second is to protect children. This Bill, overall, is a child protection measure and a measure to protect vulnerable adults. I am conscious that the media tend to focus more on child abuse than vulnerable adults who are the victims of abuse. However, that is part and parcel of the problems we have and which we must address.

The legislation has two roles. The primary role is to ensure that where somebody perpetrates abuse on a child, the Garda has the maximum amount of information made available to the force as early as possible, and that individuals do not conceal information unless there is a reasonable excuse for not giving it or unless one of the defences comes into play. It should be emphasised that these are defences for individuals who are prosecuted. It is not always necessary for an individual to judge whether they have a defence but there is an interactivity or connectivity between the reasonable excuse and the defence issue. If, for example, a child who is the victim of abuse communicates that they do not wish that information to be given to the gardaí at that time, clearly there is a specific defence here but the adult equally has a reasonable excuse for not communicating it.

The legislation is very important and I thank Members for the very interesting and considered contributions from all sides of the House. I am conscious that because this is not just a measure about investigating crime but also about protecting children and vulnerable adults a substantial portion of the debate has dealt with child protection issues generally. Much of that related to the manner in which the HSE has dealt with child protection issues in the past. The debate ranged over the entire brief of my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who is doing an excellent job. Reference was made to the legislation to give statutory effect to the Children First guidelines. There is the closest co-operation between me and the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in the development of this legislation and the Children First legislation. The latter legislation is going through and is about to complete the same process in the Oireachtas health committee as this Bill went through in the Oireachtas justice committee. We are anxious to ensure there is no inherent contradiction between the two measures, albeit they have different functions.

Some Members made interesting contributions on the heads of the Bill to implement the Children First guidelines. The role of each measure is somewhat different. The Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill is about the gardaí having the maximum information available to them to investigate a crime committed against a child or vulnerable person. The legislation on the Children First guidelines is to ensure children are provided with such care and assistance as is necessary and that such intervention takes place as is necessary where there is a concern that a child is a victim of abuse or neglect or there is a serious issue relating to the child's welfare. Not all of the issues that would arise to be addressed under the Children First guidelines are issues that would result in the invocation of the criminal law. It is about ensuring that individuals report concerns about children at risk. The guidelines are about also ensuring that when those reports are received there is a coherent and organised response.

Members of this House will be well aware that not only in my capacity in the previous Dáil as Fine Gael Party spokesperson on children but as someone who practised in the area of family law for the best part of three decades, I expressed concern about the manner in which our child care systems operated. I was concerned at the time when they were operated through the various health boards. I also believed there was a serious dysfunction and incoherence, and when the Health Service Executive took over that function on 1 January 2005 it was clear to me that this incoherence and dysfunction, unfortunately and tragically, continued.

I am very conscious that the State has in some ways in the past failed our children. That is the reason this Government has a separate Department for Children and Youth Affairs and, for the first time, a senior Minister in Cabinet who has sole responsibility for children. In the context of what are now clearly recognised problems within the HSE, it is the reason this Government has a policy to establish a child and family support agency that will effectively deal with all of the necessary child protection issues in a very focused way.

A great deal of work has been accomplished by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, in this area in the past 15 to 16 months since her appointment. The difficulties that have been with us for decades cannot be addressed and fully resolved within the period of 15 months. I am very much looking forward to the new structure being put in place that I hope will ensure that the type of dysfunction shown in disclosed in a myriad of reports going back to reports that previous Governments have not always been enthusiastic to publish to the most recent report of the child death review group can be fully and properly addressed.

In that context it is worth noting that with regard to the excellent report produced by Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, when that issue first arose in the previous Dáil the then Minister of State, Barry Andrews - I do not want to say anything too critical of someone who is no longer a Member of this House and who was, I presume, largely confined to the knowledge he was given by the HSE - was told that over the period that was inquired into, 21 children had died in care or very shortly after being in care at the ages of 18 or 19. I was aware that the numbers were a great deal more, and a very serious battle had to be fought with the previous Government to get to the truth. I greatly regret that it required my publishing an internal HSE report on the very tragic death of the young girl, Tracey Fay, a report that had been suppressed and not published. Ultimately, that acted as the catalyst to the child death review group being created and Norah Gibbons and Geoffrey Shannon being asked to do that work, and we now know, unfortunately, that 196 children died.

A number of those children were clearly failed at an early stage by our child protection services. It has to be said, in fairness to the social workers who work in that area, that these were all troubled children. Many of these children came from very difficult backgrounds, although only one or two Deputies referred to that in their thoughtful contributions. Clearly, the problems of many of these children also derived directly from the family circumstances they experienced. We need to be honest to acknowledge that. These were not children leading perfect family lives. In the context of many of them, the family background was seriously dysfunctional. There was violence within the family. There was drug abuse and alcoholism but when that occurs the job of child protection services is to provide protection to children and not to fail to provide that protection.

I read with a mixture of anger and sadness the child death review group report. It was very important that report was done and that it saw the light of day, as equally important were other earlier reports detailing the level of difficulty within the child protection services. I know that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and Gordon Jeyes, who now heads up that area within the HSE and who will head up the new child and family support agency, is doing everything they possibly can do to ensure that in the future we have a better system, that there is a coherence and consistency of approach, that those social workers who work very hard in this area receive the training and back-up they require, and that there is less fragmentation within the services.

One of the areas that was a concern of mine for many years, and that again comes across when one reads some of the individual cases in the child death review group report, is that good social workers who were doing their best could not always provide to a child the services they knew the child needed because of the dysfunction within the HSE. There is a need for greater coherence, for example, between the child care services and the mental health services. That comes across very clearly in that review, which is of value.

It is a great pity that the work now being done to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory footing was not done at least a decade ago. Those guidelines have been in place since 1999. They were in draft form shortly prior to that. In circumstances where we clearly had difficulties it was blindingly obvious that there was a need to put them on a proper footing and ensure greater coherence and compliance with them.

The truth is that in different child care areas for too many years they were not properly followed and where they were followed, different practices were adopted in different parts of the country. There was no coherence of information. The fact that there was not a computerised information system where the Minister for children, whether it was former Deputy Barry Andrews when he was Minister of State or his predecessor, the late Brian Lenihan, or even the HSE had real-time information about individual children within the care system, including the care being provided for them, the detail of a care plan for each child, the extent to which it was being followed, and the name of the nominated social workers, was an enormous gap. Far too many children did not have a nominated social worker and did not have a care plan. That is an issue that has given rise to many of the tragedies that have occurred.

Deputies who spoke are right in saying that in dealing with the child care side of this it is important that resources are available. The truth, as everyone knows, is that in the current climate there is not the unlimited resources that are necessary in the context of any area of Government. It is worth recording, however, that the Government has made an additional budgeting provision of €90 million for child welfare and protection services for this year compared to the funding that was made available last year. Taken together, a total of 262 extra social workers were recruited last year and the year before. That was effectively a 25% increase in the number of social workers dealing with child care protection and welfare. Some have retired in the context of the overall social work cohort but there is no moratorium on the recruitment for social work positions of those engaged in the child care area. Gordon Jeyes has the authority to replace those positions in the context of the resources available to him but it is not simply about more social workers or about resources. It is about the methodology of approach and not throwing recently qualified social workers into the coalface of dealing with the most difficult families and ensuring that they have the appropriate training and mentoring necessary to facilitate them dealing with what may be very difficult situations and to providing supports to children that are required.

A range of issues that falls outside my brief has been discussed but it is understandable that these issues have been discussed in the context of this legislation. Some Members mentioned the children's rights referendum and we are on line to hold that referendum in the autumn. As the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has said, it is expected that legislation will be published in early September. I hope the referendum will have the support of all Members and parties, including Independent Deputies and all of the Technical Group. The referendum is about ensuring we do not simply talk about children's rights and welfare, but that we incorporate protection for their rights and welfare into our Constitution. This is an important additional leg of the work necessary in this area.

To return to the child death review report, in the context of child care proceedings or child care interventions, this is not all about taking children into care or taking children away from families. It is about vulnerable families where there are children in difficulty and about, where possible, providing that family with the supports necessary to avoid increased difficulties for those children and addressing issues relating to the children. It is not about, to use the current phrase in the Constitution, the State supplying the place of parents. It is also about the State supplementing the place of parents. We have provision for this in our child care legislation going back to 1991, in the context of the supervision order mechanisms that the courts can make in circumstances where parents with difficulties dealing with their children do not voluntarily interact with social workers who are available to provide the necessary supports.

One of the constitutional issues or difficulties with which I have been very familiar with over the years in the area of child care practice, jumps out at us from the child death review report. This difficulty is that because of the current provisions in the Constitution, there has been an unnecessary hesitancy on the part of some of those engaged in child care protection work to sufficiently and vigorously intervene to provide family support, as opposed to taking care proceedings. They have been reluctant even to intervene in the context of looking for supervision orders in the early stages of knowing there are difficulties within a family. A number of situations were portrayed in the report where I would certainly have felt that if there had been greater intervention at an earlier stage, some of the tragedies that occurred might not have occurred, but that might be an unfair or inaccurate judgment. However, it is important we recognise that parents are the primary people to take care of their children and that for most children, their welfare is consistent with being within the family and being cared for by their parents. There are parents who are incapable of properly caring for their children, but who could do so with assistance and supports. In other circumstances, it is necessary for the protection of children that they are taken into care.

I agree with the comments of Deputy McGrath, that often there are many children who are better off in foster care than within their own family. Many foster parents do excellent work in this area. What we must do, as emphasised in this report, and as is clear in a myriad of other reports, is a move away from a situation where children who are taken into care are moved around like furniture, from temporary foster parents to more temporary foster parents and eventually to permanent foster parents. They are put in a position where they cannot maintain permanent attachments and are in great difficulty emotionally because of their incapacity to identify with a particular group of people as being the people parenting them. They are emotionally damaged in the context of their capacity to have relationships of a meaningful nature - whether during childhood or adulthood - with anybody. There is a need for greater insight into how we operate the system. We must not just consider that taking a child out of difficult background is automatically better for that child. It is not, unless that child is put in a place where he or she can feel secure and form emotional attachments, where the emotional attachments are returned and where that child is not simply seen as an object, but as a human being. These issues are of enormous importance.

I have strayed way beyond the area of a Minister for Justice and Equality, but it was important I responded to some of the contributions. I will return now to one or two of the issues arising with regard to the Bill. I hope Deputies will forgive me if I do not name them individually, but a number them raised similar issues. The Bill as set out is essentially a criminal law measure with a child protection intent as part of its overall approach. Of itself, the Bill does not give rise to an issue of resources. However, the child care area, which is within the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, needs to be properly resourced. Essentially, the Bill is about assisting the Garda Síochána by providing information to it so that it may investigate offences where they occur.

Some concern was expressed with regard to the potential for a huge surge of complaints to be made, be they to the Garda Síochána or the HSE. For the best part of 25 years, we have had a debate on the issue of mandatory reporting. I recall writing about the merits or demerits of mandatory reporting when wearing my family lawyer hat well over 20 years ago. The issue was discussed as far back as the Kilkenny report and with regard to a series of other reports, such as the report into the tragic death of Kelly Fitzgerald. The issue kept recurring. People outside recommended mandatory reporting, but others did not like it. The approach of successive governments was that it could not be done or the system would be swamped. When one discovers one has a system that is not working, one should not carry on maintaining the same system. From the point of view of criminal law, if we have a responsibility to children and if I or anyone else knows a child is being abused - even without legislation being in place - we should consider ourselves as having an obligation to inform An Garda Síochána. This legislation merely ensures that if one knows a child or vulnerable adult is the victim of abuse or of any of the other serious offences listed in the Schedule, that person is required to do what is already his or her moral obligation and duty, namely, to report this to the Garda Síochána.

We do not have a police force that is incapable of dealing with reports that it receives of serious crime. We should report to the Garda Síochána when a serious crime is committed. Any of us with information that would assist them, should provide it to them. What this legislation does is say that we will no longer tolerate individuals deliberately covering up the commission of serious crimes against children. Unfortunately, within the Catholic Church, cover-ups have been endemic. We have read the Ryan report, the Murphy report into Dublin and the Murphy report into Cloyne. We know the reality has been to cover up when children have been sexually abused. Not only has there been cover up, but serious paedophiles have been moved, not only from one parish to another, but from this country to other parts of the world. Individuals within the church who have acted as predators on children in this State have been shipped out of this State to the United States and elsewhere and subsequently have committed serious crimes against children in foreign countries.

We have a responsibility to ensure that where it is known an individual has sexually abused a child, no matter what our background or religion, that information is given to An Garda Síochána, except in the narrow, confined circumstances in which this legislation provides a defence or a reasonable excuse.

I regard this as of the utmost importance. As I stated in my original speech and as other Members have stated, despite the appropriate media focus on the difficulties that have arisen in the church it is true that the majority of the abuse of children occurs within families and that the majority of abusers tend to be individuals who the child or the family know. This is the case in the context of vulnerable adults as well. It is wrong to regard this legislation as directed purely against any particular or religious group. It is all embracing and covers all circumstances in which abuse or other crimes may have been committed against children or vulnerable adults and it requires those who have information to provide it to the Garda Síochána. This point is of particular importance.

Deputy Calleary and others have, rightly, drawn attention to the importance of ensuring that when the legislation is enacted, knowledge of the details is given to the community in general. We are considering a communications strategy in this regard such that people are aware of their obligations and are encouraged to meet them. This is of particular importance.

Some Deputies raised issues about the defences in the Bill. I re-emphasise the point I made at the beginning. Some of these defences arose as a result of the constructive engagement conducted by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality with groups and organisations. Earlier, while preparing the Bill I met several groups and organisations. One concern voiced repeatedly by these groups was that nothing we did should erect a barrier against, intimidate, prevent or inhibit an individual who was the victim of abuse from seeking counselling or help. All the groups recognised the importance of abuse being communicated to the Garda and, where possible, for individual abusers to be properly identified and for the Garda to be given assistance. There was, however, a concern to ensure that an individual who had been the victim of abuse and who was under considerable stress did not believe that if he or she sought counselling, he or she should immediately inform the Garda as well. There was a recognition that people need some time or opportunity to reflect and to come to terms with the horrors of the predicament in which they found themselves.

Naturally, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I urge anyone who knows of abuse or who has been the victim of abuse to report it to the Garda. The Garda now has substantial training in this area. There is a special Garda unit which deals with sexual offences and the force has the capacity to deal with these matters with great understanding and insight. I hold a particular concern in respect of children who are abused and adults who are the victim of rape because there is still an inadequate level of reporting by victims of such crimes to the Garda Síochána. I believe there could properly be more prosecutions bought in this area and more investigations could be made. I fully understand that in many cases individuals do not wish to perpetuate the circumstances any longer than is necessary. Many individuals try for several years to put to the back of their heads the circumstances and the attacks that have been perpetrated on them. Ultimately, however, we must aim to ensure that those engaged in predatory activities in respect of children or those who sexually assault adults are brought to book. If the victims of these assaults do not communicate what has occurred to the Garda Síochána, the sad and tragic reality is that other individuals in the community will become victims and it is important that this does not occur.

Some Deputies raised the issue of who has and does not have privilege. I touched on this issue in my opening speech and I presume we will return to it on Committee Stage. I do not intend to repeat, therefore, what I said in my opening speech other than to make the point again that this legislation expressly applies to everyone; it does not expressly provide any exemption for any individual who knows of any information relating to the abuse of children from furnishing that information to An Garda Síochána and to assist in any investigations. It is of great importance that people provide this assistance.

Another important point relates to the Children First guidelines. There is a connectivity between the Garda Síochána and the HSE. The HSE may provide to the Garda appropriate information relating to children who have been the victims of abuse. Conversely, the Garda may provide to the HSE necessary information to ensure that victims of abuse obtain the supports they require and to ensure those in the HSE can deal appropriately with children, provide supports to children where necessary and provide supports to members of their families.

I hope I have covered substantially most of the issues raised by Members. We will return to some of these issues again on Committee Stage. I thank Members for some extraordinarily important and interesting contributions to the debate. In particular I thank those who have expressed substantial support for the purpose of the Bill and its objectives. It is my hope that this legislation will be enacted within the coming weeks and that it will be in force before we go on vacation at the end of July. Further, it is my hope that as a consequence of the legislation being put in place it will provide some additional protection to children, some extra assistance to the Garda and that knowledge of what is contained in the Bill becomes clear to the wider community.

This is part of a suite of legislation we are enacting, including the Bill dealing with the vetting bureau. I have indicated previously that the vetting legislation is at an advanced stage. It will be published by the middle of July, before we go on vacation. That is important legislation as well. Similarly, valuable work was done on that Bill by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. That is another leg in the protection we are putting in place to ensure that those who may work with children or vulnerable adults are adequately vetted and that neither children nor vulnerable adults are put at risk unnecessarily.

The tragic reality in this area is that those who act as predators of children have, in years gone by, managed to weasel their way into bodies and organisations that work with children. I do not necessarily advert to the child protection area. Individuals from swimming and boxing clubs and other sporting organisations have been convicted. They would have been perceived as pillars of the community but in reality they viewed the provision of training to young children in these clubs as a vehicle that gave them access to children at a time when there were most vulnerable, in circumstances in which other decent members of these clubs were unaware of their activities.

There is no one single magic bullet in this area to solve our problems but it is important that we have a new modern structure of laws and a new legal framework or architecture which does as much as is possible. It cannot be said that no child in the country will ever again be abused. It cannot be said that every child at risk in the country will be provided with protection. Unfortunately, there will always be some children who fall through the cracks. There will always be bad people, intent on abusing there position or abusing children or vulnerable adults. Such people have no consciousness or moral compass. We can make it more difficult, however, for such people and provide a better child protection service. We can also ensure that those who prey on children or vulnerable adults are brought to justice, where possible, and that the community fully and properly co-operates in this regard. The latter objective can be contributed to greatly by the enactment of this legislation.

Question put and agreed to.