Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Other Questions

Ombudsman for Children Reports

5:10 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal South West, Sinn Fein)
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7. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will advise her and her Department’s analysis, if same has been done, of the more than 1,200 complaints recorded and addressed by the Ombudsman for Children in 2012; if it is the practice that year on year such an analysis is undertaken in order to take appropriate action to help reduce, if not eliminate, the causes of repeat issues arising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21771/13]

As the Deputy is aware, the Ombudsman for Children is an independent officer of the State and accounts for her statutory functions to the Oireachtas. As Minister, I have certain functions and responsibilities for the Ombudsman for Children's office under the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002. This primarily relates to governance matters, most notably the funding of the Ombudsman for Children's office through the Vote of my Department.

The Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, has not yet published her annual report for 2012. I know it is the practice of the ombudsman to provide a full analysis of the number and nature of complaints received when she produces her annual report to the Oireachtas in due course. I am aware that a figure of 1,200 was mentioned in recent media coverage of the impact of new legislative measures that took effect on 1 May 2013 for both the Ombudsman, Ms. Emily O'Reilly, and the Ombudsman for Children. However, the Ombudsman for Children's office has confirmed that the number of complaints received in 2012 was, in fact, 1,465. By comparison, the number of complaints received in 2011 was 1,393, so there was an increase of approximately 100.

It is a matter for each Minister, including myself as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, together with our respective Departments, to consider the issues raised by Ms Logan, not only in her reports to the Oireachtas but on an ongoing basis in our respective dealings with the Ombudsman for Children's office, through the mechanisms provided in the legislation that applies. Clearly, the Ombudsman for Children has performed a valuable ongoing role in advancing the rights and welfare of children in Ireland since her appointment to that role in 2004. She is in constant contact with Oireachtas committees and provides advices to Government on legislation. Representatives from her office were recently working with us on the development of the Children First legislation and she also, in a public way, highlights various policies and practices affecting the lives of children which need to be changed. The Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 provides that, in the performance of her complaints and investigative functions, she of course has regard to the best interests of the child.

I have met Ms. Logan on quite a number of occasions and I have taken the opportunity to get a first-hand account of the areas about which she is concerned. As I said, we liaise with her office on an ongoing basis in regard to legislation and services. We review the ombudsman's report when it comes in, as we want to identify patterns or concerns that would benefit from further policy consideration.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister for her reply. At the outset, I want to say I have great respect for Ms Logan and for her office. The purpose of my question is to establish whether the Office of the Ombudsman for Children is dealing with the various cases that come before it. We all receive the annual report - I have attended its launch on a number of occasions - and we all then continue on into the following year. I am anxious to establish what is the current level of engagement and what analysis there may be in regard to issues and causes of complaint. Is there is currently a crossover between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Office of the Ombudsman for Children in seeking to identify measures that could be taken to eliminate, if possible, or at least in some way mitigate against the worst possible outcomes in regard to given situations that must be repeating year on year? It is very important that while my question referred to more than 1,200 complaints, we note from the figures the Minister has just cited that it was much more in 2012, at 1,465 cases, up from a figure of 1,393 for the previous year.

My question seeks to establish whether there is that level of address and, if not, whether the Minister would regard such an exercise as useful. Obviously, it is something Ms Logan would have to be directly involved in. It is not about the individual cases per se, or about the detail of any individual case or complaint received, or, indeed, its address; it is about the broad brush-stroke situations that may present in significant numbers across the profile of the 1,465 cases last year, and how we can inform ourselves to do something that might - I emphasise "might" - make a difference in regard to those situations that present repeatedly.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy makes a very reasonable point in regard to reports. Obviously, many reports regarding children and young people are presented to the Department, and the ombudsman's report is a very important one. The Deputy will remember that I said in the Dáil in March 2012, in response to a parliamentary question, that I undertook to consider the recommendations in Ms Logan's report, which was the report by the Ombudsman for Children on the operation of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 and which contained a whole range of recommendations similar to those that often appear in the annual reports. I did that. I have taken up with other colleagues a range of points Ms Logan has made, where they are of relevance, such as in the areas of justice, education and health, and I have asked for their response to the recommendations she made.

To take one example of where we follow through, a point Ms Logan has made repeatedly is in regard to her having responsibility for and being able to access and investigate issues involving the Adoption Authority. That has now happened under the review of the ombudsman legislation which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, undertook. My officials were in contact with his Department to make progress on that issue and it was in the legislation we passed here in October. With regard to the National Council for Special Education, the Deputy will be aware that on many occasions Ms Logan has raised in her reports the issue of the council coming under her remit. That has also now happened. She also made recommendations in regard to other issues which we have followed up on, so there has been follow-on in a whole range of areas.

A broader question arises in terms of the many reports on children that have been published over the years. There is a need to bring them all together and to undertake a forensic examination of the recommendations. For example, a particular committee is looking at the Ryan report and its recommendations. Every few months, we assess in detail the recommendations and the progress that is being made, but there are so many other reports. My Department is currently undertaking an analysis and trying to draw up a very structured response, precisely as the Deputy has suggested, to the range of recommendations that come across our desks in the whole variety of reports that have been published in recent months and years.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister's reply. She demonstrates that the essence of what I am trying to get at is actually happening. Whether or not the full potential of what could be achieved is currently in train is something we can explore again. I welcome the positivity of the Minister's reply and I commend that continuing approach to develop it, where possible.