Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Children (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Children Act 2001 to permit the publication or broadcast of details pertaining to a person who has been charged with an offence against a child where that child is deceased, and to permit adults who were victims of an offence committed against them when they were a child to waive the anonymity provided for under the Children Act 2001.
I seek leave to introduce this Bill along with my colleague, Deputy Murnane O'Connor. The Bill seeks to amend section 252 of the Children Act 2001. The reason I stand here seeking to introduce this legislation is because of the tragic event that took place some eight days ago not far from this convention centre. A 16-year-old boy called Josh Dunne was fatally stabbed. His death was a terrible tragedy for his mother, Diane, his family and friends, his soccer club, St. Kevin's boys' soccer club, and Bohemians, the club for which he was also selected to play. Regrettably, none of us will ever be able to see the great promise that Josh displayed not only as a person, but also as a soccer player. His loss is not simply a loss to his family and friends, it is a loss to the whole community.
His death, unfortunately, underlines the fact that knife crime in this society is an increasing problem. We saw earlier today that a woman died in the Mater hospital as a result of knife injuries inflicted upon her on 20 January. There has been a series of knife attacks not far from this convention centre over the past eight to ten days. It is a significant issue. We need to warn society, particularly men and young boys, that it is not acceptable to carry knives. Josh was not carrying a knife but was caught up in a row as a result of someone else carrying a knife.
We also need to introduce stronger legislation. I and Fianna Fáil introduced an amendment to the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act in 2019 to ensure that we could have an increased sentence for people who are caught in possession of knives with intent to cause harm to others.
The purpose of the Bill I am introducing is to seek to amend section 252 of the Children Act 2001. That section provides that in any proceedings that involve a crime committed against a child, the child cannot be identified after proceedings have commenced. The legislation makes perfect sense if the child has been subjected to sexual abuse or has been assaulted. It would obviously add to the trauma of the child if his or her victimhood was going to be publicised in newspapers or the media and it would add to the trauma of the attack already inflicted upon the child. However, it was never envisaged that the provision would apply in respect of a child who had been killed. It never applied to that extent because, until 2019, there was no such understanding of the application of that provision and never was it the case that children who had been killed were anonymised once the case came to trial. As a result of a decision by the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, in respect of a prosecution, and as a result of a decision by the Court of Appeal on 29 October 2020, it is now the case that in any proceedings where a child has been killed, the child cannot be identified. That has resulted in significant harm and damage being caused. In the first instance, it is a significant issue of confusion for the public. People are informed of the name of a child after that child has been killed. That is absolutely correct because it is such a major issue in our society when a child is killed. Individuals are informed, the public is informed and the child is named. However, once proceedings are commenced, the media cannot identify the name of the child. That leads to absurd situations where a child will have been named in the media for a period of days and then once an individual is charged in respect of the child's death, the child cannot be named anymore. That is one reason why the legislation needs to be changed.
It is also extremely unfair on the families of deceased children that they have to go through this process whereby the memory of their child is being airbrushed from history. I saw on the news the other evening that the mother of an 11-year-old boy who had been murdered was forced to disguise her identity as though she was some criminal who could not be identified in the news. The reason for that was because by revealing her identity, the identity of her dead child would also have been revealed. It is extremely unfair to the families of deceased children that this law is now operating as it is. Part of the reason that Deputy Murnane O'Connor wanted to be a part of this Bill is because she is in close contact with Kathleen Chada, the mother of children who were killed. I, similarly, have spoken to Andrew McGinley, the father of children who have been killed.
I know that the Minister for Justice shares my concern about this matter. I, along with Senator McDowell, have met the Minister and she is agreeable to changing the legislation. We need to ensure, however, that this legislation is expedited and that we change the law promptly because it is unfair to the memory of children who have been killed that we allow this law to continue. That is why I am introducing this Bill today.