Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

2:30 pm

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)

I support and second Senator Fitzgerald's call for the amendment of Standing Orders to provide for a debate on the issues raised in the "Prime Time Investigates" television programme last night. It was a particularly good analytical programme, which set out in stark terms the reality of what is happening throughout the child protection services presided over by the Health Service Executive, and ultimately, the Government. It showed the alarming extent to which children, at risk of abuse and neglect, are being failed by the social services system, and it is an issue on which there should be a debate in this House.

It is not acceptable for a Minister to say, as I heard this morning, that this is a matter for the HSE. We have heard the old mantra of the HSE having to live within its budget, with the suggestion that ultimately, this was not a matter for political accountability at all. We have repeatedly debated issues concerning the health and social services in this House and were told they were matters for the HSE, which must live within its budget. There must be political accountability for these types of issues, with a debate and an account given to this House and the public on what is happening. It is not acceptable for the HSE spokesman to say, as he appeared to do last night, that what was being said and the evidence given, was not true. People were giving the evidence to their programme of their work on a daily basis and we, as viewers, were being told that this was not occurring at all.

If the HSE is saying, against the evidence given on the programme, that these children are being seen, who is seeing them? They are not being seen by the social workers who were interviewed in such numbers on the programme last night. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Health and Children or the new Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs to come to the House and facilitate a debate on these very serious and grave issues, which need to be confronted by the Government immediately?

In light of yesterday's publication of a pastoral letter by the Catholic bishops regarding the patronage issue in primary schools, I ask the Leader to facilitate also a debate in the House on that question. We have dealt with it before, in a Labour group Private Members' motion some months ago, when I recall that the then Minister for Education and Science told the House there was no need for a public debate or the type of convention that we were calling for at the time. The Department has since varied its position and proposes hosting a conference next month. However, the bishops' pastoral is a very useful contribution to the debate.


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