Seanad debates

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Children First Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages

 

10:30 am

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded. I welcome the Minister.

Amendment No. 1 is a Government amendment and it is also in the name of Senator van Turnhout. This amendment arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 1:

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I will address amendment No. 1 first. This is a technical amendment to amend the Long Title of the Bill in order to provide for the abolition of the defence of reasonable chastisement by way of an amendment to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, as proposed in amendment No. 2.

As amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are being taken together-----

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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Is any other speaker offering?

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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No. Both of those amendments are being taken together and the Minister is about to speak to amendment No. 2.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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This amendment proposes to amend the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and provide for the abolition of the defence of reasonable chastisement. As I stated on Committee Stage, the Government is fully committed to the elimination of corporal punishment and to protecting children from violence. This amendment not only abolishes the defence of reasonable chastisement but will also convey a strong message which, I hope, will lead to a cultural change across society in Ireland that corporal punishment is wrong.

Senator van Turnhout proposed an amendment in this regard on Committee Stage and I requested her to postpone the progressing of it until Report Stage in order that the work already well under way in my Department on this issue could be finalised. I thank her for her co-operation in that regard. This is a very important issue and it is one in respect of which we share an objective. Many Members of the House who spoke on the issue on Committee Stage clearly share the same objective. The Senator supports the amendment as brought forward by me today.

I take this opportunity to mention the late John Boland, a former Deputy and predecessor of mine, who is survived by his widow, Kay. On 26 January 1982, when he was Minister for Education, John Boland introduced a regulation banning corporal punishment in schools. That regulation came into effect in February 1982. We are joined in the Gallery by the relatives of the late Dr. Cyril Daly, whom I knew very well and who was also a great exponent of banning corporal punishment when it was neither popular nor profitable to do so. As a result of his stance, Mr. Daly found himself in conflict with those powers that he held in such dear esteem.

The amendment before the House provides for the total abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement. It does not create a new offence but rather removes something that has its roots in a completely different era and societal context. The measure asserts: that there is no circumstance in which it may be seen to be in order to hit a vulnerable person, in this case a child; that from a child's perspective there is nothing reasonable about being on the receiving end of corporal punishment; that Irish parents are no less protective of their children, nor less progressive in their parenting practices, than those in the other 19 European countries where a statutory ban on corporal punishment is in place; that the Government, by its laws, will protect and vindicate the rights of children; and that Ireland is diligent as regards meeting its international obligations in the area of human rights. The measure represents a significant advancement as regards the protection and rights of children. It reinforces the developing impetus in parenting practices in Ireland to use positive discipline strategies in upbringing of children which reject the use of corporal punishment.

The environment in which this amendment can be taken is one that takes account of the children's referendum. The referendum marked a milestone in this country in regard to children. The people voted in favour of children having rights and those rights that must be respected. The action we take today is a further step in recognising those rights, making that amendment to our Constitution all the more real.

I would also like to say a word about positive parenting where we support our children's self-discipline and behaviour by means of a learning strategy rather than through punishment. Positive parenting is strongly advocated by many parenting support groups and programmes. The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, has published a parenting support strategy which was launched in October 2013. As part of that strategy, the agency has launched its 50 Key Messages document, which is an evidence-informed guide for parents and practitioners of keys messages that are important in the context of raising children.Family resource centres around the country provide positive parenting programmes which people will find beneficial. In other jurisdictions where similar measures in this area have been introduced, research shows the number of parents who thought it acceptable to use corporal punishment has fallen and continues to fall.

I commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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The Minister, Deputy Reilly, is always welcome to the Seanad. He is, however, particularly welcome today. One of the first objectives I set when I became a Member in 2011 was for Ireland to repeal the defence of reasonable chastisement. When the Seanad took Committee Stage of the Children First Bill on 23 September, I tabled an amendment, with thanks to the expert help of Dr. Fergus Ryan, to the same purpose as this amendment. At the time the Minister said, “If I have my way, we will have this defence of reasonable chastisement removed from the Statute Book". Here we are today.

I am very aware of and thankful for all the work done by the Minister personally, by officials and advisers across the Government, co-operating and working together to bring about this amendment. I extend my particular thanks to the officials of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I also thank my assistant and researcher, Amy McArdle, for all her work and support. I was heartened on Committee Stage to receive cross-party and Independent support. I thank my colleagues for that. On 23 September, I cited several international and national experts. I do not intend to repeat myself today but ask that my words on Committee Stage be included in any documenting of how Ireland brought about the abolition of the defence of reasonable chastisement.

Over the years, there have been notable voices to the fore calling for Ireland to take this step. Of special note, I must thank the Childrens Rights Alliance, in particular Tanya Ward and Maria Corbett, who have been steadfast in their support and in ensuring the support of a wide range of children and youth organisations; the ISPCC, Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, driven by the experience of children calling into its Childline service, has always prioritised ending a culture of violence against children; and the special rapporteur on child protection, Professor Geoffrey Shannon, who has through his reports repeatedly called on us as legislators to repeal the defence of reasonable chastisement.

For the global leadership they have provided, I thank Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children; Peter Newell of the global initiative to end all corporal punishment of children; and Ireland’s academics who have shone a light on Ireland’s international obligations, in particular Professor Ursula Kilkelly of University College Cork. I also thank Jenny and Michael Hassett, my mum and dad. Since 23 September, I have had much time to reflect and probe why I am so passionate about this issue. It is, of course, rooted in my own childhood. My memories brought me back to a particular primary school teacher who would, on occasion, whack someone in our class across the ears with a ruler. I remember telling my mum. She said that if I was ever hit, I was to stand up calmly, walk out of the class, go to the office of the school secretary and ask for my parents to be called to come and collect me. I was lucky. My parents were ahead of their time. They respected me as an independent rights holder. I thank my mum for being here today to share this momentous occasion.

Why do we as a society accept that we even debate if and when it is acceptable to hit someone, let alone when that someone is smaller than us and probably does not understand why they are being hit? Very often, when we discuss the issue of corporal punishment, violence against children, or so-called “slapping”, one can almost feel an invisible line appear in people’s heads about their tolerance level. They say, “You know I am only talking about a tap, not a thump, a slap, not a belt, a smack, not a whack”. Of course, the issue is wrapped up in how we were raised. All too often the knee-jerk reaction of "it never did me any harm" is heard. I would add it never did people any good either.

This invisible line is very subjective and it leaves children vulnerable. When someone hits a child, it is not happening from a rational place. The decision is made in a heightened emotional state, when we are stressed, when we are tired and least able to engage sound and reasoned judgment. The invisible line gets blurred. In extreme cases, it gets rubbed out completely. One way or another, the existence of the invisible line means children are all too often exposed to an escalation of violence. The excuse, “I got a terrible fright when she ran out on the road and so I just hit her to show how wrong it is” is used with children. We all get frights in our life but my first reaction is not to hit someone. Why do we culturally accept that it is okay when it is a child? A caller to the “Last Word with Matt Cooper” on Today FM summed it up by saying, “My grandmother has Alzheimer’s and she is as likely to walk out into traffic or harm herself. Should I use that as a reason to slap her?”

Of course, I understand the importance of supporting parents in the vital role they play in their child’s life. We need to ensure parents have access to supports and resources when they need them. We know the majority of parents already believe we have a ban on corporal punishment. However, I know some parents are anxious about this change in the law. I reassure them that we all want the best for their children, for the children of Ireland. To this end, I would like to take this moment to thank Laura Haugh of mummypages.iefor its unequivocal support of the amendment. I would also like to point to an excellent book for any parents who are anxious, developed by a leading advocate in this area, Paul Gilligan. His book, Raising Emotionally Healthy Children, is a great resource which provides much advice and support.

By abolishing the defence of reasonable chastisement, we are giving life to the children’s amendment in our Constitution, Article 42A.1, which states: "The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights." We know that corporal punishment can cause serious harm to children, teaches them that violence is an acceptable way of solving conflicts and is ineffective as a means of discipline. We know there are positive ways to teach, correct or discipline children which are better for the child’s development and health. Corporal punishment makes it more difficult to protect children from severe abuse if some forms of violence are legitimate. With this amendment, we are ensuring that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law.

This ancient defence of reasonable chastisement is not an Irish invention. It came to us from English common law. Through its colonial past, England has been responsible for rooting this legal defence in over 70 countries and territories throughout the world. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the reasonable punishment defence still allows parents and some other carers to justify common assault on children. In Scotland, there is another variation, namely, the defence of justifiable assault. In this action being taken today, the Government is putting children first and providing leadership, which will hopefully give confidence to the Government at Westminster, the devolved UK Administrations and other countries across the globe to discard these archaic and disreputable defences and give full respect to the dignity of children.

Ireland will be the 20th EU member state to effectively ban corporal punishment in our jurisdiction. In doing so, I hope the remaining European governments will follow suit. Irish law is being brought into step with parents, children’s rights advocates and international best practice. With this amendment we have a way to unite and agree that all citizens are equal. There must never be a defence for violence against children. I am honoured to have championed and secured the effective ban on the physical punishment of children in Ireland.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister and his senior staff to the Chamber today. I congratulate Senator van Turnhout on this amendment which I fully support instinctively as a parent and grandparent myself. Without the support of the Minister, this would not have been possible. I admire the work and research the Senator has put into it. As deputy leader of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, I am especially pleased to be associated with it because it would have been to the forefront of the council’s agenda.

Giving leadership to our neighbouring countries is an interesting development.On foot of the work done by Senator van Turnhout and in light of the support she received, the fact that it is permitted in those jurisdictions will put pressure on their legislatures to consider the situation. What is happening here certainly proves a point. If there were no Seanad, this amendment would not have been included because nobody in the Lower House sought to move it. No Deputy decided to pursue it in the manner in which Senator van Turnhout has done. Had this House been abolished, the amendment would never have been moved. There would have been no amendment and the current position would have continued to obtain. The latter is a worthwhile point and the people recognised. The Minister is following in the footsteps of his late colleague from north Dublin, John Boland, who brought about the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. This was a major innovation, particularly as all Members, including the Minister, will recall being in school and the fear and terror we experienced. I attended a Christian Brothers school and I have a great deal of respect for that order. I will never attack the Christian Brothers because they gave me a good start in life. I refer, in particular, to Brother O'Dwyer, who gave me great support at school and who I have always regarded highly. Nevertheless, the Christian Brothers had leather straps made which allowed members of the order to inflict maximum torture on pupils. I recall the fear of getting "six of the best", as it was called, and seeing teachers standing on their tiptoes in order to inflict the maximum pain. That has stayed in my memory. This fear was not just for myself because I was not punished that much although, like every child in the class, I was given six of the best at some stage. I wish to recognise the name of John Boland in the Chamber today. Mr. Boland was a former colleague of the Minister in north Dublin and I presume he knew him well. John Boland was the Minister who brought about the abolition of corporal punishment at a time when there was a lot of resistance to the proposal. Looking back, was it not right that it was abolished?

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Teachers could physically abuse pupils in front of their peers in the classroom. If I look back to my own childhood, it was like that of Senator van Turnhout, who was blessed with her mother and father and the manner in which they gave her support. That support has built her up and given her the courage to bring forward these amendments. However, I recall going home to a loving mother - my father was a stonemason and worked away from home a great deal - who was there to greet me with a cup of tea and some biscuits. I looked forward to that moment. There was never fear in my home and I was fortunate in that regard. Moreover, one continues with the example one receives with one's own family and that was something to which we never needed to resort. It is nothing about which to boast but I was fortunate this did not arise.

I wish to make one point in respect of which the Minister might respond. This provision should not lead to overuse or abuse of the resources of the Garda Síochána. However, a reasonable approach should be taken. One might call it a phasing-in approach whereby people will be aware of the position, will not abuse the law and will not be able to resort to this defence if they are actually challenged or if charges are brought against them. It is important that from the time the President signs this Bill into law, anyone who sees a child being abused, by a parent or otherwise, will have the right - and will use that right - to inform a member of the Garda that wrongdoing is taking place and that the law is being broken. I refer to public demonstrations of abuse which will be quite evident, which one can foresee and about which one can do something. Privately and internally, a child will be able to contact the helpline, which is fine, but the Minister should be aware of this point. The publicity that will arise from this provision and parents' awareness of it will go a long way toward achieving compliance and ensuring that parents will not use force against, abuse or slap their children . There are many other ways to do it. Every family is different but this is an important development and I am delighted to be associated with it.

I again congratulate Senator van Turnhout on her initiative in tabling this amendment. In particular, I congratulate the Minister and his officials. I presume this measure was approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday last, so I take this opportunity to compliment the Cabinet as well. I do so because this may not be as popular in some quarters as it might be in others. However, popularity does not matter - we are concerned with the rights of children. As the Senator noted, why pass a referendum without introducing this measure? In a sense, there was a contradiction in that the people approved a children's rights amendment without something being done to protect children in their homes or otherwise. I again say "Well done" and offer my congratulations. I thank the Minister for going along with this amendment in the House. It shows his independence of thought and his ability as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I have great faith in the Minister's ability and long may he continue his work.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I wish to add my voice to the welcome for this amendment. I also wish to welcome the Minister and thank him, in particular, for accepting the amendment. He gave Members great heart on Committee Stage when he stated that if he had his way, the amendment would be accepted. I spoke at length on this amendment on Committee Stage but I reiterate my thanks and appreciation to Senator van Turnhout for the work she put into it. She has been the driving force behind the amendment. One sometimes might hear people stating that a Senator was not elected to the Seanad but instead was nominated or whatever. Senator van Turnhout has proved today why she was nominated to be a Member of this House. She brought her expertise with her - having worked with the Children's Rights Alliance - and now, having utilised it, she has accomplished what she set out to achieve. Today, I am proud to be part of the Government which has accepted this amendment. I speak on behalf of all my Labour Party colleagues, who support fully this amendment and are delighted that it has been accepted. I am sure our leader, Senator Bacik, will reaffirm this point when she speaks later.

In recent weeks I have discussed this proposal with people and have told them what is happening. Approximately 99% of them were in agreement with the proposal and stated that it is fantastic and represents a great move on the part of the Senator. Some others have shown a little reservation about it. One point that arose continually relates to people's concern with regard to how it will be policed and how we will know if children are being slapped at home. I recall that when the smoking ban was introduced, people thought it would never be possible to police it. However, the ban came into force and it worked. Moreover, because it involved an entire cultural change, it stopped people smoking in private houses. People who visit my home will go outside for a fag. I have never stopped them from so doing because I do not really like it in the house. Although there was no obligation on them to leave a private house to go out and smoke, they did so nevertheless. The smoking ban appears to have involved a culture change for people and I believe that what is proposed here will also involve a culture change. That change will focus people's minds on the issue. They can concentrate and conclude they can no longer slap a child. Regardless of how gentle one might be in doing so, one cannot slap a child. I believe that 99% of the people are honourable and will abide by this law. I thank all those present in the Gallery who have put a lot of work into this measure in conjunction with Senator van Turnhout, the Minister and his officials. It is a great day on which I am proud to be present in the Seanad. What we are doing shows that this House was worth keeping.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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First and foremost, I commend the Minister on bringing forward this Bill. It is a good day for Ireland and the State that the passage of the Bill before us through the Houses is reaching its conclusion. I sat on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for the first two years in which I served in the Seanad and it was an issue the Minister constantly supported and raised. He received full co-operation in respect of it from my party, as well as cross-party support and support from the Independent groupings and that has helped us reach the position at which we have arrived today. I also commend Senator van Turnhout on her eloquent contribution. Her tabling of these amendments, which the Minister has accepted, means this is a good day for the Seanad and for governance in this State. It is far too often the case that what we are witnessing today does not happen because although reasonable amendments are tabled, they are not accepted as a result of the fact that they are put forward by the Opposition. I am pleased that on this occasion the amendments before the House are being accepted.

It also is important to state that we have come a long way during the past 30 years in how we deal with issues pertaining to children's rights. This culminated in the referendum which, again, my party supported. It was fantastic to see that referendum proposal being passed, even though many people, for all sorts of spurious reasons, did not support it. I am proud Sinn Féin supported it. I am glad that the Opposition and Government parties which supported the referendum proposal on a collective basis managed to get it over the line.

In many respects, this Bill flows from that referendum outcome and strengthens the safeguarding of children. It puts key elements of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children of 2011 on a statutory footing. It also introduces mandatory reporting of child protection concerns for key groups of people that provide services to children.Many thousands of children in this State and across the island have been abused. Many of them were failed by organisations and the State. We have all learned many valuable lessons on how we deal with those issues. That is for the good of all concerned.

I welcome the important amendments to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement from the Statute Book. It is a good day for the State. I will not say what year I was in because that might give away who the teacher was but in one of the years when I was in primary school, we had a teacher who had a long stick and who used it occasionally to smack all of the children in the class. There was only one teacher in the entire school at that time who used the stick. Fortunately, that does not happen any more. That shows we are progressing all the time.

Reference was made to parents who smack or use a correction to chastise a child. I have two children, one of whom is aged eight and the other is four. They can be very trying at times, like anyone else's children. They try my patience but I have never once raised my hand to either of my children and I never will. However, I will not demonise people who see it as valid to give a child a slight smack. I do not agree with it; it is wrong. What we need to do is to deal with it in legislation to make sure that it is not right and that we send out a message collectively from the Oireachtas that we do not tolerate such behaviour any more. While a person might consider it to be the right thing for him or her to do, that he or she is not doing anything wrong or that this is the way he or she wishes to chastise his or her child, it does not work, it is not right and it is not fair. We have all seen parents in pubs or at open air events give a child of two or three years of age a smack. That is most unfair and it is not the way we should chastise children when they do wrong.

I commend the Minister on the significant work he has done. He should be commended on this personal achievement. The Government should also be commended, as should all of the Senators who have done their own work on it. I single out Senator van Turnhout and I commend her on the really good job she has done, given her experience and what she has brought to the Seanad on children's rights issues.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister and the groups and individuals in the Visitors Gallery who are present to witness the Bill go through. I wholeheartedy welcome these two amendments. I say well done to Senator Jillian van Turnhout and congratulate her on her tenacity in pursuing this issue. That has brought us to this day when we see this historic Bill being passed, in particular for the reason that it will abolish the ancient and very much outdated defence of reasonable chastisement.

Senator Moloney rightly spoke about the cultural change that will undoubtedly be consolidated and strengthened by the passage of the Bill. I am also a parent of young children. That cultural change has happened. It is now seen as very much unacceptable to physically chastise a child. We have come to realise that there is nothing reasonable about physical chastisement, despite that outdated term we still use. It is really good to see the law catching up with this, the Minister accepting the amendments and the Bill being passed. I commend the Minister and his officials on their work in taking the amendments and getting Government support for them.

This morning the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality had hearings on the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill. We heard from children's rights groups on the protection of the rights of child victims of crime. The Bill is very much in keeping with that overall framework of laws in which we are providing greater protection of children's rights and the rights of child victims of crime. The laws are within the overarching framework of the children's rights amendment that we passed successfully some years ago, as referred to by other Members. As leader of the Labour Party group, I wish to add my words of support and commendation. I congratulate Senator van Turnhout for her work on this Bill. I thank the Minister, in particular for using the Seanad in this way. As other speakers have said, it is a good day for the Seanad when we see Private Members' amendments accepted by the Government in the House and for Bills to be strengthened and improved as a result.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I endorse the amendments. I welcome the Minister. He has always been a great servant of children. The children of Ireland are well served by him. When he was Minister for Health he took steps to ban smoking by adults where children were present in cars. He listened most attentively on Committee Stage to what Members said. I was in his company on that sad occasion last Thursday. Everybody who was at Garda Golden's funeral was moved by the two year-old, three year-old and five year-old children following their father's hearse. We knew the Minister's heart was in the right place. I am delighted he has accepted the amendments.

Present in the Gallery is Dr. Toddy Daly, a son of Dr. Cyril Daly, and Dr. Daly's wife, Aileen. Cyril Daly campaigned for this for many years, a point to which the Minister referred on Committee Stage. His statement on it was that to Cyril Daly the Irish child is a human being with human rights. Children have those rights from today as they are now enforced in legislation.

Like the Minister, I remember John Boland, who as Minister for education in the 1980s introduced the measure on corporal punishment, against substantial opposition. I also mention Owen Skeffington, one of my predecessors as a Trinity Senator. I gather the Daly family has correspondence from Senator Skeffington. I mentioned previously during the debate the famous story that someone said he was beaten in school and it never did him any harm and the Senator's response was "The question is what did do the harm." We have moved away from that approach - Tom Brown's School Days, the fag system and the Victorians with the spare the rod and spoil the child attitude. Since the views of educationalists such as Maria Montessori we now see children are interesting, fascinating, inspiring, stimulating. Why on earth would we want to impose any form of physical punishment on them?

Senator Moloney was deeply moving in her contribution on the previous day's debate. She always is when she speaks in support of Senator van Turnhout on such issues. Senator Leyden said it would be a suitable way to commemorate the centenary of 1916. One of the best suggestions in that regard is that children will be cherished, as in the democratic programme of that Dáil.

This is a significant day for human rights in this country. We were all children once and therefore the rights of everybody are protected by this measure. In its way it is as big a celebration as the one we were celebrating last night in the context of the celebrations in Dublin Castle on 23 May. This one is even bigger when on thinks of the number of people who will benefit in the future from what the Minister is doing here today. I commend the Minister very strongly for making this change and for remembering reading notes in the Irish Medical Timesfrom Dr. Daly, whom he knew personally as a friend. He also knew John Boland as a friend. These friendships do matter. They make us question whose children should be punished and why was that power given to big people to beat small people. We have moved away from all of that now. This is a great day for Seanad Éireann and a great day for the children of this country that this Minister, with the unanimous support of the House, is supporting the amendments.

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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I too congratulate Senator Jillian van Turnhout, and not just for her contribution today but for her several contributions in the past four and a half years since she came into this House, and before she even became a Member of this House. Senator van Turnhout is absolutely committed to the welfare of children in this country. It is a pleasure to know her. I sincerely congratulate her on everything she has done so far. I have no doubt she will continue to support children for many years to come.

I thank the Minister so much for accepting the amendments. He is doing a fantastic job. I congratulate him on his commitment to children. He should keep up the good work.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I will make a few comments as concerns were raised by Senator Leyden on the effect of the amendments on Garda resources. Tusla will still be the first port of call. No new offence is created. I believe matters will be dealt with in the way they have always been addressed very seriously by Tusla if there are allegations or reports of any breach of the legislation.

It is progressive legislation. We have had a number of pieces of progressive legislation in recent years, all of which I welcome.Even when we were in the darkest of times financially, we did not forget the things that were important in life and our values as a people.

Like Senator Jillian van Turnhout, I acknowledge the support of the Children's Rights Alliance and Tanya Ward who is with us today and the great work done by Geoffrey Shannon as special rapporteurin this area, the ISPCC and my officials in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I also acknowledge the presence of Kay Boland, John Boland's widow, who was very supportive of him when others said he was up against, let us say, a degree of resistance in 1982. I thank all Senators but, in particular, Senator Jillian van Turnhout for her persistence and support. This is not the first Bill in which we have both been involved together. Both in her time in the NGO sector and in the Seanad, she has done wondrous work for children, on which I congratulate her. I acknowledge the presence of the widow and children of Dr. Cyril Daly who was also a great champion of this cause. I thank everyone for his or her support. We all know in our hearts that Ireland will be a better place for it.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 2:

“PART 5 MISCELLANEOUS

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 3:

In page 24, line 21, after “1991” to insert the following:“, including a person taking care of one or more children (other than that person’s own such children) in that person’s home, but not including any such person who is a relative of the child or children or the spouse of such relative”.

I will be very brief on this amendment because I support fully the substance of the Bill. With this amendment, the section would provide that a mandated person would include a person employed in a preschool service within the meaning of Part VIIA of the Child Care Act 1991, "including a person taking care of one or more children (other than that person's own such children) in that person's home, but not including any such person who is a relative of the child or children or the spouse of such relative". We dealt with this issue on Committee Stage and believed there was reason to bring it forward again on Report Stage as a number of other amendments had been submitted. The problem for us is that the Bill defines a mandated person as a person "employed in a pre-school service within the meaning of Part VIIA of the Child Care Act 1991". Part VIIA of the Child Care Act includes childminders caring for four or more children, other than their own, but exempts childminders caring for three or fewer children. The aim of the amendment is to ensure inclusion of childminders caring for three or fewer children while still excluding relatives. We discussed this matter on Committee Stage but felt it was important to resubmit the amendment.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I second the amendment for the purposes of debate, but I appreciate, as I have said to Senator David Cullinane, that we probably have not had enough time to debate the issue in full. It is one I support fully in principle.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Schedule 2 specifies professions or occupations for the purposes of specifying classes of persons to be mandated persons in accordance with the Bill. Amendment No. 3 proposes to include a person taking care of one or more children in his or her home who is not a relative of the child. One of the reasons a person taking care of a child in his or her home is not a mandated person under the Bill is that the categories of persons set out in Schedule 2 were included in the Schedule on the basis of their professional qualifications and ongoing contact with children. The focus on a small, qualified cadre of mandated reporters will, based on evidence, improve the quality of reports made to the agency. The receipt by it of better quality reports from persons who, by virtue of their training, qualifications and professional experience, are well equipped to recognise harm to a child is likely to have a positive effect on the process of assessments of the risk for a child. The list of mandated persons was developed following detailed consideration of both the objectives of the legislation and the reserach paper on how mandatory reporting was dealt with internationally. As indicated, as the persons included in the list have been selected on the basis of their qualifications, role and professional expertise, it means that they are aware of risks to children and their responsibilities in that regard. It is anticipated that reports from these persons are likely to be of a high quality, which will assist the agency in carrying out assessments of risk in a more effective and efficient manner.

The reason childminders are not included in the requirement for mandatory reporting is that the childminding sector is not homogenous and a wide variety of arrangements, including personal family arrangements, pertain. In that context, it was considered overly onerous to impose a mandatory requirement on such a heterogeneous group of providers. However, it is important to note that, while not required to do so under the legislation, any person can and should report any concern about a child to the agency in accordance with the Children First national guidance which will operate in tandem with the legislation. This position applies to childminders as well to as any other person who has contact with a specific child or children, whether in the context of service provision or otherwise. In comparison, the formal childminding sector, namely, crèches, will be covered by requirements relating to child safeguarding statements and mandated reporting.

The Senator's concern to protect this group of children should be alleviated by the fact that there are many other professionals in contact with this group of children, including nurses who are mandated persons and GPs. In this regard, the recent extension of GP medical cards to children under six years of age should ensure greater contact between this group of children and their GPs. This is shortly to be extended further to under-12s next year. GPs are also mandated persons under the legislation. For these reasons, I am not accepting the amendment.

On what Senator Terry Leyden had to say about Garda resources and so forth, in other jurisdictions mandated reporting of this nature has led to a massive increase in reporting, with no increase in prosecutions or real cases being identified. A balance needs to be struck.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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It would be remiss of the Seanad not to congratulate the Minister wholeheartedly on the Bill. While we can say it is long overdue, it is before the House. The Minister has done the work to put child welfare and protection provisions on a statutory footing. We are solidifying good intentions, which has to be commended. This needs to be resourced and the Minister took positive steps in securing these resources in the budget. I have no doubt that he will continue to do so. For me, this is an emotional day, given the repeal of the defence of reasonable chastisement. I commend the Minister for having the courage to bring it forward. On so many issues, he has proved that he is a children's champion. He is an outstanding Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I thank him wholeheartedly for all he has done for the children of Ireland. He has taken a critical leadership role, for which I thank him.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for the Children First Bill. With the amendment, the Title is absolutely correct, as has been very much proved by the Minister with the support of his officials. The opinion of the Attorney General was also sought in this regard and I thank the Minister for the clarification. I was not trying to put a damper on the Bill, but the point is that Garda resources are stretched. It is important, therefore, that the agency will investigate claims and that the matter may then go further.As the Minister said, that would be a very important issue.

I did not realise Mrs. Boland, widow of the late John Boland, was in the Visitors Gallery. She is very welcome. I was in the Dáil with the late John Boland when nobody in this House was here. He was an excellent Minister. It has taken a long time, from 1982 to 2015, to extend those rights. With respect to the Minister, the encouragement received from Senator Jillian van Turnhout and the support of everyone in the House certainly made it possible. We are all very pleased and honoured to be in the House today. Is it not amazing that it took so long? When the then Minister, the late John Boland, brought this forward, it was not as widely accepted as we may think. In fact, there would have been much resistance to it and educationalists felt the classrooms would be chaotic, that there would be no discipline, no power and no control but he proved them all wrong. That is one of his many legacies as Minister in the Department of Education. That stands out today because of Senator Jillian van Turnhout's amendment. It is a wonderful occasion. As we approach 2016, there is no better recognition of it than, after 100 years, we should give children rights as, I think, was envisaged in the Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence.

Senator Sean Barrett also said this was very good and something we should be pleased to say on the eve of the 1916 celebrations. That it will be enacted for 2016 is a very good day's work. I am delighted the Minister has taken on the portfolio for children and youth affairs with gusto. He has such authority in Cabinet that he was in a position to persuade it to accept the amendment tabled by Senator Jillian van Turnhout.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome Mrs. Kay Boland to the Visitors Gallery. I had not seen her before I spoke earlier. Schools are so much happier places since the late John Boland banned corporal punishment in them. The entire country will be happier because of what the Minister has done today with the unanimous support of the Seanad. This is really a great day for children.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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We have laid the thanks and praise on Senator Jillian van Turnhout but it would be remiss of us not to thank the Minister for the work he has done here today. Since he became Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, he has always put children first. We congratulate him on being a fantastic Minister. Yesterday and today have been two historic days for Ireland. I am proud to be part of a Government that achieved that.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 1.34 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.