Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - International Year of the Child.

1.

asked the Minister for Health if in view of the fact that the United Nations designated 1979 as the International Year of the Child, he will indicate, on behalf of the Government, the general action he proposes to take to promote the welfare of children in Ireland, the Minister who will have overall co-ordinating responsibility for children's affairs in the coming year, and the financial provisions, if any, which will be made to co-ordinate and fund activities in relation to the International Year of the Child and its application to Irish programmes.

2.

asked the Minister for Health the plans or programmes the Government propose to introduce as part of the International Year of the Child, and the specific sums of money and other resources the Government propose to assign for this purpose.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

The United Nations have asked each country to review its policies and programmes for the well-being of children during the International Year of the Child. This process is already under way in this country.

As Minister for Health, I have been given primary responsibility by the Government for child care services. One of the main contributions to the International Year of the Child in Ireland will be the submission to me of the report of the Task Force on Child Care Services. The Task Force will be making recommendations on services for deprived children and on the legislative reforms needed to update and modernise the law in relation to children. Whatever legislation may be required arising out of the recommendations of the Task Force will be introduced without delay.

In addition, I will be paying particular attention to the needs of children who are suffering from physical, emotional or material deprivation, particularly the children of itinerants. Special emphasis will also be given to children and the family in health education programmes during 1979. Other Government Departments are each reviewing their policies and programmes in relation to children.

The Government have also set up, under the aegis of my Department, a National Steering Committee for the International Year of the Child. This committee are representative of national, statutory and voluntary bodies concerned with the welfare of children. Their responsibility is to co-ordinate and where necessary stimulate activities for and on behalf of children during 1979. The committee are being serviced by officers of my Department. The amount to be made available to assist organisations promoting special events during the year and to promote the aims of the year generally will be approximately £50,000.

I thank the Minister for his lengthy reply. There are a number of supplementary questions which, with the permission of the Chair, I would like to ask. I want to find out the kind of action that the Government directly will be taking. If I heard the Minister's full reply correctly, and I am open to correction on this, he indicated that he would be awaiting the report of the Task Force but that he, as Minister designated with responsibility, had no immediate plans as of now for legislation relating to children. Is that correct? Is he awaiting the report of the Task Force or does he have, at the beginning of the second month of 1979, specific proposals for legislation in draft form for the Year of the Child?

The idea is that the Task Force would put forward legislation, that they would bring forward either in final form or at least in genesis a Children's Act.

I take it that the Minister has ceded to this Task Force the primary initiative in drafting the outline of such legislation and that his Department have no specific proposals of their own for child protection legislation, such as, for example, the legislation the Fianna Fáil Party voted against when introduced by the Labour Party in the last Government.

If I may take the liberty of saying so, that is a silly sort of statement to make. The Task Force were set up to review the legislation and to put forward proposals for its reform. The primary purpose of the Task Force is to bring forward the new legislation. To achieve that we appointed a High Court judge as chairman of the Task Force, specifically because of their obligation to produce a Children's Act. I do not see how the Deputy can suggest that the Task Force should be preparing legislation while at the same time the Department may be preparing separate legislation.

My inexperience may produce apparently silly questions but I am really——

I am sorry. I withdraw the word.

I do not take offence at it. I am simply trying to find out some facts. With respect to the third most senior Minister of the Government this Dáil is cluttered with numerous review bodies. If the Minister is in a position to do so, I would like him to indicate a specific timetable for certain legislation which this House will be able to consider and debate.

The Deputy should be sensible about this. I am sorry to be using these words, but this is a very difficult and emotional area. I did not set up this Task Force; it was there when I came into office——

I am aware of that.

——and it was set up for this specific purpose. I think it was the right approach. When the Task Force was set up originally, the idea was that they would report within a matter of months; but when they got down to their task they realised they were dealing with a very difficult, complicated area, something involving the most fundamental principles of one sort or another, and naturally the work has taken much longer than anybody anticipated. In order to expedite the work, particularly because of its legal content, I appointed a High Court judge to take the chair and two officers of my Department, full time, to assist the Task Force. I am confident that they will report during 1979 and that we will have the legislation during 1979. That is subject to many reservations. The objective is that we will have a new Children's Act as part of our contribution to the Year of the Child.

Is it not a fact that the year 1979 has been designated by the United Nations for some time as the International Year of the Child? Is it not also a fact that it is well known and accepted that the earliest the Task Force report will be completed is in the autumn of this year?

That is a statement. The Deputy must ask a question.

Can the Minister say if there has been any specific move by his Department to initiate any projects during 1979?

Yes, but up to now we have been talking exclusively about legislation. Deputy Quinn's question and supplementary questions were directed to legislation, which is a very specific thing.

Deputy Keating's question was not.

We have a comprehensive programme of specific administrative matters that do not require legislation.

Arising from the Minister's answers, may I draw attention to the fact that my question asked for information relating to the International Year of the Child and for schemes or initiatives from his Department especially in the context of that year? Would it not be fair to say that the Task Force was set up some time ago and that, in the context of the answer to this question, to concentrate disproportionately on the Task Force might detract from whatever schemes the Department may be considering? Am I right in assuming that a committee with a budget of £50,000 has been set up to consider schemes?

The sum of £50,000 is only a topping up amount. The main purpose of the committee is to activate other bodies and then to co-ordinate their activities. We in the Department have specific schemes for residential child care, for the situation in regard to non-accidental injury to children and in the area of adoption and fosterage. We have a campaign in the area of infant mortality and we will have a fairly comprehensive campaign through the Health Education Bureau which will be parent-child related.

That is a list of specific proposals to mark the International Year of the Child.

These will be specific schemes for this year to mark the International Year of the Child.

The Minister is the person appointed by the Government with specific responsibility for children. Could he tell us if his programme envisages any co-ordination of other Departmental activities, such as the Department of Tourism and Transport or the Environment?

Yes. The Department of the Environment have a programme related to the recreational needs of children. The Department of Education are naturally involved in the educational needs of difficult age groups and a subsidiary form of activity for children in developing countries is being carried out by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs have a proposal to——

Will this list be published? Will we have any idea of what is proposed?

Does the Deputy mean specific Departmental programmes?

That would be a task for the interdepartmental committee. I will see what they can supply very quickly for the information of Deputies.

Would the Minister be good enough to include consideration of the plight of children in the inner city of Dublin who are suffering deprivation on a number of economic and social fronts? It might be a very fitting way to mark this particular year if special attention were to be drawn to these children.

Before 7 June.

In so far as the programmes would be of general application, naturally these children would be included in all of them. I do not know if there is any body which has particular programmes in that area.

That is the problem.