Children (Care and Protection) Bill, 1985: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before I moved the adjournment of the debate I was referring to the fundamental need to support vulnerable families. A healthy, well supported and adequate family means that we do not have to have recourse to a lot of the legislation dealt with in the House. We all agree that the ideal is that children be permitted to stay within their own families but that will not come about unless we provide the proper resources to support such families. I drew attention to the evaluation report on the Wexford Family Centre which was co-sponsored by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the South Eastern Health Board. Many of the reports on children and their rights have regretted that we lack research in this area. I paid tribute to the information and research produced by this evaluation report.

One of the points raised in this report is in line with the Minister's thinking of getting as many of our health and welfare services into the community rather than institutionalising and centralising them. I pointed out that the cost of keeping one child in residential care and one teenager in Loughan House, which was open at that time, would have been greater than the entire cost of running the ISPCC family welfare centre in Wexford in 1981. The figures showed that such a centre gave value for money and that even on the economic front the work of the family centre made sense. The final sentence of the report said that the work of the family centre in Wexford epitomised the type of community based service that recent Ministers for Health had advocated as they endeavoured to shift the thrust of our health and social services from institutional to community care. This is very much in line with the Minister's statement that the aim would be to bring about a redistribution of resources away from institutionalised towards community services, particularly those of disadvantaged groups. The Minister might give further study to this evaluation report and have such a service provided on a national scale. Most of society's ills stem from a background of deprivation and inadequacy.

Deputy Shatter dealt at length with custody and he concluded that there might be a need for a referendum because of constitutional difficulties that might arise under the guardianship legislation. The thrust of this legislation is that the rights and welfare of children will be paramount and that any obstacle, whether constitutional or otherwise, will have to be looked at and firmly dealt with. I have already asked if our Constitution as it stands will serve the needs of the people for the eighties and the nineties. Rather than having an endless number of referenda at great expense, we might consider a debate on a bill of rights which would be enable us to have a society based on justice and individual civil rights without having to constantly look over our shoulders or having the Constitution challenged in the Supreme Court by privileged interest groups who have the time and the money to constitutionally obstruct the equalisation of society which we are attempting.

Again we come back to the need for resources and the back-up needed so that the families at risk, and particularly their children, will be supported and that intervention will be there when it is needed, and not when it is too late. I have dealt with the urgent need for day care facilities and I have given some idea of how that can be done at little cost to the taxpayers. This could be done by making sure that developers provide facilities when building housing estates. Another area where help is needed is in home help services. This hits the poorer and more deprived families. We might consider how effective the rural home help scheme has been in allowing farming families to take time off and having a rota of skilled people who are willing to take over when the farming family wish to take time off or when a member is sick.

I want to bring to the Minister's attention the pressure which can be brought on a parent, be it a single parent family or a mother in the home where the father cannot take time off from work. Regardless of the mother's help or her need for a break, we do not have the network of services to help her. I realise that I am appealing to a Minister who is committed to community care, but I hope we will be able to set up a similar home help scheme in urban areas to facilitate parents who are under pressure. This could be done on a sliding scale of payment. The training of the home help service should not be undervalued, as work in the home is at present. For families who can only afford to pay part of the cost, we might be able to set up a sliding scale of payments. Those who could afford would pay the full cost but the poorer families would only pay what they could afford.

The Council for the Status of Women explored the possibility of getting money from the European Social Fund to train people to provide this type of scheme. Their idea was to provide a service which would provide social help but would also create employment. Unfortunately the guidelines were too rigid to allow money to be made available from that fund, but I wonder if the Minister would explore this matter once again to see if we might get this funding now because there are many people who would be keen to have such a scheme and to provide the training for those involved in home help services.

I welcome section 57 which says that a child care advisory committee under each health board area should be set up. The Minister said that persons who are not members of the health boards would be members of such a committee. I welcome that too because the expertise and the experience of these people will add to the value of the board.

As well as welcoming the regional child care advisory committees, as Deputy Shatter mentioned, we would also welcome an overall national children's council to co-ordinate, standardise and keep in communication with such regional committees. This national council would be a base, not only for the input from such committees but also for information, providing, perhaps, workshops relating to research. There is a great need for such co-ordination, particularly having regard to the number of voluntary and statutory organisations working towards the same end but very often in a disparate fashion.

At a poverty council held in Kilkenny some years ago, Ms. Noreen Carney, who had done some research into the available social services, came to the conclusion that there was a great amount of goodwill and a certain amount of resources, but sometimes these were not effectively used through lack of co-ordination. She instanced a case of a child from urban Dublin attending, in progression, three or four different hospitals where the file would not be transferred from one hospital to another but each hospital would set up the bureaucratic administrative work. Not alone did that mean incomplete information because of lack of the background to the case, but a huge waste of time and investment at administrative level. I am sure the Minister and members of his Department are examining that matter. One would expect the National Children's Council to effectively deal with such cases. The Kennedy Committee as far back as 1970 recommended that there should be such a national council and stated that not much research was entered into with regard to child care and the need for facilities for children. Since then, many reports have been published and we are all trying to use the information received from such research to bring about a good Bill, and it is hoped, the necessary resources to back it up.

It is to be hoped that the type of continuous research referred to by the Kennedy Committee would be part of the work of the national council. It is through research that our learning becomes complete, our mistakes are eradicated and that a tremendous amount of cross-fertilisation of ideas, sometimes from other countries and from other structures, comes about. Year by year, more is found out about the development of children, their place and their rights in society and research is of paramount importance here.

Part VI deals with the role of the courts in this legislation. It is a little depressing that at present the District Courts would be the courts mostly dealing with these cases. We have research and the experience of other countries to show that District Courts, as now run, are not appropriate or adequate to deal with the whole area of child care and children's rights. Even as recently as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown, a strong recommendation was made for family courts to deal with children in a non-threatening, flexible, fluid fashion, where not alone the children's rights but their welfare would be paramount. It was advocated that they should not be dealt with by a judge who might not particularly be a specialist in that area. In other countries, judges for the specialist children's courts, as well as having legal training must have some insight, experience and expertise in child care.

Such a family court should have not alone the proper back-up welfare system but should allow for all kinds of evidence to be given by social workers, guidance counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and any group that could contribute to the welfare of the child and the family. Deputy Shatter suggested, because of the amount of tension, pain and conflict arising particularly with regard to the custody of children, the presence of an independent advocate in such cases, not to take sides but to ensure that there would be the least trauma and pain inflicted on all involved.

We note the Minister's serious consideration of the effect of volatile substances on youngsters, particularly the dreadfully destructive effect of glue sniffing on very young children. In section 83 the Minister has brought in legislation to deal with that. I am sure that other Deputies as well as I would ask that substances which are equally destructive, if not so volatile, such as the early addiction to alcoholic drink and tobacco, be tackled. There is a problem in preventing young children from having access to these substances. We need to highlight not just the responsibility of persons who would sell such destructive substances to young people but the need for an educational awareness on the part of older people of the harm done, even in goodwill, by purchasing such substances on behalf of those children who cannot obtain them themselves. There is a certain lack of awareness of the total irresponsibility of so doing and that is the main source of access of young people to alcoholic drink and cigarettes.

Addiction to these substances may not quite so quickly or painfully effect young children as glue sniffing which leads to drug abuse, but there is a huge problem involving rehabilitation for the rest of the children's shortened lives or terrible problems to be overcome in later years at tremendous cost.

One matter which has surfaced, of which we must all be aware, is the danger to children from sexual abuse. This has received far less consideration and there have been far fewer speeches on it than on the ills of drink and drug addiction for young people. Last week Deputy Ormonde said it was estimated that one in six adult women were sexually abused or assaulted as children. That is a horrifying figure but in all countries, and particularly in Ireland, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We know from the experience of the Rape Crisis Centre that many women have blocked the crime from their memory because it has been so painful and traumatic for them or because they have felt so guilty about it. For far too long in Ireland it has been a taboo subject. We need to carry out far more research on the subject and I compliment the Minister for giving some funds towards this end.

We must show openness, honesty and total compassion not only towards the victims but also towards the perpetrators of that kind of sexual abuse. The crime is so sick and tragic that help is needed certainly for the child and the victim. There is also the need to remove the child from a family when this crime begins. We must also, with compassion and help, look into the kind of help that needs to be given to an adult who is so perverted and sick that he carries out an act of sexual assault or abuse on a young person. The intimacy and sacredness of the family has allowed incest within families to continue for far too long with tragic, dreadful results. A point I welcome very much is that all of this has been brought out into the open. The Minister has given us statistics but the Members of the House know that the figures are small in comparison with the reality.

We will have gone quite a way when we have completed the debate on Committee Stage of this Bill. It is essential that the resources be given to enable us to have the necessary back-up system to help the families at risk, namely, the vulnerable deprived families who will have a sense of guilt and inadequacy when their children are taken from them. That aspect must be considered very seriously and we must set up the network of support that is necessary.

We have to make a start at second level education in our schools. We expect that the resources will be given to back up this legislation and we will also expect that the necessary information and education be given so that we will not have the same number of casualties or the same painful cases coming forward each year. If all this help is given, fewer families in the future will have to be subjected to measures like this. The necessary supports must be given to ensure that children are not at risk and that families will not find themselves at the point where their children have to be taken into care.

The need for an updating of legislation to deal with children has been widely acknowledged for a long time by various Ministers and by almost all groups concerned with the welfare of children. This Bill has been promised for many years by successive Governments but I suppose it is better late than never. While I welcome the fact that the Bill has been brought before us at last and that even in its present form it will improve the situation, there are many shortcomings in the Bill and many areas that have not been dealt with properly. This is one of three Bills that were promised. Probably it would have been better and more satisfactory for the House if all three had been brought out together so that we could determine the overall strategy being pursued by the Government in dealing with the problems of neglected children. Before dealing with the details of the Bill, it is important to put the problems which this Bill sets out to deal with in an overall context.

According to the explanatory memorandum, the Bill sets out to deal with the care and protection of children, particularly those who are neglected, ill-treated or otherwise at risk. The many good ideas and progressive proposals in the Bill will have little effect if Government policies in other areas lead directly or indirectly to children being neglected, ill-treated or put at risk.

Child neglect and ill-treatment are problems found in all social groups but there is no doubt that the incidence of these problems is greatest in families who are under pressure as a result of low income, inadequate housing and general social deprivation. I maintain that as long as we have poverty and deprivation in society there will be problems of ill-treatment and child neglect.

Since this Government came back to power tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs. Unemployment is at an unprecedented level and over 60 per cent of the unemployed are on unemployment assistance, the lower level of payment. Literally hundreds of thousands of children are living in such families and it is reasonable to argue that very few people can manage a family effectively and lead any kind of decent life on that kind of money. Many of the families concerned simply cannot cope.

There have been cutbacks in a number of important areas that normally would have assisted families in that category. Last year, for instance, there was a cutback in the clothing grants for children. There has been a cutback in the fuel vouchers scheme and there has been a general tightening up of money available under this supplementary welfare allowance scheme. All of these factors lead to greater pressures on families already at risk. Some families simply cannot cope, with the result that children are either neglected or ill-treated. I would not like it to go out from here that I am suggesting all children who are neglected or ill-treated are the children of the unemployed. That is not the case. The vast majority of the unemployed succeed in coping with their children and caring for them despite the deprivation in which they find themselves but the reality is that the greater the pressures in terms of finance, bad housing and so on, the greater is the likelihood that children will suffer. Until we have a society in which poverty and deprivation can be eliminated, children will be neglected and ill-treated. Those who determine the economic conditions in which these people have to live must bear some of the guilt for this situation. The Bill will have little impact on the overall problem unless the necessary staff and resources are directed towards implementing the various measures. In many areas Government services, including the health boards who will have responsibility for administering most of the provisions of this Bill, are suffering as a result of the embargo on the recruitment or the replacing of staff. The health boards are already stretched to the limit and will clearly not be able to administer this legislation without a massive increase in financial and staff levels.

We are disappointed that in so many sections of the Bill there is an option for the Minister by the use of the word "may" rather than the word "shall". For instance, in part 2 in relation to regulations concerning child care, we read that the Minister may make regulations. The word "may" is repeated all through the Bill. This means that the implementation of many of the most important sections of the Bill will depend on the will of the Minister and on his ability to wring the necessary money from the Minister for Finance. I am not implying that the present Minister is not willing in any sense to introduce these regulations but we have had experience here on other occasions of regulations not being implemented for up to two to three years after the passing of a Bill. I refer specifically to the legislation relating to private rented dwellings. That Act was passed in 1982 but some of the regulations were not brought into effect until early this year. Therefore, one realises that there is a need to ensure that in this important area of child care, the regulations are brought into effect within a short time of the Bill becoming law.

In some respects the priorities in the Bill seem to be wrong. While four and a half pages are devoted to the custody of a child outside the natural family, there is no reference to the support needed by families to look after their children properly and therefore to ensure that it does not become necessary for them to be taken from the family.

There is a general welcome for sections 9 and 10 which deal with the registration of day care service though one can visualise problems in regard to the implementation of these provisions. We are pleased that the Minister has acted on the recommendation of the Working Party on Child Care in regard to facilities for working parents and for a scheme of registration in respect of day nurseries, crèches and child-minders but it is most regrettable that he has ignored totally the key recommendation of the working party in this area. On the provision of day care facilities for children, the working party state in their report that day care needs of working parents should be regarded as an aspect of the totality of local community needs and that as such any measure designed to meet these needs should also form part of the total network of community based services which are intended to cater for community needs on a co-ordinated and integrated basis. The working party went on to recommend that all child care services should be provided through or under the aegis of the community care programmes administered by the health boards. Section 24 provides that a health board may make available services for the care of children on a daily basis but it is not clear that this is intended to be a fire brigade operation or whether it is to be a regular service. I trust the Minister will clarify that point when replying.

The whole usefulness of registration depends on the ability to supervise and enforce it but how are those providing day care services to be made aware of the need for registration? Obviously, a wide scale and expensive publicity campaign will be required in this respect. The next question is, who will supervise registration? If the health boards are to perform this task they will need many more personnel than they have now. Many children of working parents are looked after by child-minders on an informal or a one to one basis. A working mother may arrange to have her child looked after during working hours by a friend but that friend will have to register in accordance with the terms of this Bill. There is the question, too, of the payment of tax. Many child-minders, especially those caring for only one or two children, are not paying tax. The amounts they earn are quite small. They should be paying tax if they come within the tax bracket but in many cases if they were to pay tax their earnings would be reduced to such a low level that the effort would not be worthwhile. One step that should be considered in this context is to render tax deductible the amount paid by the parent to the child-minder. If working parents could claim tax relief on the money paid to the child-minder it would then be realistic to expect the child-minder to pay tax.

Regarding private fostering arrangements, this form of child care ideally should be abolished but if it is to continue the controls set out in the Bill are appropriate. Many of those who must avail of foster care for their children are people for whom day care facilities are not practicable, for instance, single parents working on a shift basis and who may have to travel some distance to work or a single mother who is a nurse and who is likely to have to do night work. In that case normal day care facilities for her child would not be practicable. Special attention must be given to such categories of persons. I am sure the Minister is concerned about the number of children who are taken into care but in this regard we must consider the question of financial help in respect of day care facilities. A high proportion of children in care are the children of single parents but this could often be avoided if there was assistance in respect of day care services. I am aware that in certain circumstances money can be made available for this purpose but there is a need for broadening the base and for increasing the levels of payment. If the ideal is that children are looked after in their own homes, section 23 is most disappointing. This seven line section in a 45 page Bill is the totality of the effort to deal with preventive measures. Having regard to the existing pressures on health board staffs, what additional resources are to be devoted to them to enable them to comply with section 23 in terms of advice, guidance services and so on? Will the section mean merely that there will be more children in care?

Section 29 bestows important powers on the Garda in relation to the taking of children into places of safety. This raises the whole question of the training of gardaí to deal with these situations, a type of training which I understand is almost non-existent. On some occasions it may be necessary for the Garda to be involved in these matters. It is important that it be only those members of the force who have received the necessary training to enable them carry out their functions without causing further distress to what is probably already a very distressed and upset child.

The question of school attendance is not dealt with at all in the provisions of the Bill. I understand that it is only in Dublin and Cork cities that there are school attendance officers and that in other parts of the country it is technically a function of the Garda. This is not an appropriate area for Garda involvement and I am disappointed that the Bill has not tackled this problem at all.

Section 33 deals with the question of children who may by the subject of "care proceedings" and also raises the question of the right of legal representation for parents who may want to contest such proceedings. The present system of legal aid in civil cases may involve several weeks in order to obtain an interview with a solicitor and is quite unsatisfactory. There is a need to establish the right of parents to adequate legal representation in these cases.

Part IV deals with deals with children who are or who have been in the care of health boards and is welcome. However, section 45, which requires a review of the progress of each child in the care of a health board every six months would appear to be too long should things go wrong. Section 47 gives health boards power to assist those who have reached the age of 18 in relation to education, training and accomodation and is especially welcome. I hope this provision will be implemented and will not remain just a pious aspiration.

Part VII in regard to offences in relation to children is welcome in that it constitutes an attempt to deal with the problem. If we eliminate glue-sniffing — unless we deal also with the factors leading to this problem — children will find something else from which to get their kicks. We know there are stronger, more potent drugs and substances available to them.

Generally I welcome the Bill and hope we shall have a fruitful discussion on Committee Stage.

I am sure all Members of the House would agree with me that children need love, care and security if they are to develop into full, mature persons. For most children these are provided by a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with their parents, brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, there is a small minority of children who do not have the benefit of this care, love and attention. The purpose of the Bill is to update and extend the laws in relation to the care and protection of children, particularly those who are neglected, ill treated or who are otherwise at risk.

We should first look at what are a child's needs. Everybody has certain basic physical and psychological needs — the need for food, shelter and companionship. Children have special needs in two ways. First, they have needs similar to those of adults but different in degree and importance. A child needs food and clothing in the same way as does an adult. But children have certain needs adults do not. For instance, practically everybody can appreciate the benefits of loving care, but to a child they are of vital importance. A child who is not loved can be irrecoverably damaged. These needs have been defined and classified by Kemmler Pringle. For practical purposes a four-fold classification would appear to be sufficient — the need for love and security, for new experiences, for praise and recognition and for responsibility. These needs must be met from the beginning of life and continue to require fulfilling throughout adulthood.

A vital factor in the health and development of a child is the requirement of love and security. There is a good deal of evidence of the ill effects on a child of their lack, such deprivation in infancy being particularly serious. Children brought up in families where relations between the parents themselves and between them and the children are disturbed may encounter many problems in relation to personal development and social adjustment. It is important to the child that people who relate to him or her should relate in a positive way to each other. Often a child's experience of family life affects his or her experience as a spouse and parent, so that family disturbance in one generation if allowed to remain unresolved will lead to family disturbance in the next.

The models parents present to their children by their standards, values and their behaviour towards their children have a significant effect on their children's morality and eventual conduct. The provision of love and security for a growing child also involves consistent and intelligent guidance and discipline by its parents in relation to its behaviour so that he or she has clearly defined standards by a reference to which he or she can develop.

As a prerequisite to mental development a child also needs new experiences. Children who are not sufficiently stimulated because of a restricted and uninteresting environment or lack of incentives to play and talk will fare badly in school and in dealing with new situations they will encounter continuously as they grow. A child's need for praise, recognition and for responsibility is important also. He needs to be encouraged, spurred on, by reasonable expectations of his capability. An unfortunate mistake being made in society today is that more often than not that praise and recognition is given to a child on his or her achievements and not on the effort he or she makes. Such emphasis can have adverse effects on children less capable than others.

Children are expected to grow into responsible adults but they can do so only if given responsibility together with some practice in decision-making. From an early age children should be encouraged to take decisions for themselves, and in this respect responsibility for decision-making should be encouraged both in the home and the classroom.

If a democratic society such as ours is to fulfil its obligations to children implicit in its basic ideals then that society must undertake certain functions in respect of children. While the family has the primary responsibility for the care of children, that does not relieve society as a whole of its overall responsibility for the well-being of its young dependants. Like other members of society, children have rights, the protection of which ultimately is the responsibility of the whole of society. In our society certain human rights are specified and guaranteed in our Constitution. Under our Constitution the State is obliged to respect the rights of all citizens. This means adverting to the rights of significant minorities such as children. The State has an obligation to give support to families who have not the ability or the financial means of bringing up their children as they would wish. At present intervention in the lives of many families comes too late to help with the family. In the past there has been a tendency to rescue children from inadequate parents with a consequent weakening or a severance of the bond between child and parent, even where that bond was strong and should have been maintained in the interests of the child. Because of their composition, some families will need extra support — large families or single parent families. I am pleased to note that the Minister is strengthening the power of the health boards to provide child care and family support services. I was pleased to note also that the Minister in his opening remarks said he was particularly anxious to avoid increased costs for parents, something which is vitally important.

I might turn now to two sections of the Bill in which I am most interested. Society has the important function of ensuring that alternative care is provided for children who have no family or whose family cannot or will not look after them. Such children are the most deprived. Under present law a health board has the power to take children into voluntary care without recourse to the courts, which is limited to those whose parents are dead, those who have abandoned their children or whose parents are destitute. Section 25 extends the power of health boards to cover many situations in which parents may need to place their children in voluntary care. Section 33 causes some concern. This section updates the Children Act, 1908, and extends the grounds on which the courts may place a child in the care of or under the supervision of a health board. According to this section a child may be the subject of care proceedings under several headings. While I agree with most of them, including ill treatment, neglect, assault or sexual abuse, I have some difficulty in accepting all the grounds specified in the Bill. The task force in its report on the child care services have differing views in relation to care proceedings. We are acutely conscious that under existing legal provisions in the Children Act, 1908, the competent authorities are precluded from taking action on some occasions where action is clearly required. We must find a formula that is not so wide or general as to justify too extensive State intervention. Two recent authoritative discussions of this issue have led to simliar conclusions. I refer to Goldstein, Freud and Solnit, 1980, chapter five, and Morris and others, 1980, page 132. They outlined three grounds for state intervention — where a child has been abandoned, physically injured or neglected, or where a child has been sexually assaulted. In both discussions there was concern to provide tangible material to guide the actions of social workers, lawyers, judges and other agents who may be involved.

Section 33 (b) and (c) are far too vague. Attempts will be made to extend the grounds to justify State intervention. The grounds for State intervention are described as inadequate care, likely to cause injury to health, or unreasonable suffering which would substantially impair proper development. Subparagraph (c) refers to the guardian who is not capable of exercising proper guardianship. What is proper guardianship? These definitions are too imprecise.

Care proceedings should only be initiated if a child is abandoned, physically injured or neglected, or if a child has been abused. However, there are rare cases of children who should be protected from their parents which are not included in the listed categories — children who are severely damaged emotionally or mentally by the behaviour of erratic, unstable or uncaring parents. In these cases the circumstances should be specific and the terms restricted. I would be glad if the Minister would take into account my anxieties about these sections and have another look at the sections.

I welcome the section which strengthens the law in relation to children who have been compelled to sleep rough, to beg on the streets, to live as vagrants side by side with incapable parents, often as not beyond the reach of State agencies. I am glad to note that penalties will be provided for parents who force their children to beg and that heavy fines will be imposed on persons who sell solvents in certain circumstances to glue sniffing youngsters.

I welcome section 5, which provides new procedures to enable people rearing a child apart from the parents to obtain a custody order to grant them legal custody of the child where the parents are shown to be incapable of providing proper care. Each year scores of children are confined to a limbo-like existence in which they are separated from their natural parents and sent to live with foster parents with the option open to the natural parents to retrieve the children. The aim of this section is to protect the interests of the child by affording legal recognition to the relationship of the foster family and securing the child against automatic or hasty interference. Under the present law a child placed by his parents in foster care or in the care of a relative may be removed by the parents at any time regardless of how long the child has been in care and regardless of how attached the child might become to his foster parents. The consequences for many children have been traumatic and the pain for foster parents has been considerable.

The review committee on adoption services stated that, while they considered adoption to be a beneficial arrangement for a child who lacks the security of a family, it was quite inappropriate in some circumstances. A generally available means short of adoption by which persons who are bringing up a child apart from natural parents could obtain a legal status in relation to the child would, according to this committee, have considerable merit. I am pleased that the Minister, in the Bill, took note of these recommendations. I congratulate the Minister for Health on bringing this Bill before the House. This is a reforming measure which stands to the credit of the Minister and his officials. It puts children first.

I welcome the general provisions of the Bill. Sections 23 and 42 give the philosophy behind the Bill in relation to care and protection. They draw attention to the fact that there is an onus on the health board to identify those who would be at risk and to provide facilities for families to support them and to prevent the risk from becoming a reality and eventually leading to children going into care. These positive elements of support to families of children who would otherwise be at risk is something that has been overlooked in the commentaries and responses to this Bill. They are an important element of the Bill.

It is welcome that in section 42 there is a clear statement that when in care there is an onus on the health board to promote the welfare of the child. This means in the first instance that being with his own family is best and that it is only when that fails that care proceedings should come into play. In section 42 there is a clear statement that the health board should have regard to the wishes of the child in choosing the most appropriate system of care. They are welcome principles. As the Minister pointed out, in this respect we are breaking new ground.

I question why it is in these sections that the onus being put on the health boards is covered in phraseology such as "where practicable". It would be preferable to set out positive rights for children and duties on the health board without providing loopholes through which health boards who are less eager in the provision of this sort of service could avoid facing up to their responsibilities. That is important in the light of the fact that already there is patchiness in many of the health boards in the way they respond to child care and protection. Some health boards are far better than others. In giving a loophole the Minister would avoid his responsibility to provide a national standard for the care and protection of children.

The Minister, dealing with health boards in other areas where he saw fit to implement a certain national policy, has had quite a degree of difficulty in getting a single standard of behaviour or a single policy implemented. I would have thought that this was the opportunity to strike a legislative blow for getting a national policy and getting coherence between the health boards in the area of community care. This is a most outstanding case of community care, where we are seeking to provide care outside of institutions and where we wish to see the health boards beefing up the services they provide to families at risk, just as in the strict health area we are looking for them to beef up the services they provide to families trying to cope with illnesses outside of institutions.

There are other ways in which the Minister could have strengthened the provisions. He has declared the primacy of retaining children within the family, and it is most welcome to see that he is pledged to supporting the family and sees it as the best place for children. However, section 23 is the only place where specific mention is made of what could be done. I would have liked to see far more in this Bill about the sort of support service that could be provided for families. The Minister listed the sort of things that an innovative health board could do and those ideas are obviously the path to go with providing home help and so on for such families, but it is regrettable that that has not got any expression in this Bill. I know the Minister would say that footage of print in a Bill will never create resources or direct them into this area, and that is true. On the other hand, I have seen in many other types of legislation provisions such as requiring that a health board would draw up a plan or programme for the execution of these duties. I have also seen rights of families to certain support expressed more explicitly. The Minister drew attention to the fact that 40 per cent of the children coming into care are from one-parent families, and I would have thought that we could have made more explicit in this Bill the sort of additional services we would like to provide for one-parent families and that we would look to the health boards to provide some sort of programme where year on year they would execute that responsibility. It would have been welcome to see a more definite onus put on the absent parent in the case of one parent families, and I am surprised that this Children (Care and Protection) Bill did not attempt to put a greater onus on the other parent particularly in the case of unmarried mothers where in many cases the father has evaded his responsibilities altogether. Perhaps this Bill is not the area or place to do that, but I would like to see that sort of positive approach to how we can support the families that are at risk, and one way is to have more explicit onus put on the parent who has departed in these cases.

I would like to talk briefly about the powers in this Bill to take children into care. The section in which the Garda are given powers to take children who are at risk for their safety is most welcome. Previously the Garda could go in only where an offence had been committed and where there was absolute evidence of abuse, so to speak. It is welcome that the Garda should be able to go in the cases specified in the Bill. I would go even further. Quite apart from the immediate safety of a child being at risk, where there is gross neglect the Garda should be able to act immediately, particularly since the Bill is very careful to make sure that where the Garda act immediately there is a maximum detention period of three days and that after that they must establish clearly the proof of their case. There may be a case for extending in that area the cases where the Garda can go in and act as a matter of urgency, otherwise gross neglect can persist and you have to wait for the health boards to come to grips with these issues. In many cases the Garda are in the front line and they should have the powers if they see fit. Obviously, the Bill will already prevent abuses by the Garda of those powers.

The question which raises itself here is whether there are places for the Garda to commit these children to. Many people have drawn to my attention the fact that in Dublin city it is very difficult to find places to which to commit such children who would be victims of gross neglect or whose safety is at risk. I know that that is not a question for legislation, but perhaps the Minister will deal with that concern which has been expressed to me by people who are working in the field if only to lay at rest fears that the welcome provisions of this Bill can be implemented.

The other provisions relating to safety orders and the power to delay for up to 14 days the withdrawal of children from voluntary care pending safety orders are all very welcome as is the range that the Minister is offering to the courts of not solely having care provisions but having the possibility of supervision orders or interim care orders. It is welcome to see that in the first instance people do not have to be committed to long term care where in many cases supervision would be a practical alternative. One thing that strikes me as anomalous about the Bill is that, while the health board is the person applying in these cases for the orders, it will also be the health board who decide which types of care are the most appropriate. I know that in the past that has been decided by the District Court, and the Minister said rightly that it is hardly appropriate for the District Court to decide on what is the best type of care, but it seems a little questionable that if it is a case of the health board going for care proceedings against a family, it should be then the health board who decide whether it is to be supervision or care. I would have thought that there was room for some disinterested adviser to give the courts some steer on what is the most appropriate. This is not an area in which I have expertise, but I understand that in other countries there are such people, guardians outside of the two people directly involved in the proceedings, who would give some advice. It would be fairer in this area, where the health boards are being given extra powers to take children into care or to provide the option of supervision, that there should be some outside arbiter to see what would be the most appropriate. Obviously, the parents would probably prefer to see supervision in those cases if they were contesting, and they should have some outsider who would be holding the ring and seeing that fair play was occuring.

Like Deputy Doyle, I was struck by the fact that the provisions of section 33 which give the instances in which people can be committed to care are very broad indeed. They are in many ways very subjective, as Deputy Doyle said, and again I feel some worry about not having pinned down to a greater degree words like "parents not being capable". Perhaps the ideal response would be to have some sort of disinterested group who would advise the court on what was involved apart from the two parties to the proceedings.

I know the Minister has deliberately framed these provisions very widely in order to give expression to the child's rights as against the rights of the parents. I can understand why he would wish to do so. I wonder are the provisions very loose. It might be decided to prevent the release of a child from a maternity unit and not allow the child to go home to the parents on the grounds that the parents were not capable. That would be desirable in some cases, but I wonder whether in the interest of civil liberties the law should be a little more explicit about what incapability means. Like Deputy Doyle I should like the Minister to pin that down because the power will be so wide. As I said, a child might not be allowed home from a maternity hospital. That is possible under the provisions of this section. I should like the Minister to tighten up the section.

There is the possibilty of friction between a long term care institution to which a child was committed under a care order and the social workers who were working with the family before the care proceedings were taken. The Bill has not addressed this question to any great extent. When a child is committed to care and goes to a private institution not directly under the health board, is there a problem about who has custody of the child? Is it the social worker working with the family or is it the institution where the child is in care for the time being? The social worker working with the family is bound to feel that the child can be taken back by the family. The thinking of the social worker is bound to be coloured in that way. Perhaps there are some cases where family support will not work. The Minister may have to decide whose word will be taken if there is friction between somebody acting on behalf of the family within the health board and someone acting on behalf of the institution. I do not know how serious the possibility of friction is. I understand some institutions are concerned about not being able to retain custody of the child in these cases.

I may not be doing justice to the Bill but on reading it I did not see that a great deal of attention was given to children wandering about on the streets. The bulk of the Bill seems to be devoted to children who are attached to families who are found wanting in some way. What does the Bill do about children who are wandering on the streets? Does it force them to accept some form of care? I should like the Minister to spell that out. Many children are not even loosely attached to families. A Bill dealing with the care and protection of children should address itself to this issue.

Before leaving the area of care and homes in which children might be placed, I want to say I am surprised and a bit disappointed that, in setting standards for such homes, the Bill excludes health board homes from the ambit of such regulations. Perhaps health board homes are always exemplary but there should be inspections to ensure that they are up to the standards in the legislation. I do not see why any public institution should necessarily be excluded from the sort of standards which will be imposed on private institutions. It would be to the benefit of all if health board homes were included in the section.

I should like to turn now to the area of fostering and custody. It seems reasonable to remove the requirement for the consent by parents to fosterage. Under the present legislation consent must be obtained from the parents before children can be fostered. I welcome the fact that the Minister is changing that and making the security of a home more accessible to children. When a child has been in care and for some time it becomes obvious that the natural parents are not in a position to provide a home for the child, the requirement for consent could go. We may be going too far by waiving the obligation to get the consent of the parents from the first day the child goes into the care of the health board.

Another very difficult problem is the question of arbitrating between foster parents and natural parents in the event of a dispute. The problem is made more complex than it need be by the fact that at present adoption is not possible in the case of legitimate children. Probably children are being fostered in Ireland in many cases where adoption would be the more correct procedure. Presumably the Minister will get to grips with that problem in the next Bill. I am not sure that what he has provided in the Bill locks in adequately with what will happen in future on the adoption side. There is a danger in this Bill that it may become the norm for foster parents to seek custody orders to make a fostering arrangement into something closer to an adoption arrangement. I am a little concerned about that.

As I understand it, the whole idea of fostering is to retain a close link with the natural parents and to retain access to children with the ultimate objective of returning the child to the natural parents. We may be standing the issue on its head if, in order to prevent the arbitary removal of children from foster parents, we set up this custody order procedure which may become the norm for fostering arrangements and may be used by foster parents who see the natural parents as interlopers to squeeze out the natural parents. It would be most regrettable if this custody order procedure became used in that way. I know that is not the intention of the Minister and that he sees this custody procedure as a normal occurrence. As it is now framed, I am worried that it might become quite typical in foster arrangements. I would ask the Minister to look at that danger.

I am surprised that in this section there is no presumption of access for the natural parents stated. It is left to the court's discretion, entirely without an indication in the law that it is the view of the Oireachtas that the natural parents should have such access. It is more appropriate that the law should clearly state that we see access as being the norm, even in cases of custody orders. It should only be in very exceptional circumstances that there should not be access.

I am also surprised that in this section there is no explicit recognition of the interests and the wishes of the child. The Minister hammered in that provision where he was dealing with care but it is not provided here where we are dealing with custody. An explicit recognition of the interests and the wishes of the child could avoid some of the worst cases that this custody order procedure is designed to meet. I understand that children are sought by their natural parents when they come near to earning age, despite the fact that they have shown no interest up to then. An explicit recognition of the interests and wishes of the child which would gain force as the child grew older would be a very effective way of dealing with the case of a natural family who sought back their child only when they thought they would get a few bob out of his pay packet. Is this custody order not going a bit too far and why are these points absent?

An issue I raised on section 33 arises again in relation to this provision, where the grounds for custody are the incapacity or unwillingness of natural parents to retain a child. In legal terms I understand that "having the wish" would mean that they would have to have shown practical evidence of their wish over the years by being close to the child and taking an active interest. Are those grounds for custody a little bit loose? Is there the danger that the foster parents might see the natural parents as interlopers and go to court, showing that they — the foster parents — were able to provide a far better home and education for the child than the natural parents? Could the court under the terms of this legislation grant a custody order in that case and effectively close out the natural parents, even though they might be able to provide in time quite adequate home circumstances? Once the custody order is granted the supervisory role of the health board is wound down and no longer operates. I would be somewhat concerned about that.

The Bill contains many welcome features in its provisions for the care and protection of children. I am glad that in dealing with the problem of abusive substances the Minister has not fallen into the trap which exists in the case of alcohol abuse. It will not be the case that prosecutions cannot be brought against anybody for supplying solvents. That is a welcome provision.

I congratulate the Minister on this Bill and hope that on Committee Stage he will look at some of the points I have raised.

I welcome the Children Bill. It has been long awaited. While it certainly has its merits, it also has its limitations. These limitations are inherent in the structure and composition of the Bill itself. I would have preferred to see on Children Bill dealing comprehensively with children's rights and issues.

It is very hard to speak solely and exclusively of the care and protection of children without speaking about the retention of children. Deputy Bruton raised the question of where children are to be retained when they are taken into care without warrant by the Garda. These issues are closely interwoven and interconnected and one Children Bill dealing with all the issues would have been more worth while. It must be remembered that we have not had a Children Bill since 1908 and this would have been an ideal opportunity to give clear evidence of our commitment to a charter of children's rights. There seems to be much ambiguity in the matter.

I came into this House nearly five years ago and I believe the House has not been very concerned with children per se. I have often been baffled and bemused as to the reason. The only conclusion I can come to is that children do not have votes and do not warrant vital attention. That is evident here today. The local election campaigns are taking place and Fianna Fáil have not put even one speaker forward on this Bill today. That is an appalling situation. This is a vitally important Bill which has not received the attention and recognition it deserves.

The Bill has its merits but it leaves me somewhat perplexed. It goes some way down the road but always seems to stop short. The Minister said in his speech that a child should be kept in the family as far as possible or alternatively in a substitute family. In regard to section 16, he went further to say that it is in line with the policy of promoting foster care as the first option in caring for children apart from their families and preventing unnecessary or inappropriate use of residential care. I am in favour of a policy which tries to steer away from institutionalised care for children. The Minister emphasised the need for institutionalised homes. We can see the need for a small number of such homes to deal with cases of emergency or short term crises but the 41 homes we have for children are far too many. In 1985 we should not have 1,100 children in residential care. I know that in an ideal world there would be no need for residential care. However I do not believe in a policy which advocates long term institutionalised care for children. That cannot serve the best interest of any child. All children would benefit from being brought up in a family or substitute family.

I suggest that the Minister move further away from the concept of residential homes and institutionalised homes. There are plenty of adults who would be willing, if given an opportunity, to bring up children and give them the care, protection and education they need.

I welcome the standardisation of day care services for children such as crèches, pre-schools, playschools and so on but the Bill is too vague in this area and merely states that the Minister will set the standards and see that people are suitably qualified. Here was an opportunity to set out in detail the standards and qualifications that would be required so that those operating pre-schools, playschools and so on would be able to prepare and plan for the new standards which would be laid down by the Department. I hope these standards will not be introduced overnight. As we know, many people are unemployed and the husbands of those who run playschools and so on might be out of work, so the financial resources that would be necessary to bring schools up to the required standard might not be available for some time. Those who run the schools would need to plan and budget in order to bring them up to the required standard. I ask the Minister to set out standards as soon as possible.

It is a pity that we do not deal with the nitty gritty in Bills that come before the House. For example in this Bill there is reference to the health boards and they are given great power. Who are the health boards? Are they the managers, social workers, doctors, psychiatrists or solicitors of the health boards? We need to know this before we can thrash out the various sections of the Bill. Different standards operate in the eight health boards. There should be a uniform standard of operation in order to enact the provisions of the Bill properly. The health boards can play a tremendous role but they must be given the personnel and financial resources to do so. It is easy to say that our function is to legislate but there is little point in legislating if legislation cannot be implemented. We have had experience of health boards in the past and at times they left much to be desired.

In relation to fosterage the Bill goes half way down the road and then stops. The only new measure in the Bill is that health boards do not need the parents' consent to place children in foster homes. However, there are problems when the children are in the homes. One can take out a custody order but this can be challenged. I know of a case recently where foster parents had children for three years. Their mother was a schizophrenic and their father an alcoholic. When a High Court action was taken the natural parents were given the two children even though the mother's psychiatrist made the case that she was incapable of looking after them and all the evidence pointed to that but the judge said the natural parents had a primary right and the children were placed back with them. This creates tremendous heartbreak for the foster parents. If a child has been in foster care for six or seven years foster parents should be allowed to adopt him or her. Children have their rights as well as parents. Children should be entitled to the security of a family home. There are not enough children available for adoption. Many parents who foster children would be delighted if they could adopt them but at present there is no provision for that.

There is a feeling that foster children should have access to their natural parents but I wonder about the merit of this, particularly in the case of a young child. A young child of two or three years cannot cope with having two mothers and two fathers. None of their friends would have two sets of parents and they could be confused as regards their own identity and sense of self. That is a reason why I believe adoption is a better alternative to fosterage. I know there are legal difficulties attached to many aspects of fosterage. The Minister pointed them out in his speech and said it was a delicate issue. I am not a legal expert but I am sure that if there is a will then there will be a way.

The sections of the Bill relating to the sale of solvents is disappointing. The Bill increases fines and terms of imprisonment for those who sell solvents but more needs to be done. Just as in the case of drugs or contraceptives people will get their hands on them regardless of whether there is a restriction on their sale. The same applies to glue. The problem lies in trying to prevent children from engaging in glue sniffing. It is very hard to get across to an eight or nine year old through advertising and so on that they should not sniff glue. The child will want to belong to the group who are sniffing glue, regardless of any warnings they may have been given. During a by-election about two and a half years ago we visited St. Michael's flats in Inchicore where all the children were glue sniffing. I do not think that the answer to the problem is putting them in jail. Deputy Bruton mentioned children wandering around the streets at night and the same applies in that case. The Bill does not seem to cover these two categories, so I ask the Minister if something could be done. Perhaps there could be specially trained gardaí to cope with children in areas of delinquency. Our children are the basis of the nation and if we had laid good foundations at an early age the problem of crime would not be as bad as it is today.

More money should be directed into personnel and staff, facilities and voluntary organisations who deal with young people and who are prepared to give them direction in their lives. Social workers in the health boards and other areas do a great job in assisting families with problems, but when it comes to the crunch the social worker does not take the final decision in regard to the welfare of the family even if he or she feels that certain children should be put into care. Everybody tries to help but nobody wants to take a harsh decision. Those who are professionally employed should never give up on cases, even if they think they are hopeless. They should indicate that, although in their opinion it is a hopeless case, there must be an alternative. Social workers should have to make final decisions. There is provision in the Bill for intervention by the Garda in a family crisis, but I am sure that social workers would be in a better position to cope with crises than the Garda.

I look forward to Committee Stage and I hope there will be more details then in regard to créches and to the authority of the health boards in the implementation of this Bill.

I welcome the Bill, as we have waited a long time for it. We are over 80 years into this century and it is only now that we are attempting to update legislation in relation to children. The Bill is very important; and in the process of this legislation and the two Bills which are to follow we should achieve major reform which will stand the test of many decades.

There are many welcome provisions in the Bill including the area dealing with the registration of crèches, pre-school play groups and so on. These are massive growth areas, and many young people attend unsupervised crèches and play groups. I also welcome the improvements in the potential of the health boards to intervene and to act where children are in danger of serious neglect or abuse. This should ensure that children who might have been neglected and abused in the past will now be safeguarded.

However, as other Deputies said, the Bill does not go far enough. It falls short of being a full charter for children and establishing fundamental rights for children because it treads warily in regard to the Constitution. This issue cannot be avoided forever. The Constitution strongly favours the rights and privileges of the family and the rights of the child are regarded as secondary by the courts. Even in a recent court case the rights of the family superseded the rights of the child and Deputy Shatter referred to this in his long and excellent contribution. The attempt to produce this legislation without facing up to the need for a constitutional referendum to establish the fundamental rights of children has led to a deflection of the potential impact of this legislation and pussy-footing around the problem. Although it improves legislation in regard to children, it stops short of a total statement on the primary rights of children and, in cases of conflict, it undermines the ability of the Bill to do what it set out to do.

The task force, in preparing for this legislation, wondered whether our existing law in relation to the custody of infants was constitutional. This issue should have been faced and it may yet have to be faced. We should have framed a Bill which openly established the rights of children to basic standards of life, happiness and opportunity.

The Bill outlines the instances where children may be taken into care and, in a negative way, hints at a positive statement as to the opportunities children should have in society. Those of us who care cannot close our eyes to the number of children for whom the quality of life is very inadequate. At the early age of six months they do not receive much of an opportunity to thrive and succeed. Perhaps, even in the womb they are given in inadequate opportunity to thrive. Three or four years on many children are seriously neglected. It is unsatisfactory that society, and politicians, stand back and allow that to continue. I am afraid we have not gone far enough in the legislation to minimise those problems.

Recommendations in the report of the task force formed the basis for a lot of the provisions before us, but it is clear that there has been a significant stepping back from the commitments demanded by the task force. The area of school attendance is not dealt with in the Bill, although this is the appropriate legislation to deal with that matter. A failure to attend at school is often one of the early warning signs that a child is being neglected, abused or not being supervised adequately. That early warning signal is only available in certain urban areas. The fact that it has not been included in the Bill means that an important opportunity has been missed to maximise this important early warning system in the case of children at risk.

The Bill is largely about children at risk, apart from the provisions in regard to pre-school and other child care services. There should have been a positive statement on the needs of children and the necessity for a certain quality of life. The only statement about the type of life children ought to be entitled to is in the negative, where we indicate the circumstances in which children can be taken into care. There should have been a positive statement of the needs of children. Deputy Doyle spoke of the need for security and the need for love, but another important one is the need for discipline. An important element of caring for any child, as I learned in two years, is the need for discipline and direction in a loving environment. That whole area of caring, loving and disciplining a child is something a large section of our population never experienced.

While the pre-school child care area is regulated in the Bill, it is not identified as something of significance. Health boards are encouraged to develop pre-school facilities in areas of deprivation but a commitment in regard to that should have been written into the legislation. I know that in making that statement I am re-echoing the views of many Members. There should have been an indication of responsibility to provide certain minimum services for the general body of young people and the deprived. The Bill fails to acknowledge what is being done in this area. I accept that the legislation states that the health boards may provide certain services, but many Members hold the view that there should be an obligation to provide support services for families in need. There should be an obligation on health boards to provide special fostering and care services for those who are not being cared for adequately by their families. There should have been a positive comment on the right of a child to have a certain quality of life, to thrive, develop and mature and not just a statement that a child should not be abused. I welcome the fact that many of the areas where children may be deprived of their rights are dealt with in the sections on care and custody, but a positive statement would have been better.

The foster care services are rightly given great emphasis in the Bill. I should like to express my appreciation of the commitment of the small and overworked section dealing with child care in the Department of Health. They have done tremendous work developing that service. There is no doubt that the developments changed the way we cared for children and ensured that children who cannot be cared for at home are given an opportunity of being looked after in another family setting. That is desirable and fits in well with the great Irish tradition of foster care. It was not the deprived but the most privileged in society who for a variety of reasons took advantage of the potential of foster care. For our needs a fostering service has great potential.

From my experience as a representative for an area where there is a lot of deprivation, many single parent families and a big number of children in need of special support and care, I am aware that the fostering service is a very flexible and varied one, whether we are talking about day, short term or long term fostering. All credit must be given to the Department of Health for developing that service. It is a sensitive, flexible and human way of dealing with the many children who need occasional or long term care. We must continue to develop it. However, we will still have a need for specialised residential units for young people. I have the same difficulty that Deputy Barry had in trying to separate that from the care of children who fall foul of the law. The Bill before us should impose an obligation on health boards to provide child care services. There is no doubt that there is a need for residential units whether they are for custodial or care reasons. In the future we hope that any custodial units where children are held will involve care. Any child who comes into custody clearly has not been given an opportunity to thrive in our society and the majority of those between the ages of 14 and 16 who may be in need of custody are clearly in that category.

While there is a great need for services for those in need of emergency or special care, there is also a great need to help people under stress. This was recognised in the task force report and this Bill is totally inadequate because it does not provide support for families who are likely to be under stress. The task force report identified the potential of neighbourhood resource centres as support for families offering a range of services from crèches, to drop-in centres, advice groups, and so on, a full range of services which would meet the needs of families identified as most likely to have been at risk for neglecting or abusing their children. These centres were a desirable development but the Eastern Health Board purchased two premises, one in Ballymun and one in Finglas. The first was acquired at some expense three or four years ago and has been allowed to lie idle all the time while there has been a great need for such a service because there were very few buildings which could be put to such a use. I appreciate the economic times we live in but in that community there is a fund of local commitment and goodwill which, if harnessed, could be utilised to develop the centre with the support of the health board. It is totally unsatisfactory that that resource was left idle by the Department with only a caretaker there and this building is deteriorating day by day. The task force and every organisation involved in the care of children pointed out that tragedies could be averted if families were supported in time, and these resource centres have been recognised as a way of providing that support.

I ask the Minister to impose in this legislation more specific responsibility on the health boards to provide a full range of services, including family support services and other care units which may be necessary to develop a system of fostering. Such a system involves a commitment from the health boards — which may be excellent in one area but not in another — to develop flexible fostering services, which may include day fostering or short and long term fostering, and that involves a commitment to identifying, recruiting and training potential foster parents. This legislation is not sufficiently demanding of the local health boards to develop these services so that the needs of families before and after the crisis are met.

In dealing with the needs of the family, which is an integral part of dealing with the needs of children, I believe the Government's progress on the child benefit proposal will be extremely important. The level of payments to mothers to care for children in the form of children's allowance is clearly inadequate. Most European countries have moved a great distance beyond us in acknowledging financially the importance of children. We have been more casual about our children because we have had an expanding birth rate, unlike many European countries, but the time will come when we too may have reason to value our children and the role of parenting in the only way which can be identified and that is by adequate financial recompense. The child benefit proposal — a substantive £30 per child per month — which is to come into operation next year will be a help in this direction. This was identified by many who had studied child care as one way of ensuring that the level of deprivation which could encourage an atmosphere in which children could be abused or neglected would be removed. This is to be welcomed. This Bill should include a recognition of the need to deal with the social circumstances in which there might be a tendency towards abuse or neglect.

Deputy Shatter dealt with an area which is missing from this Bill but hopefully will be included in the final Children Bill. There is no doubt that our children's courts are inadequate and we need a proper family court structure and a proper children's court structure in an environment that will minimise the trauma for children who are already suffering too much. This is extremely important. The task force report recommended the establishment of a national children's council. In this Bill the Minister provides for a local advisory committee. This too is to be welcomed but he might consider establishing a national children's council because it would be unsatisfactory if we closed the pages on this legislation and another 80 years elapsed before anybody thought actively about the needs of children and before legislators again looked at the needs of children. To ensure that this does not happen, it is important that such a council be established.

There is also a need for health boards to identify situations where children are like to be at risk. I welcome the principles on which this Bill is established. Children should be maintained in their own families where possible, but if that is not possible, children should be maintained in families. We must face up to the fact that there are many children who are not given the opportunity of a proper family life. We have seriously neglected these children. We have allowed them to live in circumstances which provide them with very little opportunity of having a happy and constructive life. I believe this Bill is the place to face up to this problem.

While we absolutely support the desirability of children being reared in their own families, we must accept that in many situations if this were to happen a great injustice would be done to the individual child. We must accept our responsibility to that child and we can only do so if we establish in this legislation the right of the child to certain basic opportunities which can best be defined in the phrase "the right to thrive". It is not enough to say that children must not be abused or neglected. We must say that children must be given the opportunity to develop and mature and have the love, security and discipline that they need if they are to have an equal chance, or some chance, of being happy children and happy adults. Society needs this and the children need it. We must take courage and act for those children and face up to the fact that there are parents who are seriously neglectful of their children. We should not be afraid to ensure, where those circumstances prevail, that the rights and needs of the children are protected.

It is my experience that, perhaps due to lack of adequate legislation, the social services go too far in supporting families who are seriously neglectful of their children in so far as they prop up and maintain situations in which there is clearly danger to the child developing mentally and, in extreme cases, danger to life or of physical or mental injury. I hope that this legislation will tip the balance a little more in favour of that child and ensure that the sad cases referred to by Deputy Shatter will be less likely to occur. The health boards should have more opportunity to intervene. In so far as it goes some distance alone that road, this legislation is welcome and will have honoured, to a significant degree, our commitment on entering Government, as early as 1981-82, in all our legislative programmes, to major reform of children's legislation.

This Bill has not gone as far as other Deputies and I might have liked, but I hope that its progress through the House may see it develop and perhaps strengthened in some way. I hope that the Minister will reply to some of the points that I and other Deputies have raised and will be open to including some of these matters in the later stages of the legislation.

Like many other speakers, I welcome this Bill, which is being introduced to update legislation which originally was very far-seeing in its own way. However, as the Minister said, many changes have come about since then in the whole structure of our society and it is not before time that we are dealing with the first of three Children Bills relating to that section of our community which is the most vulnerable by age and innocence and must be protected very carefully by the laws of the land.

I am deeply disappointed that members of the Opposition have not been offering as speakers on this very crucial Bill. It is one which will be widely welcomed by all Members of the House. I am sure it is disappointing to the Minister that he is not getting some of the views of the people on the Opposition benches. If he would privately admit it to me, I am sure that Deputy O'Hanlon is also disappointed not to have the views of Members from his own back benches, so that these may be incorporated into any changes that might be required in this Bill.

There is no doubt that there are shortcomings in the Bill, but I have sat behind this Minister on Committee Stages of a number of Bills introduced by him into this House and I am sure that he will be willing to listen to Members who have experiences they wish to share with him and wish to see reflected in this Bill. That is why it is so disappointing that very few of the Fianna Fáil Members have been willing to share their experience in this matter.

Let us face facts. As public representatives for a number of years, we are very well equipped with experience relating to drawbacks and legislative failures which have affected children. All too often, sadly we have seen the results of the lack of legislative powers on the part of the Garda and our health services to save young children from battering, or at times from death. This Bill gives us an opportunity to share some of these experiences. It is the first of three Bills promised by the Minister, which I would see as an effort to tackle a number of the areas of child care. There is almost a hierarchical structure in the area of child care and no uniformity. We cannot say that we will have to deal with children from a certain deprived area. Through all the social strata of our society, there are children in need of care and attention and these can come from the most opulent of homes and from the poorest. To tackle the area of children who appear to us to be most deprived, from the homes of unemployed, from the itinerant sector of the community, children who have been abandoned, is not to tackle the whole problem. Children from very well off families can badly need care and attention from the State and the structures of the State should allow entry to their homes to save them from harm.

The stresses and strains of the society in which we live have increased the dangers attached to the upbringing of some children. The stresses of unemployment, the desire to have much more material wealth and of increased alcoholism have added to the problems of the health boards. This Bill certainly is a first step and will go part of the way to improving the services which are now available.

I welcome the Minister's commitment, although I am disappointed at the length of time taken to get this first Bill before the House. However, I recognise that the area is very complex and complicated and many reports have been prepared which the Minister must examine, with his advisers and his staff, to ensure that this Bill has addressed as many problems as possible which need addressing. I welcome his commitment and that of the Government to introduce two further Bills, one dealing with the whole area of adoption and one dealing with juvenile justice — two areas in which all Members of this House have called for changes over the years. I hope that we shall see those two Bills coming on to our Statute Books as quickly as possible in the next session of this Dáil.

On a point of order, I understand that Deputy Owen is looking for some Fianna Fáil Deputies to speak, so perhaps we could call a quorum at this stage.

Why does the Deputy have to be so touchy about it?

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Deputy Owen to continue.

On a point of order, it should be noted this is the first relevant contribution made by Fianna Fáil today to this Bill. It is appalling that that party——

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

Fianna Fáil's contribution to services and to law for children was to call a quorum. It shows the level of commitment of that party. Their childish behaviour——

I have asked the Deputy to resume his seat. I am calling Deputy Owen to continue.

Fianna Fáil think this is a political circus.

If that is so the Deputy is the biggest clown here.

I hope the Deputy will say something on this Bill. His colleagues have been noted for their silence.

The Deputy should mind his own house.

Order. Will Deputies please allow the Deputy in possession to continue without interruption.

When I commented about my disappointment that members of Fianna Fáil were not prepared to offer their views to the Minister I did it in a constructive way to ensure that when this measure is eventually put on the Statute Book it will be a combination of the views and experience of all Members. I refrained from saying I was cynical that no Fianna Fáil speakers had offered but after the display of cynicism of Deputy Vincent Brady, who heard me on the monitor complain about the lack of Fianna Fáil speakers and who came into this House for no reason other than to call a quorum and to cause trouble, I have to say that I view with cynicism the fact that they are not here today. Their lack of interest in such a crucial matter is obvious. I hope the people will recognise that when Fianna Fáil candidates meet them during the current local election campaign.

They will not be surprised.

I am deeply disappointed by the attitude of Fianna Fáil because there are Members in that party whose views on a number of matters relating to child care I respect. I am sorry they are not here.

Section 9 deals with the registration and regulation of child care services. The Minister pointed out it is estimated that about 20,000 children are attending pre-school crèches or day care centres. I suggest that many of them are attending such centres out of sheer necessity and nowadays it is essential that such services be available. We have equality legislation that ensures that women have a right to employment and to equality of employment. We must have available to parents services that will allow them to share in employment if that is what they wish. Not every parent or mother will wish to work outside the home but those who wish to or who are compelled to should have available the necessary services.

The Minister said that at the moment 230 voluntary day care services were being financed by health boards. They cater for about 6,000 children at a cost of £1 million per year. That works out at about £170 per child and it is very good value for money. Section 24 provides for health boards to set up day care centres. I hope the Minister will do his utmost in the Cabinet to get money for this purpose in next year's budget. Those centres are of crucial importance in society today in the light of the increase in one parent families and of the pressure on women to work where the spouse who was formerly the chief breadwinner is out of work. In many instances women get jobs to support their families.

Section 9(1) states as follows:

The Minister may make regulations for the registration by each health board:

(a) of premises in its area, other than premises wholly or mainly used as private dwellings, where children are received regularly to be looked after for reward for such periods of the day as may be prescribed; and

(b) of persons in its area who for reward regularly receive into their homes children to be looked after for such periods of the day as may be prescribed.

The section provides for the regulating of the premises and also refers to the person involved but it does not say what kind of qualifications such a person should have. I hope the Minister will confirm that some standard will be set down for the persons who will be registered and allowed to run day care and crèche facilities. It is a huge responsibility to take children into one's care and it is essential that people should know what qualifications are necessary. We have to be careful that we do not set out all kinds of academic qualifications and training as being necessary because this would put it outside the reach of many kind and loving people who could provide this care. However, minimum standards should be set down so that a mother can be confident that the person in a day care centre who is charged with the responsibility of looking after a child from 9 a.m. until noon or 6 p.m. is competent, caring and able to do the job.

I did some research before I came into the House to speak on the Bill and I came across the Irish Journal of Sociology, Autumn-Winter 1983, volume 7, No. 4. In that publication there was an article by Dr. Denis O'Sullivan, who is a statutory lecturer in Sociology of Education, in the Department of Education, UCC. He carried out a survey of pre-schooling as a community resource in the Cork area. A plebiscite of parents in the area was carried out of people who were sending their children to pre-school education, asking them to set out what they hoped to get out of the pre-school system and what they wanted for their children. They were given a number of choices. More than half the parents ranked as most important the developmental function of the child. They were seeking a place where their children could meet at an early stage with children of their own age group so that they might relate to others of their own age and grow up to be well balanced human beings.

A number of other areas were categorised to varying degrees by the parents. If the Minister has not read that article I suggest that his staff give it some consideration. It sets out the expectations and the aspirations of parents in the Cork area in regard to pre-schooling. In recognising the expectations of parents in this matter, the Minister will be able to assess the kind of qualifications I spoke of earlier in the context of persons wishing to provide pre-schooling facilities. Some parents regard as very important the provision of pre-school facilities in order to give a busy mother a break from her children while others regarded the playschool as important in the context of it being a place where children could play safely and be looked after. To those, it was seen simply as a basic child-minding service. Each parent or group of parents have different ideas both in terms of what they require of the State and what they wish for their children. Another section of the parents surveyed considered that the playschool ought to be a place where children are given a good start for regular school. All these criteria should be examined so as to ensure that, in devising the regulations both in respect of individuals and premises, the function of the day care centre be taken into account with the Minister applying relevant qualifications to the people concerned.

For a relatively small expenditure a number of the problems of the less disadvantaged children, but children who need some care, should be tackled. I am thinking of the provision of good and relevant day-care services. In this way we could minimise the number of children coming in at the lower end, those who need a lot of care and protection. If we could cream off, as it were, some sections of those children who require attention by way of the provision of a better day care service, we would be helping greatly parents who are experiencing stress within the family. By reason of some relief being available the stress factor could be dissipated instead of reaching catastrophic proportions as often happens when there is no help available.

In the light of the controversial areas that the Government have been dealing with so courageously in the past few years I become very upset and disappointed when I hear remarks to the effect that some of the moneys being paid by the State are anti-family or anti-Constitution and are devices to undermine the family. Obviously, payment is not made directly to children; but when we provide moneys for deserted wives and unmarried mothers we are helping and protecting the children concerned. These payments must be seen as a means by which the State assumes the responsibility for children who have no jurisdiction as to what form of family unit they are born into. I am saddened when very often I hear otherwise concerned people referring to these benefits are anti-family. These payments are pro-children, pro the most vulnerable section of the community. For so long as we continue to have these social problems the State must ensure that the children concerned are assisted in every way possible.

A number of Deputies have spoken at length about that section of the Bill which deals with foster care, both in the private arena and in the context of the health boards. The whole area of child care was treated for far too long as something kind of sissyish, something that should be left to the women; but in recent years there has been a much more enlightened approach by all sections of the community and by all Departments of State to this area. There is now much more recognition of the effect of children on people's lives. There is a greater recognition by employers, for instance, that there are problems in families who have difficulties with children and that sometimes this will affect people's availability for employment and will therefore cause them to be absent from work. Therefore, employers should be more understanding in regard to the problems experienced by parents who have difficult children or by parents who have difficulties apart from those caused by their children and who consequently may have difficulty in coping with their responsibilities.

Because of the more enlightened view in this whole area the stigma that attached to fostering has been removed. Fostering is now a much more recognised and respected area of child care than was the case before. It would be a sad day that we would see the demise of fostering. I welcome the Bill, particularly in terms of its laying down the format that will strengthen the position both of children who are fostered and of the people who foster them and, of course, of natural parents, too. However, I am concerned that the Bill ought to go a little further. The main thrust of the Bill is the protection of children. Its purpose is to ensure that children will not suffer because of their circumstances. While I accept that certain rights must be respected in so far as natural parents are concerned, the right of the child must be paramount. Because of that I, too, welcome the Minister's comments, but I would like to see included in the Bill some mechanism whereby a couple who had fostered a child for, say a minimum of six years, those years being the formative years of the child, would find it easier to adopt the child if they so wished. A case was brought to my attention recently in which the whole saga of a child almost broke up the fostering family. That case concerned a couple who already had two children and who fostered a little girl of four. When the child was put into their care she was in extremely bad condition. She was totally uncared for, very backward, when she went to school she was at the bottom of the class — a very frightened, unloved child. Those people fostered that child until she was 13. In those seven or eight years the child's natural ability was displayed because of the nurturing and love she got in that home. She progressed to being at the top of the class and became a respected member of the school she was attending. In those seven or eight years the natural mother paid no attention to the child, never visited her and had no interest in her well-being. When she reached the age of 13 the natural mother claimed her and, with the law as it obtains, she was returned to her natural mother and was put on the streets. She is now approximately 17 years of age and is on the streets. The foster parents of that child had to sit back, seeing seven or eight years of love, care, work and responsibility go for nothing, seeing a child's life ruined. Our laws appear to be more orientated to the rights of a natural parent, who in this case did not care tuppence for her own child. I am not condemning that natural mother; there may have been good, valid reasons she gave that child up for fostering. But it is pathetic that that young child of 13 could be returned or revert into a hopeless situation and that the law was helpless in getting her back to her foster parents. The effect on the growing children of the foster parents was devastating. It was a couple of years before that family settled back into their own way of life again.

I hope that this and future Bills will ensure that that type of situation does not happen or recur. Goodness knows, that cannot be said to be child-orientated legislation. We must face up to those kinds of realities. An appropriate clause should be inserted somewhere in the Bill to ensure that such does not happen. Before the publication of the Adoption Bill, the Minister might indicate, for the sake of parents who have fostered children over a long period, whether he is thinking in terms of rendering adoption easier for such parents. There are many concerned foster parents who are terrified that the children they have loved and cared for for many years will be allowed slide back into a situation in which they will become delinquent, prostitutes or generally less effective members of society. The Minister might make his intentions known when replying.

I note the provision for the taking back by the natural parent or parents of a child who has been in foster care, taking into account the rights of both categories of parents. I notice that the definition of "child" means a person under the age of 15 years other than a person who is or has been married. I should like to see some provision in the Bill — perhaps it is included and I have not found it — allowing a child a say in its destination. A child of 15, 16 or 17 is old and mature enough to have some say in its destination. If they have been brought up and have not seen their natural mother or father for ten to 12 years, having built up a home life with foster parents, those children should have some say in what happens to them. I hope their views would be taken into account. Obviously, a child of five, six or seven would not be sufficiently mature to make any such decision. But there should be some mechanism by which older children or young people, certainly those between the ages of 15 and 17, can express some wish with regard to their destiny. My eldest boy is 13 and he is already sufficiently mature to have some say in what is to be his destiny. He happens to be an adopted child. He would be sufficiently mature now to decide whether he wanted to stay with his present parents or go to somebody he had never known or met in his life. Perhaps the Minister would also let me know what are his intentions in that regard.

Section 23 says:

A health board shall, so far as practicable and subject to the provisions of this Act, promote the welfare of children in its area by ——

(a) identifying children who are receiving or are at risk of receiving inadequate care and protection, and

(b) providing such advice, guidance, services and facilities as may diminish the need to receive such children into care or keep them in care.

Obviously, prevention is better than cure. I know the Minister is deeply concerned about some unfortunate cases that have arisen in recent years. If one were to examine a number of them, where death occurred, it would be found to have been known to some people in the health services that a problem obtained in certain families; but existing structures were not adequate, so that some few children slipped through the net with some distressed parents in need of help themselves being allowed to remain in charge of children they should not have been allowed have responsibility for.

There is a heavy onus on health boards to ensure that the structures within which they operate can adequately identify those children most in need, anticipating where problems may arise. It is too sad, awful and late when a health board discover the dead body of a small child, a badly beaten child or a sexually abused child. All the symptoms and indications may have been there, but perhaps nobody recognised them. We must have a preventive service rather than a fire brigade type moving in after the damage has been done. I hope the money will be found for all of these provisions. Obviously the implementation of the provisions of this Bill will entail a great deal of money. But such expenditure will be seen as an indication of the caring concern of this Government in updating very outmoded legislation such as the Children Act of 1908. I hope the Minister will receive the support he needs from the remainder of the Cabinet.

Section 27 gives a member of the Garda Síochána power, without warrant, to take to a place of safety a child where he has reasonable grounds for believing and so on. This relates to what I said earlier — the need to anticipate problems, to anticipate danger to children, to anticipate an area in which children might be abused and be either physically or mentally badly treated. The phrase "without warrant" will need to be carefully monitored and it is here the general public have a part to play. Too often we members of the public tend to turn our backs or be somewhat shy in becoming involved in problems. Nobody likes to interfere in another family's circumstances. But if we are aware of children under threat, who are being maltreated. malnourished or whatever, then there is a responsibility on us of making that fact known to a qualified, trained person who can take over. The manner in which one interferes in somebody's else's private family life is a matter of considerable delicacy. One cannot just break down somebody's door and accuse them of maltreating their child. In a case in which I was involved in my constituency there was no doubt but that some neighbours were aware that there was something amiss vis-á-vis the treatment of a certain child. That child subsequently died but none of those neighbours felt they could report it.

Perhaps there is something in the Irish psyche that makes us not want to be accused of being a snoop or an interfering busybody. In that instance, if some of the neighbours had the presence of mind to inform the local district nurse that they were concerned about the crying and screaming of the child in the house next door, that child would now be aged five or six and would not have died at the age of two. In this whole area of the place of safety covered in sections 26 to 32, the general public would have to take an interest in ensuring that the children close to them are safeguarded just as we must have concern for the elderly to ensure that they are receiving the care and attention they need. Very often parents are under terrible strain and it would be a kindness to alert the authorities that the parents cannot cope.

I welcome the whole thrust of the Bill and look forward to the Committee Stage. This Minister has shown himself willing to listen with care and concern and accommodate amendments which Members recommend if he hears a better suggestion from his backbenchers or from the Fianna Fáil back benchers. The Minister has done that in both the Nurses Bill and the Dentists Bill and he has shown that he is not afraid to alter sections of the Bill. This Bill will go a long way in upgrading the general commitment of people in the area of child care. It will give child care a higher status. It will take it out of the realm of women's work. We are now legislating for the care of the children. This is the first opportunity for a long time that we have had a public discussion on child care and to consider the tremendous work that has been done by a number of bodies in preparing reports which have been used in formulating this Bill. Obviously sections of the reports from the Child Task Force and the Adoption Board were not used by the Minister but he went a long way in incorporating some of the suggestions put forward. Before the Bill is passed the Minister will continue discussions with some of the groups such as the Irish Foster Parents Association and people involved in day-to-day care of children, so that having waited 80 years for a new Bill we will have a Bill that will stand the test of time, we hope for another 80 years.

I too welcome the efforts being made in this Bill to redress some of the problems with regard to child care. However, I am disappointed that the Bill does not appear to deal with aspects of child care relating to handicapped children. I welcome the regulations for the day care centres for the mild and moderately handicapped. I compliment the many voluntary organisations who are playing a tremendous role in providing day centres for the mildly handicapped. I pay tribute to the group in Cork, the After Care and Rehabilitation Association which was born out of a polio epidemic there. But what about the severely and profoundly handicapped children? Are the Minister, the Department and many of the people who have already spoken, aware of the situation with regard to severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children? In the Cork area a number of severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children can be accommodated in buildings for the moderately handicapped only until such time as a mildly handicapped child wishes to be admitted. Then the severely or profoundly mentally handicapped child will be taken out of the school as the place must be given to the less severely handicapped child.

The Association for the Severely and Profoundly Mentally Handicapped Children divide mental handicap into four categories — mild, moderate, severe and profound. Mildly and moderately mentally handicapped are catered for by the Department of Education. They are entitled to full training, educational and transportation facilities. The task force recommended that child care should be dealt with by the Department of Health and that recommendation has been ignored. The moderately and mildly handicapped children are entitled to training, educational and transportation facilities and these are provided for them but the severely and profoundly handicapped children do not have these facilities which are available to every other child. An association has been set up to create an awareness in the Department of Health and in people who are decision makers, that proper facilities for the care of severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children must be provided. Traditionally, mentally handicapped children in that category were put into residential care. I support the request of the parents in that association that such children should be kept within the family unit.

Keeping children such as this at home is a trend which must be commended. Of course, it stems from a growing awareness of those children's needs. It is also a practice that is very widely encouraged by people in the medical profession. It is only natural that the care, love and affection of parents for children cannot be replaced in residential care, particularly for those who are severely and profoundly mentally handicapped, I accept that facilities for the mild and moderate categories have been developing steadily, but it is regrettable that the severely and profoundly handicapped have no facilities available to them except, of course, St. Michael's House in Dublin.

I support the parents' request for the setting up of a day care centre for the severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children in Cork and I am talking here about the need for such a centre immediately because no such centre is available there. St. Michael's House is the type of day care centre that I am talking about for Cork, but consider that the approximate cost for this unit as far as my information goes is £2,445 per child per year on a basis of a 50 child unit. In contrast to this, residential care for similar children based on a three roster day seven days a week would work out at £17,865 approximately. One does not have to be a marvellous mathematician to take the difference into consideration, and obviously it represents a substantial saving to the taxpayer. More important, the children who have benefited from the day care centre will be a lesser burden on the State in the first instance, and the training programme would be to the child's advantage and further development. Severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children are children with all the needs of childhood, family love, stability and education, so these children's future outlook has been very bleak. I hope that the Minister will see to it that that bleakness does not continue and that day care centres will be provided for the severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children.

I have mentioned the recommendation of the task force that the Department of Health be the Department responsible for the care and protection of children. I am sad at having to say that this Bill has done nothing whatever to implement that recommendation. Another aspect of the recommendation was that a national children's council be set up, and they said "as a matter of urgency to ensure the attainment of the highest standard of child care".

I welcome the Bill in its efforts to update many of the aspects of child care that needed to be updated. Goodness knows, the Bill on child care has been long enough from us and has been sought for many years, but all in all it must be said that this Bill is very limited. We support it even in its limited form, and I regret that it is not broader to cover the many aspects of child care needing such consideration. For instance, we are all aware of the need for the advice and counselling for many parents. I know it is a child care Bill, but surely advice and counselling for parents to assist and guide them and to help them in the care of their children is required. Regrettably, no provision is made for such in the Bill. I have outlined in particular the very serious omission of any consideration for or reference to the four categories of handicapped children, mild, moderate, severe and profound, but I am particularly concerned that no consideration seems to have been given to making provision for day care centres for profoundly mentally handicapped children. I hope that the Minister for Health will see this contribution from me as a positive, constructive suggestion and ensure that the aspects of the task force's recommendation which I have outlined will be considered before this Bill is finally passed through the Oireachtas, and I ask him please to give instructions or commitments or indications to health boards around the country to see immediately to the need for day care centres for severely and profoundly handicapped children because provision has not been made for them.

I said initially that I welcomed the efforts being made in the Bill to bring into the latter half of this century and, it is to be hoped, into the next century, with some additions, legislation that will see to it that the children of our nation are, in the words of the Constitution, treated equally.

I presume there is some time left to contribute to this debate.

I welcome this Bill warmly and wish to say how pleased I am that at last this legislation has come before the House. Before I became a politician this was the one issue that came up constantly. It is deplorable that there is such a lack of contribution from the Opposition benches, considering the procession of speakers we had in here not long ago on the pro-life amendment debate. By all means, it is important that people can contribute to something about which they feel strongly, but this makes a laugh of it. I can understand the scorn being shown to the Opposition Party for not contributing to this debate in a meaningful way.

Debate adjourned.