Child Care Bill, 1988: Report Stage (Resumed).

The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Noel Treacy, is in possession and will move his own amendment, No. 49. Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 are related and the understanding was that we would discuss amendments Nos. 49, 50 and 51 together by agreement. Is that still satisfactory? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 9, to delete lines 26 to 30 and substitute the following:

"(a) there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child, and

(b) it would not be sufficient for the protection of the child from such immediate and serious risk to await the making of an application for an emergency care order by a health board under section 13,

the member, accompanied by such other persons as may be necessary, may, without warrant, enter (if need be by force) any house or other place (including any building or part of a building, tent, caravan or other temporary or moveable structure, vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft) and remove the child to safety.".

Last night we disposed of amendments Nos. 47 and 48. We had debated amendment No. 49 with other amendments and I hope the House can agree to it.

In the groupings of amendments that were circulated, Nos 47, 48, 52 and 61 were taken together and amendment No. 49 is to be taken with my amendments Nos. 50 and 51. While we discussed No. 49 we did not discuss it in the context of other amendments. Are we taking Nos. 49, 50 and 51 together?

My suggestion was that we discuss Nos. 49, 50 and 51 together.

At the Special Committee after amendments Nos. 50 and 51 had been discussed I withdrew them on the basis that the Minister would be bringing forward his amendments to deal with this matter. Will the Minister clarify whether his amendment No. 49 encompasses all the points I referred to? Amendment No. 50 is a technical expansion of "health" into "health and welfare". When the gardaí take a child into a place of safety, as proposed in amendment No. 51, we are suggesting they have a right of entry without warrant. We want that explicitly stated. I would like confirmation that those matters have been cleared up.

Paragraph (a) of amendment No. 49 in my name covers amendment No. 50 tabled by Deputy Yates and which he also tabled on Committee Stage. There are two main elements in amendment No. 51: first, that a garda should have a right of entry without warrant when exercising his powers here and, secondly, that he should be required to have regard to the wishes and best interests of the child. With regard to the first element I would refer Deputy Yates to amendment No. 49 which confers powers of entry without warrant on a garda for the purposes of this section. In relation to having regard to the wishes of the child, it makes no sense to expect a garda to intervene while at the same time expecting him to have regard to the wishes of the child. What would the garda be expected to do if the child did not wish to go? This would place the garda in an impossible position, and for all of these reasons I cannot accept amendment No. 51.

In view of what the Minister has said I am happy to agree to amendment No. 49 and withdraw amendments Nos. 50 and 51.

Amendment No. 49 is an improvement on the provision that is in the Bill. I welcome the inclusion of suggestions made by the Opposition during Committee Stage. I regret that the Minister did not deem it appropriate to accept amendment No. 48 last night. It would have given a more direct and obvious role to social workers in interventions of this sort. Instead he simply provides that the member of the Garda Síochána be accompanied by such other persons as may be necessary. That is an all-encompassing phrase that would not preclude social workers being present, but it is a pity the Minister did not go one step further and provide that those who are trained specifically in the whole area of child care be present. It would be helpful to the family, the child and the member of the Garda Síochána who is called upon to act in a very delicate and difficult situation. That is no longer an option but the Minister's amendment No. 49 is a significant improvement on the existing provision and I welcome it.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 50, 51 and 52 not moved.

I observe that amendment No. 53 in the Minister's name is a drafting amendment.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 9, line 39, to delete "the custody of his parents" and substitute "the parent having custody of him".

This is a technical change similar to those made on Committee Stage to section 4, subsections (2), (3) and (4). It is necessary to take account of the change in the law following the enactment of the Status of Children Act, 1987, and to deal with cases where married parents are separated from each other. One of the effects of the 1987 Act is that the word "parents" automatically includes the natural father of a child whose parents are not married to each other, even if the father is not living with the mother and has no legal rights over the child. Clearly, in the present context it would make no sense to require the health board to return a child to a father in that situation.

As regards parents who are married but separated, the existing draft gives no guidance to the health board as to which parent the child should be returned. It is proposed, therefore, to change the reference to refer to "the parent having custody" of the child. In the case of the child whose parents are not married, this would generally be the mother although it could be the father if he had been awarded custody by the courts. In the case of a married couple who have separated, it would mean the partner having custody of the child. Where both parents had custody of the child, be they married or unmarried, the rule of construction that the singular imports the plural means that the child would be returned to both parents. I hope the House can agree to this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 9, line 41, after "district court district" to insert "or, in the event that the next such sitting is not due to be held within three days of the date on which the child is delivered up to the custody of the health board, at a sitting of the District Court, which has been specially arranged under section 13 (4), held within the said three days,".

This amendment is in response to points raised during a lengthy discussion on this section at a meeting of the Special Committee on 13 February last. On that occasion, a number of Deputies expressed concern about subsection (4) and at the possibility that a child who had been removed from the custody of his parents by a garda acting without warrant and handed over to a health board could be held in care by the board without the backing of a court order for a lengthy period if there was not a sitting of the District Court to which an application for an emergency care order could be made. I promised to look at the matter again for Report Stage.

My Department have had further discussions with the Department of Justice and there have also been consultations with the President of the District Court. This amendment makes it clear that where a child is removed to safety by a garda under section 12 and is duly delivered up to the health board, the board must apply for an emergency care order as soon as possible. Where no sitting of the District Court is due to be held within the following three days, it will be necessary to arrange a special sitting within three days to consider such an application. It will not be lawful for the board to retain custody of the child beyond the three day period unless the court make an emergency care order.

I am satisfied that what is being proposed now represents a reasonable balance; it provides a maximum of three days for the health board to obtain an emergency care order; it also means that parents will not, in any case, be deprived of custody of their children for more than three days unless there is a court order to authorise it.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 9, after line 43, to insert the following:

"(5) It shall be the duty of all child care and medical personnel to report cases of concern as to the possible maltreatment, neglect or abuse of children to the appropriate officer of the Child Care Authority.".

This is one of the most significant matters in relation to the Bill. This and the issue of barring orders against defending adults were the two principal areas of recommendation by the Law Reform Commission. This matter was briefly discussed at the Special Committee and it was decided to defer the matter pending the final report of the Law Reform Commission.

If should like to refer extensively to the initial consultation paper on child sexual abuse by the Law Reform Commission in relation to this area. They said that mandatory reporting law may, on balance, do more good than harm. I will quote from page 27:

We believe that the current level of reporting is probably, despite increases in recent years, still low. The introduction of mandatory reporting would represent a clear and unequivocal public statement that child sexual abuse is something that society will not tolerate and that its potential for damaging children is such that the uncomfortable feelings that many professionals have about reporting must be put aside. We think that the duty to prevent harm to a child overrides the normal obligation of confidence which may arise in a professional relationship. The existence of a mandatory reporting law would offer the clear guidance that many professionals desire as to where their duty lies and in what manner that duty must be performed. The existence of statutory exemptions would relieve bona fide reporters of any lingering fear of being sued or prosecuted.

In their final report, having received detailed submissions on the matter, they stated their clear view. I will quote from their Summary Paper — Report on Child Sexual Abuse — from September of this year.

Doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, health workers, social workers, probation officers and teachers should be placed under a legal obligation to report cases of suspected child sexual abuse. Failure without good reason to report should be punishable summarily with a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of £1,000.

Express immunity from civil and criminal proceedings should be given to any person who in good faith and with due care reports a suspicion of child sexual abuse to the appropriate authority.

Health boards should be under an express duty to take certain mimimal investigative steps in response to a report of alleged child sexual abuse.

The Law Reform Commission went on to state why they are in favour of mandatory reporting and said:

In summary, our consultations have confirmed our initial view in favour of the introduction of a mandatory reporting law, and we repeat here the basic reasons given in paragraph 2.04 of the Consultation Paper.

The general principles which should inform a mandatory reporting law were set out in the consultation paper at paragraph 2.05 as follows:

The law should be specific enough to discourage over-reporting, whether by the over-zealous or the defensive reporter... We recommend that doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, health workers, social workers, probation officers and teachers should be placed under a legal obligation to report cases of suspected child abuse... We recommend that the obligation to report should arise when the mandated reporter knows or has good reason to believe that child sexual abuse has occurred. The test of knowledge or belief should be objective rather than subjective, the question being whether the individual ought reasonably to be aware that sexual abuse has occurred ... we recommend that a mandated reporter should be required to make an initial oral report followed by a written backup report identifying the child and the nature and basis of the suspicion that he or she has been subjected to sexual abuse ... we recommend, in line with the Department of Health guidelines, that the person to whom all reports should be made should be the Director of Community Care and Medical Officer of Health within each health board... Failure without good reason to report should constitute a summary offence with the maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of £1,000. Prosecutions for failure to report should be subject to the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions... We recommend that express statutory immunity from legal proceedings should be given to any person who bona fide and with due care reports a suspicion of child sexual abuse to the appropriate authority... We would emphasise that the need for this statutory immunity arises whether or not mandatory reporting laws are introduced.

I am sorry to delay the House, a Cheann Comhairle, with such extensive quotations but I wanted to prove that this is no longer a matter of ambiguity or debate. It is a question of whether this House is prepared to make a clear statement that child sexual abuse is so intolerable, degrading and inhuman that it must be got rid of. In the normal course of events, any child who is abused will come in contact with professional health workers, professionals in the medical field or teachers. Those people, when they become deeply suspicious regarding child abuse, should fall in the category of mandatory reporting.

I notice, with regret, that there is no grouping for amendment No. 55. That means the Minister has not tabled an amendment in regard to this matter. I am acutely disappointed because, on 20 February this year when the matter was debated by the Special Committee, the Minister said that it would be premature to reach a final decision on the matter until they had the benefit of the commission's report. He suggested that the amendment be withdrawn and the matter considered again, if necessary, on Report Stage by which time the commission's report should be available. I dutifully withdrew my amendment at that time in the expectation that the Minister would table an amendment. However, on the list circulated so far there is no grouping of this amendment. This is a matter of fundamental importance, it is a case of whether we are prepared to pay lip-service or take legal action to rid us of child sexual abuse.

The House is now at a crossroads in regard to this matter. The Minister commissioned experts to advise him in this regard and they contain a very distinguished list of names including Mr. Justice Ronan Keane, John Buckley, William Duncan, Maureen Gaffney, Simon O'Leary and many others. As I said, the Minister sought advice from these people and received submissions arising from the consultation paper.

This amendment is one of the most important in relation to the Bill. It will be a grave omission if it is not dealt with now. I ask the Minister to bring forward an amendment which will allow us to make progress in this area.

Last evening we came up against one of the "biggies" in the Bill. Up to that we made some considerable amendments, and we are grateful for any amendments proposed by us and accepted by the Minister. However, we came up against what we are really talking about in the context of a realistic and effective Child Care Bill last night when the Minister dispassionately and coldly threw out any notion that we would have a barring order as part of this legislation. Mandatory reporting is another substantial and important provision. If we do not have it in this Bill the Bill will be weaker. This proposal has been put forward again and again by all the organisations working close to the coal face of the problem of child sexual abuse.

I spoke to the ISPCC recently. They run Childline, and they know what they are talking about. They are very disturbed and concerned at the level of reporting we are getting. They accept that perhaps something like 40 per cent of all the instances of child sexual abuse is coming to the attention of one or other of the child care agencies. They make the point, with which I agree, that when we talk about this section relating to the protection of a child in an emergency, the emergency has already occurred. The problem has occurred long before we talk about getting in the Garda Síochána or the social worker. We have to consider questions such as why the child was left as long as it was in that situation, and were the provisions for dealing with it adequate. The answer is that the provisions are not adequate.

The reason why reporting is not as realistic as it should be is that people will not push reports because they know that the structures are not there to deal with them. There is a great deal of confusion. What training is there for the Garda Síochána to whom reports of child sexual are made? Do they know how to deal with it, at what point to begin reporting, or how to handle sensitively the child or individuals concerned? This is an extremely important and essential amendment. I know there is no agreement among the various agencies on whether there should be mandatory reporting or on whether it is fair to people like teachers or social workers or anybody else who would take on the role of reporter.

It would go a long way towards resolving this matter and giving people confidence to report suspected instances of child abuse, if we accepted that there is child abuse here, that we are not the only country, that it is a phenomenon of the last few years and that it should be treated for the serious and heinous crime it is. We should define sexual abuse and deal with it. We should bring in structures to protect this most vulnerable group in society, small children who cannot take action for themselves and who are totally confused, distressed and oppressed by this offence. We can start here. We have all the documentation we need. We have a consultative document, the commission report, recommendations from all the organisations in the child care coalition, and they are all saying the same thing to us.

I hope the Minister will not stonewall on this and will come back to us with a reasonable and understanding response that will go a long way towards relieving the problem where reporting is not adequate or where reports are made but not adequately dealt with. The Minister should once and for all make a statement saying that we do not accept instances of child sexual abuse, that it is wrong and that we have an obligation and a responsibility as legislators to deal with it effectively and realistically and to be seen to deal with it effectively and realistically.

We are all committed to this Bill. I expect the Minister to respond positively to this amendment. This amendment refers to the core value of the Bill. It is a test of how seriously we are prepared to treat an incredibly damaging and serious crime against children. It is up to the legislators to protect them. They cannot protect themselves. We know from the Rape Crisis Centres and from the counselling and therapy that is going on that sexual abuse causes life-long damage. We must do everything in our power to prevent it happening or to have it immediately treated when it is discovered. That is our first consideration. As Deputy Yates said, this will show how serious the community are in protecting our children from this desperate attack upon them.

The Minister will agree that one of the biggest difficulties that people working in child care have encountered is being empowered to take action but being afraid that action will be taken against them. Because of that fear voluntary and professional workers, rather than putting themselves into an invidious position where they might be sued or have to face outraged parents or people suspected of carrying out child abuse, pull a curtain across it and decide not to take action. This occurs where children cannot take action.

The consultation document put forward by the Law Reform Commission discussed both sides of the argument. Their arguments in favour of this provision are absolutely compelling and there is no equivocation in their final recommendations. The document makes the point that in the United States of America the introduction of mandatory reporting laws beginning in the early 1960s was followed by a dramatic increase in the number of reports of suspected child abuse of all kinds, and that one commentator had suggested that mandatory reporting laws combined with a public awareness campaign — and this Bill is doing that — have been strikingly effective. The document went on to say that to many professionals the most attractive feature of a mandatory reporting law is its empowering nature which relieves them from some of the onus of discretion, and suggested that a teacher or social worker is in a less invidious position if he or she is able to explain perhaps to an aggrieved parent that the making of a report is a matter of legal obligation rather than a purely personal decision.

Another argument in favour of mandatory reporting is that it would secure consistency in the management of the disclosure of child abuse, that it would enable better asessment of the nature, the instance and the location of child abuse which would result in an improved provision of services. This is of the utmost importance. Unless we have mandatory reporting and unless we protect the people on whom there is a requirement to report we could have a huge inconsistency with regard to reporting because of the demographic the traditional areas and cultures that would prevent such child abuse being reported. I am aware that other Deputies wish to add to the debate on this amendment so I will not take up too much time. What we have shown so far is an overwhelming argument in favour of mandatory reporting and also of empowering the people who need most the benefit of such provision, that is, the people who are dealing with the problem. Above all this Bill is about providing the utmost protection for the children who cannot protect themselves.

I am a little more optimistic about the Minister's response to this amendment than is the mover of the amendment. My optimism arises from the Minister's original response, columns 330 and 331 of the Report of the Special Committee, when he was dealing with this matter and the possibility of the report of the commision being available at a future date he said then:

The Commission will then submit their final report to the Government, setting out their conclusions and recommendations. I think it would be premature for us to reach a final decision on this matter until we have the benefit of the commission's report.

I agreed — and I think Deputy Yates agreed at the time — that because the issue was being discussed by the Law Reform Commission and as they had not arrived at a decision, it would have been premature for us to have reached a final decision. Deputy Yates is rather modest because he did not quote the next statement from himself in which he said:

Should the Commission come out in favour of this I hope it will be given constructive and positive consideration by the Minister and the Department. I agree that there is not a consensus on this matter but if there is the possibility of abuse of a child not being detected because of lack of reporting by medical or other personnel, it is a serious matter and needs to be taken up.

There the Deputy rested his case and withdrew his amendment on the basis that we were waiting for the professionals to report. They have now reported and have come down in favour of a system of mandatory information being given and sought. Those of us who are involved at constituency level see, unfortunately and tragically, that this problem is becoming more widespread. We are not so silly as to believe that this problem is a new trend that has commenced. The abuse of children, sexually and otherwise, is becoming common knowledge. This is because parents, and particularly mothers, and children themselves are coming forward in the knowledge that there are people there to protect them. Unless we treat the crime of child sexual abuse with the seriousness it deserves, treat the perpetrators of this crime as criminals, report them as criminals and treat them with the disrespect and disdain we all have for them, this problem will remain with us and we will continue to have an Irish solution to an Irish problem or the nod and the wink syndrome whereby if somebody of importance is involved, and for whom that revelation would create a problem in the community if it was generally known, there seems to be an understanding that certain cases could not be reported. There must be no exemption for anyone in so far as this serious offence is concerned. That is what makes it sufficiently serious for the Minister to look at the possibility of accepting this kind of amendment.

If the Minister is not satisfied with the wording we would all listen to his suggestion as to what should be the proper wording. Unless there is an obligation on medical or other personnel, who deal with the consequences of these cases, to report the matter to another authority, unfortunately, the problem will continue to be swept under the carpet. It would be great if all of us here today could say it was a matter of minimal importance and that maybe sweeping it under the carpet was the way out of the problem. I am afraid that is not the case, and we are now faced with the dilemma that unless we take action to rid our society of this dreadful problem, one that is becoming more widespread, at some future date mandatory reporting will have to be introduced in other legislation. We are taking this line in the knowledge that once a report is made legal action will not perhaps take place unless those taking such action are satisfied that there is a case to be answered. That is the final safeguard of the Minister. If he accepts this amendment he should know, even if there is mandatory reporting, that another process will take place to tease out the information made available and if a court case is justified, so be it.

In spite of all that the human factor will still be involved. Even where husbands are jailed for child sexual abuse there are still wives who would wish them to be released for, say, Christmas. In making representations in this area at the request of a wife one often wonders whether one is doing right but when a mother in her love for the man who was jailed, a factor which may supersede all other difficulties she has had with him, often has a desire to be reunited with that man and there is a process of reconciliation. If this crime was treated as seriously as it should be treated the offenders would know they were being treated as outcasts and criminals.

In any other area of crime it is suggested that people should report such crime as drunken driving, shop lifting, dishonesty etc. We are not a nation of informers but in this type of special case if the person reporting or informing is given the protection they deserve there is no reason the Minister should not concede this amendment, or similar type wording, which would allow for mandatory reporting of these extraordinary outbreaks of criminal acts against children.

On behalf of The Workers' Party I would like to echo the support Deputy Sherlock gave for this proposal at the Special Committee. We consider it to be one of the most important amendments that can be considered in the context of this legislation. Needless to say, the entire Bill is significant but this amendment in one that goes to the workability of the legislation and is central to giving to the legislation the means whereby it can be effective in the field, ensuring that the entire process the Minister proposes to establish under the health boards — under his guidance and authority — will present the opportunity to come to grips with the basic problem of child sexual abuse and neglect. For that reason the amendment is crucial. At the Special Committee the Minister recognised that there were arguments for and against, such a proposal that the issue is a complex one, that the notion is one which was devised in America where, once introduced, it worked effectively as a policing device. The Minister took the correct position at the Special Committee and said that he would await the report of the Law Reform Commission on child sexual abuse. We now have that report in which the commission clearly and succinctly recommend that people generally, not only those working in the area and who have professional responsibility but all people in the community, should have a duty and a responsibility to report to the appropriate authority where cases of child neglect and abuse come to their attention.

The Law Reform Commission have considered the matter, consulted and reported on it, and it is incumbent on the Minister and on all of us here to accept their recommendation. If I understand the Law Reform Commission report correctly, it goes much further than this very succinct, modest but nonetheless important amendment: it proposes that failure to report in circumstances where it is clear there is abuse should be an offence. While I support that position it is not advocated by the amendment which merely proposes to lay a duty on persons to recognise the special position they hold.

The amendment is important because it recognises that we all have a responsibility to the children who are particularly vulnerable. In general principle, I presume it is the primary responsibility of the victim or complainant to come forward and give evidence about any offence or injury occasioned or committed against him, but clearly that is not possible for young children who do not have the knowledge or opportunity to come forward. This amendment recognises that all of us in the community have a responsibility to protect and help the innocent child who is neglected, maltreated or abused.

The Minister made the point that in Europe this kind of regime does not exist. There are some peculiar features attaching to the Irish situation which deserves a different regime. Deputy Ferris referred to the traditional notion that we are not a nation of "grasses"— that we do not inform. I hope that attitude is changing and that the overall thrust of the campaign of the Garda Síochána and the Minister for Justice for community watch will get rid of this ridiculous and outmoded notion. Hopefully we are getting to the stage where we recognise that crime generally is an affront to the community and that we have a responsibility to respond. Perhaps it is a problem of history or outmoded culture, but it must be recognised and tackled.

We are a small, confined, close island community and I have no doubt that daily, no matter what town or street you are in, you invariably come across someone you know or someone who knows someone you know. This illustrates the difficulties for professionals and others working in the field. They have to confront their neighbours, peers or even community leaders if they suspect this type of child abuse is going on. This is a particular problem for them. It can also be described as the nod and wink phenomenon of Irish society which is prevalent and which must be recognised by us as legislators. There is no doubt that the people working in this field experience extreme difficulties when pressure is put on them, either directly or indirectly. Do they ask themselves, if this is a case in which they can intervene or if they should bring it to the attention of their superiors or the authorities so that it can be confronted in an open and democratic way? There are major worries about this.

As a lawyer, time and again I have come across people who have been assisted greatly by, for example, a subpoena which requires them to come to court to give evidence in any kind of dispute. Because they receive a subpoena, they believe they have no option but to attend and give their testimony. This is a good device to help people get over the psychological, cultural or other barriers which make it difficult for them to come forward to testify in aid of the civil authorities and the Garda in the prosecution of crime generally.

I believe that laying down this duty in the legislation would be an amazingly strong support for the people working in the field who, when they are inevitably confronted by this type of sensitive issue, would be able to look at the Bill and say, "I have a duty and I will be failing in my duty under the law and"— if further amendments are accepted —"I am possibly in confrontation with the law if I do not report this incident so that action can be taken". This is not simply a vacuous amendment. I believe it will have very strong and real relevance to people who work in the field and who will be charged with the responsibility of policing this area. As I have said, it is a responsibility which should rest on all of us.

At the Special Committee the Minister deferred making a decision on this issue until the emergence of the Law Reform Commission report. He now has that report which puts forward a well reasoned and structured argument in favour of this proposal. The commission looked at all the pros and cons which the Minister recognised and have come down clearly in favour of a duty on all of us. I hope for that reason this reasonable amendment will be accepted by the Minister.

Members have referred to the brief discussion on mandatory reporting at the Special Committee. At that time serious concern was expressed by Members on all sides about the very sensitive issues involved in the area of mandatory reporting. This is a very sensitive area because it deals with the relationship between doctors and patients, teachers and pupils and so on. I have no great problem with the general concept of mandatory reporting. One very important point emphasised in the Law Reform Commission's report, the submissions made and the statements made by Opposition Deputies, is that mandatory reporting will give everyone a very definite signal of society's attitude to child sexual abuse. Anything which does that has to be good.

Another element mentioned — this is one of the pluses of this proposal — is that mandatory reporting will take the responsibility of making a decision from people who are aware that a child is being sexually abused: mandatory reporting will make it a duty for them to report such instances rather than leaving it to them to decide. That can be good in certain circumstances.

However, the Law Reform Commission report is not as clear as Opposition Deputies have said. Some people have said that the Law Reform Commission have come out in favour of mandatory reporting. That is true and I do not think anyone would deny it, but they say many other things as well. It is important that these points be noted. If we are going to introduce something as important and fundamental as mandatory reporting, we should not take a sentence here and there from the Law Reform Commission report, make a very bald statement by way of an amendment into a child care Bill and leave it hanging there with very little else.

As I said, this is a sensitive area and there are divisions on it among every professional group. The majority of organisations may have decided that mandatory reporting would be a good idea but within every organisation, whether teacher, medical or professional care organisations, there are significant numbers of people who have severe difficulties with it and who have expressed strong reservations about its introduction.

The submissions to the Law Reform Commission split two-thirds/one-third in favour of mandatory reporting. The reason one-third of the submissions were against mandatory reporting is not that people do not want to have cases reported but rather to ensure before mandatory reporting is introduced that the proper procedures to be followed are clearly spelled out instead of merely having a simple amendment to this Bill.

The Law Reform Commission stated at paragraph 1.03 that certain conditions should be met before mandatory reporting is put in place. The first of these is that those given legal responsibility for reporting should be given training on how to discharge that responsibility. It is very important that this be done. It is probable that professional child care workers and social workers have that qualification and will know how to discharge that responsibility but a person such as a teacher, a career guidance counsellor and so on has not had such training on childcare. The second condition that should be met is that health boards be given adequate resources to investigate and manage an increased workload and caseload. I have no doubt that this will be met.

The third condition that should be met, on which the Law Reform Commission lay emphasis in their report, is: "Changes in the legal system are necessary to enable it to respond more sensitively and effectively to individual cases". The report goes on to state that mandatory reporting laws are clearly not a complete solution to the problem of under-reporting child sexual abuse, they can only be part of the solution. It is most important that we do not get caught up in the thought that by putting reporting mandatory in this Bill, or any other Bill, automatically all cases of child sexual abuse will end or be discovered. The Law Reform Commission at paragraph 1.04 of their report emphasised this point and stated, "We wish to re-emphasise that a mandatory reporting law was never suggested as a panacea but as one part of a series of legal and social reforms designed to protect children from the scourge of sexual abuse".

Read the next line.

I could read the whole paragraph but I do not want to delay the House.

The Deputy might lose the argument.

I did not ask the Deputies to read extra lines——

I did not quote from the report.

——but I read the quotation to emphasise that mandatory reporting is not the panacea——

It is but one important part of a series.

He made that point.

I have emphasised that point and accepted the notion that mandatory reporting is necessary but not on its own. This is precisely in line with the reasoning of the Law Reform Commission.

Let me make one other point on the way the professional groups feel about this. The professional coalition on the Child Care Bill, which was made up of the various groups involved in child care had this to say about mandatory reporting and the suggestion put forward originally: "This is a very large issue which would require more extensive debate as it has implications for clinical practise, children's and parents' rights. There are differing views between and within professional groups".

The problem of over-reporting has been mentioned by everybody. One of the dangers in this is, of course, that valuable time and resources are wasted in following up every case which has been reported. The Law Reform Commission highlighted this danger and we should take careful note of it. In their report they quoted from their consultation paper and stated that in the absence of mandatory reporting in 1987 only 456 of the 926 reported cases of child sexual abuse were confirmed. Therefore, even without mandatory reporting difficulties have been encountered in relation to the reporting of child sexual abuse it appears that there has been over-reporting.

I would like to make a point about taking something as important and as basic as mandatory reporting and including it in the Bill on its own. The Law Reform Commission in their report referred to the various elements of mandatory reporting and highlighted the following: the reportable conditions, the persons placed under an obligation to report, the nature of the obligation to report, how and to whom to report, the sanctions for a failure to report and the immunity provisions. Therefore, there are a series of other elements of good mandatory reporting law which clearly are not met by this amendment. It is also clear that legislation would be required to meet these rather than including an amendment in this Bill.

Everybody should look at paragraph 1.08 of the report of the Law Reform Commission in which they state that, "it would in our view be appropriate, given the advanced stage of the Child Care Bill, to embody mandatory reporting laws in separate legislation". It would be both sensible and wise to take that precaution.

Is it going to be done?

Amendment No. 55 proposes to place a legal obligation on certain persons to report suspected cases of child abuse through the health boards. Such a proposal was discussed at length at the Special Committee and it was agreed to defer consideration of it pending the final report of the Law Reform Commission on child sexual abuse. I have listened with great interest to the fine contributions made this morning and I can identify with the desire of many people to have mandatory reporting but we must look at the report of the Law Reform Commission in detail in which they recommend the introduction of legislation providing for mandatory reporting. However, they added a rider to their recommendation which has just been quoted by Deputy Dempsey. They stated in paragraph 8 of Chapter I that, "it would in our view be appropriate, given the advanced stage of the Child Care Bill, to embody mandatory reporting laws in separate legislation". We have had much discussion, several consultations and long deliberations on this matter.

Looking at the report, one finds that the Law Reform Commission have at least 20 paragraphs of recommendations on mandatory reporting. They regard it as a very sensitive, delicate, complex issue, a very important one. They have clearly recommended that if there is to be mandatory reporting then it should be in separate legislation. We cannot just take mandatory reporting and include it in this Bill without a very detailed mandatory reporting system, without putting alongside it a detailed proposed structure, a system that would protect not alone children but also those drawing up the reports and, in addition, a follow-up system.

The Government agree that it would not be appropriate to endeavour to deal with the complex issue of mandatory reporting laws on Report Stage of this Bill. Therefore, they concur with the Law Reform Commission in this matter. In the circumstances I will not be able to accept this amendment.

I should like to thank my colleagues in Opposition for their support of my amendment No. 55. There is an element ofdéjà vu about all of this in so far as we hear incessantly from Members on the opposite side of the House that, yet again, this issue is too important to deal with now; it is too important to deal with on Report Stage; it is too involved to be encompassed in this Bill.

So said the Law Reform Commission.

We will come to that shortly also. I do not know what play there is on words that renders things too important that they cannot be dealt with because the record shows — by way of a recent parliamentary question I tabled — that the Minister for Health has no further proposals to legislate in the area of child care; there is no promised second child care Bill. There was no promise anywhere on the part of the Government that when this report was published by the Law Reform Commission they recognised that its timing meant that issues of barring orders against adults, issues relating to mandatory reporting, issues of juvenile justice, issuesvis-à-vis the establishment of a children's court are matters on which they will have further legislation, or that this Child Care Bill is a stop-gap measure only. Quite the opposite. This Bill has been heralded by the Taoiseach as a major piece of law reform in the child care area, the piece of legislation for the decade. As we go through it we see it is most incomplete, is full of gaps, does not attempt to deal with any of the real, current controversial issues in this area.

It seems to me quite extraordinary that the Minister, in all his contribution, did not say whether he was for or against mandatory reporting.

The Deputy should read the record again.

He sat firmly on the fence, gave no commitment as to how, when or where further legislation would be introduced in this area. Therefore, I must conclude, in all fairness, that there is no commitment whatsoever to give a clear, public declaration that this matter of child sexual abuse is so serious, so heinous a crime it must be dealt with in similar fashion by making it mandatory to report.

Many Deputies have referred to the international experience. Taking the broad spectrum of international experience it is quite clear to me that it is better to err on the side of over-reporting than under-reporting because of the potential misery caused people who may go through life, having been abused, never having been able to tell anybody about it let alone get any help.

We do not know the level of child sexual abuse in this country; it could be 1 per cent; it could be 7 per cent. We have differing information but we can be certain that, whatever is the real level of child abuse, it is nowhere near what we actually know in so far as there is a huge level of undetected cases, a huge degree of misery never reported. It seems to me quite extraordinary and sad that no clear structure is being established now within which professionals, faced with an enormous burden of discretion, would know whether to be suspicious, whether to forget about it or what to do.

Let us place ourselves in the position of a general practitioner faced with such circumstances in his or her surgery, when they are virtually certain that, in a physical sense, there has been child sexual abuse. This House has no comment to make to such a doctor as to what should happen in those circumstances. That is a disgrace. Indeed, it is one of wilful neglect. While I might have some understanding of the Minister saying that this report, published in September of this year, the final report, was sprung on him and his officials so that they were caught sitting on their hands and did not have time to deal with it, the fact of the matter is that the initial consultation was over a year old when all the arguments for and against were analysed. In the nature of things, such reports are available to Government before being published.

May I just clarify that point? The Deputy made a statement to the effect that this report was available to Government before it was published. The report of the Law Reform Commission was published on 27 September last; we sought that report and we received it on 1 October last.

That point does not take from the fact that this major——

The Deputy is making the point that we had something and kept it under the bush.

Let me spell it out for the Minister. I do not think it possible that we got it before the Minister but, leaving that aside, the consultation paper on child sexual abuse was published in August, 1989 which dealt comprehensively with all of the arguments for and against. In fact, the final report does not add to the sum total of research into or arguments advanced on the matter; it merely adds to the confirmation of the conclusions of the Law Reform Commission. I do not know what may be the staffing or other problems encountered in the Minister's Department or, I suspect, the lack of political will to deal with these issues but the fact of the matter is that adequate time was available to them to draw up enabling legislation for mandatory reporting, subject to detailed regulations being prepared by Government. I would be quite happy had the Minister come forward, at some time between Committee and Report Stages — as he had committed himself to doing at the Special Committee — but he has totally reneged on his commitment. Do I have to repeat it; it was absolutely clear; I thought we had reached an understanding. The Minister said:

I think it would be premature of us to reach a final decision until we have the benefit of the commission's report. I would suggest, therefore, that this amendment be withdrawn and the matter considered again on Report Stage by which time the Commission's report should be available.

The amendment was withdrawn. Yet, when it comes to the Minister's turn to do something about this, he does nothing. The Law Reform Commission came forward with a package of proposals, as Deputy Dempsey said, a package of proposals I favour. An integral part of that package is immunity because, obviously, some of these matters are subjective and require professional judgments. Therefore, it is essential that we not only have immunity but we must also establish consistency among all of the professional codes. There is no consistency in reporting between professions and within professions. Different doctors have different views, different psychotherapists and different psychoanalysts have different views. There are no suggestions from the Minister's Department on how this matter might be addressed.

I do not think it is too important a matter to deal with; it is probably too difficult to deal with. I do not wish to delay the House. This matter has been comprehensively debated. But, arising out of what was debated last evening when there were no media representatives present in the dark of the night, the message must go out that the Minister failed to incorporate the first significant recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, that was, that we remove the offending adult, as opposed to always removing the child from the family home. I might add that the very first recommendation of the Law Reform Commission was mandatory reporting so that we might get to grips with the level of lack of detection of this problem. This is being neglected as well. This legislation is a cop out in the major areas of reform in which children need protection to allow them live their lives in a home invironment without an offending adult. In all these cases it is quite obvious that the psychological approach of a child is that it feels it is the guilty party. The abused feel they have done something wrong and are in some way dirty. Now, these people who are so vulnerable, so defenceless, are not to be afforded the protection of the professionals in this area who would be empowered, as Deputy Barnes said, to remove that burden of discretion and make it obligatory on them to report.

The Minister has kicked to touch, he has not said he will have further legislation in the New Year, he has not even put forward any enabling proposals. He has just said that it is too important to deal with it now. That is sad for these children. We will be pressing amendment No. 55.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 56; Níl, 66.

  • Ahearn, Therese.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Cotter, Bill.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Gerry.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reynolds, Gerry.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheehan, Patrick J.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Yates, Ivan.


  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Mattie.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
  • Cullimore, Séamus.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Kelly, Laurence.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, Jim.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
  • O'Connell, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Toole, Martin Joe.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wyse, Pearse.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies J. Higgins and Boylan; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and Quill.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 56. Amendment No. 57 is related and both may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 9, after line 43, to insert the following:

"(5) (a) The Minister shall prescribe a code of practice for the Garda Síochána in operating the provisions of this section.

(b) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (a), these regulations shall provide that:

(i) appropriate treatment and counselling be provided for offenders;

(ii) a level of specialisation in core personnel and in the provision of treatment centres be attained; and

(iii) following disclosure of sexual abuse the child victim be immediately separated from the offender.".

This was discussed at the Special Committee. It relates to the specialist training of the gardaí who would be involved in executing emergency care orders and basically removing children at risk and taking them into care. It is important that a code of practice be established by the Minister which would allow for a level of specialisation in core personnel and the provision of treatment centres where appropriate treatment and counselling could be provided for the offender. Following disclosure the child victim should immediately be separated from the offender. In the debate at the Special Committee the Minister was sympathetic to this and seemed to indicate that it was primarily a matter for the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice. There was reference to ban-ghardaí and the fact that they would have a particular role to play.

There are no banghardaí now.

What is the new word?

Garda of the female variety.

We will have no sexist talk here.

I thought the Deputy was going to say "no sex".

This is important legislation and we will not have any cross-chat.

The point made in amendment No. 57 is also worthy of support. We could not expect every member of the Garda to have such specialist training, expertise and sensitivity. Within each Garda division or local district there would need to be designated personnel to implement the code of practice. Gardaí who happen to be women would be particularly suitable in most cases. This is an important area. I have resubmitted the amendment and I hope the House will support it.

I support Deputy Yates's amendment. I want also to advert to the amendment in your own name, amendment No. 57. Both amendments reflect the complexity of the legislation with the vast new range of duties and powers that are being conferred on the Garda Síochána. In some respects the legislation represents dramatic departures and advances in the area by bringing in the Garda Síochána to police and supervise a sensitive and complex area of human and family relationships. Therefore, the setting down of a code of practice, as suggested in Deputy Yates's amendment, should be supported and provided for in the legislation.

The debate in Special Committee centred on the proposals which were current at that time with regard to the extension of the college at Templemore to provide new courses of training and education. All that is very welcome. Nevertheless it does not address the central point of Deputy Yates's amendment, nor the issue included in amendment No. 57 with regard to the designation of central officers in each district with primary responsibility for the working of the legislation. One can provide all the educational devices and facilities at Templemore and elsewhere, but unless there is a code laid down in law in clear, concise language, one does not know for what one is educating one's members or what standards one is seeking to achieve or maintain.

It is important that the legislation should reflect, and legislators should have the opportunity to talk about, the standards and the codes of conduct to be employed. The educationalists working in the various Garda schools should know exactly the standards required of them and the gardaí themselves, working the legislation on a day-to-day basis, should have guidelines. There are two elements involved, the laying down of standards and a code of practice, which is the only device available to us in laying down standards.

The central idea of The Workers' Party amendment is that each division of the Garda would have a designated member who would have primary responsibility for seeing that the legislation works and would have the primary responsibility for exercising the powers available to the Garda Síochána under the Act. The suggestion is that this would be done without prejudice to the rights of the Garda Síochána generally to exercise authority and power under the legislation. Because of the sensitivity of the area we are suggesting that there would be an identifiable designated person within the Garda to liaise with the community and the professionals in regard to problems that might emerge in the working of the legislation or with regard to the inefficiencies or deficiencies in the role of the Garda in a particular area. It would be seen that the Garda were coming behind the people working in the civil area, such as social workers, doctors, psychiatrists and so on. It would enable good working relationships to exist at all levels centring on the Garda who have the primary responsibility to act under the legislation.

In the context of the special powers now being conferred upon the Garda we should ensure that there are identifiable people, specially trained, with primary responsibility for acting in the area. Just as we recognise that drug trafficking is a problem in certain areas or that juvenile offending is a problem in other areas and appoint Garda members in a division with specific responsibility for acting, if not exclusively, then primarily in that area, we want to designate an identifiable person in the Garda to ensure that there is constant attention given to this area and that we develop a Garda awareness of the legislation and the problem in the community.

It is one thing to set up the legislation but there is a need for a specific response not just on an educational level but on the structural level in the divisions in which the Garda work so that the community will know to whom to go, so that there will be someone who will be known as the person in the Garda who is charged with ensuring the continuing development and response of the Garda to the problem.

The amendment does not impose any additional strains on the Garda and their resources. It merely says, recognising the importance of this legislation, that within each division there should be designated officers with primary responsibilities for exercising the powers and ensuring that the legislation works.

I want to put on the record Deputy Howlin's support for both amendments. He spoke strongly in favour of them on Committee Stage. The Garda Síochána have special needs in this area and we should go down the road of participation by them at a specialised level, as outlined in amendment No. 56, or of designating a member or members of the Garda with special responsibility. This has been done in other areas, such as the drugs area where specialist knowledge was required, and it is quite obvious from the debate that there will be a need for specialised training and knowledge in the areas of the care of children.

In the Special Committee the Minister pointed out that the gardaí of the female sex had attended courses. I know the Minister realises that there are not gardaí of the female sex in every parish in Ireland, much as we would like that to be the case. We would hope that gardaí of both sexes would have access to special training and I have no doubt that the new curriculum in Templemore takes this on board. It must be recognised, however, that there are many gardaí, who qualified before this legislation was thought of, who need special training, and I hope the Minister will give some attention to that either by conceding this amendment or by making suggestions as to how he will come to grips with the specialised knowledge that will be required by members of the Garda Síochána in dealing with this problem.

I support these amendments, and I would like to concentrate on Deputy Yates's amendment in particular. We know there is now a completely different procedure in regard to the training of gardaí and we all welcome that because they are called upon to protect us. They are involved in the most sensitive and complex aspects of our society and it is only right that the training they get equips them to do that work. I am sure that in Templemore at present specialised training is being given to men and women. As other speakers have said, members of both sex are needed in this work and that should be taken into account in the in-service training.

While I take the point that there may be certain occasions when women gardaí may be more suitable, for instance when dealing with frightened victims, particularly of sexual abuse, it is very important that the male members of the Garda are included in this whole training process. I stress that good male role models are needed to counterbalance the effects of sexual abuse and to remind victims that even though the offender was male there are very good, caring, supportive men to help them. It is very important, therefore, that men are included in this type of training.

With regard to the appropriate councelling provided for offenders, Deputy Yates is absolutely correct to include a provision to cater for this. Research has shown that some sex offenders abuse many children. We know that without treatment the offender will continue to offend. It can be seen from counselling sessions in other countries that there is a high level of denial by the offender. The most difficult and demanding task in the treatment of offenders is to get them to face up to the seriousness of what they have done. They should be helped reach the stage where they will discontinue offending. The treatment is of absolute importance or otherwise, the cycle of offending will continue.

Because of a lack of treatment centres for these offenders on release from prison continue to sexually abuse vulnerable children. That should not be allowed. I know the Minister will agree that unless there is treatment for offenders, children will be constantly at risk. This leads to Deputy Yates's proposal that treatment centres must have the resources to allow them to carry on their work. I must record my disappointment that at certain times it is the child who is removed from the family rather than the offender. The last part of the amendment provides that the victim be separated from the offender. On Committee Stage the Minister had difficulties with that because he felt it could lead to certain complexities.

As was mentioned by Deputy Yates the guilt factor is of the utmost importance. The child is usually considered by the offender to be in some way guilty. He or she may feel that they have also offended. In treating the victim the first thing to do is to remove him or her from the offender and in that way begin the process of healing that will allow the child get out from under the guilt.

The provisions in this amendment are fundamental to the law. There is an educative and practical side to what we must do with regard to protecting and treating children. I know the Minister will recognise that the provisions contained in these amendments are essential. To have on the Statute Book a law such as that which exists, without these resources being made available, is useless. It is only a disillusionment to all those who have such a high expectation of what should be in the Child Care Bill. I look forward to a positive response from the Minister.

Unfortunately, we are discussing this Bill in the context of a Department of Health mandate rather than that of the Department of Justice. I do not think a Minister for Health can prescribe a code of practice for the Garda. Nevertheless, much has been said on all sides to which I would subscribe. Copies of the debate should be sent to the Garda Commissioner and the director of training in Templemore for their perusal.

What we are discussing here has more to do with the social role of the Garda rather than the legal role. It might do a lot of good if the gardaí were trained in regard to the signs and symptoms of sexual or any other kind of abuse. We are focusing here on sexual abuse but children can be abused in other ways. Many children are abused without ever a hand being laid on them. We have all dealt with people in our clinics whose self-confidence has been sapped, eroded or destroyed over the years, until they reach the point where they can barely function. This begins in childhood, probably from the day these children are born. However, I am wandering away from the amendments put down by Deputy Yates and Deputy Sherlock.

The most a Minister for Health can do — it would be different if we were arguing this in front of the Minister for Justice — is ensure that the awareness of the range of child abuse here is imbued in the gardaí. In-service training should be given to all gardaí. They should be put through courses, and this matter should be a core element of these courses.

Like my colleague I am somewhat bemused by the amendments. First, it is my wish that the role of the gardaí be minimal. I see Deputy McCartan smiling at me.

Only because of the Deputy's delectable presence.

Perhaps for another reason.

That is a sexist remark.

Let us keep my personal life out of the Chamber. Section 12 (3) states: "Where a child is removed by a member of the Garda Síochána in accordance with subsection (1), the child shall as soon as possible be delivered up to the custody of the health board for the area in which the child is for the time being." We were very emphatic that a child would not be hanging around a Garda station for hours and would be seen to as quickly as possible. We spoke last night about the whole idea of having gardaí involved and how traumatic it can be when they are called to deal with difficult situations. I am adamant that the role of the Garda should be mimimal.

I agree with Deputy Ferris that the changes in educational training are very welcome because every garda will sometimes face a situation for which they have not been trained. The Minister for Justice or the Commissioner's Office should provide some type of courses for all members in this new legislation in regard to their role. The educational and training aspect is very important because, in a country area, where only a sergeant and a garda are stationed, they cannot wait for a specialist in the field to help as such a person might not be available. Everyone should have the training and the capability to deal with an emergency.

This is a caring Bill and I will be sexist in saying that women are not the only caring people within the force——

The Deputy knows that from personal experience.

Yes, I know it from personal experience. Men are just as capable as women of caring but, from what I know, the biggest problem of the Garda is ensuring liaison between themselves and the social workers. The follow-up is not as quick as it should be and I would not like to see children sitting around Garda stations for three or four hours waiting for a social worker. That is a very real administrative problem which no amount of training of gardaí will rectify.

I do not see how subsection (5) (b) of this amendment has anything to do with the role of the Garda because (i) deals with appropriate treatment and counselling for offenders. That role is not within the realm of the Garda.

I can see some merit in Deputy Sherlock's amendment as I presume he is thinking of something along the lines of the junior liaison officer scheme and that there might be a co-ordinating role for one or two members within a district. I do not know whether that would be feasible, it is always a great problem for chief superintendents and the commissioner's office. I do not know whether it is a good idea but it deserves some thought.

I cannot really understand why Deputy Yates's amendment includes 5(b). I am notau fait with the code of practice; all I know is that it is contained in a huge book which is the bible of most gardaí. I do not know whether the Minister for Health can have an input to the code of practice for the Garda but I am sure the Minister would be able to clarify that. I presume it is within the realm of the Department of Justice. Perhaps the Departments of Justice, Health and Education have too many roles regarding children's welfare.

I am prompted to make a few comments by some of the arguments on the Government side. The necessity for both these amendments was well made on Committee Stage and the Minister did not argue very effectively against them then. The two matters at issue are (i) that there would be a code of practice outlined by the Minister; and (ii) that there would be a specialised corps of trained gardaí to implement the provisions of this Bill when enacted. This would be without prejudice to the rights of every member of the Garda Síochána to act in an emergency. The fact that there could be a corps of specialised trained people would not in any way minimise the powers of the Garda to act in accordance with the terms of the Bill.

We hear again and again about the core problem regarding child care generally, that, whenever a problem is to be addressed, there is a great deal of buck passing between the three relevant Departments. It is the same in regard to this Bill. We had hoped that this legislation would signal that primarily the Houses of the Oireachtas are deciding that responsibility in the area of child care would rest with the Department of Health and that the Minister would have responsibility so that there would not be a row every time a case was highlighted, betwen the three Departments and the respective Ministers and public relations officers, blaming someone else. It is time we decided that someone is responsible. The Minister for Health is the appropriate Minister and whatever powers are required by him to do the job effectively should be devolved to him. If we intend to continue with the notion — even after the enactment of this legislation — that the Department of Health are only one of a triumvirate of responsible Departments, we will have made very little progress. It is important that the Minister for Health should do that awful thing — tread lightly on the corns of that most august Department, the Department of Justice, which seems to many to be enveloped in cobwebs and ancient thinking on a variety of matters. I will not go into all of them here as it would not be appropriate.

The Minister should decide, in relation to children, that he will be responsible, get Government approval for that responsibility and lay down whatever regulations are required to properly implement legislation which he and his Department have steered through these Houses. He should grasp that nettle and decide on it as a matter of principle. For those reasons, there is no cogent case against having a corps of specialist trained gardaí who would have the expertise, when called upon, to go to a household where they are needed. They may be faced with a situation of great trauma, a child who is a victim must be treated properly and not further victimised. They may also have to deal with distraught parents. It is not good enough for the Minister to say today that somebody else must decide in relation to these matters. It is now time for the Minister to give a clear signal that, when it comes to child care, he will be responsible.

I did not intend to speak on this amendment. Deputy Howlin was tempted to speak because Deputy Coughlan contributed, as he was enamoured of her beauty. I am also tempted to speak — not because of Deputy Howlin's beauty — but because of his remarks.

I agree with Deputy Howlin in relation to the problem of co-ordination between the Departments of Justice, Education and Health, but it has nothing to do with the amendment before us or the section. We are talking about a very general area which needs to be addressed. What we are talking about in section 9 is a specific code of practice being drawn up for the Garda Síochána for the operation of the provisions of it. It is not a general provision. Lest anyone thinks that the Minister or the Government are trying to evade responsibility, I should like to say that what the Opposition have said is not relevant to the amendment. It would be extraordinary if a Minister for Health could introduce regulations in relation to the Garda.

I do not want to be in any way nasty or to hurl insults across the floor, but from listening to what has been said on the opposite side, one would get the impression that few members of the Garda have any sensitivity——

No one suggested that.

That is the impression coming across. My understanding is that Garda training includes training for this very sensitive and delicate area. I am delighted Deputy Howlin has indicated that that was not what he meant and that he was not making that insinuation but the impression I got was that people felt that the gardaí were not qualified, that we have a bunch of——

What about the gardaí who are not in training at the moment, who are out of training?

——clodhoppers who would plough in and drag children screaming from their homes. That is the impression that was given.

Deputy Dempsey, do you think you are equipped to deal with that specialist area?

They are being trained. I would hate the impression to go from this House that they are not being trained.

It is not appropriate for a Minister for Health to lay down regulations for the Garda. The first thing he would be accused of would be interfering with the day to day running of the Garda Síochána while he was not the Minister for Justice.

I accept much of the spirit of what is contained in this amendment, especially the need for the gardaí to be properly trained to deal with sensitive matters such as child sexual abuse. Members may be aware that the training arrangements within the Garda Síochána are being revamped following a detailed review of Garda training conducted by a committee of experts established by the Minister for Justice a few years ago. A new Garda college is being developed in Templemore. Phase one of the project has been completed and phase two is in progress. The training schedule has been changed from a six month period to a two year period. Instruction is provided to members of the force on all legislation which the gardaí are called upon to enforce. The most modern education and training techniques are being used in the Garda training programme. In addition, regional and divisional in-service training schools have been established.

I have had inquiries made of the Garda authorities and I am satisfied that any training or instruction required to enable the Gardai to properly and effectively operate the provisions of this section can and will be provided through the various training arrangements I have outlined.

I have listened with interest to contributions and while I appreciate that it is important to have specialist training, it is important also that general training given to gardai would encompass training skills and advice to ensure that gardai can deal with any situation. We can have all the specialist training we would like but we can only give specialist training to a select number. If those specially trained people are not available on a given day at a given time when an emergency arises, one must resort to the judicious and immediate decision of the available member of the force. I have the utmost confidence in the Gardaí to discharge their duties in a positive and sensitive way at all times. It would not be appropriate for the Minister for Health to prescribe a code of practice for the Gardaí. The training of gardaí, and the development of operational procedures, are the responsibility of the Garda authorities and it would not be helpful for the Minister for Health to interfere in this area. I have every confidence that the Garda authorities will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that all members of the force are familiar with the provisions of this section and are advised on how to operate it.

There are other reasons why I cannot accept amendment No. 56. For example, a number of the matters mentioned in it have nothing to do with the Gardaí Deputy Coughlan alluded to the fact that paragraph (b) (i) talks about providing treatment and counselling for offenders. Paragraph (b) (ii) refers to the provision of treatment centres.

While we would all agree that these are desirable developments, they are not matters for which the Gardaí have any responsibility. As such, these references are totally out of context here.

I also have difficulties with paragraph (b) (iii) concerning the immediate separation of a child and an alleged offender in alleged cases of child sexual abuse. All the advice available to me is that instant intervention of this kind is fraught with danger and can result in unnecessary distress for all concerned. For these reasons, I cannot accept the Amendment.

I will not delay the House as all the arguments have been well thrashed out. I concede that amendment No. 56 could be improved in relation to having a code of practice for the Gardaí and having some parts of paragraph (b) as standard practice in relation to emergency care orders.

A point to which the Minister did not reply yesterday or today relates to the juvenile justice system. That system is in a mess because not one Department are prepared to take responsibility for the residential and care requirements of people who find themselves before the courts as juvenile offenders.

The Government issued a statement in May of this year stating that very shortly, a Cabinet decision would be taken as to which Government Department would be responsible for child care. No further communication has been issued as to which Department will be responsible and we have the almost weekly occurrence of people being shuffled from one Department to another. This is unacceptable and I hope that at the earliest date possible the Minister will take the opportunity to clarify the situation.

I am sorry that Deputy Dempsey has left, but perhaps his colleagues will tell him that in future it might be better if he spoke after the Minister, as then he might get clearer riding instructions.

I do not muzzle any of my colleagues.

Every time the Deputy draws a line, the Minister has to distance himself from it. That is regrettable, from the Deputy's credibility point of view. I will be pressing this amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 9, after line 43, to insert the following:

"(5) The Commissioner of the Garda Síochána shall designate such number of members of the Garda Síochána in each Garda Division who shall be primarily responsible for carrying out the powers specified in this section, without prejudice to the right of all members of the Garda Síochána to exercise them where necessary.". I want this question put.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman

We now come to amendment No. 58 in the name of the Minister. This amendment arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 82, 85, 101, 104, 163, 177 and 185 are cognate. I suggest, for discussion purposes, that we take amendments Nos. 58, 82, 85, 101, 104, 163, 177 and 185 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 10, lines 4 and 5, to delete "well-being" and substitute "welfare".

At the Special Committee it was agreed that the expression "well-being" should be replaced by the word "welfare" as it is the word used in various Acts in relation to children and it is a concept with which the courts are familiar. This group of amendments proposes to substitute the word "welfare" for "well-being" in various sections of the Bill and I would be grateful if the House would agree.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman

We now come to amendment No. 59 in the name of Deputy Yates. Arising out of Committee proceedings, amendment No. 60 is related. I suggest we take amendments Nos. 59 and 60 together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 10, line 13, to delete "eight" and substitute "four".

This amendment relates to section 13 (2) as amended on Committee Stage, the emergency care order and the length of time for which it should exist. I consider that four days would be more appropriate than eight days but I am also proposing in amendment No. 60 that the District Court be given discretion to extend it to a further four days, which would bring it up to eight days. I am allowing greater flexibility but as a general norm the emergency care order would not exist for longer than four days unless the District Justice felt it was necessary. The reason I have suggested four days is that it would cover a weekend and it would allow time for a further order to be obtained. We must remember that on Committee Stage an interim care order was introduced, so a number of options are facing the courts, the health board and the Garda. I consider that this amendment would fine-tune the legislation and improve it.

These are two very sensible and interesting amendments and, as Deputy Yates has said, they would help to fine-tune the working of the legislation in this area. Certainly, the current situation under the 1908 Act is one where there is great uncertainty in regard to the time periods in which the various applications for a place in safety and custody orders can be made. It is often a matter of great exasperation and frustration for parents — as they are the people against whom applications are moved — to wait and see when next the moving party, usually the health board, will bring the matter before the court. They can obtain a place in safety orderex parte under existing legislation, have the child put in a place of safety and there the matter tends to rest, sometimes for weeks and sometimes for months, before the matter comes back before the court.

The idea suggested in the amendments is a sensible one. It puts the onus on the moving parties to always keep the matter before the court and to move without delay. As has been pointed out, a period of four days will allow for any eventuality or combination of days, coupled with the weekend, that might intervene. It does give discretion to the court to extend for the period of the emergency care order. It places an onus, first on the moving party, the health board or the authority, to move with speed and expedition and, second, it places the court, as the primary arbiter, in the place of primary responsibility in all these applications. These are sensible amendments and I hope the Minister will see his way to accept them. I will certainly support them on behalf of The Workers' Party.

I am at issue with my absent colleagues on this amendment. Deputies will recall when we discused this matter on Committee Stage I suggested that the maximum time be increased to 21 days. That was at the behest of the carers organisations and the social workers who were very concerned that we were putting in an upper limit. It is possible for a shorter period to be specified but not for a longer period to be specified. The preparation of detailed reports or investigations would take some days and four days struck me as extremely confining in relation to preparing any detailed report or having any positive evaluation carried out.

I noticed that, in the submission from the professional care workers — which many of us used as a yardstick to judge suggestions — they suggested a period of 14 days in this regard. On balance I would prefer the Minister's suggestion of eight days to the shorter period. It allows the courts to specify a shorter period and I would not wish to reduce it any further in order to allow those who are professionally involved to carry out whatever investigations are necessary and to prepare whatever reports are required. On this issue I am in agreement with the Minister.

I cannot agree to a reduction in the duration of an emergency care order to four days, even allowing for the possibility of an extension of the order for a further four days.

While I accept that we should keep to a minimum the length of time that parents may be deprived of their children, andvice versa, we must at the same time be careful not to make the time limit so short, as to render the order unworkable. I am concerned that a four day order is too short and would be almost inoperable in practice.

This is because there can occasionally be gaps of several days between sittings of the District Court. This is particularly so at Christmas, as Easter and during August. The problem is that if we change to a four day order, and there is no sitting of the court on the fourth day, it would not be possible for the health board to apply for an extension of the order for a further four days and, presumably, the child would have to be allowed return home, to whatever danger he or she had been removed from just four days previously. I am sure that this is not what Deputy Yates intends, but I am afraid that this could be the effect of his proposals.

Under the 1908 Act no time limit is specified for a place of safety order; a child may be detained until he can be brought to court. In practice, it is usually some weeks before a child is brought before a court. In 1986 a married couple whose child had been taken from them under a place of safety order took a High Court action challenging the constitutionality of the relevant provisions of the 1908 Act. (D.C.v. Midland Health Board, 1986 No. 424 S.S). In his judgment Mr. Justice Ronan Keane made the following observations:

...Section 24 (of the Children Act, 1908), while clearly essential in the interests of children who are at risk for a variety of reasons, is a serious abridgement of the rights of parents and any statutory scheme which did not keep to a minimum the interval of time which may necessarily elapse between the removal of the child from his or her parents and the determination of its future custody by the Court would constitute, in my view, an impermissible violation of those rights.

Although the court found in favour of the health board on that occasion, it is clear from the judgment that the duration of an emergency care order must be strictly limited if it is to be able to withstand constitutional challenge. Following consultations with the Office of the Attorney General, it is felt that a period of eight days stikes a reasonable balance between giving the health board time to prepare an application for a care order and ensuring that parents are not deprived of the custody of their children for too long before having an opportunity to put their side of the case to the court.

Perhaps Deputy Yates would reconsider his amendment in the light or what I have said.

What I will consider, in the light of what everyone has said, is that I will withdraw amendment No. 59 and press amendment No. 60. Amendment No. 60 would give the courts more discretion and might meet the point raised by Deputy Howlin. Emergency care orders, as Deputy McCartan said, should as a rule be kept to a minimum. An emergency care order should not extend to 14 or 21 days. If that happend the health board would have to convince the court that it was necessary; saying they had to complete files would, in my view, be dangerous. I will withdraw amendment No. 59 but I will be pressing amendment No. 60.

The difficulty is that it refers to a similar period.

It would still give discretion.

The extension is covered by the interim care order.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 10, line 14, after "order." to insert "The period may be extended by a similar period at the discretion of the justice of the District Court.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 61 not moved.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 10, line 31, after "available" to insert "or where the urgency of the case warrants or where there is a doubt as to the jurisdiction".

This amendment relates to section 13 (4) (b) which provides that where a justice for the district in which the child resides or for the time being is not immediately available, an order may be made by any justice of the District Court. My amendment proposes to insert the words "or where the urgency of the case warrants or where there is a doubt as to the jurisdiction" offer the word "available". At the Special Committee we discussed a number of circumstances which could arise where there would be a difficulty. I believe the inclusion of my amendment in section 13 (4) (b) would improve it and would allow for the provision of emergency care orders in a wider variety of District Court circumstances than the Minister has provided for. I believe my amendment would improve the section.

I ask the Minister to seriously consider this amendment. There is nothing more certain in the area of District Court jurisdiction than the issue of jurisdiction itself. This issue can and often does arise with regard to the basis upon which a court in any one district can have specific jurisdiction to deal with an issue which arises. This amendment contains the omnibus proposition that in cases where there is doubt with regard to jurisdiction it should not deprive a District Justice from taking on a case, hearing it and making an order. This would not in any way take away from the jurisdiction of the District Court; if anything, it would facilitate it whenever doubt arises. Doubt arises regularly with regard to the place of residency, the place where the primary cause of action arose and a number of other problems. If in the event of a court being found in operation and a District Justice located a case can be made that there is a doubt with regard to jurisdiction or there is urgency, it would be useful to have this provision included in the Bill.

I understand the Minister for Justice, if I dare mention him — I know there is a great reluctance to trespass on his area or acknowledge its existence — has plans to cut back on the number of rural venues for the District Court and centralise its working in country areas. The availability of District Courts may become a problem in working this legislation. If a social worker or Garda can find a court in a neighbouring jurisdiction and there is urgency about the case, then he or she would be greatly aided by the inclusion of this provision in the Bill. This is an enabling provision. It is eminently sensible and would help people working in the field. As I said, it would not in any way inhibit or take away the inherent jurisdiction of any court to assume responsibility.

This is one of the amendments with which the Minister should have no difficulty. It simply seeks to copperfasten the provision he wants to enact. If there is any doubt about the comprehensive nature of the jurisdiction we should spell it out. This amendment would improve the wording of the section. I support it and urge the Minister to accept it.

There are two elements in this amendment and I am advised that both of them are adequately covered by other provisions of this subsection. The first element refers to "where the urgency of the case warrants". The purpose of section 13 (4) (b) is to provide a mechanism in cases of urgency where the justice for the district is not readily available. The remedy provided is that the order could be obtained from any other justice. Thus, urgent cases are already covered by the existing draft and there seems no need for this additional phrase.

The second element is the reference to "a doubt to the jurisdiction". I presume this was intended to deal with cases where it might not be clear which justice should deal with the case. Any such doubts have been resolved by amendments made on Committee Stage which provide that the order is to be made either by the justice for the district in which the child resides or the justice for the district in which the child is at the time. Since, as a result of these insertions, there will always be some justice who will have authority to act, I cannot see how doubts could arise about jurisdiction.

In reply to Deputy McCartan, as a rural Deputy I concur with what he said. I understand it is proposed to reduce the number of rural courts. This would be a good move because there are many rural courts in very remote areas which are run down and have very bad facilities. The centralisation of better equipped courts in small urban towns would ensure that there would be more regular court sittings and more access and availability by ordinary people in rural Ireland to District Court sittings in a proper and modern facility. Deputy Yates's proposal is already covered in the Bill. I regret that I cannot accept the amendment and I hope the House understands why.

No, I do not understand. Section 13 (4) (b) clearly refers to a child who is not for the time being available. There could be different circumstances in relation to urgency which we cannot predict.

With regard to jurisdiction, the Minister said that this is covered by the words "the district in which the child resides"——

"Or is at the time".

Yes, but the case could involve a travelling child or the child might have no fixed abode. I am trying to eliminate any doubt. I do not think it is wrong to err on the side of removing doubts. The Minister's assurance that there might not be doubts does not eliminate those doubts. Therefore, I will be pressing my amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 63 has to be recommitted. Recommittal is necessary as the amendment involves new matter of substance which does not arise out of Committee proceedings. Is there agreement for recommittal? Agreed.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 63.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 10, line 49, to delete "revealed to" and substitute "withheld from".

During the discussion on this section at the Special Committee there was agreement on all sides of the House about the need to safeguard, as far as possible, the rights of parents whose children have been placed in care under emergency care orders. I have looked at this matter again and at the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission in their report on child sexual abuse, that health boards should be obliged to inform the parents of the address or location of the place in which their child is being kept unless the district justice orders that this information should be withheld.

It is now proposed that there should be a presumption that the parents would be told exactly where their child is being cared for but that the justice would be able to order that such information be withheld if, for example, it was feared that the parents might try to snatch the child. In view of this I would be grateful if the House would agree to the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.

I move amendment No. 64:

In page 11, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following subsection:

"(8) Where the provisions of this section are availed of written notice of the relevant procedures and rights of parents shall be issued to them at the time the child is taken into care.".

This amendment would add a subsection to section 13 which deals with emergency care orders. It was discussed at the Special Committee and I think it is important. It proposes that parents whose children have been removed from them should be given written notice of the relevant procedures and their rights. Very often parents are confused and, in many respects, ignorant of the law. It is important, in the interests of fairness, that they would be advised to contact a solicitor, and be informed of the timescale within which they should lodge an appeal and what the legal procedures are as many people are totally baffled by this. Very often, they have to depend on free legal aid, if available. Therefore, in the interests of balance and fairness, without prejudice to what the court may decide and regardless of whether the parents were right or wrong on the question of abuse, there should be this formal procedure of written notice. This amendment should be inserted to ensure there would be precision where otherwise there might be confusion. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure clarity, where possible.

This amendment deserves specific support and, again, I hope the Minister will accept it. In general terms, where the State, at our behest, infringes or trespasses upon or restricts our rights in any area there should be a duty and responsibility on the State to advise the person of what their rights are and the opportunities open to them to seek redress or to address and deal with that infringement. This is the position which prevails whenever a member of the Garda Síochána takes a person into custody. Under the existing rules and regulations, the Garda have a duty and do in fact deliver to the detained person a note advising them in general terms of where they stand under the law, what their entitlements are, which include the right to consult a lawyer, or the occasions on which they are obliged to comply with requests for fingerprints or other tests. The same is true in respect of someone suspected of drunken driving and taken into the Garda station. They are handed a small sheet advising them of where they stand under the law and what their obligations, requirements and duties are.

We are making provision for the rights of parents to be curtailed, interfered with or trespassed upon and the rights of the family to be curtailed. In those circumstances, it is only fair and proper that there be an obligation on the Garda or the welfare authorities to deliver to the parents a brief note outlining the consequences of the action taken, what is likely to happen when an application is made to the court and advising them of their right to legal advice and assistance and legal aid, where appropriate. This is an eminently sensible amendment.

From my experience in this area it is very harrowing to meet parents who walk into the office bewildered, confused and indeed shattered by what happened in the preceding hours or days when their child was taken from them. No criticism is being levelled on that point — we are legislating for this and believe it is right — but we should also seek to respect the rights of parents and assist them in what obviously is for them a very harrowing and traumatic experience, often not of their own making, which nonetheless requires their rights to be curtailed. It is a very sensible and eminent amendment and Deputy Yates is to be commended for bringing it forward. What would be required would be no more than a printed sheet outlining the position under the law to be handed over after the child or children have been taken.

I strongly support the amendment just as I did at the Special Committee where I tabled a similar amendment, amendment No. 4 to amendment No. 59. I withdrew the amendment as the Minister gave a commitment to consider the matter again and to come back on Report Stage. We discussed it before Deputy Yates's amendment at the Special Committee where it was voted down. This is an eminently sensible and reasonable amendment and I hope that in the interim period the Minister has had an opportunity to reflect upon it and acknowledge that it would not impose any great burden and would ensure that people are given notice of their fundamental rights. These people may very well be confused and notau fait with the legal procedures involved. It is a fundamental right which should be incorporated in the Bill.

I merely wish to give my support to the amendment and do not want to take up the time of the House as the three Members who have spoken before me have said everything I want to say. However I would like to reiterate that any legislation we introduce must underscore and safeguard the rights of people, particularly when they get caught up in circumstances which bewilder or overwhelm them. It is very important that when the State act at our behest those at the receiving end must be made aware of the importance of such action and the reasons it has been taken. That is a basic right. Like other Members, I commend Deputy Yates for bringing forward the amendment which not only lays emphasis on basic rights but also on the caring side. As Deputy Coughlan said, we are endeavouring to make sure that this will be a caring Bill.

There is only one small problem with the amendment. I agree with its sentiments which are laudable but what would happen in a case where the parents cannot be found? Would we then find ourselves caught in a bureaucratic and legal logjam and heading towards the High Court or the Supreme Court? Many of the children who should or need to be taken into care have been separated from their parents for a long time. Perhaps Deputy Yates would address that issue when replying.

Look at the words "where practicable".

I was just going to say that.

I have considerable sympathy with what Deputy Yates is trying to achieve and acknowledge the support he is getting from his colleagues in the House but I do not believe that this is the best way to deal with the matter. We would all agree that it is right and proper that the parents or personsin loco parentis should as far as possible be informed of their rights under an emergency care order. However there may be cases when this is not possible. For example, in the case of a foundling the identity of the parents may not be known.

"Where practicable".

In cases of child abuse the parents may have fled to avoid prosecution and it may even be that the parents do not have the mental capacity to understand the nature of legal proceedings. The amendment does not allow for the type of situations I have mentioned or any others which might arise. If we were to enact it in its present form and a health board were unable to contact the parents the danger would be that all subsequent action in relation to the child could be invalidated because of the failure of the health board to adhere to the proposed statutory requirements.

I agree that it would be desirable that parents be given a written explanation of the relevant procedures. Indeed, my Department are already engaged in consultations with health boards on devising leaflets and other explanatory material for the parents of children in care. However, I would be reluctant to accept this amendment because it might not always be possible to furnish parents with such a notice at the time the child is taken into care, as this amendment would require. The danger is that such failure could invalidate all subsequent action.

I suggest that Deputy Yates might consider withdrawing these amendments and leave matters of detail like this to be dealt with administratively, which will have to be looked after when the provisions of the Bill have been brought into force by good professional and administrative practice. Perhaps we might deal with this before adjourning.

May I seek the indulgence of the chair for one moment? We reached a similar stage yesterday evening at tea time when it was quite obvious that my amendment could be improved, in that case, by the inclusion of the words "where practicable".

The Minister might reflect on this matter in the sos and we can resume on it later.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.