Private Members' Business. - Child Care Bill, 1988: From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 1:

Section 2: In page 5, subsection (1), between lines 16 and 17, the following definition inserted:

" `area', in relation to a health board, means functional area;".

This is a technical amendment recommended by the parliamentary draftsman in order to ensure that any reference in the Bill to the area of a health board will be taken to mean the functional area of the health board.

It is nice to see the Minister of State and some of the old firm dealing with this Bill. I did not expect to be addressing it myself. I have no difficulty with this amendment and I hope we can expeditiously pass this Bill which is very important for the care of children.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 2:

Section 4: In page 7, subsection (4), line 13, "and IV" deleted and ", IV" substituted.

This is a minor grammatical correction which simply involves the removal of the word "and" and the substitution of a comma.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 3:

Section 5: In page 7, lines 19 to 28 deleted and the following section substituted:

5. —Where it appears to a health board that a child in its area is homeless, the board shall enquire into the child's circumstances, and if the board is satisfied that there is no accommodation available to him which he can reasonably occupy, then, unless the child is received into the care of the board under the provisions of this Act, the board shall take such steps as are reasonable to make available suitable accommodation for him."

The purpose of this amendment is to substitute an entirely new section for the present section 5 of the Bill. The essential change provided for in the amendment is the deletion of the precondition at paragraph 2 of of the existing draft that a health board must be satisfied that a homeless child is unable to provide or arrange accommodation for himself. I was happy to make this amendment in response to comments made by a number of Senators that the precondition in question was somewhat superfluous. In the context of this amendment I should like to inform the House of a number of developments which have taken place in relation to the young homeless since Report Stage.

In anticipation of the early enactment of this legislation the health boards have been instructed to step up their efforts to provide accommodation for the young homeless. My successor as Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Chris Flood, is co-ordinating these efforts and has announced a number of initiatives to increase the number of places available for the young homeless in Dublin and in other major towns and cities. Additional places for the young homeless will begin to come on stream during the summer and further places will be provided later this year and early next year. These developments are being funded from the special funds provided under theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress for the implementation of this Bill. I mention all of this in order to underline the Government's concern for the young homeless and to demonstate their commitment to bring to an end the plight of youngsters sleeping rough on the streets of our cities and towns.

The amendment is welcome in principle. The notion of the health board or of anybody else doing some sort of investigation as to whether a young homeless person is able to provide for his own accommodation is ludicrous. A person would not be in danger of sleeping rough if he had resources to provide accommodation for himself. The original provision is superfluous and would provide an excuse for not acting swiftly.

On the wider issue of provisions for the young homeless, while the Minister of State's commitment to expand places is welcome, the House must be acutely concerned at the situation of the young homeless in our towns and cities. We must also be aware that there has been a decline of roughly 120 places available to such young homeless people in the past five or six years. The Minister's commitment to provide extra places will not make good that decline. All the evidence from people who have studied this problem, particularly those involved in such groups as the National Campaign for the Homeless and their youth sub-committee, indicate that this is a growing problem and that there are increasing numbers of young people on our streets who are at serious risk of becoming involved in crime or falling victim to abuse of various sorts. The Minister must give more than expressions of concern and must provide sufficient resources to address the problem.

Reports indicate that there is no emergency accommodation in Limerick or Waterford, none for girls in Galway, inadequate provision in Cork and very serious deficiencies in parts of Dublin. In announcing extra provisions the Minister appears to be re-announcing previous announcements and consolidating these as if to indicate that 64 extra places will be available. Many of the 64 places were announced by the previous Minister of State and are being re-announced because they have been slow to come on stream. We need a firm commitment to the provision of places and a commitment to carry out a national review of the problem of youth homelessness, on the basis of which the Minister can identify the scale of the resources needed. There are huge discrepancies between official estimates of the scale of the problem and the estimates of voluntary care workers in the field.

A final point I would like to make is that the Minister of State must look at the whole issue of providing some sort of 24-hour social worker service for young homeless people. It is not good enough that there is a nine to five service during the week and no service at weekends. There is no chance that the health boards will get a proper handle on the scale of the problem or how they can deal with it properly if that is the sort of service that is provided. The voluntary groups in the field on a 24-hour basis will tell you people come to them and they have to turn them away. Focus Point have shown very frightening statistics of more than 50 per cent of those seeking accommodation being turned away, and those who were accommodated very often were accommodated in inappropriate places, perhaps in adult hostels.

While welcoming this provision which is at the core of the Bill and is a major advance in explicitly giving responsibility to the health boards in this area, I think the Minister must make a greater commitment to provide for what are very obviously outstanding needs in this area.

I have no difficulty in accepting the Minister's amendment which redrafts section 5 of the Bill. We spent some considerable time on this section at earlier Stages. It is important to underscore again the growing problem of homelessness particularly among young people. Unfortunately, since this Bill was initiated the problem of homelessness generally has magnified very seriously. When provision, particularly housing provision, is being squeezed as is the current case, and has been the case for the last three years, it is quite clear there will be a knock-on effect which will affect every section of the community. The most worrying aspect is the young people. It used to be considered that youth homelessness or young people sleeping rough was a phenomenon of our major cities. However, recent studies have shown that youth homelessness now is a feature of even our small provincial towns and many of us are jolted into having to address that now.

I welcome the provision in this Bill that puts a new responsibility on the health board in this regard. However, I am concerned at a phrase like "shall take such steps as are reasonable" because I think there should be a clear responsibility to look after these children. That is what they are, children who are without shelter. I am very worried at a point that runs right through the provisions of this Bill, that health boards are already strapped for resources to do many of the statutory things they are required to do and I do not see them having the wherewithal even to do a proper assessment on the scale of homelessness in every area of the country. They do not have the staffing to carry out their statutory duties at present. We are devolving more and more duties upon them and squeezing their resources every year.

We are now in a budgetary situation that again will probably result in a squeeze on the spending Departments. Whenever there is a squeeze it is usually in areas such as health and the environment, both of which are involved in providing housing, and there are many positive initiatives now involving local authorities and health boards jointly up and down the country through voluntary action claiming Government funding to make some sort of sheltered accommodation available to young people and to people at risk.

I welcome all that, but the current provision is totally inadequate. It is good to enact a provision like this but if the resources and the staff are not there and if the commitment in terms of finance is not there, then we are at nought. While I welcome the new draft of section 5, I can only underscore again for the Minister the importance of stating that what we want are not pious words but action to help these very vulnerable people, the children at risk on our streets.

To make a very brief comment, be it "him" or "her", the reference is to "him". The amendment provides that "unless the child is received into the care of the board under the provisions of the Act the board shall take such steps as are reasonable to make available suitable accommodation for him". One of the greatest scandals of our time is the fact that there are homeless children and no provision has been made up to this to provide for them. It is very important that this Bill be enacted as early as possible so that the health boards will have the power to make such provision. For that reason I welcome the amendment.

I welcome the amendment and I also welcome the Minister of State back into the House to complete what has been a very worthwhile debate. I am happy that the Bill is to be implemented by the time we take the summer break.

Everybody knows about the problem of homeless children in Dublin. Father McVerry's flat in Ballymun has been the focus of a great deal of media attention and nobody could be in any doubt — but that there is a constituency of young people who are on the streets or living rough. One could question why this is the case. Nobody would voluntarily be homeless. They must be homeless because of very severe social problems, probably related to broken marriages, broken families, alcoholism, unemployment and bad housing, and in a time of recession and high unemployment all these social problems become worse.

Recently I came across the case of a girl of about 13½ or 14 who left home and went back only about every fortnight. Her father was an alcoholic but she caused a great deal of worry to her mother who was a very good, honourable, nice woman. As she saw it, she could not control her daughter. When the daughter was absent from home, I suppose she would be technically homeless. Nobody knew where she was when she was away from home. For people who are voluntarily homeless there has to be immediate and emergency care. Somewhere young people can be taken and given sleeping accommodation, food and general care and understanding is very much needed. What can be done under law for young people who leave home because they do not like the discipline at home, do not like where they live, want to be with their pals, and will have no base and who probably will be very difficult to confine in a house or hostel? Can anything be done about them?

In terms of providing accommodation, do the health boards consider fostering for young persons of this age? There has been a lot of talk about hostels and institutions — I do not want to call them institutions because we are trying to get away from the idea of institutions. However, I would like to think that at the end of the day we will be aiming to put people who have been dislocated from their family or extended family into family-like situations because we all accept that this is the best possible kind of accommodation and environment for young people. Does this solution figure in the objectives of the health board?

Like my colleagues I welcome the Minister of State in the last lap of this marathon debate on the Child Care Bill. I welcome also this amendment which legislatively, and hopefully in a practical way, will go a long way to relieving one of the greatest causes of concern and alarm with regard to care of children and their right to State protection. I would like to ask the Minister in what practical way the health boards might be able to provide the kind of accommodation we are talking about. As Deputy Fennell and others have pointed out, this is a special kind of accommodation that is not just a roof over the child's head and breakfast in the morning and nothing else. At this stage we know there are a great number of children who are homeless. Some who are not deemed homeless literally have only a night's shelter and breakfast and they are out on the streets in the morning. I know the Minister will take into consideration the special social position in this country where children who are homeless are particularly at risk because of the level of child prostitution and child pornography which has increased alarmingly. Anything we can do to protect our children and give them accommodation that does not leave them vulnerable to that choice should be a priority.

The other phenomenon which may have existed always but which is now being recognised, and a certain amount of help is now being offered, is the whole area of child sexual abuse. I have been told by people who work with homeless children particularly that one of the reasons not disclosed by the child or young adult is that they have been forced to leave their house because of sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse. Sometimes they are loath to disclose that for family and other reasons. It has to be dealt with very sensitively. Above all, we must have a practical level of protection and security for children who find themselves in these dreadful situations.

I would like to ask the Minister if some type of half-way house or village in each health board area could be provided for children who need that type of security and protection as well as training and a normal home life in so far as that is possible. As Deputy Fennell said, the last thing we want is to institutionalise young people. In other countries, such as Austria, there are SOS villages for children at risk or who have been made homeless. They are accommodated in as near normal conditions as possible, not just in family surroundings but in social conditions that allow them to train and, hopefully, to obtain employment and move out of the area. In using our resources — let us hope the resources exist — could we possibly focus them in innovative ways so that we give a normal background and protection to the children who have been discriminated against by being rendered homeless.

At the outset I thank all the Members for their kind words and say that I welcome them back also.

The old firm.

The old firm has been very solid, very positive. We have achieved a lot and I think our discussion will conclude in a constructive way tonight on this Bill. First, I wish to confirm for Deputy Sherlock that we do not to intend to accommodate just "him", we also intend to accommodate "her". Under the provisions of the 1939 Interpretation Act "him" means "her", "man" means "woman" and "all" means everybody". The Deputy can be absolutely certain that there is no doubt about our intentions.

That is the next Bill we will need in this House to change that.

I am not sure if it is necessary. I want to assure the House that the Government are absolutely committed to reducing and alleviating this serious problem of youth homelessness. We are very worried about it. A high-powered Government committee under the chairmanship of the Taoiseach involving all the relevant Ministers, Ministers of State, Departmental Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries have been working on it for some time. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Flood, as I have said earlier, is the coordinator and has overall responsibility for this area. I am disappointed Deputy R. Bruton has denigrated somewhat my confirmation of what we proposed — perhaps it was announced earlier. I want to confirm that we gave a commitment that we would increase the number of places for these young people to a certain level in this capital city and we are doing that.

As recently as today, my Government collegue and successor as Minister of State at the Department of Health. Deputy Flood, held a meeting of representatives of all the major voluntary bodies dealing with the problem of youth homelessness in the Dublin area. I underestand that the matters raised by Deputy Bruton and all the other speakers here were discussed and broad agreement was reached on the need for a co-ordinated response by the voluntary and statutory services to this serious situation. A number of suggestions have been put forward — the SOS village concept by Deputy Barnes, fostering by Deputy Fennell and a number of suggestions made by other people. I am pleased to say that we have initiated a new project through the Eastern Health Board which will provide some places for foster care for these bigger young people who find themselves in this situation. We are working on that. It is a delicate area but we are reasonably optimistic and it will reach a satisfactory conclusion and we may be able to extend it to other areas where necessary. I can assure the House we are totally committed to eliminating this serious problem and I know that Deputies are seriously concerned about it.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 4:

Section 7: In page 8, subsection (7) (c), line 34, before "when""either on its own initiative or" inserted.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that it will be open to a child care advisory committee to take the initiative and prepare a report on any aspect of child care and family support services in its area, without having to wait for the health board to formally request it to do so.

This is a welcome change. I would like to have the Minister's advice on the section where it is stated that the committee have the right to advise the health board on the performance of his functions and so on. Does the combination of this new amendment with that section ensure that the committee can actually publish its views on defects in the service, that it is not obliged simply to hand it to the health board who might then sit on it and never publish the report? Most people would be anxious that this advisory committee would have a direct right to report to the public, not just to the health board.

It is not necessary that the committee publish reports. They will have the right to put reports together, to initiate reports, to conclude reports and to make reports available where necessary. They would not be in the business of publishing reports but, of course, once it made a report available to the health board and the health board were discussing it either in committee or at board level automatically it would be public knowledge. The committee in itself would not have the overall right to initiate and publish a report for public consumption but would have the right to initiate that report and make it available to whatever relevant bodies or parents who wanted such a report.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 5:

Section 8: In page 9, subsection (2), between lines 3 and 4, the following paragraph inserted:

"(d) children who are homeless,".

The effect of this amendment is to make it clear that homeless children will be among the children whose needs a health board must have particular regard to in preparing a report under section 8.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 6:

In page 9, subsection (4), line 15 after "the Minister", "and may make copies of any such report available to such bodies as are mentioned in subsection (3) (b)" inserted.

This amendment will enable a health board to make available a copy of a report prepared under subsection (1) to any of the interested bodies referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (3).

Question put and agreed to.

I ask your permission to discuss Seanad amendment No. 7 with Seanad amendments Nos. 10 and 11.

Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 7, 10 and 11 be discussed together? Agreed.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 7:

Section 13: In page 11, subsection (7) (a) (iii), line 39, "examination or treatment" deleted and "examination, treatment or assessment" substituted.

The purpose of these amendments is to insert references to "assessment" in sections 13 and 18 of the Bill. This is required in order to place beyond doubt the right to undertake a medical or psychiatric assessment of a child placed in care by the courts, whether under an emergency care order, an interim care order or a care order.

The Bill already provides for medical and psychiatric examination or treatment of children in such cases. For the sake of completeness, this is being changed to "medical or psychiatric examination, treatment or assessment".

I welcome the amendment. It has been around for a long time because I submitted it as amendment No. 97 on Committee Stage. It was trenchantly argued against by the Minister then and I resubmitted it on Report Stage. I am glad that, in its final incarnation, what I was trying to impress on the Minister many months ago has finally filtered through.

Deputy Howlin made a lasting impression on me.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 8, 18 and 19 are related and I suggest, therefore, that we discuss the three amendments together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 8:

Section 18: In page 13, subsection (2), lines 20 to 23 deleted and the following subsections substituted:—

"(2) A care order shall commit the child to the care of the health board for so long as he remains a child or for such shorter period as the court may determine and, in such case, the court may, of its own motion or on the application of any person, extend the operation of the order if the court is satisfied that grounds for the making of a care order continue to exist with respects to the child.

(3) Where a care order is in force, the health board shall—".

The amendment to section 18 is a technical one which has been recommended by the parliamentary draftsman. It deals with cases where a court decides not to make a care order until the child reaches 18 years but makes a care order for a shorter period of time.

Where the court makes a short-term care order, it is important that it should have the ability to extend the order later if that proves necessary. At present, section 22 (a) provides that the court may renew a care order. I am advised that the provision in section 22 is too vague and that some criteria need to be laid down as to the circumstances in which care orders may be renewed or extended. The amendment to section 18 deals with this by providing that a court may extend a care order if grounds for the making of a care order continue to exist with respect to the child. I believe that this formula provides better safeguards for the child and his parents against unnecessary or excessive extensions of care orders.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are consequential on this amendment. They provide for the deletion of the reference to "renew" in section 22. It is now proposed that instead of renewing an order under section 22 the court will have power to extend the original order in accordance with amendment No. 8.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 9:

In page 13, subsection (2) (b), line 28, after "child's", "health, development or" inserted.

This is a technical adjustment to bring the wording in subsection (2) into line with that used in subsection (1).

At subsection (1) reference is made to the "child's health, development or welfare", whereas in subsection (2) the reference is merely to the "child's welfare". For the sake of consistency and completeness, the reference should be to the "child's health, development and welfare" in both subsections.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 10:

In page 13, subsection (2) (b) (ii), line 33, "examination or treatment" deleted and "examination, treatment or assessment" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 11:

In page 13, subsection (3), line 40, after "examination", "or assessment" inserted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 12:

In page 14, subsection (5), line "any person" deleted and "any person," substituted.

This is a grammatical correction.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 13:

Section 19: In page 14, subsection (4), line 48, "or treatment" deleted and ", treatment" substituted.

As part of perfecting this legislation I tabled this amendment. It is another grammatical correction.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 14:

In page 15, subsection (5), line 6, "a fine not exceeding £250" deleted and "a fine not exceeding £500 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both such fine and such imprisonment." substituted.

This amendment is in response to a request made on Committee Stage in the Seanad that there should be uniformity in the penalties under this section and under sections 41 and 44.

I would not like to see fines or imprisonment being imposed as a matter of course where there is some interference with the operation of a supervision order. However, it is desirable that the court should have power to impose penalties where there is blatant or persistent disregard of the terms of the order.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 15:

Section 20: In page 15, subsection (3) (b), line 35, "infant" deleted and "child" substituted

This is to correct a mistake that arose when this section was inserted in the Bill on Report Stage in the Dáil. The word "infant" is incorrect and should be "child".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 16:

In page 15, subsection (4), line 39, after "court", "of" inserted.

This is another grammatical correction.

Are we to understand that the other House has a better sense of grammar than this House?

I assure the Deputy that there is no doubt about that.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 17:

In page 15, subsection (4) (c), line 43, "taken" deleted and "taken," substituted.

This is also a grammatical correction which involves the insertion of a comma.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 18:

Section 22: In page 16, paragraph (a), line 5, "renew," deleted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 19:

In page 16, paragraph (b), line 6, "renew," deleted.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are related and, therefore, may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 20:

Section 23: In page 16, line 12, "interested" deleted.

These are minor technical changes. The word "interested" is not used in other sections of the Bill. For example, sections 20 (1) and 26 (1) refer simply to "any person". I am advised that, for the sake of consistency, the same formula should be used throughout the Bill, hence the deletion of the word "interested" here. It would be for the court to determine in each case whether a person has a sufficient interest in the case.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 21:

In page 16, line 16, "interested" deleted.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 37, 38 and 39 are related and may be discussed together.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 22:

Section 25; In page 17, subsection (1), lines 1 and 2, "Part IV or section 41, 44 or 45" deleted and "Part IV or VI" substituted.

This is the first in a series of technical amendments which are to update crossreferences between Part IV and Part VI of the Bill. These amendments arise from extensive changes made to these Parts during the debates in this House.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 23:

In page 17, subsection (5), line 29, "subsection (3)" deleted and "subsection (4)" substituted.

This is a technical correction. The reference to subsection (3) should, of course, be to subsection (4).

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 24:

In page 17, between lines 29 and 30, the following section inserted:

26.—(1) If in any proceedings under Part IV or VI the child to whom the proceedings relate is not a party, the court may, if it is satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of the child and in the interests of justice to do so, appoint a guardianad litem for the child.

(2) Any costs incurred by a person in acting as a guardianad litem under this section shall be paid by the health board concerned. The health board may apply to the court to have the amount of any such costs or expenses measured or taxed.

(3) The court which has made an order under subsection (1) may, on the application to it of a health board, order any other party to the proceedings in question to pay to the board any costs or expenses payable by that board under subsection (2).

(4) Where a child in respect of whom an order has been made under subsection (1) becomes a party to the proceedings in question (whether by virtue of an order under section 25 (1) or otherwise) then that order shall cease to have effect."

This important amendment provides for the appointment of guardiansad litem for children in care proceedings. On Committee Stage in the Seanad I was urged by a number of Senators to look at the possibility of including such a provision in the Bill. Having examined the matter in detail and following intensive consultations with the Attorney General and the Minister for Health and between my staff and the staff of the Office of the Attorney General and the parliamentary draftsman, we came to the conclusion that a provision which would enable a court to appoint a guardian ad litem for a child in appropriate cases would enhance the legal framework we are putting in place. Accordingly, I was pleased to introduce this amendment on Report Stage in the Seanad.

Subsection (1) will empower a court in proceedings under Part IV or Part VI of the Bill to appoint a guardianad litem for the child in any case when the court considers it necessary to do so in the interests of the child. Subsection (2) provides that the expenses of a guardian ad litem shall be paid by the health board involved in the proceedings. Subsection (3) will entitle a health board to apply to the court for an order requiring the expenses of the guardian ad litem to be paid by any other parties to the proceedings. Subsection (4) provides that an order appointing a guardian ad litem for a child shall cease to have effect where the child subsequently becomes a party to the proceedings.

The detailed provisions regarding guardiansad litem will be dealt with by way of rules of court. I am advised that it is not necessary to provide for this in the legislation itself. I see this as a major fundamental change. It was requested in this House and by professional bodies. We gave it very detailed consideration and I am delighted to come back to the House with this amendment. I hope the House will agree it.

I welcome this amendment. We argued very strongly for it in the House, particularly in the special committee. The most trenchant and consistent case was made by my constituency colleague, Deputy Yates, another member of the old team who is not present tonight. It was unfortunate that the Minister at that stage could not concede the measure. This very important principle has been worked on by the Minister. If there is an argument for the retention of the Seanad it is that it improves legislation such as this and allows for a consultative process. It very much underscores the value of a second Chamber. We are a very cosy club here and we spent a very long time arguing the merits of this case. There was a very consistent view from this side of the House. I commend the Minister for taking on board the strong case put and being able to convince his colleagues and, indeed, the Attorney General to include this important amendment.

I support the amendment. My concern is that the work of the guardianad litem would be in conflict with that of the social worker. In practically all cases there is involvement by a social worker. Will the Minister outline the role of this person? I have a feeling that there could be a conflict in this regard and I would like the Minister to spell out the matter more clearly.

Not being one of the happy family who considered this Bill in committee I would like some information from the Minister as to the nature of the person who is appointed guardian. Are we to understand that the child will be represented legally in this way and that all the costs will be met? Is that the intention of the appointment of the guardianad litem or is there more to it than just legal representation? The idea that the child should be actively represented is very welcome, but perhaps the Minister will expand a little as to the precise nature of the powers being given to the guardian who would be appointed by the court.

I join in welcoming this amendment which strengthens the section and gives support for children in need of this type of guardian. The court may, if it is satisfied it is necessary in the interests of the child and in the interests of justice, to appoint a guardianad litem for the child. I know we cannot interpret the workings of the court but I would like to think that the court will interpret that provision in the most supportive and productive way in the majority of cases. This measure should be not just part of legislation but the courts should actively use it if and when necessary.

At the risk of repetition I also welcome this amendment. It is an issue on which we had very long and detailed debate. Appeals were made to the Minister to reconsider the matter. I am particularly pleased with the amendment because it is setting a precedent. Many of the responses to the requests for this amendment were that this procedure has never been operated and could not be operated, that our system could not deal with it. It is a little like the concessions granted in the recent rape legislation, although they did not go as far as this. This is a very positive and worthwhile measure and I am delighted it has been included in the legislation. I am one of the original clan that was involved in this legislation and I would like the Minister to spell out how the guardianad litem system will operate and whether it is working in other jurisdictions. Will the Minister give some examples of its operation?

The pleadings of Deputies did not go unheard. They pleaded very sincerely about the matter and we considered it in great depth. We did not find it very easy to agree to all the demands because of the impediments and difficulties that existed but, through a process of detailed dialogue and constant negotiation, we were able to reach a consensus in achieving what was desired. The guardianad litem system operates in the United Kingdom jurisdiction. In response to what has been said, particularly by Deputy Sherlock, it is to ensure that there will be no conflict that we have agreed to this amendment. Social workers work for health boards and lawyers or solicitors operate on a legal basis in the interests of the child. The interests of the parents also have to be taken into account. It is clear in the Bill that in court proceedings the interests of the child must be of prime importance. The purpose of the guardian ad litem would be to represent the child, take care of the child, observe the child and ensure that the child's interests are protected beyond any doubt in the care proceedings, the court proceedings and in the interim period. Instead of a solicitor the court appoint a guardian ad litem or, alternatively, in the interests of the child the court could appoint both a solicitor and a guardian ad litem.

Under this section the health board will be responsible for the expenses of the guardianad litem but the health board in turn will be able to seek a refund of the money expended from a party or parties to the proceedings if it can be proven conclusively that those parties have the necessary resources to contribute to the costs. The court would have the right to decide who the guardian ad litem would be. It could be a social worker but in most cases the rcommendation would be that the social worker would not be a colleague of or working for the health board in question. It is to avoid any conflict and to ensure that above all the interests of the child are protected in absolute terms that we agreed to the measure.

Will the guardian be selected from the social worker profession or will he or she be a psychologist or a lay person? Will the court select this person or will the person apply? I can envisage difficulties in the appointment of this person. I would like the Minister to say how the person will be appointed.

The guardianad litem could be from any profession, could be related to the child, a friend of the child, a family friend, a neighbour or a teacher, somebody whom the health board would be able to recommend. The court, on the basis of the information before it, will decide whether to appoint a guardian ad litem, a social worker, a solicitor or perhaps a guardian ad litem and a solicitor. The person would not have to be professionally trained but should be responsible and be able to execute responsibility in the interests of the child and satisfy the court that the interests of the child would be protected in the interim.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 25:

Section 26: In page 17, subsection (1), line 30, "Part IV or section 41, 44 or 45" deleted and "Part IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 26:

Section 27: In page 17, subsection (1), line 50, "Part III or IV" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 27:

In page 18, subsection (2), line 1, "Part III or IV" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 28:

Section 28: In page 18, subsection (1), line 5, "Part III or IV" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 29:

In page 18, subsection (2), line 7, "section" deleted and "sections" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 30:

In page 18, subsection (2), line 9, "Part III or IV" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 31:

In page 18, subsection (2), line 10, "these" deleted and "those" substituted.

This amendment is another grammatical correction.

That was brief.

Exceedingly brief.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 32:

In page 18, subsection (3), lines 12 and 13, "Part III or IV" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 33:

In page 18, subsection (4), line 16, "Part III or IV" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 34:

Section 30: In page 18, subsection (1), lines 30 and 31, "Part III or IV or under section 44 or 45" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 35:

In page 18, subsection (3) (c), line 44, "any person" deleted and "any body corporate" substituted.

I introduced this amendment on Report Stage in the Seanad in response to concerns expressed by Senators from all sides that a technican or other employee who physically transmits material which contravenes this section should not be criminally liable for so doing.

The amendment places it beyond doubt that it will be the owners of the broadcasting station who will be responsible in the matter, together with any person having functions in relation to the programme corresponding to those of an editor of a newspaper.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 36:

In page 19, subsection (5), line 16, after "permanent form", "(including a record that is not in a legible form but which is capable of being reproduced in a legible form)" inserted.

This amendment was also introduced by me in response to a concern expressed in the Seanad that the definition of a "written publication" might not be broad enough to cover computer discs. The effect of the amendment is to ensure that such discs come within the scope of the definition.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 37:

Section 31: In page 19, line 18, "Part III or IV" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 38:

Section 32: In page 19, subsection (1), line 24, "Part III or IV or under section 41 (3), 44 or 45" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 39:

In page 19, subsection (2), lines 30 and 31, "Part III or IV or under section 41 (3), 44 or 45" deleted and "Part III, IV or VI" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 40:

Section 37: In page 21, between lines 20 and 21, the following subsection inserted:

"(4) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3), regulations under this section may—

(a) prescribe requirements as to the maintenance, care and welfare of children while being maintained in centres,

(b) prescribe requirements as to the numbers, qualifications and availability of members of the staffs of centres,

(c) prescribe requirements as to the design, maintenance, repair, cleaning and cleanliness, ventilation, heating and lighting of centres,

(d) prescribe requirements as to the accommodation (including the amount of space in bedrooms, the washing facilities and the sanitary conveniences) provided in centres,

(e) prescribe requirements as to the food provided for children while being maintained in centres,

(f) prescribe requirements as to the records to be kept in centres and for the examination and copying of any such records or of extracts therefrom by officers of the Minister."

The effect of this amendment is to ensure that the regulations relating to residential centres operated by health boards under section 37 will be broadly similar to those under section 60 which relate to centres run by voluntary bodies and otherwise.

I accepted this amendment, which was introduced in the Seanad, to demonstrate that the standards expected of health boards in providing residential care facilities for children would be similar to those required of children's residential centres under Part VIII of the Bill.

The amendment raises the whole issue of the adequacy of staffing at residential centres. Does the Minister envisage regulations to specify minimum requirements under the different headings of design, staffing and so on? Could he indicate what kind of standards he is setting out, and does he know whether health boards generally have adequate standards? By setting out those standards, is the Minister committing himself to funding for health boards to step up the standards of available services?

I am satisfied that the health boards are maintaining very high standards. The Government are in discussions with them at the moment and we propose to draft regulations and lay down the necessary criteria. When the Bill is enacted the Government will proceed to bring the discussions with the various health boards, which have now been ongoing for some time, to finality and thereafter to produce regulations under which all homes will operate.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 41:

Section 40: In page 22, before section 40, the following section inserted:

40.—(1) The Minister shall make regulations in relation to the making of arrangements by health boards under section 35 (1) (d) for the care of children and for securing generally the welfare of such children.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), regulations under this section may—

(a) fix the conditions under which children may be placed by health boards with relatives;

(b) prescribe the form of contract to be entered into by a health board with relatives;

(c) provide for the supervision and visiting by a health board of children placed with relatives.".

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that there is provision for the making of regulations in relation to the placement of children with relatives by health boards.

The amendment is broadly similar to sections 38 and 39 which require the Minister for Health to make regulations in relation to the placing of children in foster care and residential care respectively.

This new section will also ensure that relatives who care for children on behalf of health boards will receive appropriate payments from the boards for doing so. I wish to emphasise this point in order to counteract suggestions that the exclusion of relatives from the definition of a foster parent, which was inserted in the Bill on Report Stage in the Dáil at the request of Opposition Deputies, would result in relatives being denied payments. These suggestions are without foundation. It was never the intention to preclude the payment of allowances to relatives who look after children on behalf of health boards. The insertion of this new section in the Bill places this beyond doubt.

This section was the subject of considerable debate on both Committee and Report Stages. Consensus view was expressed that in very many cases the best place for children to be placed was in foster care. We wanted to underscore the importance of foster care generally. It would often be a member of the extended family who could best provide that care. I do not think it was ever anybody's intention to exclude such a provider of foster care from the benefits of any support or remuneration that might be available simply on the basis of their blood relationship to the child concerned. I very much welcome this clarification of an intent that was always there. The amendment is an improvement to the Bill.

I am not sure if I moved an amendment but I also recall raising this issue on Committee Stage. I have known of cases in my constituency in which the natural and obvious person to take a child when there was a problem in a family was an aunt, uncle or grandparent. I have found instances of hardship there. It was very unfair to expect a child's relative, who would probably be in straitened circumstances, to buy shoes, clothes and so on for an extra person without support. I am very pleased with this amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

We come now to Seanad amendment No. 42 and Seanad amendment No. 43 is related. I take it that we can discuss both amendments together.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 42:

Section 41: In page 22, lines 16 to 21, subsection (2) deleted.

The original draft of this section provoked a lot of controversy, particularly among foster parents, who saw it as a threat to the security of their foster placements. As a result of representations which I received from the Irish Foster Care Association, I brought forward a number of amendments in the Dáil in order to allay these fears and to provide a fairer deal for foster parents. I gave further consideration to the situation before the debate in the Seanad and, as a result, I brought forward these additional amendments to deal with some residual problems.

The purpose of these two amendments is to remove the existing subsection (2), which many foster parents found offensive, and to substitute what I believe is a more acceptable approach. The existing subsection (2) makes it an offence for foster parents to refuse to deliver up a foster child on demand to the health board. As I said, many foster parents found this offensive and saw it as a big stick being held over them by the health board.

While I am satisfied that health boards would not abuse this provision, I am sensitive to the feelings and fears of foster parents. Accordingly, under the new subsection a foster parent would be guilty of an offence only if he or she refused to obey a court order to return a child to the health board.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 43:

In page 22, between lines 27 and 28, the following subsections inserted:

"(3) Without prejudice to the law as to contempt of court, where the District Court has made an order under subsection (2) (requiring that a child be delivered up to the custody of a health board), any person having the actual custody of the child who, having been given or shown a copy of the order and having been required, by or on behalf of the health board, to give up the child to that board, fails or refuses to comply with the requirement shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both such fine and such imprisonment.

(4) For the purposes of this section, a person shall be deemed to have been given or shown a copy of an order made under subsection (2) if that person was present at the sitting of the court at which such an order was made.".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 44:

Section 44: In page 23, lines 40 to 43, subsection (4) deleted and the following subsections substituted:

"(4) Without prejudice to the law as to the contempt of court where the District Court has made an order under subsection (3) directing that a child be delivered up to the care of a health board, any person having the actual custody of the child who, having been given or shown a copy of the order and having been required, by or on behalf of the health board, to give up the child to that board, fails or refuses to comply with the requirement shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both such fine and such imprisonment.

(5) For the purposes of this section, a person shall be deemed to have been given or shown a copy of an order made under subsection (3) if that person was present at the sitting of the court at which such an order was made."

This amendment was recommended by the parliamentary draftsman in order to bring this section into line with the amendments to section 41. It sets out in a much clearer and more detailed way how a person will be guilty of an offence under this section when he removes a child from the care of a health board or prevents a child from returning to care at the end of a holiday or other period when the child is at home.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 45:

In page 24, between lines 12 and 13, the following subsection inserted:

"(8) Without prejudice to section 27—

(a) an order under subsection (3) may be made by a justice of the District Court for the time being assigned to the district court district where the person specified in the information resides or is for the time being, and

(b) a warrant under subsection (5) may be issued by a justice for the time being assigned to the district where the house or other place specified in the information is situated,

and, in either case, where such justice is not immediately available the order may be made, or the warrant issued, by any justice of the District Court.".

This technical amendment was recommended by the draftsman. Its purpose is to ensure that there will be no difficulties in obtaining an order for the recovery of a child who has been removed from care or for granting a warrant to the gardaí to search for such a child. It does this by providing that such an order or warrant may be made or issued by the district justice for the area where the child resides or is for the time being or, in his absence, by any other district justice.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

We now come to Seanad amendment No. 46. Seanad amendment No. 47 is related and with agreement, I propose that the House takes these together.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 46:

In page 24, lines 13 to 15, subsection (8) deleted.

These two amendments are consequential on the series of technical amendments updating cross references between Part IV and Part VI of the Bill, to which amendment No. 22 refers. As a result of the new cross references these subsections are no longer required.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 47:

Section 45: In page 24, lines 21 and 22, subsection (2) deleted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No: 48:

Section 48: In page 25, subsection (1), line 31, "of" deleted where it secondly appears.

This is a grammatical correction.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 49:

Section 53: In page 27, between lines 7 and 8, the following subsection inserted:

"(4) A warrant under subsection (2) may be issued by a justice of the District Court for the time being assigned to the district court district where the premises are situated.".

This is another technical amendment rcommended by the draftsman. Its purpose is to clarify that a warrant under subsection (2) to enter premises where a pre-school service is being or is believed to be carried on may be issued by the district justice of the district where the premises are situated.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 50:

Section 55: In page 27, between lines 37 and 38 but in Part VII, the following section inserted:

"56.—For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that the provisions of this Part shall not apply to—

(a) the care of one or more pre-school children undertaken by a relative of the child or children or the spouse of such relative,

(b) a person taking care of one or more pre-school children of the same family and no other such children (other than that person's own such children) in that person's home,

(c) a person taking care of not more than 3 pre-school children of different families (other than that person's own such children) in that person's home.".

The purpose of this amendment is to make it absolutely clear that the provisions of Part VII do not apply to the care of pre-school children undertaken by a relative or a neighbour of the parents. I introduced the amendment in response to concerns expressed by a number of Senators form all sides about the possible application of the requirements of Part VII to such arrangements.

The whole thrust of Part VII is to regulate facilities such as playgroups and creches which cater for groups of young children from different families.

It was never the intention to interfere in arrangements made by working parents with a relative or a neighbour of theirs to look after their children for them. Amendment 50 places this beyond doubt. Paragraph (a) exempts a relative or his or her spouse from the requirements of Part VII. Paragraph (b) exempts a person taking care of children of the same family only in that person's home. Paragraph (c) exempts a person looking after not more than three children of different families in that person's home. I thrust this will clarify the situation to the satisfaction of everybody and in particular working parents who rely on their relations and their friends and neighbours to take care of their young children.

I can see the difficulty with this. It is difficult to determine what is a playschool and what is not a playschool. The definition sounds as if a good Jesuit sat down and determined that one can have any of these criteria: if the person is related to the children it is not a playschool; if the person has only children from one family and his own children, it is not a playschool; or if fewer than three children of any family are involved it is not a playschool. Does it become a playschool if a fourth child arrives?

I am sure the courts would say that.

I can understand exactly what the Minister wants to do. He does not want to intrude on little domestic arrangements that are not meant to be businesses. I do not know if this amendment fits the Bill. I am not, at this stage of my involvement in this Bill, likely to come up with a better form of words, but I am a little bit wary of this form. I am not sure that a definition as clear and as tight as the one here will actually exclude all the circumstances which we would, by consensus, agree would not be a commerical playschool, but I am willing to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt at this stage.

This gives me a warm feeling of confidence when we are going down to one and two child families, that we really will have inspections. I was very worried that we would not have inspections of pre-school and daycare centres. I would like to think that we are going to carry this out very diligently and I am very happy about that. I can accept the first two subsections but I wonder about a person taking care of not more than three pre-school children of different families in that person's home. Why are those three children to be discriminated against as compared to the 20 children in another home?

Or four children.

They could be at risk. How can the Minister be sure that because there are only three children a difficult situation does not prevail there? I want to know why the Minister put that in because to my way of looking at it it is out of countenance with the other two. I can accept somebody in a family caring for their sister's or their cousin's children possibly not for money at all, but the last one would be in the commercial area. I wonder would those children not be at risk?

I know what the Minister and his draftspeople are attempting and we are trying to leave a certain amount of informality and family feeling. However is there any way in which there can be, if not inspection, some routine way of making sure that children in a family home like that actually have the kind of conditions that we earnestly fought for with regard to pre-school facilities? Would that be seen as an invasion of the privacy of the home? I understand the difficulty is that it was considered that that would be an invasion of privacy and therefore it could not be investigated in the same broad open way as a pre-school facility with more than three children from different families.

I would take a slightly different view from the other Deputies on this matter. I feel that it we can implement all sections of this legislation on supervision, whether care or otherwise, and exempt the families mentioned here we will not be doing too badly at all. I can visualise a situation where a person who has spare time is prepared to take one or two children. This is common enough in most towns and villages where there are working parents and the Minister is actually exempting those from inspection. I think that is what is envisaged and I support the amendment.

I did not have consultations with any Jesuit on this matter but the Senatorial Jesuits did convince me that there might be a problem. I considered this and took advice on it. We looked at what information and recommendations were available and we found the Task Force on Child Care and the Working Party on Childcare facilities all recommended that below a certain threshold the State would not interfere. We also felt that we must have a certain consideration for local comradeship, neighbourliness, care, thoughtfulness and community support for one another, particularly in housing estates where some people are at work and others are not and where in certain circumstances the woman next door or somebody down the estate takes the children. It was felt that where there were up to three children things should be left. The worry in the Seanad was that we might be overinspecting. We felt also that the parents themselves who place these children in the daily care of their neighbours have a fundamental responsibility themselves to ensure that their children are not at risk. In the interests of parental judgment and responsibility, of community relations and support for one another, we felt that in cases of more than three children we should be involved but below that number we should not get involved.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 51:

Section 56: In page 28, line 20, "section 62" deleted and "section 60" substituted.

This is a technical correction.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 52:

Section 57: In page 28, between lines 25 and 26, the following subsection inserted:

"(3) Any person who contravenes a provision of this section shall be guilty of an offence.".

The purpose of this amendment is to place it beyond doubt that any contravention of this section, that is, carrying on or having charge of a children's residential centre that is not registered in accordance with this Part, will be an offence punishable under section 61.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 53:

Section 58: In page 29, line 12, after "regulations,", "or" inserted.

This amendment corrects a drafting error that crept in on Report Stage in the Dáil. Obviously in our enthusiasm to ensure that the work is done, a few little things like this escaped us. The word "or" should appear at the end of this paragraph as it does at the end of others in the subsection.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 54:

Section 60: In page 32, subsection (1), line 13, "The Minister, shall" deleted and "The Minister shall," substituted.

This is a grammatical correction which simply involves the repositioning of a comma.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 55:

In page 32, subsection (1), line 16, "conduct of centres" deleted and "conduct of centres," substituted.

This is another grammatical correction.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 56:

In page 32, subsection (3) (a), line 42, "regulations" deleted and "regulations," substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 57:

Section 63: In page 34, subsection (3) (b), line 10, after "board", "and" inserted.

With the agreement of the House I porpose to discuss amendments Nos. 57 and 58 together.

Section 63 provides for the introduction of a pension scheme for the staff of the 40 or so children's residential centres around the country. This has long been sought by the staff concerned and by their trade unions and associations.

I am anxious to bring the pension scheme into operation as soon as possible after the Bill is enacted. The section as now drafted could serve to delay the introduction of the pension scheme. This is because the existing paragraph (c) provides that the scheme will only apply to centres that are registered under this Part. Obviously it will take some little time to set up the new registration procedures and to make the necessary regulations for the purposes of this Part. As the section is now drafted, the pension scheme could not be introduced until all of those preparations had been completed.

The purpose of the amendments therefore is to delete the existing paragraph (c) so as to enable this section to be brought into operation in advance of the other provisions of this Part. It will be brought into operation by ministerial order under section 1 (2) as soon as possible after the Bill is enacted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 58:

In page 34, subsection (3), lines 11 to 13, paragraphs (c) and (d) deleted and the following paragraphs substituted:

"(c) is specified by the Minister for the purpose of this section.".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 59:

Section 68: In page 36, subsection (3), line 3, "body or persons" deleted and "body of persons" substituted.

This is to correct a drafting error. The reference here should be to a "body of persons".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 60:

Section 71: In page 37, subsection (7), line 29, "misused" deleted and "inhaled" substituted.

This is to correct a drafting error which arose when this section was amended in the Dáil.

The word "misused" here is incorrect. The word that should be used is "inhaled" which is what is found in subsection (1) at line 3 on page 37.

This amendment is to an amendment I put in on Committee Stage, to give the power to the Garda to intervene and remove a substance from a child who is abusing it in the streets. It is shocking to see children staggering in the streets with their faces in bags containing glue. I am not 100 per cent sure as to whether the word "inhale" is better than the word "misused". While we were primarily concerned with glue sniffing, I hope a garda would be in a position to remove from a child any substance which would cause him to be intoxicated in public, whether it was administered by inhalation or otherwise. I am happy that the amendment I put forward on Committee Stage was accepted by the Minister at that stage, and if he is convinced that the word "inhaled" is better than the word "misused" I will not argue with him at this stage.

We welcome that section and I support Deputy Howlin on this. If a garda sees a child purchasing or holding a substance and seriously believes that it is to be inhaled or abused could he be accused of exceeding his authority if he takes the substance from the child and if the child has not actually inhaled it even though everybody would know that he was going to do so?

I commend Deputy Howlin for bringing in this amendment. Many other valuable amendments were suggested by all Members of the House involved in this committee. In my effort to convince my colleagues in the Seanad of the necessity to have an improvement carried out, I had to pay a further tribute to Deputy Howlin and I eventually got agreement. The difficulty in relation to the point Deputy Barnes raised is that there are a range of products which children might purchase on behalf of parents or somebody else, which might come into this category and it could create a difficulty for the Garda in trying to execute the law. We have to be absolutely certain that when a garda is executing the law he knows exactly what must be done and knows when to take action. This is a very important change in the Bill. It will eliminate many of the serious problems that initially create major difficulties for children and ultimately lead them into the drugs scene.

I take the Minister's point about certain commodities that would otherwise be harmless.

Question put and agreed to.

Can the Minister say when he plans to bring into force the various provisions of this Bill? Considerable concern has been expressed in many quarters as to the financial underpinning for these powers and functions for the health boards. Having discussed with the health boards the likely costs of performing these functions, can the Minister at this stage indicate to the House the financial provision that will be involved and his commitment to making that financial provision available to the health boards?

A modern children's Act has been long overdue. Everyone concerned is waiting for that legislation to be enacted. It will mean a more efficient procedure for the protection of children. The 1908 Act was all right in its day but it was not capable of meeting the needs of today. There is concern among social workers and people involved with children about the delay so far. I join with Deputy Bruton in putting the question as to when we can hope to have this legislation in place so that we can see the effect of it on our own areas? I welcome the legislation. It has been well deliberated on and I have no doubt that it is good legislation.

I assure the House that so far as the Government are concerned we do not have any desire to delay further the implementation of that Bill. As soon as the Bill is passed we will proceed with drawing up six different sets of regulations pertaining to various aspects of the legislation. We will continue our consultations with the health boards and we will draw up the regulations but above all we will have to consult with the Rules of Court Committee representing the courts. As soon as that consultation has taken place and the rules of courts have been agreed we will proceed. Certain parts of the Bill can be implemented very quickly. We will proceed as quickly as we can. We have £1 million available to spend in 1991. This was allocated in this year's budget in anticipation of the Oireachtas passing this Bill. We are confident that we will be able to proceed quickly.

That disposes of the amendments from the Seanad.

I should like to pay tribute to everybody involved in this monumental Bill. I welcome the amendments from the Seanad which I believe will strengthen the Bill. I should also like to pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy and, without discriminating against anyone, to the Special Committee. The commitment shown by all members of that committee is an indication of the efficacy, competence and effectiveness of such committees. I should like much more of our complex legislation to be dealt with in that way. I should also like to pay tribute to Deputy Fitzpatrick who chaired the committee in a tolerant and flexible manner which enabled all of us to have a full input and to Deputy Yates commitment. He also displayed his wide knowledge of this area.

This is an historic Bill and I hope it will be implemented as quickly as possible. Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the draftspeople who have shown such competence and commitment. It took a long time to bring this Bill before the House and I hope it will stand the test of time. If it needs to be updated I hope it will not take as long as it took to update the 1908 Act. This is an historic occasion and I enjoyed very much being involved in the debate on the Bill. I should like to think that like us the people working in the child care area believe that this Bill will strengthen protection for children.

I should like to be associated with the remarks on this worthwhile legislation which was debated in a way which is a model of how legislation should proceed, that is, the Government should not come into this House and think they are the repository of all wisdom. They should be open and flexible to accept views from all sides of the House and transform this House, which unfortunately too often is simply a rubber stamping mechanism, into a legislative assembly. In recent times we have seen too many Bills parachuted in here and guillotined through without proper analysis or any attempt being made to go through them section by section in a preliminary way. We have gone through this Bill in a very professional way and I commend the Government and, in particular, the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, for the open and generous way in which he approached the Bill. As Deputy Barnes said, I hope this Bill will be a framework which will protect the children of Ireland for many years to come.

I sincerely thank everybody involved in the debate on this Bill, particularly my collegue, Deputy Fitzpatrick, who chaired the Appeal Committee and all the members of the committee who have been working on the Bill since November 1989. I realised at the outset that this was very important legislation. I sincerely thank all the members of the committee, the Opposition spokespersons and all those who contributed to the debates in this House and the Seanad. Not alone did this House make a mammoth contribution towards improving the Bill but Seanad Éireann made a very important contribution also. I should like to sincerely thank the staff of the Child Care division of the Department of Health, my former Department, for their tremendous dedication and work and for the positive attitude they adopted. They had tremendous liaison with all the other relevant sections of Government and Government Departments. I should also like to thank the Attorney General and the parliamentary draftsman for their personal consultations with my staff and myself which enabled us to achieve the consensus which all Deputies desired.

This is one of the most important and socially progressive Bills ever passed by the Oireachtas. It has not rushed through. We have passed a Bill which will be very worthwhile at the end of the day in protecting the interests of the children of our country.

Amendments reported and agreed to.

A message will be sent to Seanad Éireann acquainting it accordingly.