Other Questions. - Child Abuse.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Question:

12 Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health if he intends to abide by the commitment given on 16 September 1996 that a decision would be given in relation to reporting arrangements for cases of child abuse by the end of 1996; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24718/96]

The consultative process on mandatory reporting of child abuse which I initiated last February with the launch of Putting Children First — A Discussion Document on Mandatory Reporting culminated in September with The Reporting of Child Abuse — A Contribution of Mandatory Reporting, a consultative forum which I hosted in Malahide. I have taken on board the views that were expressed by all those involved in the consultation process and I am currently finalising detailed proposals on the reporting of child abuse. I have given a commitment that I will announce my proposals by the end of the year. I intend to honour that commitment and will make an announcement shortly.

Will mandatory reporting form part of the Minister of State's proposals?

As the Deputy will have very little time to wait, it would be better if she waited for my announcement.

Does the Minister of State accept that investigation into child abuse cases will not improve until a Minister makes a decision on mandatory reporting? That would ensure professionals can work out the Protocols and guidelines necessary for the implementation of mandatory reporting?

When I make my announcement it will be abundantly clear that the interest of the child will be paramount.

The Minister's response to a priority question today was an insult. Five years ago the Law Reform Commission recommended mandatory reporting of child abuse and more than three years ago the Kilkenny report made a similar recommendation. Since then we have had procrastination, political back-sliding and negative consultation about the issue of mandatory reporting. The Minister of State indicated in the past he would have a response on this matter before the end of the year.

We must proceed by way of question.

He continues to tease the House on this matter. Is he not merely waiting until the press conference? That is an insult to the Deputy who tabled this question. When a question is tabled, the Minister with responsibility for the matter should——

On a point of order, is the Chair allowing a Second Stage speech on this question?

Thank you, Deputy.

On a point of order——

The Deputy is not making a point of order.

I am waiting for other questions to be taken but because of the Chair's indulgence in respect of other Deputies, they will not be reached. This is out of order.

If the Deputy were here earlier he would realise the reason for this.

Deputy O'Donnell is out of order.

Thank you for your indulgence, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. That was an unwarranted attack by Deputy Mitchell.

I remind the Deputy that we are on Question Time and we must proceed by way of question. I ask her to conclude her question.

Has the Minister of State not had more than enough time to make up his mind? It is an insult to the House to tell us we must wait for the press conference.

We are having repetition.

I am sorry the Deputy thinks I am trying to tease her. I have no intention of doing that. As I have told her, this announcement is imminent.

This is Dáil Éireann where questions are tabled and should be answered.

I draw the Deputy's attention to a newspaper article in theSunday Independent dated 5 November 1995 in which her party deputy leader, Deputy McDowell——

Is that the Minister of State's only response?

He stated:

To legislate in a way which is both practical and effective will require a careful and measured approach. That is why John Bruton should ask Austin Currie to publish a discussion document within, say, three months. Putting things right in the field of child protection will require an unusual combination of determination and caution.

What an impoverished Minister. He has to quote from an article written by a Member opposite.

The article went on to state:

Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse is on the legislative agenda. The difficult part will be translating the laudable principle into practical law.

The Deputy should congratulate me on being ahead of the time schedule proposed by her party's deputy leader.

Five years after the Law Reform Commission report and three years after the Kilkenny report.

If she is patient for a little longer, it will be well rewarded.

It is difficult to be patient with the Minister of State.

I welcome the fact that a decision will be made shortly on the question of mandatory reporting. In view of the alarming levels of child sexual and physical abuse being reported to health boards, it is an extremely important issue. Will the Minister of State's announcement be accompanied by an initiative to ensue that the public is clear on the action people can take if they suspect abuse? Will he ensure teachers and other professionals get ongoing training on handling these issues in schools and communities? People are unclear about how to act when they have suspicions of abuse and they are concerned about litigation.

My announcement on mandatory reporting will be accompanied by a clear and unambiguous statement about everybody's responsibility to be aware of child abuse and to take appropriate action. Professionals and members of the general public have a duty to report child abuse to the statutory authorities.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.