Children Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Before the debate was adjourned, I referred to Part IV. Under this Part where the member in charge of the Garda station to which an arrested child has been brought believes the child may be in need of care or protection he or she will be obliged to inform the local health board. A representative of the board will then go to the station as soon as practicable. This provision could be important where, for example, the child is homeless or involved in prostitution.

Part V establishes a new children court which will replace the existing juvenile court. It will be the District Court when dealing with all summary cases involving children, including the jurisdiction given to the District Court under the Child Care Act, 1991. Under this Part the President of the District Court will have power to designate children court judges in any district to which more than one judge is attached. For other districts a panel of judges will be established by the president from which he or she may designate children court judges. It is for the president to decide on what basis he or she will make these designations. The separate issue of the training of judges has been dealt with in a more appropriate broader context in the Courts and Courts Officers Act, 1995.

Part VI is concerned with proceedings in the new children court. It is underpinned by a general statement of principle establishing the rights of children before the children court. There are several important crossovers in the Bill from the justice to the care and protection procedures for dealing with children. One of these is provided for in section 64 which allows the court to adjourn proceedings against the child where it appears the child's problem is a need for care or protection. The health board will then investigate the child's circumstances and, having done so, will inform the court of its assessment of his or her health care needs, if any. The board may apply to the court for a supervision order, a care order or a special care order in respect of the child and where it does so the court may dismiss the charges against the child. Special care orders are introduced in Part X and I will deal with them in more detail under that Part.

Another provision in Part VI which I wish to highlight is the requirement on both parents or the guardian to attend all proceedings in the court with their child, and when I say "both" I mean both parents. The least that can be expected of parents is that they are there to offer whatever support they can to their child and, if necessary, to be questioned about their child's behaviour. It is also important that they are there to hear the decision if their child is found guilty as the court may offer advice to them on how to help and support their child cope with and carry out any penalty imposed, in particular a community sanction. The court can also make clear to the parents what it regards as their responsibilities to their child. Of course, it may not always be possible for one or both parents to attend court. We have to be realistic on that point. The court will have the power, in the interests of justice, to excuse one or both parents from attendance at all or part of the proceedings. Where a parent or guardian is not present in court, an adult relative or other adult may attend with the child.

I turn now to one of the longest and most important Parts of the Bill. A child can be detained where it is the only suitable penalty. In those circumstances it behoves us to provide the courts with a wide range of community sanctions which, if used imaginatively, should ensure an appropriate sanction for each child on whom such a sanction is imposed. Part VII provides those community sanctions. Like several other Parts, this Part is underpinned by a set of principles, in this case those relating to the exercise of criminal jurisdiction. It also sets out clearly and concisely the powers of a court on a finding of guilt of a child, and most of these are dealt with in detail in this Part. On a finding of guilt, before a court decides how it will deal with a child it can request a report on the child. It is entitled to do this in any case but is obliged to do so whenever it forms the opinion that the appropriate penalty may be a community sanction or detention. The report is prepared by a probation and welfare officer but the courts also have power to request any other report it considers may assist it in arriving at a decision. For the guidance of the courts, examples of other reports are given in section 76 — these are medical, psychiatric, psychological and victim impact reports. It is important to emphasise that the persons preparing the reports are professionals and experts in child matters and are uniquely placed and qualified to assist the courts in determining the appropriate way of dealing with child offenders.

A court can deal with a child by such means as a reprimand or conditional discharge but, if it goes beyond that, the penalties it can impose can be broadly classified under three headings — financial, community sanction or, as a last resort, detention. These are as wide-ranging and flexible as possible so that there will be an appropriate penalty available for imposition on each child, regardless of the child's circumstances.

I will describe the financial penalties. The courts will be empowered to order a child to pay a fine, the maximum of which will be one half of that which could be imposed on an adult convicted of the same offence. With children defined as persons up to 18 years of age, many children who appear before a court will be working or will be potential earners. For those whom the court deems could afford to pay, provision for the payment of a fine is a proper and valid penalty for the courts to have at their disposal.

Child offenders could also be obliged to pay compensation, as could their parents. Where the courts order a parent to pay compensation they must be satisfied that there is good reason for so doing. It is for the courts to decide what is a good reason in any particular case. For parents who could afford to pay compensation, this is an appropriate penalty which will encourage them to face up to their responsibilities to control their children. Another way of making parents face up to their responsibilities in this regard is to oblige them to enter into a recognisance to exercise proper and adequate control over their children. It can only be forfeited when the child is found guilty of another offence and the court is satisfied that the failure of the parent to exercise proper and adequate control over the child contributed to the child committing the offence.

None of the financial provisions I have mentioned is new. They are simply being rationalised, updated and placed on a proper statutory basis in a comprehensive manner. What is new is that before imposing one of these penalties the court must take into account the person's present and future ability to pay. This may apply to the child or the parent and for that purpose the court may require evidence to be given as to means and financial commitments. This will obviate any possibility of inappropriate financial penalties being imposed.

The second category of penalties is the community sanction. These are listed in section 94 and, very broadly, can be divided into three main groups. First, is the day centre order and other orders in which the probation service plays a central role. The day centre order is crucial to the success of the Bill. It could almost be described as a junior version of the community service order, although it will be available for the courts to impose on all child offenders, regardless of age. Instead of work, it will involve programmes of occupation, activities and, in the broadest sense of the word, instruction, both indoor and outdoor. Participation will be for up to 90 days, not necessarily consecutive. The probation service will be responsible for the construction or provision of a network of day centres and can also use other facilities for that purpose with the consent of the owners of those facilities. Three variations of a probation order are also provided which isolate and highlight a particular aspect of the order for implementation. Thus, if the court considers that one of these orders is appropriate in a particular case it can, depending on circumstances, especially those of the child offender, impose a training or activities programme order, an intensive supervision order or a residential supervision order.

The second group of community sanctions is the suitable person order. While the child offender will still be under the supervision of a probation and welfare officer, the emphasis will have changed. These orders will be relevant where the child's family is part of the problem, whether it is a dysfunctional family or a family who just cannot cope despite good intentions. In the former case the child could live for a predetermined time with an especially chosen person or family. This would parallel fostering in care situations. In the latter case the child and his or her family would receive the help and support of another especially chosen person or family to prevent the child becoming involved in further crime.

The third group of community sanctions is the restriction on movement order which, combined with a probation or day centre order, is called a dual order. The child's movements can be restricted in two ways. First, he or she can be restricted to a particular residence for any time between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following morning. It will be for the court to decide, when making this order, between what particular hours the order will apply. Matters such as the age of the child, his or her legitimate pursuits and the offence for which he or she has been found guilty would be relevant. This order would not be appropriate for many children, such as those whose problems emanate from an inadequate family background. Parents will not be asked to enforce the order although their full co-operation would certainly be useful. The residence need not necessarily be that of the parents; it could be that of a relative such as a grandparent. Enforcement will be through the local gardaí who will be given a copy of the order by the court and will be empowered to call to the named residence to check for compliance.

The other type of restriction is that which prohibits a child being at or in any named premises, place or locality during specified days or times. The days or times are not restricted in the Bill. The purpose of this form of the order is primarily to prevent a child being at some place where he or she may become involved in crime or be open to the temptation or persuasion to be so involved.

The third type of penalty open to the court is detention. This can only be imposed where the court is satisfied that it is the only suitable way of dealing with the child. In Part VII some general detention matters are dealt with. Part VIII outlines in more detail the type of detention being proposed. The Minister for Education will be responsible for the detention of all child offenders under 16 years of age on whom a child detention order has been imposed. The children detention schools provided for that purpose will be obliged to accept all referrals to them from the courts regardless of what the child has done, his or her problems or any specialised treatment the child may need. Such detention will be for a period of up to three years. Detention of 16 and 17 year olds will be the responsibility of the Minister for Justice who will be obliged to designate places for that age group separate from older detainees and prisoners.

Part VIII of the Bill sees the end of the reformatory and industrial schools and their replacement with children detention schools. The way these schools will operate in practice is of the utmost importance, and this is reflected in section 137 which sets out their principal object. Another positive effect on the operation of the schools is that most should become the responsibility of a single board of management which will appoint a chief executive to be responsible for the running of the schools and the management of the detention of each child. It is essential that each child's detention is managed in a way that will maximise his or her chances and opportunities for remaining free from involvement in further crime. Achieving that will be a major challenge because by the time child offenders end up in detention they may be persistent or serious offenders and some may be quite disturbed.

Part VIII is too long to discuss in detail today but I will mention briefly some of its features. An inspector will be appointed by the Minister for Education who will be responsible for the inspection of each school at least once every six months. Children Court judges will be entitled to visit the schools at any time. The director of each school will be obliged to accept every referral from the courts and every transfer from another school as directed by the chief executive. Schools will have to provide treatment facilities for children with particular problems. A sophisticated policy of leave and supervision will ensure that children successfully reintegrate back into society, and voluntary aftercare will be available on completion of the detention. The board will be in a position to enter into arrangements with others to provide detention facilities for child offenders.

Part IX of the Bill re-enacts provisions in the 1908 Act concerned with the protection of children. Of all man's inhumanity to man, one of the worst is cruelty to children. The law on cruelty and neglect is being updated and the penalties substantially increased in accordance with a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission in its report on non-fatal offences against the person. Changes to the law on sending out children to beg are also in line with a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission in its report on vagrancy and related offences. The evidential burden will now be on the person who sent the child out to beg, making successful prosecutions easier. The law on encouraging or causing a sexual offence upon a child under 17 years of age is being updated in many important respects, including an increase in the penalties.

Part X of the Bill is the responsibility of the Department of Health and provides for an amendment of the Child Care Act, 1991. Under that Act, health boards have statutory responsibility for promoting the welfare of children not receiving adequate care and protection.

The Minister's time is almost exhausted but I am sure the House would want to hear him out. Is that agreed? Agreed.

My apologies but this is the most substantial legislation ever to emanate from the Department of Justice.

A small number of children whom the boards have been endeavouring to assist are so unruly that they cannot appropriately be cared for in the existing range of residential care centres.

Judicial review proceedings were brought against a number of health boards on behalf of some of the children concerned alleging that the boards were failing in their statutory responsibilities towards the children. The High Court held that (a) the Child Care Act does not empower a health board to detain a child and (b) the State is under a constitutional duty to provide suitable secure accommodation for children who need to be detained for their own safety and welfare. The result is that Part X now provides that health boards will have responsibility for the provision and operation of appropriate services and facilities for children who, while not in trouble with the law, need to be detained in their own best interests. It does this by making provision for a special care order on the application of a health board where the court is satisfied that the behaviour of the child is such that it poses a real and substantial risk to his or her health, safety, development or welfare, and the child requires care or protection which he or she is unlikely to receive unless the court makes the appropriate order.

A special care order would commit a child to the care of a health board and authorise a board to arrange for appropriate care, education and treatment for the child and for this purpose to detain the child in a special care unit. A health board will have authority to take such steps as are reasonably necessary to prevent children from injuring themselves or other persons in such a unit or from absconding. Provision is also made to allow a health board to place a child in a children's residential centre, with foster parents or give the child temporary release as part of a programme of treatment.

Part XI of the Bill provides for some miscellaneous provisions, most of which require little comment. One important provision is section 219. What child has not done something silly or been involved in some sort of vandalism or petty crime? If caught, charged and found guilty, that child will have a stain on his or her record for life. Once found guilty, only a court can undo that guilt and that would be on appeal. What we are providing in section 219 is a limited "clean slate" in respect of most offences committed by children; the only limitation being that one cannot say an offence never took place. The section limits instead the effects of a finding of guilt by treating a person who was found guilty of committing an offence as a child, for all purposes in law, as a person who has not committed, been charged with, prosecuted for, found guilty of or dealt with for an offence. The conditions applying are that the offence was committed while the person was a child, three years has elapsed since the finding of guilt and the person has maintained a clean record in those three years. It will exclude offences such as rape or murder that are triable by the Central Criminal Court.

Although I have spoken today at some length I have barely scratched the surface of the Bill. I hope I have said enough about each Part to give a flavour of the Bill and its importance. I have also placed the Bill in a historical setting as to do so allows us to avoid the mistakes of the past. I will conclude by placing the Bill in a more contemporary setting. In itself the Bill is important for the procedures it provides for dealing with children who have committed offences as well as those non-offending children with behavioural problems. It should also have positive implications in relation to the number of offences committed by children. Its real significance, however, is how it fits into overall policy, both legislative and non-statutory, on children. The recent full implementation of the Child Care Act, 1991, and the forthcoming school attendance Bill will, with this Bill, complete a trio of statutory measures which, in a complementary fashion, will help to prevent juvenile crime and provide a comprehensive framework for responding to the needs of vulnerable and troubled children.

Non-statutory measures are of equal if not greater importance. For example, the Department of Justice currently funds youth diversion projects in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. These projects have a particular focus and are directed at young people either involved in or at risk of becoming involved in crime. The community gardaí maintain contact with young persons in a number of ways, for example, through structured and formal visits to schools, through the schools programme and by informal contact through sports organisations and youth organisations. Over 1000 gardaí have been trained in the programme which now operates in over 2,800 schools. Its aim is to help children, with the support of their teachers, to develop behaviour that will keep them safe from accidents and crime. These type of dealings by gardaí with young persons are vital to divert children from a possible life of crime.

Initiatives have also been taken in the Department of Education which will have important preventative implications. These include the commissioning of a report from the Combat Poverty Agency and the Education Research Centre on the problem of educational disadvantage. In response to the report a new targeted initiative has been launched which aims to break the cycle of educational disadvantage in selected urban and rural areas. The Minister for Education also introduced the early start pre-school initiative which aims to expose young children to an educational programme that will enhance their overall development and lay a foundation for successful educational attainment in future years. The home-school community liaison scheme has, among its aims, an important role to play in establishing contact with parents and encouraging them to become involved in their children's education. Twenty-seven teacher-counsellor posts have been allocated by the Department of Education to offer special targeted support to selected disadvantaged schools for the purposes of supporting these schools in their efforts to manage the behaviour of pupils who may be disruptive or disturbed.

The Department of Health makes substantial resources available to the health boards to develop their child care and family support services. These services are far too many to refer to, but those of particular significance in the context of this debate include home help services to families and children under stress, residential accommodation and support services for at-risk adolescents and young homeless, parenting courses, family resource centres and counselling and social education programmes.

In debating the Children Bill, it is important to refer to the schemes I have briefly mentioned and to the many others aimed at disadvantaged areas, children in danger or need and parents under stress or lacking parenting skills. While the purposes and aims of the schemes, statutory and non-statutory, may vary, one effect they all have in common is to prevent youngsters becoming involved in crime. The Children Bill will complete the picture by dealing with the situation that arises when a child becomes involved in crime.

During the Second Stage debate on the recent Private Members' child pornography Bill I undertook to include appropriate child pornography provisions in this Bill. I intend to honour that undertaking by way of Committee Stage amendments.

I look forward to a constructive debate on the Bill in which the respective interests of children in trouble with the law, their victims and the community generally and the other aspects of the Bill are considered in a fair and balanced manner. I commend the Bill to the House.

The stated purpose of the Bill is to replace the remaining provisions of the Children Act, 1908, and associated legislation with a modern, comprehensive statute. Its predominant aim is to provide a basis for a new system of juvenile justice. It should take cognisance of the developments here and elsewhere in the area of juvenile justice which have occurred over the past 90 years. It should set out a vision for the future and a blueprint for the implementation of that vision. Unfortunately, the Bill must be read with a growing sense of disappointment. It merely tinkers with solutions and systems which have already been seen to be inadequate. It lacks innovation and vision and merely offers more of the same.

If the parts of the Bill which merely restate existing law in a mildly altered form were to be removed, what would remain would amount to little more than window dressing. Existing schemes and rules are placed on a statutory basis but substantive reform has not been achieved. The common law has been written down, shuffled and rewritten in statutory form. Existing schemes have been transcribed, renamed and given statutory form. The Bill seeks to create the illusion of reform while maintaining the status quo. It is a tired Bill which has emanated from a tired Minister in a tired Department.

The Bill represents a policy of acceptance and resignation rather than a vision for the future. It makes a clear statement that "this is the best we can do". It is inadequate and its publication has been rushed to create a semblance of activity in an election year. It may even deprive the Minister for Education of the parliamentary record she attained during the passage of the Universities Bill because this Bill will require at least as many amendments. A Government that is serious about juvenile justice would withdraw the Bill and acknowledge it for what it is, a shallow attempt at parliamentary scrabble to create the illusion of activity.

Part II, which includes sections 7 to 39, lacks innovation and vision. Its primary purpose is to place the Garda diversion programme, formerly known as the juvenile liaison officers' scheme, on a statutory basis. The explanatory memorandum is commendably honest when it declares: "The statutory scheme will operate similarly in many respects to the administrative scheme". In the 32 sections of the Bill the Minister hopes to achieve a change in the basis of the bureaucracy which oversees the implementation of an existing policy. With the lamentably isolated exception of a family conference, nothing new will result from the enactment of this Bill.

Part III deals with criminal responsibility and is as bereft of innovation as Part II. Substantive reform is not attempted or achieved. Part II simply seeks to put an existing administrative scheme into statutory form and Part III simply seeks to restate the existing common law in a slightly altered manner in statutory form. It is indicative of the rushed manner in which the Bill has been approached that it does not even achieve this limited task without confusion.

The new age of criminal responsibility is to be ten, 11 or 12, depending on which group of Ministers can reach a consensus at a given time. If the Minister for Finance were to apply the same parliamentary logic to the Finance Bill, the standard rate of income tax would be 27 per cent, 25 per cent or 23 per cent, depending on which Cabinet faction is in the ascendancy at a given time.

I have known children to learn to paint by numbers but the concept of legislation by numbers is novel and indicative of muddled thinking and a rush to overcome an absence of consensus by legislating for alternatives. It may be novel but it is also nonsense. How can the concept of constitutional fairness guaranteed in the criminal process be reconciled with shifting the age of criminal responsibility envisaged by the legislation? In hindsight would it not have been better for the Government to have made a decision rather than institutionalise its indecision? The common law concept of criminal guilt as understood by our courts is heavily based on the notion of mens rea. This in turn arises from the influence of the Ecclesiastical courts on the common law system of justice in the 12th century and is most forcibly set out in the legally oft-quoted Latin maxim, actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea, a person is not legally culpable unless the mind is morally blameworthy. Simply put, this means criminal responsibility does not arise from the performance of a prohibited act alone; a further ingredient, that of intention, is also necessary before the prohibited act becomes criminal. Thus, the minimum age of potential criminal responsibility was fixed by the common law courts at seven years of age as that was the age at which the Ecclesiastical courts believed a child obtained the use of reason. For that reason a common law presumption arose that a child under seven years of age was incapable of committing criminal wrong. In the parlance of the time, such a child was presumed to be doli incapax. The presumption in respect of children under seven years of age was irrebuttable. In respect of children between seven and 14 years of age the presumption of doli incapax also applied, but was rebuttable.

It became clear that the test of doli incapax gave rise to considerable difficulty which was spelled out with admirable clarity by the English jurist, Glanville Williams in a document entitled The Criminal Responsibility of Children, published in the 1954 edition of The Criminal Law Review, when he stated that the doli incapax test meant that the more warped the child's moral standards, the safer he was from the correctional treatment of the criminal law. The difficulty was again addressed in the specific context of Irish jurisprudence by Professor Niall Osborough in an article entitled “Rebutting the presumption of doli incapax” in the 1968 volume of the Irish Jurist. In the article, Professor Osborough reviewed existing case law with a view to extrapolating those factors which were relevant to rebutting the presumption. It was again found that a home background which suggested a firm awareness of right from wrong was a factor relevant to deciding whether the presumption of doli incapax was rebutted. This finding of Professor Osborough confirmed the earlier view expressed by Glanville Williams that the more warped the child's moral values were the more immune he or she became from criminal prosecution.

This is a difficulty which has been known to have existed for more than 40 years. It is a difficulty which manifests itself with unfortunate regularity in criminal courts. It is unfortunate the Government has chosen to pretend it does not exist. It is clear the ostrich approach to legislative enactment pioneered by the Minister for Justice has now percolated through the Department of Justice. Difficulties do not go away if they are side-stepped. The Minister has chosen to pretend the most serious difficulty which has affected the concept of doli incapax does not exist.

In Section 40 which could have addressed the problem, the Minister has chosen to simply move the age of criminal responsibility as if engaged in a game of legislative bingo. Section 40(2) provides that the Minister and her friends may play further games of legislative bingo with the age of criminal responsibility at specified times in the future. I am forced to ask whether the Minister for Justice ever tunes in to the real world. Does she know what happens in courts? Does she listen to what judges say?

Do not blame the Minister. I am responsible for this Bill. Blame me.

It is ironic that within one week of the honourable Judge Cyril Kelly — the judge who presides over the criminal list in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court — criticising the common law doli incapax rule as being unfair and giving rise to potential instances of injustice, this Government has seen fit to move the Second Stage of a Bill which gives statutory authority to the very same rule in an effectively unmodified form. While this development is ironic, it is not surprising. It typifies the attitude of the Department of Justice over the past two years.

The absence of any necessary reform to the concept of doli incapax is a serious flaw which could have been avoided by the application of understanding and imagination. Section 40, which ought to have taken cognisance of advances in the field of cognitive development and child psychology, is silent on such development. If an age of criminal responsibility is to have any meaning in the late 20th century, it must be seen to refer to mental and not physical age. This Bill wholly ignores this issue. As far as the Government is concerned, the issue does not exist. Section 40 does little more than restate the existing laws with mildly altered figures. An opportunity for reform has been squandered; yet another issue has been side-stepped. This section will be seen not as a milestone in the development of the jurisprudence of young offenders but as a rushed and ill-considered hotchpotch prematurely published in advance of a general election to give a semblance of legislative activity to a Department which has been bereft of leadership and inspiration for the past two years.

Part IV deals with the treatment of child suspects in Garda stations. It is a collection of sections which owe more in their origin to the photo-copier than to the intellect. This is frankly admitted by the explanatory memorandum which acknowledges the scissors and paste approach of the Minister by stating: "This Part re-enacts, with additions and modifications, the relevant regulations of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 (Treatment of Persons in Custody in Garda Stations) Regulations, 1987, as they relate to children".

Sections 42 to 56 are nakedly plagiarised from the 1987 regulations. The same result could have been achieved by a one line amendment which raised the age at which a person is to be regarded as a child from 17 to 18. Is there a reason the Minister did not take the obvious and easy course? The answer is yes. The reason is that she wishes to create the illusion of legislative activity in circumstances where there is none. Sections 42 to 56 restate existing law and represents the enactment of Government policy on child offenders which is, more of the same.

The provision relating to the Children Court is equally lacking in innovation. The opening section of Part V declares: "The District Court when hearing charges against children.... shall be known as the Children Court ....". The section represents no more than the triumph of form over substance. If something does not work effectively, the Minister's solution is to change its name. The concept of substantive changes is clearly beyond the Minister's comprehension and capacity. The existing Children's Court is to be abolished and, in its place, the Minister proposes to establish a Children Court. This semblance of change takes the place of much needed reform. Why, instead of contenting herself with changing the nameplate on the door, did the Minister not address the real problems created on a daily basis by the rules of evidence which hinder and prevent children from giving evidence? The answer is that the Minister is not looking for solutions. She is not looking for reform. She is looking for publicity.

The mentality which gave us endless photographs of the Minister poised over caches of seized cocaine, like the human companion of Jake the sniffer dog, while the unopened post spilled onto the floor of her private office, is responsible for this Bill.

The provisions relating to proceedings in the Children Court, which occupy sections 63 to 71 must be read in conjunction with section 2 which deals with commencement dates. It is clear the preparation made by this Government for the introduction of this part of the Bill is far from complete. Could the Minister indicate the time frame envisaged for the coming into operation of this phase of the Bill? How many junior remand centres are planned? Where will they be located? What provision was made for them in the recent budget? Is it envisaged that existing detention schools will merely be renamed in a continuation of the Orwellian charade which permeates every section of this Bill? Why does the Minister not declare that offences committed by children shall be deemed not to be offences for statistical purposes thus giving rise to a fall in crime? Does the Minister believe that changing a name provides a solution? Why is this Bill so bereft of vision? Why do we have pages of plagiarism, restatement and re-enactment? It is no substitute for a policy and this Government is clearly bereft of a policy on young offenders.

The Deputy's party had plenty of time in the past.

The remaining sections of the Bill are equally bereft of innovation. The sooner the Minister vacates her office the better. The Department of Justice is in need of a renaissance. It has spent two long years in the Dark Ages, plagued and paralysed by indecision, a fact now recognised by the electorate as amply demonstrated recently by The Irish Times/ MRBI poll.

Is it 57 years of Fianna Fáil?

True to form, this Bill does not tackle juvenile crime in any meaningful way. For example, juvenile males contribute to crime figures at a highly excessive rate relative to their numbers in the population, but this problem is not addressed at all. While I accept there is no single answer to why young boys turn to crime, there are many theories well known to the Government which might have evoked a legislative response. The paucity of the Government's response in this respect is due to the priority it attaches to form over substance. Since the problem of juvenile crime goes to the very root of and is the spawning ground for crime, one might have expected a Green or White Paper on the problem from the Government. That this did not happen does not obviate the need for an in-depth look at the causes of juvenile crime in our society.

It is an established fact that young boys need a role model. If this figure is absent or inadequate, the young boy looks next to his peer group and, if that group is comprised of similar rootless young people, the first step to petty crime is all too easy to take. These young people quickly learn to ape others whom they see flouting the law with impunity, getting a buzz from their activities and ending up materially better off. They can also see that the justice system, because of its enormous flaws, simply does not work. They become unafraid of the Garda and of judges because they understand the reality of the situation. These young people are easy prey for the experienced hard man in the community who can steadily and insidiously embroil them in serious crimes and very often drug related offences.

The reasons for youthful crime are environmental, educational and social. Approximately 90 per cent of prisoners left school before 16 years of age. That statistic not only indicates the lack of formal education but also the underlying environment and social background. Recent research seem to suggest that many young offenders simply cannot comprehend or relate to the results of their crimes and that there is some inherent psychological breakdown, whether through nature or nurture, which prevents them from understanding or caring about the injuries and sufferings which they inflict on others. Leaving aside the jargon, young people must be made responsible.

The obvious and primary forum for young people to learn social responsibility is in the family. In a recent article in "The Spectator", Paul Johnson referred to the current resurgence in popularity ——

A Thatcherite.

—— of the works of Jane Austen. I ask Deputy Broughan, who appears to lurk in the underworld of political debate judging by his recent radio interview ——

I am facing the Deputy now.

—— not to interrupt me.

The Deputy should be allowed continue without interruption.

I am used to being open and not to insidious political comment.

Let us have a debate.

In his view, part of the reason for that popularity is the fact that Jane Austen makes the family appear important and central to the tragic comedy of life, but also comforting and secure. He referred to the stability and power of the family and, to underline his point about the Labour Party in the UK stealing the thunder of the Conservatives in their promotion of family values, he said a country should be seen as an aggregation of families and not a collection of social classes. It appears the Labour Party here is far more interested in digging up stories, whether true or untrue, about politicians and spreading them around like a muckspreader on Irish society. Such politicians have no place in this House.

The Deputy is trying to restrict the inquiry.

The traditional family in western society comprised a mother, father and the children they produced together. In today's society the family might comprise many types of units. It might be composed of a single parent and children or a man and a woman, either or both of whom were previously married to a third party, together with children who might be products of each of the previous relationships together with children of the current relationship.

The composition of the family unit is not largely relevant. What is important is the responsibility of the parent, parents or those in loco parentis. They must be forced to accept responsibility for the care, nurture and well-being of the children in their care. It is true that dysfunctional family units, particularly those where there is a history of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, criminal records and physical and sexual abuse, produce more juvenile offenders than others. All families, whether they can be described as dysfunctional or otherwise, must be targeted. Simply removing the young person and trying to find a place for him in one of our few and utterly overstretched places of detention for a short time is not an answer in the long-term. The parent of each child in the State must be forced to realise that his or her role in relation to the child does not end at its birth, but continues until the child reaches adulthood.

Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. No parent should be allowed to easily abdicate responsibility for his or her children. Juvenile crime must be tackled radically, at its roots. No baby, regardless of the surroundings into which he is born, should be born to an inevitable life of crime and violence. Educational and social programmes, no matter how intensive or comprehensive, can only have an effect if a child's background is secure and supportive.

In certain strata of society at present detention is seen by young people as the social alternative to high points in the leaving certificate. The offender has acquired a certain social cachet. In real terms, because of the appalling lack of detention places and overcrowding, the offender is likely to be released within a ridiculously short time. If the offender is a drug addict, prison is seen as a place where there is a steady supply of drugs in a controlled environment. In either event, the present prison system is not effective as a deterrent and is greatly diminished as a means of retribution. The necessity for more secure and drug free places of detention is overwhelming.

Alternative forms of sentencing must also be explored. Community service should be expanded but must have increased funding to ensure each sentence is closely monitored and that there are sufficient meaningful projects and programmes. We strongly recommended the concept of curfew from the outset, not just for juvenile offenders but also for adult offenders on bail. A combination of increased community service and the curfew provided for in the legislation would have several benefits. It would keep the young offender out of prison, thus reducing overcrowding. The work might sow the seeds of community and civic spirit in the young person. The community would benefit from the practical work done, while the family's responsibility would be emphasised, particularly if the parents or guardians are to be penalised together with the young person for a breach of curfew.

Community service must be appropriate in terms of location, duration and worth to the community. There is a fine distinction between the correctly punitive and perhaps humiliating aspect of such service and the objective of instilling in the offender a sense of rehabilitation. Liaison with community centres should be encouraged. Community workers complain constantly and bitterly about the lack of Government funding for community centres where young people are encouraged to keep active and occupied, and thus avoid becoming involved in criminal activities. Their efforts to have some of the national lottery moneys allocated to them have so far failed.

Drug related crime committed by juveniles must be considered separately. There are three main types of drug related crime — possession, crimes committed to feed a habit and crimes committed while under the influence of narcotic substances. Increased powers must be given to courts of summary jurisdiction to deal with such charges as expeditiously as possible. There must be increased funding for drug treatment programmes for juveniles as a matter of urgency. Young offenders might be given a choice of detention for the full statutory period or a reduced sentence with attendance at detoxification and treatment programmes.

Education has always been the key to liberation, whether it be liberation from poverty, ignorance, political servitude or social restraint. In modern Ireland, the emphasis is more and more on the individual, and there are enormous changes of influence in education. Young people are, quite properly, educated to have high expectations. In financially comfortable families young people are given the means to achieve their expectations, either through financial support or through formal education. In not so well off families, if the interest and motivation of the parents or guardians are present and positive, youngsters are given the means by encouragement towards formal education or a trade or training. In either case, the children are provided with the means of achieving their goals.

In dysfunctional or disadvantaged families, the young person is often educated, not just or not even by parents or guardians but by the media, cinema, videos and peers, to expect and want material gain. However, he is not given the direction and mindset to achieve his aims by legitimate methods. Society, in the guise of social welfare, charities, social workers and caring and well meaning community groups, may, by simply giving material assistance alone, be serving to reinforce the child's expectations, without providing and instilling in the young person the belief that he can and must do something himself to improve his life.

Young people should be taught that most people in a healthy society do not get, and do not expect to get, something for nothing. One does the young person no favour if one does not instil in him a sense of his own worth, his ability to contribute and his ability to learn from his contribution to society. If a young person is educated to expect to receive all the time as a fundamental right, is it any wonder that when he wants more of anything he looks to the nearest soft target? If there is the slightest resistance he uses unreasonable force because he has been conditioned to think it is right to take what he wants. At the slightest sign of denial he reacts violently.

In the musical "West Side Story" there is an amusing song and dance routine in which the youngsters make great play of being juvenile delinquents from severely dysfunctional backgrounds; ergo, how can they be expected to be anything other than criminal? Society today might still be educating young people along those lines. Give a young person a tag, whether it be “deprived background” or “history of drug abuse” or “alcohol abuse in the family”, draw a line under the definition and educate him henceforth as not being expected to give but only to take, and his education is most assuredly not a stepping stone to a crime free life.

Dr. Art O'Connor, the forensic psychiatrist in the Central Mental Hospital, who appears to speak considerable sense in measured tones, talks about the cult of the individual. This is exemplified in the area of juvenile crime. If a young person has no idea of his role in society, he will think only of himself. If he is thwarted in any way, he lashes out at his victim showing how he is utterly insensitive to the effect of his actions on others. He does not appreciate that his actions impact on others.

In its instinct for survival a small infant is at first entirely solipsistic. He gradually begins to become aware that other people's actions affect him. In other words, his comfort and well-being depend on the actions of other people. The next stage in a healthy development is when the child begins to learn that his actions can affect others. For some reason, this normal development pattern does not appear to progress in the juvenile criminal. The changes in the scale of crime are evidence enough for this argument. One rarely hears of burglars who, when disturbed, make good their escape as quickly as possible. Burglars now all too frequently involve the householders immediately and subject them to extremes of violence, simply, it appears, for kicks. Why do they find such brutality enjoyable? Why should the criminal not bear responsibility for his crime? Why should we always look for excuses for the criminal?

One of the first duties of society should be to educate the criminal to face up to the consequences of crime. There should be very little in the way of excuses. The criminal must be told, "this is your doing, you may come from a deprived background, you may have suffered brutality, but they are not excuses for the suffering of your victim". In other jurisdictions such as New Zealand confrontation between the criminal and the victim, particularly the young criminal and his victim, has proved effective both by giving the victim the reassurance that he has some involvement in the treatment of his attacker and by encouraging the criminal to appreciate the consequences and seriousness of his crime. That is why we have constantly argued for family conferences and the need for the juvenile offender to meet his victim face to face. We welcome the inclusion of that provision in the Bill.

In 1994, the then Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, commissioned a five year policy plan by the Department of Justice on the management of young offenders. Among the many excellent objectives of the prison education service, we need to establish the appetite and capacity for further education after release and to develop a prison education service based on the principles of the Council of Europe Report 1990, in particular by adopting an adult education approach and by encouraging interaction between offenders and the community.

If one excludes Mountjoy Prison, more than 60 per cent of all offenders are involved in prison education, but in many of the prisons, because of limited accommodation, the number of classes is very restricted. In theory the prison education curriculum in this State is very wide, based on the holistic concept that the greater the range of opportunities on offer the greater the chance of a prisoner finding some form of education suited to his needs. Sadly, because of our extremely over-stretched prison accommodation, the actuality does not reflect the theory. Mountjoy prison has very limited educational accommodation. Unfortunately the majority of prisoners in Mountjoy receive their education from their peers, as is all too well documented. It is not outside the bounds of possibility that a drug free offender who enters Mountjoy to serve a sentence may leave the prison a drug addict. The potential for litigation in that area is alarming.

If the Minister for Justice is serious in her efforts to improve the prison service, priority should be given to the provision of more space for educational purposes. The formal education system can be benefit only if young people are given the opportunity to avail of it and this opportunity need not depend solely on the financial means of parents or guardians. Motivation in many cases equals means. Many teachers experience the frustration of seeing their educational endeavour consistently undermined by a child's alternative educational forum, that is, the home, the child's peers, the bombardment by all forms of media and society at large.

The relevance and importance of education is breathtakingly apparent, from the formal exam structured curriculum to extra curricular activities to the involvement of specialists in areas such as drug dependency and alcoholism. The message of educational programmes, however, no matter how excellent, is diluted if the child's family is not supportive and is constantly eroding the effects of the educational programme by giving out negative and contradictory signals. The home-school liaison programme established by the deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy O'Rourke, is very important and should be encouraged and expanded. The appropriate involvement of the entire family is vital. A hunger for knowledge is innate. If encouraged and fed it can be a life long and positive influence, if stunted and warped it can become a negative and destructive force.

Clearly the efficacy of any legislation is dependent upon adequate funding being made available. The fact that the Bill is sadly lacking in vision and innovation does not mean it can operate without adequate resources. For example, adequately trained and supported probation and welfare officers will require funding. Children court judges should be specially trained and there should be special collaboration with the prospective Judicial Studies Board. The proposed unified children court will deal with child care matters and children who have committed crimes, but different legal principles are at the root of children and civil law and children and criminal law. In the former case, an inquisitorial, best interests approach must be taken, but in the latter case the Constitution requires the protection of adversarial proof. The ramifications of this essential difference have not been dealt with in the Bill and that should be made explicit. There must be specific funds for independent research into what steps are efficient and effective and how the children court orders operate, with the detention facilities and the diversion programme.

The Minister of State, Deputy Currie, said that I should address my comments to him, that he is responsible for this Bill. I acknowledge his considerable interest in and work on children legislation. Nonetheless, even though the Minister of State presented the Bill, which has deficiencies, the Minister for Justice is responsible for it. She decided that Fianna Fáil's Pornography Bill, 1996, should be plagiarised by the Government and she made the running in the media in regard to it.

The decision of the Government to plagiarise Fianna Fáil child pornography legislation will come as no surprise to those who have been following the criminal justice record of the Government over the past two years. Bereft of any philosophy, ideology or definite direction of its own, the Government has consistently copied Fianna Fáil legislation and tried to present it as its own. For example, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Justice are tripping over each other in a bid to claim credit for the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, Fianna Fáil legislation which they actually accepted. The Government also had little choice but to accept the Fianna Fáil Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction). Bill, 1996, which provides that a person can be tried in this jurisdiction for a paedophile offence committed abroad. The essential provisions of our Sexual Offences (No. 2) Bill, 1995, were lifted by the Minister for Justice in the Seanad, to provide that the details of evidence in incest cases could again be reported. The Drug Trafficking Act, 1996, is a poorly watered down version of Part 1 of Fianna Fáil's Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1996. The bail referendum was largely copied from Fianna Fáil's Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 1995.

Media reports and documentation published with the referendum wording clearly indicate that the new bail legislation, following the referendum, will be lifted lock, stock and barrel from our Criminal Law (Bail) Bill, 1995. The Government is playing the same game with our Child Pornography Bill as it played with our Misuse of Drugs Bill. It is important that the public should know just how devious this Administration is when it comes to covering the dearth of its intellectual capacity. It accepted Fianna Fáil's Child Pornography Bill in the Dáil on Second Stage and then sent it to the Select Committee on Legislation and Security where it, and any worthwhile amendments, were supposed to be debated. Before the matter could be considered by the committee, the Government did exactly what it did with the Misuse of Drugs Bill, it plagiarised it and made a few amendments and, by encompassing it in this legislation, is now presenting it to the media as its own. This kind of legislative hijacking undermines parliamentary democracy.

The members of the Government involved in this surreptitious game would do well to remember that, while can plagiarise our work, steal our ideas, and engage in barefaced lies, nobody is fooled by the shallow depth of their innovation and vision. Everybody knows that they are legislative parasites.

The Minister has plagiarised some of our solutions — I have suggested others in this debate which she is welcome to take on board because it is clear she does not have a solution. The efforts of the Minister for Justice to engage in a class of legislative ticker tape prior to the election by introducing unfinished and ill-considered Bills do her no credit. I have spoken in the past of the inadequacy of measures introduced by the Minister. Fine Gael is a party which once espoused a commitment to law and order and introducing legislation necessary for law and order, but the Minister has ended that tradition. She commenced her tenure at the Department of Justice by presiding over the greatest legislative drought ever witnessed in this country. When Government unease with her inaction grew she responded by introducing threadbare and inadequate Bills and this is such a Bill. It firmly establishes the tenure of the Minister as the era of the photocopier in the Department of Justice. There is much work to be done and we need a Government prepared to do it.

Does the Deputy have a positive thought in his head?

I congratulate the Minister of State on presenting this Bill to the House. I wish, however, it could have been presented to a new Dáil because it is the type of Bill on which we could spend much time in committee deliberating its practicalities and minutiae. It is an enormous Bill, the contents of which represent not only the work of the Minister of State — which I acknowledge — but of a previous Government, of which I was not a member, which did much of the preparatory work. On reading the report on juvenile crime produced by a previous select committee in 1992, it is obvious that people who are no longer Members of this House put an enormous amount of hard work into studying juvenile crime, its causes and cures. Deputy Quill, a member of my party, chaired that committee. I give credit to some of those who are no longer Members of this House for the work they did because much of the preparatory work was done during that Dáil.

I agree.

This Bill, as the Minister said, is more a legislative framework rather than a new system of criminal justice for juveniles. The Child Care Act, 1991, took a long time to implement. The proof of this legislation will be in its enforcement over the years. It will be implemented on a phased basis and will probably be the responsibility of the next Government, whether that will be the present Administration in a new form.

It is appropriate that we have a considered debate on this Bill, devoid of party politics. It is one which will bring us into the next century and hopefully will put a coherent long-term strategy in place to deal with our juvenile justice problems. The profile of our criminals is pathetically predictable — it is mainly disadvantaged young males. Comprehensive legislation to reflect that reality is long overdue.

I welcome the measures in this Bill although there is much work to be done on Committee Stage. I welcome raising the age of criminal responsibility although I do not see the reason it could not have been raised to 12 years. As Deputy O'Donoghue said, numerical age is a crude instrument by which to judge the capacity for criminal behaviour. Those of us who are parents realise the difference between boys and girls in the different stages of maturity. Boys are much slower to develop emotionally than girls. Any analysis of the psychological make-up of juvenile criminals clearly shows they have low IQ and low emotional maturity. It is crude to draw a line at ten or 12 years. The concept of doli incapax is the key to this legislation and its enforcement. That can be discussed further on Committee Stage.

Although the Bill is inclusive in so many ways, it skirts around the issue of drugs and their impact on crime. It is a big area and perhaps we will have an opportunity to discuss it on Committee Stage. The Henchy Committee did not deal with the issue of drugs when it looked at the possible reform of the law of insanity and the area of diminished responsibility. In this Bill, we need to look strategically at the strong influence of drug addiction on young people and their responsibility for criminal acts.

The thrust of the Bill is good in that it seeks to make critical interventions to steer people away from the mainstream criminal justice system. One of the criticisms levelled at those of us who are tough on crime is that we do not take the long view and do not look at the root causes of crime. Effective law and order does not need to be postponed while we examine the root causes of crime. The two endeavours are not mutually exclusive. It is appropriate that in Private Members' time we are discussing reform of the prison and penal system and making it effective to deal with hardened criminals. At the same time we are taking the long view and looking at the causes of criminality and ways in which we can critically intervene with young people and their parents to steer them away from crime.

An effective juvenile justice system ideally embraces crime prevention strategies, early intervention with young offenders and diversion away from crime. The Minister said non-statutory measures are just as important as the legislative measures we are debating. The importance of sport has been hugely undervalued and understi-mated as a way of keeping children out of trouble. Communities which have sporting facilities and community leaders are fortunate because children are motivated, occupied and acquire self-esteem from being involved in team sports. Communities which lack those social skills and leadership need State intervention. Non-statutory measures and the role of sport are important and should be helped, as far as possible, by the State.

I am glad the Minister has included, as he promised, measures to reinforce the existing law which provides that it is an offence to allow or procure a child to beg. It is a scandal to see children begging on our streets on a daily basis. It might appear to be a small thing but it is an aspect of our law which has been avoided and not enforced. People cannot understand how it is allowed to continue without State intervention. No one has an ethnic right to allow a child to beg. It is a terrible form of child abuse and is against the law. For many years that law has not been enforced. I am glad to see the Minister has restated the law. It is against the law to allow a child to beg with the parent's knowledge or to cause or procure a child to beg. The burden of proof has shifted and it now rests with the parents to prove that they did not know the child was begging. Hopefully, this law will be enforced. It is demeaning, when walking around Dublin, to see children begging on the streets.

There is much in this Bill about parents and I am glad that they are included. Parenting is becoming more difficult. It is a pathetic fact that most deviant adolescents come from dysfunctional family backgrounds. The Bill dovetails well with the Child Care Act, 1991, and that is why it is so long and complex. It comprehensively restates current law and puts existing procedures on a statutory basis.

I am glad to see the juvenile diversion programme has been put on a statutory basis. I had some concerns about the programme, which is widely used. It has to be remembered that the law is generally loathe to put juveniles into detention or send them to jail. That is as it should be. I understand from replies to parliamentary questions that in the three year period 1992-4, 22,963 cautions were issued under the programme to juveniles who had committed crimes such as larceny, joyriding, burglary, offences against the person as well as sexual offences. They were given a second chance. This is an appropriate intervention which helps to steer young people away from the mainstream criminal justice system.

I had concerns about the programme under which the State waives a criminal prosecution, and considered that it needed to be tightened. For the programme to operate the juvenile offender must confess to the offence and be under 18 years of age. In such circumstances there is a need to reassure victims that there is proper supervision. I had cause for concern that this was not happening in certain cases, particularly in cases involving sexual offences. A constituent of mine was concerned that a young man who had confessed to a serious sexual offence was walking around as if nothing had happened. Her parents wanted to know if he was being supervised and if he could obtain work in a youth club. They had made a tremendous sacrifice in agreeing to waive a criminal prosecution to allow him participate in the programme. It is important that our desire to show compassion and support for the programme should not be taken as a licence for continued misbehaviour. There is a need for guarantees on this point.

In 1985 the Whitaker report noted that it was rare for an adult who had not committed an offence before his seventeenth birthday to engage in crime. The vast majority of crimes are committed by male juveniles. It is especially important, therefore, that we attempt to rehabilitate young offenders. It is clear that the law is antiquated and needs to be updated.

One of the difficulties in raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 is that it may encourage adult criminals to use children below that age to commit crimes. There is evidence that children below the current age of responsibility are used by adult criminals to carry drugs. It is likely this practice will continue but that is not sufficient reason to prevent the age of criminal responsibility from being raised. We should, perhaps, create a new offence relating to the use of children below the age of criminal responsibility to commit crimes.

The National Youth Federation suggests that emphasis should be placed on the age at which it is appropriate to bring children into the criminal justice system rather than on the concept of responsibility for criminal actions. This is a difficult area as the debate in England about imputing responsibility to the killers of Jamie Bulger demonstrated. Because of this it is important that the principle is set by the Oireachtas rather than by Ministers.

I welcome the establishment of the new Children Court and the laying down of the terms and conditions under which children can be held in Garda stations. It is good that judges will be appointed to the Children Court for periods of at least six months and will have the right to visit the new detention centres which are to replace the industrial and reform schools.

The Bill sets out in detail the principles and powers of the courts when dealing with children. The introduction of a wide range of sanctions and community orders restricting people's movement should be welcomed. Until now the courts have, to a large extent, been obliged to devise alternatives to custodial sentences. We have seen from court reports the imaginative things judges have tried to do to avoid imposing a custodial sentence.

Questions about the constitutionality of restricting the movements of children have been raised. If it is acceptable to deprive a child of his or her liberty, it is also acceptable to take the less drastic step of restricting his or her movements. One could argue that the laws requiring the attendance of children at school during certain hours place a restriction on their movements. It is good that the rights and freedoms of children are acknowledged in the Bill. They will have the right to participate in any proceedings which affect them.

I welcome the replacement of the old reformatory schools with detention schools, for children under the age of 16, to be run by the Department of Education. I understand the allocation of responsibility between the various Departments involved caused the delay. I hope the compromise will be workable.

The principal objective is to promote the reintegration of children into society and prepare them to take their places in the community as persons who shall be capable of undertaking a positive and productive role in society and will observe the law. The success of these schools in achieving that object will ultimately depend on the quality of personnel and adequacy of resources available to them. We will have to look at the special qualifications that will be needed.

Detention is to be used only as a last resort, when all of the other critical interventions have failed. As the Minister said, by the time children reach that point they will probably have developed psychiatric and psychological problems. It will be difficult, therefore, to achieve success in this area.

Section 138 provides that the Minister may, with the agreement of its owners, designate any place to be a children detention school. This is an acknowledgement that the voluntary and private sectors have a role to play in this area of the criminal justice system, as they do in many other areas.

The initial decision as to which detention school a child should be sent rests with the court, although there is a provision which allows the board to subsequently transfer the child from one school to another. It is suggested that the board should have a role at the court hearing to decide which school is appropriate having regard to such factors as the needs of the individual child. The board would be better placed to decide than the judge. It will be important to keep children apart from the bad influences which may have contributed to their being sent before the court in the first place.

The National Youth Federation suggests that St. Patrick's Institution is not an appropriate place for a detention school on the grounds that it operates in all but name as an adult prison offering minimal education or rehabilitative opportunities.

Section 90 permits a court, which is satisfied as to the guilt of a child, to order that the parent or guardian of the child pay compensation. That is a welcome measure. I understand that the foster care association has raised a reasonable concern that the foster parent could be the subject of a compensation order. Given that many foster children are placed with foster parents because of their troubled history, it is unfair that they might be punished in this way. The concerns of the foster care association in that regard should be addressed on Committee Stage.

The Bill contains a number of other useful provisions, such as the creation of an expressed statutory obligation to ensure reasonable care for the safety of children at entertainment events. This substantial Bill is long overdue and its introduction is welcome. It is probably one of the most important Bills we will debate in this House. I would prefer if we were debating it at the beginning of a Dáil rather than in the dying days of this one. It requires a detailed Committee Stage debate and Members to concentrate fully on the task in hand. Being charged with putting this Bill through the House is a major responsibility. I congratulate the Minister on publishing and introducing the Bill before the end of this Dáil. It would be preferable if we had a longer time and more relaxed Deputies to ponder the difficult issues that will arise on Committee Stage.

The problem of homeless children, confined mainly to the Eastern Health Board area, does not appear to be highlighted in the Bill. I raised my concerns about this problem with the Minister on a number of occasions. In 1993, the most recent year for which figures on homelessness are available from the Eastern Health Board, 427 children were homeless, 42 per cent of whom had been formerly in care. There is something wrong with a care system that turns out homeless children. An increasing number of homeless children are visible on the streets of Dublin which diminishes all who see them. We need an assurance that this Bill protects those children.

I am informed by the charitable agencies and voluntary workers who work with homeless children that it takes a very short time for a child who has just become homeless to become immersed in that street culture that can encompass crime, drugs, sexual exploitation and, in some cases, prostitution. This is a major current child care problem visible on the streets of Dublin. I am worried that the problem is being treated like that of children begging, that the authorities are turning a blind eye to it and that there is minimal intervention. Very few outreach workers from Focus Point and other agencies, like CROSS-CARE, work with those children. The Minister should take a particular interest in them as this problem is not getting the attention it deserves.

An interesting empirical study of 100 persons who came into St. Michael's assessment centre in Dublin was prepared by Dr. Noel O Gorman and Dr. Jim Barnes. All those assessed were Dubliners under the age of 16 who had committed various offences ranging from school truancy to sexual offences. I am glad the Minister mentioned the important truancy Bill that will dovetail this Bill, as truancy represents a reliable early detection and warning signal of future deviance and delinquency. It is important that legislation should be put in place.

The psychological findings of the 100 boys who were in deep trouble and sent to St. Michael's assessment unit are interesting, 94 per cent of those surveyed had a below average IQ while 62 per cent had a dull-normal IQ. A quarter of the boys were illiterate and 86 per cent of the boys were four years behind in their numeracy. They had self-destructive behaviour and suffered from alcohol abuse, drug abuse and self-abuse. They were aggressive and disruptive. They were typically emotionally immature, dependent on their peers for self-esteem, lacked initiative and had few life goals. They were unreliable, impulsive and easily frustrated. They showed a lack of guilt or remorse for their behaviour and its consequences for those around them. Most were followers not leaders. The boys who committed solitary offences showed more evidence of serious emotional disturbance. All had low self-esteem and poor relations with others. That type of empirical evidence is very useful and it highlights the problems with which we are dealing and the difficulties in drawing an age line in regard to criminal responsibility, particularly given that 94 per cent of the boys sentenced to detention were four years behind in their numeracy. It is difficult to impute criminal responsibility to those boys and yet, in terms of public order, there must be some intervention by the State. That is the purpose of this Bill. I look forward to Committee Stage and I wish we had more time, given electoral and other circumstances, to deal with the Bill comprehensively.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Costello.

I am sure that is satisfactory.

I was amused, as I often am, to hear Deputy O'Donoghue refer to Orwellian overtones in the Bill. In some respects the Deputy is almost an Orwellian or a Kafkaesque character. He has been a prominent member of the Fianna Fáil Party for seven years during which time this legislation on juveniles was urgently required, yet it has not come before the House until today. It is extraordinary that the memory of that Opposition spokesperson is so short. He also adopts a sanctimonious air when he addresses the Government parties. As the last Deputy said, it is appalling we have had to wait so many years for this urgent legislation to come before the House. The House has been incredibly lethargic in dealing with Dublin or urban issues; it has put those issues on the back burner when urgent responses were necessary.

There is an assumption in the Minister's speech that much juvenile crime is petty, but much of the juvenile crime in my constituency on the north side is serious. It is a serious phenomenon with which the Deputy opposite, who shares a Dublin Corporation ward with me, will be familiar. Various households can suffer grotesque intimidation, harassment and be subjected almost to a siege. They can be at their wits' end trying to cope with attacks on their houses, their children and constant unrelentless hassle often from eight, ten or 12 year olds, a significant proportion of whom are out of school and out of control. About five years ago one of our Dublin City officials, Mr. Michael Kelly, produced a major report on the problem of harassment and intimidation in deprived Dublin estates, and five years on we have done little action to try to come to grips with the problem. In recent weeks there has been a renewed upsurge in joyriding in some northside estates. In addition there has been the grotesque and appalling problem of drug pushing and drug abuse. In that context this legislation should have been presented by the last Dáil or earlier. Teasing it out into the term of another Dáil is nonsense.

I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, has put some emphasis on the role of parents and on parents taking responsibility because clearly many parents have been grossly irresponsible over the years. I welcome also the Minister's emphasis on victims, the provision for victims to attend the proposed conferences, to be represented in court and to have a role in framing the punishment or rehabilitation of the juveniles who caused them such distress.

While many of the agencies have striven hard, there has been a total lack of resources very often in those areas where there is the most critical need. I applaud the efforts of the Garda Síochána, under the new Commissioner Byrne and Assistant Commissioner King, to extend the concept of community policing throughout northside and Dublin Central estates, but there is still a great lack of Garda resources. In my constituency there are about 200 gardaí to police approximately 80,000 people, and Dublin, with 70 per cent of crime, still receives less than 40 per cent of Garda resources.

I am amazed that we still have not brought the school attendance Bill before the House because clearly the first step on the road for many juveniles who get involved in crime is running away from school or staying out of school, possibly from the age of eight or nine upwards. That is the situation in my constituency. At an important and well attended conference on drugs, organised by Dublin Corporation, in Dublin Castle at the weekend the point was repeatedly made by social workers in Dublin City that there was a huge responsibility on schools and vocational education committees to ensure that students were not expelled and left to fend for themselves.

There has also been a very lethargic response from health boards to the need for treatment facilities, in particular on Dublin's north side where the drug menace is at its height. I am glad that at last the new administration in that area, under the chairmanship of my colleague, Deputy Shortall, is adopting a much more proactive approach. The same could be said of Dublin Corporation in relation to estate management. It is only now that it has begun to get to grips with that.

I wish to make a final point on the background to this Bill to which Deputy O'Donnell also referred. My party's policy is to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime. Being tough on the causes of crime means diverting resources to sporting and youth facilities, and to the deprived areas of the north side of Dublin. Those areas received very little help over the years from the national lottery. It is only during recent years, under the rainbow Coalition, that a Government has had the guts to vote resources to voluntary workers who give so easily of their time. In those areas where juvenile crime has become such a major problem there has been an appalling lack of a sense of community. Deputy O'Donoghue, cited another of his bizarre heroes, Mr. Paul Johnson, on the restoration of community and attacking the British Labour Party, but it was Mr. Johnson's other hero, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, who devastated the English community and wrecked community spirit. I hope Fianna Fáil will not go down that PD road and try to destroy what little sense of community spirit there is left in many of the more deprived areas.

I welcome the concept of getting young criminals to accept responsibility for their actions under the diversion programme, the development of the role of the juvenile liaison officer and the family conference concept. Gardaí have done a splendid job in those areas over the years, certainly in the Coolock and Kilbarrack districts and elsewhere in my constituency, and they are to be commended. It is heartening that a legislative framework is being put in place to deal with this. The key recommendations in the JLO report should form the basis of it. The development of the policy under the new legislation will depend on enhanced resources for Garda training and I hope the Minister will provide them.

I note the safeguards which have been included in the Bill in regard to the interviewing of children in Garda stations, and the development of the new children's court. The range of new community sanctions is an innovative and important development. I welcome also the concept of compensation. Young people readily understand the idea that where an injury or damage is done they can be expected to repair the damage. I welcome the new development of intensive supervision and other orders.

The restriction on movement under section 12 is also an interesting development. Parliamentarians across the water have had long discussions on the concept of curfews for young people in certain areas. Given that there are very few ring-leaders the provision in section 112 could be important.

Children's detention schools are dealt with under section 136 and it is crucial that we devote adequate resources to them. We have established a system of children's detention centres without examining adequately the kind of resources and qualifications the staff of those schools should have — the Minister will recall our discussion on this at the Committee of Public Accounts. It will be incumbent on the Minister for Education to ensure that the highest standards are adhered to in the recruitment of staff and the administration of those schools and centres. I note also the general proposals for voluntary aftercare systems which will also be very important.

The comprehensive Bill is long overdue. It is good that it is at last before the House. I look forward to its passage through the House and the setting in train, at last, of a system of modern justice for children.

I too welcome this Bill. It is almost 90 years since the 1908 Act was passed. That is a very long time when we are dealing with issues relating to children. That Act is outdated. Its provision on the age of criminal responsibility is an obvious example of how outdated it is. It is illogical and ludicrous that the age of criminal responsibility should be set and maintained at seven years, the age at which children in the Catholic tradition are supposed to have reached the use of reason and make their first confession. I am very pleased that the new age of criminal responsibility is set at ten with a phasing to 12, and that there is a rebuttable presumption of doli incapax to the age of 14, that is, that a person is not capable of committing an offence up to the age of 14. That is the type of flexible approach we need in relation to criminal responsibility.

Until recently, if a child was unruly he or she could be imprisoned and, in the past decade children of 13, 14 and 15 years were imprisoned in Mountjoy adult prison. With the enactment of this Bill the horrors of child imprisonment and of the old industrial schools, for which the 1908 Act made provision, will be brought to an end.

The diversion programme, which replaces the JLO system, will effectively, be put on a statutory basis. The proposal to divert children who have accepted responsibility for their offences is welcome and underpins this important development. The concept of the family conference involving the family and victim participation in the discussion process to determine what is the most appropriate way the child can be dealt with in terms of community involvement and kept away from crime is welcome. Also welcome is the obligation on parents or guardians to attend all stages of court proceedings when their child's case is before the children court as is holding parents legally responsible for exercising proper and adequate control over their children and making provision for parents as well as children to be subject to fines.

These measures — diversion programmes on a statutory basis; the family conference, a unique concept virtually unheard of anywhere in the world in terms of its overall holistic approach, and the provision for parental responsibility — will revolutionise juvenile justice.

We must remember that we cannot legislate for the context, ethos and underlying problems which so often give rise to juvenile wrongdoing. Some of the young in our disadvantaged communities have turned to drug abuse which quickly leads to crimes such as larceny and assault. This often results from the fact that they have had very little opportunity and hope in their lives. We must focus our attention on eliminating the nightmare blackspots of unemployment in our urban centres. I welcome the provision of a new local employment service in the Ballyfermot area because I consider it to be the most efficient way of bringing people into employment.

We must make provision to remove licences from the proprietors of dance halls, discos and public houses where they regularly allow ecstasy and other drugs to be sold on their premises. They must be made responsible for the harm they do in allowing crime to be perpetrated on their premises. That would be an effective deterrent in the case of discos and public houses where drugs are widely sold to young people.

We must show our determination to eradicate the evil of heroin abuse which is the scourge of the youth in Dublin's blackspots. We should ensure all the ill gotten gains of drug barons seized and confiscated by the Criminal Assets Bureau are channelled into the fight against drugs. We should retain Jessbrook, the equestrian centre confiscated from John Gilligan, the self confessed prime suspect in the Veronica Guerin murder in the possession of the State, as either an equine centre for the socially disadvantaged or the disabled. Alternatively it should become a treatment centres for heroin addicts or people who have suffered as a result of the drugs crisis.

I am delighted no child shall ever be sentenced to imprisonment under this Bill. It is nice to see that Loughan House will not be reopened because there is a statutory prohibition to that effect. I am delighted District Court judges will visit child detention centres. It is essential that those who mete out the sentences will see the conditions under which penalties are served. I am also pleased that where there is a question of cruelty or neglect of children, with particular reference to begging, the finger is pointed at parents. It is important that parental responsibility is emphasised. I am glad too that an amendment on the possession of pornography will be introduced.

That detention is seen as a last resort is very welcome. Combining the other interim provisions — day centre orders, intensive supervision, restriction of movement — is the way to proceed with young people who come before the courts. The most desirable development is the family conference and the equivalent of the JLO scheme. Where responsibility is admitted, one diverts young people away from crime. We must ensure detention really is the last resort because it seems so often to lead to a worsening of the situation rather than an improvement.

The School Attendance Bill is being processed and will be before us shortly. It is an important part of the combination of measures dealing with juvenile justice and problems relating to children. I look forward to its presentation and passage in this Dáil.

We must ensure all professionals involved in child care operate in a co-ordinated fashion. For too long that has been a problem, whether in education, health or justice. Youngsters have fallen between two stools and have not got the attention and support they require. We must ensure all our resources are targeted to support, protect and care for children because they are the future.

I welcome the fact that a children's Bill has been brought forward before the Dáil. That the last legislation dealing with these issues was passed in 1908 and this Bill has been 20 years in the making demonstrates the apathy in regard to juvenile crime and young people in general. That apathy should be acknowledged.

It is a lengthy Bill with 220 sections. It largely restates existing law, consolidates legislation and puts on a statutory basis many of the voluntary schemes. That is welcome but the innovative parts of the Bill need to be looked at carefully and if any further innovations are necessary, they can be brought forward on Committee Stage.

There is no doubt this is a difficult and complex issue. Many interested parties will have views on every section and it will take a great deal of work to tease out its various provisions. I hope the Bill reaches Committee Stage. I re-echo the sentiments of Deputy O'Donnell. This is an election year and it would be a shame if this Bill were to collapse because of that or if the remaining Stages had to be rushed. I hope the Bill gets the attention it deserves.

There is no doubt juvenile crime is a major concern in society. One only has to look at incidents of joyriding, vandalism, muggings, handbag snatching, slashing tyres and even cruelty to animals, an everyday occurrence in urban centres, particularly Dublin. As a public representative from the north side of Dublin, I receive many representations about gangs of youths in lane ways or on greens having cider parties, drinking, playing ghetto-blasters loudly, being rude and abusive and indulging in antisocial behaviour. This is a major issue in this city and demonstrates the problem in relation to juvenile crime. Deprivation is a major problem, particularly in urban areas, and must be seen against the background of the so-called "dysfunctional family" about which we have heard so much in the debate.

How do we deal with this? There are two approaches — one advocated by the "hang 'em, flog 'em" brigade and the other by those who suggest society is to blame for crimes committed. I welcome the Minister of State's theory on the justice versus the welfare model. I agree with him that we need a mixture of both, particularly in an Irish context. We need to look at the situation practically. The concept of right and wrong must be the basis of our deliberations otherwise the system will collapse around us. It will make everyone's work more difficult, particularly that of the Garda Síochána, if people believe they have no responsibility and there is no such thing as right and wrong. I do not believe our society could survive that.

A major problem in dealing with juvenile crime has been the fragmentation of services. Studies and groups involved with juveniles have highlighted the fragmentation in the services provided for children. There was much confusion about the responsibilities of the three Departments involved. The Minister of State said that, to advance the situation, it had to be agreed that the Department of Justice was responsible for the detention of 16 and 17 year old young offenders, the Department of Education was responsible for young offenders under 16 years of age and the Department of Health and the health boards were responsible for disturbed non-offending children. It is a complex matter. The appointment of Deputy Currie as Minister of State at these three Department, has helped advance the situation. It was an innovative move which has enabled the three Departments to work together to deal with this problem. I hope the confusion as regards the three Departments which has bedevilled attempts to deal with young offenders will be solved by this Bill. I suspect it will not be but perhaps the Minister of State could assure me that the confusion which has haunted the juvenile justice system will end.

I assure the Deputy.

I hope the buck will not be passed as far as difficult offenders who may be homeless or present themselves in a Garda station late at night after committing a crime are concerned, because people do not fit into boxes. It will be difficult to solve that problem.

The role of parents and parental responsibility generally must be central to this issue. I welcome the provision whereby both parents will have to attend court. That is the least we could expect of parents whose children offend. I welcome the provision on the payment of compensation, which is important. I am sure parents have a role to play in enforcing a curfew, although I am not sure what the Minister of State said in that regard. Parents should be obliged to play a greater role in the welfare of their children. Parental responsibility and the role of the family conference, which is brought forward in the Bill, are extremely important and central to tackling this serious problem.

This brings me to the question of parenting skills. I am sure there are voluntary groups which teach parenting skills, but more needs to be done. New initiatives are required and parenting courses would be extremely beneficial. The Catholic Church obliges young couples to attend a pre-marriage guidance course but the last thing on their minds are children. These couples want to get over the wedding day and any discussion on children and the havoc they will wreak in their lives is limited. There has been a decline in the role of the extended family, particularly in urban areas where grandparents are not available to give advice and assistance, and this brings tremendous pressure to bear on young parents in a modern world and, in many instances, they cannot cope. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of parenting skills given the decline in the role of the extended family. Children need to be taught self-reliance and self-discipline.

The role of the father, in particular, must be acknowledged. The day where the mother raises the children is long gone. Fathers also require parenting skills, a fact to which we should pay particular attention.

Deputy O'Donnell mentioned homelessness. I heard Fr. Peter McVerry at a recent conference claim that 400 teenagers become homeless each year in the Eastern Health Board area. That is a frightening statistic. Traditionally boys became homeless, but an increasing number of young girls are doing so. Various reasons are put forward for this, including the breakdown of communications in the family, the decline of the extended family, marital breakdown, stress, unemployment and deprivation. Not enough hostels are provided, whether through statutory agencies or the voluntary sector, to deal with the problem of homelessness which is becoming a major concern. I hope it can be dealt with in the context of this Bill. There is a lack of resources. Many of those involved will say there is crisis management in dealing with homeless boys and girls.

My biggest fear is that there will not be enough resources available to implement the Bill's aspirations. Anybody with experience of a Dublin constituency must realise there is crisis management in many of the organisations and institutions dealing with young offenders. Many organisations are involved: the Garda, juvenile liaison officers, health boards, probation and welfare officers and so on. I hope we are not fooling ourselves by passing these wonderful measures which may turn out to be aspirational because the resources and the facilities are not available.

The services provided should be community based. Dublin is a huge place with a population in excess of one million. Efforts to rehabilitate a young offender from, for example, Clontarf, Coolock, Malahide, etc. should be carried out in the area with which he is familiar and where his family is based. There is no point in sending a young offender from Coolock to services in Tallaght. The community based approach must be integrated into everything proposed in the Bill. The home and the community environment are extremely important and people should be facilitated in the areas they know best.

I agree with the sentiment that detention should be the last resort. The Minister of State dealt at length with financial penalties and community sanctions. The courts have a great flexibility in dealing with particular problems. That flexibility is needed because some of the people involved have extremely complex problems.

I welcome the Minister's announcement to replace the reformatory and industrial schools by children detention schools. In the past some of these institutions did good work but they get a bad press today. I have in mind in particular the industrial school in Artane which was run by a religious order. That order was asked to deal with impossible situations and those who were put in their care ended up with a sense of discipline — maybe I am being nostalgic in that regard. The order did good work.

There was insufficient attention paid by the Minister in his speech to the problem of drug addiction. In Dublin city there are heroin addicts as young as 13 years. The three types of crime associated with drug addiction and juvenile offenders were outlined by Deputy O'Donoghue. The drugs problem must be central to the whole question of juvenile crime. Rehabilitation services and so on are required.

I welcome the announcement that the possession of child pornography and issues arising from increased communication through the Internet will be dealt with. I read the extensive articles in the press today and was disappointed the Minister did not dwell on them. I look forward to the Committee Stage amendments which will deal with that horror problem.

The role of sporting organisations, particularly in the voluntary sector, cannot be over emphasised. Those involved in these organisations are the salt of the earth. All their free time is taken up with, for example, soccer matches every weekend. Those involved show an enormous amount of dedication and commitment. Every effort should be made to encourage these amateur organisations because there is no doubt their activities give a sense of motivation and purpose to many people. Anybody who is involved in a group sport, in a conscientious way, is most unlikely to end up as a young offender. It would be a shame to lose that sense of community and voluntary effort which is very strong in suburban Dublin. Recognition of that effort through an allocation of lottery funds would pay great dividends for the small amount involved.

I welcome the provisions relating to children begging and putting the onus of proof on the parents. This is a major issue of debate and the more we can do to publicise the provisions of this Bill the more we will alleviate public anxiety. The clean slate provision is welcome. It would be a shame to see a young offender tarnished for the rest of his life and not able to obtain employment in the public service and so on because of some misdeed of his or her youth.

The Bill restates much of existing law and more vision will be needed to deal with these difficult and complex issues. The family conference is an innovative idea. The age increase in respect of criminal responsibility is welcome. More reform is required but my main fear is that the resources will not be provided. The judges will think a wonderful system is in place but when the young offenders are dealt with by the courts the services will not be available. I hope that matter will be addressed.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Shortall.

I am sure that is agreed. Agreed.

I am pleased to contribute to the debate on this extremely important legislation and I commend the Minister on bringing it before the House. The manner in which a society treats its children, even when they offend, is a good indicator of the value of that society. I recognise the historic nature of the 1908 legislation. That liberal Government enacted almost all of the progressive legislation left on the Statute Book from pre-Independence times. I am not sure that even the most staunch liberal supporter of that time would have expected that some of this legislation would be in place almost 90 years later.

The Bill, which contains more than 200 sections, is extremely complex and, according to today's newspapers, the Government has approved further measures to be included in the Bill on Committee Stage. I welcome in particular the provisions dealing with the possession of child pornography and its transmission on the Internet. People who use the Internet for study or work purposes say how easy it is to gain access to pornographic material and how unsought material advertising pornography is sent to them. It is very important to legislate for this area and to monitor communications systems generally to prevent people using them for perverse purposes and to eliminate this evil trade.

All Members are aware of the circumstances surrounding this Bill's sister legislation, the Child Care Act, which was enacted in 1991 but whose provisions have only been implemented during the past two years following the allocation of substantial funds. Dublin Deputies in particular are aware of the significance of the provisions of that Act. One must ask whether this Bill will suffer the same consequences as the Child Care Act. I have been bemused in recent months by the political debate on public spending and the attempts by Opposition parties to create the impression among the public that spending is out of control. They may see political benefits in doing this but the chickens will come home to roost if those parties are returned to Government.

The Bill gives us an opportunity to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years after three years. This is a very worthy aim and I can only assume it was decided not to raise the age in a single move because of the cost implications for health boards. However, this is not the view of my constituents who continually refer to new problems which need to be solved. Neither is it the view of Opposition spokespersons who hope after the general election to be in charge of the Departments which will carry the can for the political failure to deliver in this area.

The Eastern Health Board is responsible for the delivery of services. I commend the staff and management of the health board but there is room for improvement, particularly as regards child care matters. Last week a radio programme referred to a difficulty in my constituency — the programme did not identify the area and I do not wish to do so either. The programme interviewed residents of the area about a house rented by the Eastern Health Board in which five children from another part of the city live. According to these residents the supervision of these children by the health board is not adequate because they damage windows, smash cars and wreak havoc in the area. They accept that these children need to be rehabilitated but their patience is running out because this project is not being properly managed or monitored.

One of the most noteworthy provisions in the Bill will give parents a greater responsibility for the behaviour of their children. This measure is necessary but it may give rise to resentment among some of the parents most affected by it. Nevertheless, I believe it will prove popular among the public. It is important to strike a proper balance so that the provisions regarding parental responsibility are not used as a tool with which to punish parents who, for one reason or another, are not in a position to fulfil their obligations.

In many housing estates in the north and west of the city very young children between the ages of ten and 12 years are out of control. In some cases parents are afraid to control their children. Dublin Corporation has had to move families who were being harassed and attacked by young children out of estates for their own safety. This happens in my constituency on a regular basis and I welcome the provisions which will deal with this problem.

The Minister made a number of interesting comments. For example, he referred to one of life's perennial truisms, namely, how each generation believes the next generation to be more lawless than it was. I think even Aristotle had something to say about this. The Minister stated that life goes in cycles, and if this is true then the concerns about this issue are very appropriate.

The emergence of non-controlled drugs during the past decade and the exposure of children of an increasingly younger age to them is a major source of concern. I deplore the use of young children as couriers or touts by drug dealers; it is one of the worst forms of exploitation. Children nowadays have a much shorter childhood than previous generations and many of them do not have time to enjoy their childhood because of the drugs menace and other antisocial behaviour which impacts on them.

The Minister stated that the typical juvenile delinquent is a male from an underprivileged and dysfunctional background. This is a depressingly accurate and predictable description and I have no doubt the profile was the same 100 years ago. This is a timely reminder that despite all the progress made in the State during the past century certain problems still remain. This re-emphasises the significance of the programmes initiated by the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, and the early start and breaking the cycle programmes initiated by the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach. The early start programme was launched in the primary schools in Darndale in my constituency where there is now one teacher for every 11 students in junior schools and one teacher for every 15 students in secondary schools. If we want to tackle the problems which affect children at a very young age then the breaking the cycle and early start programmes give a good lesson in this regard. I think it was a Jesuit who said, "if you show me the boy I will give you the man". If adequate resources are allocated to a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio then teachers will have more time to devote to children with special needs and those who come from a disadvantaged background, thus giving them an opportunity to continue in education to third level and to secure jobs in banks, insurance companies and financial institutions. This will give them an opportunity to become part of a society from which they have been excluded up to now because of a lack of a good primary education in the areas in which they live.

I have already welcomed the decision to raise the age of criminal consent for children. I am also reasonably satisfied at the delineation between the responsibilities of the Departments of Justice, Education and Health in terms of the different problems encountered by children. The most important aspect of the Bill is the balance struck between the services provided by the State and the duties imposed on children through their parents. The Minister has done a very good job in the Bill.

I thank Deputy Kenny for sharing his time. I welcome this long overdue Bill which was first promised approximately 21 years ago. The delay in its introduction is a serious indictment of the political system, successive Governments of all hues and society as a whole. The serious institutional difficulty in putting the welfare of children at the top of the agenda is inexcusable. It is totally unacceptable that the unwieldy Departments of Justice, Education and Health have responsibility for children. Young children come bottom of the list in terms of glamour and the priority given to them by these Departments. We have witnessed a series of buck passing between these Departments in terms of responsibility for juvenile crime and young offenders. This is inexcusable and an indictment of us all.

In view of the serious difficulties caused by the "turf war" and the inflexibility of those three Departments, I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, on bringing this complex legislation before the House in a relatively short period of time, just over two years. We were told on many occasions that the legislation was at an advanced stage. That is a serious indictment of previous Ministers for Justice who failed to prioritise this important area during their tenures in office.

Without criticising the Minister of State, who has succeeded in straddling three Departments, we must go further and establish a special Department and a senior ministerial position which would have responsibility for children's affairs. This important area should not be tagged on to other ministerial responsibilities. If we are serious about putting the welfare of children to the fore, such reform will have to be introduced in the near future. I do not underestimate the achievements of the Minister of State, but children's affairs must be given greater prominence in Government.

The problem of juvenile crime is escalating because of our failure to tackle many areas relating to the welfare of children. The public demand that this problem be dealt with as a matter of urgency with an emphasis, fuelled by Opposition parties and certain sections of the media, on the protection of society. Society must be protected and individuals going about their daily lives have the right to demand such protection, whether committed by juveniles or adults. I am concerned, however, that because this problem has escalated we will forget about the need to cherish children and concentrate solely on the protection of society. Both aims must be given equal prominence. In an ideal world the emphasis would be on child welfare, but that has not been the case over recent years and we are now paying the price. That price is extremely high in terms of the difficult circumstances into which many children are born.

People working in the child care area, including social workers and teachers, believe it is impossible to identify with any degree of accuracy the young children who will grow up to be criminals. If we were really a caring society prepared to put our money where our mouths are we would implement the measures necessary to deal with these problems. We must make the necessary investment at the early stages in the areas to which Deputy Kenny referred. The Government has begun that programme of investment in education, housing and health but there must be ongoing and substantial investment in those areas.

It is sickening to listen to some Opposition spokespersons on justice who recite, on a regular basis, utter cant about tackling the problems of crime. Crime, particularly juvenile crime, is an extremely complex issue and there are no quick fix solutions. Intensive and costly long-term solutions are required to deal with these problems. Those who maintain we can solve the problems of crime, while cutting back substantially on Government spending, are codding themselves and the public.

I welcome the publication of the Bill as a legislative framework for the juvenile justice system. It is complex legislation containing 230 sections but I look forward to making further contributions on the Committee Stage debate when we will deal with the Bill in greater detail.

A welcome provision in the Bill is the establishment of the legal obligations of parents. Over recent years there has been much talk about rights. It is important that we protect people's rights in various areas, but coupled with those rights are responsibilities and we must concentrate more on the responsibilities of parents. Sadly, many parents abdicate those responsibilities and we must stress the importance of taking responsibility for our children.

Parents are currently under attack from various sources and that affects their confidence to rear their children. We must encourage them to be clear-minded in what they are doing and to take a strong stand with their children. They should trust their own instincts and not fear unpopularity in the eyes of their children. Children who are set limits in relation to their own behaviour are happier because they do not have to deal with complex issues which they are incapable of dealing with at a young age.

I welcome the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to ten and eventually to 12, but 12 should not be regarded as a final age of responsibility. In Scandinavian countries the age of criminal responsibility is 15 and we should move in that direction. I understand the health boards could not cope if the age were raised to 12 immediately which is a serious indictment of us all.

I welcome the changes in relation to the Children Court and the referral of all persons under the age of 18 to that court. I welcome also the establishment of the Garda diversion programme on a statutory footing.

The problem of begging has been appropriately dealt with in the Bill. I welcome the fact that causing children to or procuring them for begging will be an offence and I hope more action will be taken in that regard. It is indefensible that children beg on our streets on cold, wet days for money to bring home to their parents. That is serious child abuse.

Hear, hear.

There is no excuse for children begging on the streets, regardless of a family's circumstances. Our welfare system assists people living in poor circumstances. They may not get much comfort from it but there is no reason for somebody to beg or go hungry. This problem must be given greater prominence because sending children out to beg is one of the worst forms of abuse.

I wish the Minister well with this legislation and I look forward to debating it further on Committee Stage.

I am delighted to be able to speak in the Dáil on another Children Bill and I congratulate the Minister on introducing it. When he reflects on his period in office I am sure this is the monument of which he will be most proud. I have a particular interest in this legislation because when I was first elected to the Dáil I had responsibility for the preparation of the early stages of a children Bill. In 1980 a task force report on children recommended that a comprehensive Bill on children should be introduced to cover the care and status of children, adoption and juvenile justice and we thought we had achieved that in 1981. From then until this Government came into office we have not had a Minister of State with responsibility for children and, consequently, progress on legislation has been extremely slow. The appointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for children was essential in bringing forward this substantive legislation.

I was fascinated by Deputy O'Donoghue's jackboot tactics directed at the Minister, Deputy Owen. I am sure the Minister of State would be willing to take the criticism as well as the credit for this legislation. Deputy O'Donoghue's remarks were a double insult to a person who has worked extremely hard in preparing the legislation. I am sure he would be prepared to debate any of the substantive issues the Deputy might wish to raise.

The 1980 task force report identified a legislative vacuum of 80 years in the area of child care. Deputy O'Donoghue castigated the Minister for rewriting sections of the 1908 Act. In compiling a Children Bill it is logical to include relevant sections of earlier legislation. I should not have to argue the sense of that.

This Bill contains a comprehensive package of legislation. However, it does not cover everything and the Minister did not pretend that it could ever be the final word in this area. It is a broad legislative framework under which we can develop laws and services for our children We have been operating Dickensian style laws up to now.

I welcome the earlier sections of the Bill and share the concerns of Deputy Shortall. We represent many of the children who will be cared for under the provisions of the legislation. Deputy Haughey and the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, are also familiar with such children. Between the four of us we represent a fair proportion of young people who will be directly affected by this legislation. Some of those children are members of criminal families who would have encouraged them in the direction of crime and others have been affected because of various circumstances in their lives.

When dealing with young children great emphasis should be placed on care, protection, family support and prevention measures and I am sure all the major child care organisations would support that point of view. However, when one has to intervene, the probation service is crucial. I am pleased it has been set up on a statutory basis and, similar to all other services for children, it must be adequately resourced. I was encouraged to hear the Minister talk about creative alternative programmes.

The age of criminal responsibility is a fascinating topic. Two issues caused particular difficulties in 1981 — what Department should have responsibility for children and the age of criminal responsibility. While the Bill has made major improvements, we are not to the forefront in regard to the age of criminal responsibility. In most other European countries the age of criminal responsibility is between 13 and 15. In Great Britain is it lower and we are moving carefully in this area. It has been increased from seven to ten in the legislation and I am sure it will be a topic of further debate.

I am not sufficiently skilled to comment on the sections dealing with child suspects. I will leave them to Members who have more experience of the courts. This matter will probably be discussed at a meeting of the Select Committee on Social Affairs which I am sure will receive representations from many organisations.

I share Deputy O'Donoghue's concern about a children court. There has been much debate about children and family courts but the matter has not been resolved. We made piecemeal improvements in appointing judges with special experience and training in this area. Since 1980 a children court has been identified as the proper environment to hear cases involving children. The ISPCC and other organisations continue to campaign actively in that regard. The question of independent legal representation is also relevant in this area. The legislation has not gone as far as I would like in that regard.

Child detention schools are a necessary evil. Many young children know the only way they will get a place in care is to come before the courts. In many cases local authorities are forced to make provision for children when they appear before the courts. This is an ongoing problem. Now that the Minister has completed this legislation, I hope he will examine health board policy in terms of providing places for children. Young children know the only way they will be placed is if they are charged before the courts. Sadly, the places which should be special places of last resort for youngsters with special needs are the places of only resort.

Debate adjourned.