I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue. The full horror of the abuse and neglect suffered by children was detailed in a special investigation which was published in the Irish Independent last Monday. With 3,700 children now in care and more than 100 appearing before the children's court in Dublin every week, the care system is at breaking point as it staggers from crisis to crisis trying to deal with the appalling tales of tragedy.
The following is a list of some of the shocking cases highlighted in the newspaper: a child was raised in a tea chest until he was five years old; a 15 year old girl was found living in a squat with winos and had been used for prostitution; a young person had assaulted a teacher and refused to have anything to do with water until it was discovered that a relative had brutally beaten and tried to drown him; a child had a nail driven through his hand by his drunken father and a girl was beaten and used for prostitution by her father before she had reached her teens.
The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children said the report was horrendous and that we could not underestimate the extent of the problem. The Minister said the system is overrun by the number of children who are neglected in one way or another. The system should ensure that the institutions of the State respond to children who are neglected and abused. It was said at a recent conference that a country is judged on how it treats its children. Since its formation the Government has not shown itself to be children-friendly; it has failed our children. Children's issues have a low priority. Mr. Justice Kelly was correct when he stated in the High Court in July that "dysfunctional and inadequate families are being cared for by dysfunctional and inadequate services". The Government has not honoured its commitment to provide adequate, secure and high support places for troubled children. It must immediately provide funding for proper services.
On 25 April an eight year old child was brutally raped in Cork. The offender has not yet been apprehended. Paedophiles released from prisons are fleeing from the sex abuse register in the UK and Northern Ireland and are free to move at will throughout the State. We must urgently introduce a register for child sex offenders. This has been long fingered by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who says he needs another report. Our children need protection and the Government should have accepted my Private Members' Bill to establish such a register earlier this year.
In early July the Taoiseach could not indicate when the office of the children's ombudsman would be established. It is obvious that this is near the bottom of the Government's priority list. That is not acceptable. I ask the Minister to state the Government's intention to establish this office. We urgently need such an office to promote and protect children's rights.
The ombudsman's office should have a role in the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It should ensure that the voices of children are heard in policy and administrative processes. This would help to create an environment more favourable to the protection of children's rights. It should be established on a statutory basis to give it stability and independence and it should be answerable to the Oireachtas. It should be independent of Departments so that it has the freedom to deal with all public bodies related to children.
The Children's Bill passed Second Stage 17 months ago and was reintroduced and referred to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights in July. However, there is no sign of that Bill coming before the committee. I inquired from the committee today why that was the case and I was informed it was waiting to hear from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the Minister would be ready to deal with it. It is a disgrace that we must keep pushing for such important legislation after 17 months.