Children Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

The concept of special care orders originated in New Zealand and is designed to maximise the use of the child's social and family support networks at a time of crisis in their lives. They have been established successfully in a number of countries where they have been adapted to the different cultures.

The principles underlying the conferences are that the child's interests are paramount and that in so far as is possible the child is best looked after within his or her own family. This is in line with the principles underlying the Child Care Act, 1991. One of the issues explored by an Irish delegation on a visit to New Zealand a little over a year ago was the applicability of this concept to the Irish context. To this end a pilot project has already been established in the Eastern Health Board area with a view to extending the system nationally.

Part III amends the Child Care Act, 1991, and imposes a duty on health boards to seek a special care order or an interim special care order in relation to a child in its area who requires special care and protection which he or she is not likely to receive unless the court makes such an order. This provides an additional range of powers for boards to intervene to ensure that non-offending children with behavioural problems receive proper care, protection and education.

The High Court has held that the 1991 Act does not empower a health board to detain a child. It also held that the State is under a constitutional duty to provide suitable secure accommodation for children who need to be detained for their safety and welfare. There are a small number of children who require this type of secure accommodation as their behavioural difficulties are such that they cannot be catered for in the general residential care system. Under this Part of the Bill the boards will have responsibility for ensuring the provision and operation of appropriate services and facilities for children who need to be detained in their own interests and the Bill will give health boards the power to detain such children on receipt of a court order.

I should emphasise that the Bill is drafted in such a way as to make clear that a child would, except in emergencies, only be detained in such a unit as a last resort. Under the proposals in the Bill a health board would have to convene a family welfare conference in relation to any child in respect of whom it intended to make an application for a special care order. The Bill also provides that boards can provide alternative arrangements or other accommodation for the child who is the subject of such an order as part of the programme for the care, education and treatment of the child. This is fully in line with the philosophy underpinning our child care services which emphasises the need to provide a continuum of services for such children from family support services to special fostering arrangements to residential care.

This Government's commitment to tackling the problems of children in need of special care and protection is demonstrated by the launch of the Springboard initiative. Under this initiative 15 pilot projects have been set up across the country. The objective of the pilot projects is to prevent at risk children and young people from engaging in various forms of anti-social behaviour by providing a proactive, inter-agency response to support these young people and their families. There are two key elements to this approach. The first element is the establishment of formal collaborative structures involving relevant State agencies, the voluntary sector and the local community. The second key element is the identification or establishment of a local centre which will act as a focal point for the delivery of services to young people and children. The centres will be a resource for parents and children. I believe these projects will provide a model for helping families with multiple problems and the wider communities living in disadvantaged areas.

Another major innovation in the Bill is the establishment of the special residential services board. The board is designed to ensure the efficient, effective and co-ordinated delivery of services for children placed in special care units under Part III of the Bill or placed in detention schools under Part X. Non-offending children with behavioural difficulties who are the subject of special care orders and child offenders will be kept in separate residential accommodation. However, it is acknowledged that they regularly present with similar problems, require similar care and treatment and benefit from similar types of services.

The board will have a wide remit in relation to the co-ordination of such services, ensuring the appropriate use of them, liaising with the courts in relation to the level and nature of these ser vices and advising the Minister in relation to any adjustments in the provision of accommodation or services for young offenders or children with behavioural difficulties. The board will also have a function in research and evaluation relating to the detention of children. I am convinced that this board will enable the services to be delivered in a more co-ordinated manner. Indicative of the Government's commitment to the board and its confidence in the important role envisaged for it, the board is at present being established on an interim administrative basis pending the enactment of this Bill.

Part X establishes children detention schools which will be under the aegis of the Minister for Education and Science. These schools will provide for the detention of children aged between 12 and 16 years who have been found guilty of offences and in respect of whom no option other than detention is deemed appropriate. It emphasises the role of schools in promoting the reintegration of the children referred to them back into society. This will be done through the provision of appropriate educational and training programmes and appropriate facilities in which to deliver these programmes. While the Bill is founded on the principle that the imposition of a custodial sentence should be a matter of last resort, it recognises the reality that there will continue to be a need for custodial centres to accommodate the most serious cases.

The Department of Education and Science is embarking on a major development programme to enable it meet its obligations under the Bill and also to address deficiencies and weaknesses in existing facilities. These plans, when completed, will fully equip the children detention schools to meet their obligations under the Bill, including the obligation to provide for the most difficult, unruly or depraved children who heretofore would have been transferred to the adult prison system and also those children convicted of offences who have serious therapeutic needs.

Finally, Part XII of the Bill updates the child protection provisions of the 1908 Act, thus allowing that Act to be totally repealed. An important addition to this Part arises from my acceptance of a recommendation of the then Select Committee on Social Affairs in their 1997 report on non-fatal offences against the person in respect of children. The effect of the change is that the meaning of a child's well being in the section on cruelty is expanded to include mental and emotional well being, and the expression "ill-treat" will include frightening, bullying of threatening a child. The legislation will now give out a clear message that cruelty can mean more than physical cruelty or neglect.

To sum up, this is a balanced and fully comprehensive Bill. It balances the needs, rights and interests of the child offender, the vulnerable child, families and communities, the victim and society in general. Also, from the start of the preparation of the Bill and its predecessor there has been a high level of co-operation between officials from the three Departments concerned. The results of that co-operation are clearly seen throughout the Bill. That co-operation is continuing as preparation is made for the full implementation of the Bill.

I started out this speech by emphasising the historic nature of the Bill. It provides a new way for dealing with juvenile offending without, at the same time, discarding procedures and policies that have been seen to work. There is something in it for all young offenders, regardless of age, needs or type of offence committed. It will also have a major impact on the lives of vulnerable children and their families and will further develop the legislative framework for the development of services for these children and their families enabling them to break out of the cycle of disadvantage and become fully included with the rest of society.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Bill. It is disappointing that it is three years since the Children Bill, 1996, which is similar to the Bill now before the House, was published. The 1996 Bill was brought before the House by Deputy Currie, then Minister of State with responsibility for children, on behalf of the Rainbow coalition on 12 February 1997. That Bill was originally published on 28 November 1996. The delay of three years is inexcusable.

The Minister made various commitments to introduce the Bill over the past three years but in effect has shown total disinterest. He has always stated, as he did again this morning, that the Bill was being totally revamped, but the Bill now before the House is almost identical to that introduced by Deputy Currie in 1997, apart from some amendments. The Minister informed me in answer to a parliamentary question that the total number of changes in the Bill is 15. This is a minimal number of amendments in terms of impact given that the original Bill had 230 sections. The Minister has changed some of the original Bill and, while not changing the content, has increased the number of sections. The Bill before the House now has 272 sections.

The Minister's problem is that the severe attack made on Deputy Currie's Bill on Second Stage in 1997 is returning to haunt him and he is anxious to distance himself as far as possible from those comments. The Minister was extremely critical in his comments on Deputy Currie's Bill. He was extremely critical that the then Government was "plagiarising and hijacking Fianna Fáil proposed legislation". He said "this kind of legislative hijacking undermines parliamentary democracy". I do not subscribe to those comments but I welcome the fact that the Minister has taken on board the legislation previously introduced by a Fine Gael Minister of State.

I do not subscribe to the Minister's approach when in Opposition he stated that members of that Government were involved in this surreptitious game and would do well to remember that while they can "plagiarise our work, steal our ideas and engage in bare faced lies, nobody was fooled by the shallow depth of their innovations and ambitions. Everybody knows that they are legislative parasites".

Great speech. The worst part is that it is true.

Deputy Neville, without interruption.

I commend the Minister for doing what he suggested we should be criticised for in 1997. How does the Minister feel about introducing a Bill, which is almost identical to the one introduced by Deputy Currie when he was Minister of State with responsibility for children?

The Deputy must not have read it.

I do not accept the Minister's view that the 1997 Bill must be read with a growing sense of disappointment and merely tinkers at the systems and solutions which have already been seen to be inadequate and that it "lacks innovation and vision and merely offers more of the same". I do not accept the Minister's description of the 1997 legislation as "window dressing". It is not correct to say that the Bill is shuffling and rewriting common law in statutory form and existing schemes have been transcribed. I further do not accept that the approach taken in the Bill was a shallow attempt at parliamentary scrabble to create the illusion of activity.

I welcome the provisions for early intervention in juvenile justice in the legislation at an inter-agency level for children at risk by the holding of a family welfare conference. While this can be triggered by the direction from the court when a criminal charge is involved, it is important that health boards can also trigger the establishment of the conference when it appears, in its opinion, that a child may require special protection. I ask the Minister to outline in detail how this will operate in practice. What criteria will be laid down for health board officials to enable them to activate such a conference? At what level within the health board will it be activated? What are the cost implications for the health boards of this new role? What provision has the Minister made to ensure that there is adequate resources to enable the boards to meet their new responsibilities?

As the introduction of the family welfare conference relates to the Child Care Act, 1991, and is the responsibility of the Department of Health and Children, it is more appropriate to debate this separately to the juvenile justice area. Part III deals with children in need of special care and protection and it includes an amendment to the Child Care Act, 1991. It legislates for the granting of special care orders by the courts where "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 special care or protection which he or she is unlikely to receive unless the court makes such an order".

There are concerns in relation to the granting of such an order as consideration will be given to the behaviour of the child and the availability of services. In the current absence of a continuum of child care and family support services, there exists a real fear that children's behaviour may be defined in terms which allow for the granting of such an order in order to access the services needed. I am also concerned about the nature of the orders which are to be granted for six to 12 months. Children who are the subject of such orders are not party to proceedings and have no automatic right to legal representation. It will be important to monitor the circumstances in which the orders are granted and to ensure consistency among judges in this matter. Will the Minister outline his plans in this regard? It is of concern that the Bill does not state how often such units are to be inspected or allow for the establishment of an independent body to monitor them. It is essential that children subject to civil detention benefit from the care, education and treatment provided for them in the units and have their rights upheld. Children who have been found guilty of an offence cannot be placed in such units.

Part IV deals with the diversion programme, which places the Garda juvenile liaison scheme on a statutory footing and renames it. The objective of the programme is "to divert from committing further offences any child who accepts responsibility for his or her criminal behaviour". Diversion may be by way of administering a caution, formal or informal, to the child and, if appropriate, by placing the child under the supervision of a juvenile liaison officer and convening a conference to be attended by the child, family members and other concerned persons, including the victim.

A function of the conference is that children must admit responsibility for their acts before admittance to the scheme. If the director refuses the child admission, what happens? JLOs will have quite an amount of discretionary power in deciding whether to request a conference in respect of a child. Will conferences be convened only when it is perceived that they are likely to succeed? There is a need for acknowledgement of the time necessary to prepare for such conferences. One of the key elements of success is an independent co-ordinator. This consideration needs be built into the organisation of the programme to increase the likelihood of successful conference outcomes. The Bill does not take this consideration on board and states that a garda must convene the conference.

Is a juvenile liaison officer the best person to convene and possibly chair a conference? A person perceived as neutral may be more appropri ate. JLOs will also need further training if they are to take on these additional roles. The committee to monitor the effectiveness of the programmes is to be made up of members of the Garda and is to submit annual reports. It is essential that the programme should be independently evaluated. Will the Minister accept such an evaluation?

The family conference allows the child's problem to be aired and a programme of corrective measures to be suggested in the presence of the child, his or her parents, perhaps others interested in the child's welfare and, in some cases, the victim. It is essential that this type of intervention takes place soon after a child commits an offence because if he or she becomes a persistent offender, successful intervention will become more problematic. The legislation ensures the earliest intervention by placing the family conference within the diversion programme.

The Minister has made great play of the alteration in Part V in regard to criminal responsibility. He has raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years. Effectively there is no difference between Deputy Currie's 1996 Bill and the current legislation in this area. In the previous Bill the age of responsibility was increased to ten years but it also included a provision whereby if the Ministers of Health and Education agreed to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 11 or 12 years, it could be prescribed. It was not necessary to revert to legislative procedures to increase the age of responsibility to 12 under the previous legislation.

Part VI introduces some changes and additions to the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, and the treatment of persons in custody under the Garda Regulations 1997, as they apply to children, on a fully statutory basis in the comprehensive set of provisions. It is underpinned by a statement of principle that children who are being investigated for the commission of an offence are entitled to special treatment in accordance with this provision. It recognises the vulnerability of children because of their age and their level of maturity.

In what is a regressive step in comparison to the 1996 Bill, the 1999 Bill now excludes another adult reasonably named by the child from being present at the child's interview in a Garda station in favour of an adult, excluding a garda, nominated by a member of the Garda. It is wrong and regressive that this change has been made on the previous Bill's proposal. Will the Minister consider giving the discretion to the child in selecting the adult to be present at the child's interview in the Garda station?

Provisions have also been made for interviewing children without the presence of a parent or guardian. This should be closely examined by the Minister. It is important that the parents or guardian of a child are notified by the Garda Síochána of their child's arrest and the nature of the offence on which the child was arrested. They should be requested to attend the Garda station as soon as possible. Failure to attend, however, should not be a sanction. It would be unreasonable in certain circumstances to expect parents to be always in a position to react quickly to notification of a child's arrest, and it would be further unfair to expect the Garda to wait indefinitely for the parents' arrival.

The child should be in a position to ask for an adult relative to be present if the parents are unavailable. I also welcome the fact that if the member in charge of the Garda station to which the arrested child has been brought believes the child is in need of care or protection, the garda will be obliged to inform the local health board. He or she does not have discretion in that regard. He or she will be obliged to inform the local health board and a representative of the board will then go to the station as soon as possible. This is very important in areas where a child is homeless or is engaged in prostitution.

Part VII establishes a new children's 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 the Bill, the President of the District Court will have the power to designate children to 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's court judges. It is for the president of the court to decide on which basis he or she will make these designations.

Part VIII underpins by general statement, principles establishing the rights of children before the proposed Children's 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 78 which allows the court to adjourn proceedings against the child when it appears that the child is in need of 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.

Part IX outlines the powers of the courts in relation to child offenders. A child can be detained where it is the only suitable penalty. In these 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 IX sets out clearly and concisely the powers of a court on a finding of guilt of a child. On a finding of guilt, before a court decides how it will deal with the child, it can request a report on the child. It is entitled to this in any case but is obliged to have one whenever it forms an opinion that the appropriate penalty may be a community sanction on detention.

Section 115 introduces community based sanctions which greatly increase the non-custodial options available to the court. They will place new and increased demands on the Probation and Welfare Service. If the sanctions are to function effectively and be available as options to all children countrywide, there will need to be adequate resourcing of the services and personnel necessary to establish the options outlined. The biggest single obstacle currently faced by judges in the children's court is the dearth of suitable alternative community based projects to which the children can be referred. The Probation and Welfare Service in particular will require a substantial increase in resources. Also, evaluation of the proposed sanctions is essential to ascertain the sanctions that are most effective for whom and the reason they are the most effective.

The sanctions will also place increased demands on parents. The courts may order parents to pay compensation, exercise control over their child or make a parental supervision order. This order gives the court power to instruct parents to undergo treatment for alcohol or drug abuse and/or to attend a parenting course where facilities are reasonably available.

The role of the courts in promoting good parenting practices needs to be examined and questions raised as to whether resources will be made available to parents to allow them to comply with the order. I am talking about crèche facilities and the availability of parenting courses to allow parents to do these courses. A battery of services should be available to facilitate parents in ensuring that they can comply with the new arrangements the courts may impose on them, which are welcome, but they must be facilitated.

Part X sees the end of the reform and industrial schools – not before time – and replacement with children's detention schools. These will be used by the courts where detention is considered to be the only suitable way of dealing with the child. Imprisonment of children is to be prohibited. That raises two issues of concern and I ask the Minister to address them. First, directors of such schools cannot refuse to admit children from the courts. This may lead to the inappropriate mixing of children with differing needs and may also lead to overcrowding. Also, a revolving door may be created whereby children are released from the schools before completion of their programme to make way for those coming from the courts. This is clearly not in the interest of the children concerned.

A second concern which I ask the Minister to address is that the Bill directs that regular inspections are to be carried out, with no specification as to their regularity. The 1996 Rainbow Government's Bill stated that inspections be carried out "at least once every six months".

The third concern is that the Bill provided an opportunity to phase out St. Patrick's Detention Centre, which has been regularly condemned as totally inadequate for young people. However, the distinction made in the Bill between the children's detention schools and centres of detention has been made precisely to retain St. Patrick's as a lawful place of detention for juveniles. Both in structure and in daily routine, St. Patrick's is identical to Mountjoy Prison. This flies in the face of the main thrust and principle of the Bill, which is that imprisonment of juveniles is unacceptable.

Section 158 outlines the principal object of the children's detention centres. This is of the utmost importance. Under the Bill, an inspector, appointed by the Minister for Education and Science, will be responsible for the inspection of each school. Children's Court judges will be entitled to visit schools at any time. A sophisticated policy of leave and supervision will ensure that children successfully integrate back into society. Voluntary after care will be available on completion of detention.

Part XII of the Bill reintroduces some of the provisions of the 1908 Act for the protection of children. I welcome the fact that the provisions on cruelty and neglect are being updated and the penalty increased substantially. Changes in the law are also being introduced regarding the sending out of children to beg. 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 increased penalties.

The Bill is providing a legislative framework to introduce a new juvenile justice system over the coming years. The success or failure of this Bill will depend on the resources provided by the Government to operate its full potential. The Bill will be of no value unless the resources are made available to fully implement it and ensure that its full capacity to reform the juvenile justice system is realised, within the parameters and priorities established and employed in the Bill. It will also require dedication and expertise on the part of those who will be charged with operating it. The financing of supports for children in difficulty is a disgrace. We do not have treatment centres for children in extreme difficulties or children out of control. In this context, I have no confidence that the Government will provide the resources required for the successful implementation of the Bill.

We must examine how we treat children in difficulties. The appalling situation outlined in the High Court by Mr. Justice Kelly and others over the past few years, particularly over the past 12 months, should not be tolerated in any society. Why should a girl of 17 years be detained in the central mental institution, a hospital for the criminally insane, despite expert opinion that it was totally inappropriate and possibly illegal? The judge had no option because of, as he said, "the State's failure to provide appropriate facilities or even a legislative framework to deal with such cases".

Five years ago, Mr. Justice Geoghegan, in the context of dealing with a teenage girl, said the State had a constitutional obligation to provide "as soon as reasonably practicable, suitable arrangements of containment and treatment" for troubled children. One month ago, Mr. Justice Kelly stated, "the State authorities could have been in no doubt of their obligations in that regard". He further stated, "it was clear that on no occasion has there been an adherence to the timescale indicated". In each case the provision of facilities has been deferred further and further.

A few weeks ago, the case unfolded of a 15 year old girl who went out of control following the death of her mother. After coming under the influence of truly evil people, she was said to have had some 75 sexual partners while working as a prostitute, used her mobile phone as a sex chatline, smoked 40 to 60 cigarettes a day and took alcohol and drugs. In spite of her circumstances, she wound up in a State remand centre because there was nowhere better available.

Last week, an extremely disturbed 14 year old girl with a propensity to epilepsy was ordered to be detained in the acute psychiatric unit of a general hospital. She almost died after an overdose of alcohol and 20 ecstasy tablets, was allegedly raped after staying out late from a health board residential home and was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. The expert said that she needed immediately a secure residential environment where she could receive appropriate therapy and treatment from suitably qualified staff. However, the child's life was in imminent danger, there was no suitable alternative and Mr. Justice Kelly spoke again of the "appalling dilemma " in which he was being placed. He said the State's failure "manifests itself, week in week out".

Four days before Christmas, another 14 year old, described by a psychiatrist as "the saddest thing I have ever met", who had an alcoholic mother and a violent father who allegedly sexually abused her, and who had tried to kill herself on Christmas Day 1998, was sent to a State detention centre by the High Court. Thus, an innocent child who, in the words of Mr. Justice Kelly, "never had a chance" spent her fourteenth Christmas in a reformatory.

Shortly before that, a 16 year old boy, with psychiatric and psychological difficulties but with no criminal convictions, was ordered to be returned to St. Patrick's institution, a prison, despite the presiding judge's view that his continued detention there was unlawful and the boy's allegation that he had been raped there. This would come as no surprise to anyone. In 1997 a 13 year old was warned by Judge Mary Martin that if she sent him there he would be "locked up 23 hours a day and raped every night".

Mr. Justice Kelly concluded in a 1999 judgment that:

It is no exaggeration to characterise what has gone on as a scandal. I have had evidence of interdepartmental wrangles over demarcation lines going on for months, seemingly endless delays in drafting and redrafting legislation, policy that appears to be made only to be reversed and a waste of public resources on, for example, going through an entire planning process for the Portrane development, only for the Minister to change his mind, thereby necessitating the whole process being gone through again.

This is an opportunity for the Minister and the Government to revamp totally our approach to juvenile justice and how the justice system responds to children who are in difficulties. We must facilitate them to stop, examine their situation and ensure the resources of the State are available to help stop them leading a life of crime, with the consequent hurt to their victims, families and themselves. In a way, it is a new beginning and full advantage must be taken off it. However, I stress the need to provide resources. While the Bill is doing a good job, it is useless without the necessary, quite considerable resources.

Any objective assessment of children's policy since the foundation of the State will reveal a litany of failures – failure to invest resources, to provide a comprehensive legislative framework for children's policy and to give children the political priority they need and deserve. The fact that this Bill is intended to replace the existing Children Act, 1908, and associated legislation is testimony to this state of affairs. The fact that the Bill makes reference to 41 other items of legislation lays bare the disjointed, chaotic legislative mess which child policy in Ireland has struggled to cope with since the early years of this century.

A new start, underpinned by comprehensive legislation has been needed for some time. The previous Government recognised this fact and a considerable amount of time and resources were invested in preparing groundbreaking legislation to cover children's issues. The Children Bill was introduced into this House in 1996 and Second Stage was debated on 12 February 1997, three years ago. However, the progress of that Bill through Committee Stage was halted when the current Government came to office.

It has taken the Government three years to come up with a comprehensive piece of child legislation. This Bill does not differ radically from the 1996 Bill. In those three wasted years, hundreds of children have fallen into the vicious cycle of crime and poverty. They have been the victims of the prevarication, confusion and denial that has characterised Government policy on this issue. Until recently, the Government let the Children Bill, 1996, gather dust in committee, while it tried to figure out whether it would amend that Bill or produce a new one. These are the actions of a Government which had no policy, direction or determination to tackle this issue when it took office.

Once again it was revealed that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, the man who had all the answers when he pontificated from these benches in Opposition, did not have the first notion what action to take when he took over responsibility at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Government has given itself the luxury of a three year think-in to formulate a position. No such luxury exists for families with troubled children or for children at risk and for the many communities under siege from juvenile crime problems.

Irish society is not meeting the needs of many children. Government failure to do so is clearly manifesting itself in the kinds of problems which come to politicians' attention in their constituencies. In recent years, public meetings, which we all attend on a regular basis, have been dominated by problems associated with young people such as drug and alcohol abuse, the proliferation of gangs who engage in threatening and intimidating behaviour, a huge increase in joyriding and the increasing numbers of children who seem to be parentless, who run amok and cause havoc in their community.

At Government level, it seems children barely rate. Responsibility for their welfare is spread over so many Departments that the buck is frequently passed and their rights are disregarded. It appears that the Irish child care system has an underlying culture which believes that if a problem is really serious, it belongs on someone else's desk. The tragedy is all the greater because problems relating to children are not insoluble. The funding is available, but recognition of their needs and most importantly the political will to meet those needs is required.

Three principles should underlie the approach to juvenile justice. Given his record to date, it is difficult to have confidence in the Minister's ability to uphold those principles. The first of these is the principle of prevention. Juvenile offenders should be regarded as the crucial group in any strategy of prevention of crime. The Minister's lack of urgency in producing this Bill indicates that he has yet to accept this point. The second principle is that rehabilitation must be central to the criminal justice system. Again the Minister has not grasped this point. How else can he explain the massive underprovision of drug treatment services in the prisons, where the majority of prisoners have drug problems, or the scandalously low number of treatment places for sex offenders in prison? The Minister's record on both of these issues concerning rehabilitation has been abysmal. More than anything else the juvenile justice services must aim to rehabilitate young offenders and break the seemingly inevitable link between today's young offender and tomorrow's adult criminal. The third principle is a political commitment to secure adequate resources to cater for the most troubled children in our society. On all three of these principles the Government has failed miserably.

It is deeply regrettable that we are only now beginning a debate on a comprehensive Children Bill, nearly three years after the Government took office. However, I broadly welcome the Bill which the Minister has brought before the House today. At last it gives this House an opportunity to have a substantial debate on child welfare and juvenile justice, a debate that is long overdue.

Given the complexity and length of this Bill, there are a large number of changes and amendments which the Labour Party will be seeking and which we can all address on Committee Stage. However, before I turn to the detail of the Bill I will comment on the context in which it is being debated. There is no doubt that currently there is a crisis in child welfare services. The long history of antiquated legislation and chronic underfunding has resulted in child services that are struggling to cope, a system run on crisis management. The resources and staffing have never been provided for the development of high quality preventative services. Social services, operated under the auspices of the health boards, have been the Cinderella of Irish social policy in terms of investment and funding. This litany of neglect is felt by hundreds of families and communities countrywide. While the passing of legislation to establish a coherent legislative framework within which to address these issues is welcome, it is only part of the solution.

If this legislation is not backed by significant increases in staff and funding, it will have no real benefit for children, families and communities depending on it. Without the financial resources to make a real difference, this Bill will remain little more than an aspirational wish list, to be implemented when resources become available, as the authors of many parliamentary replies are so fond of telling Members in this House.

The current lack of staff and facilities dedicated to children is appalling. According to recent parliamentary questions, the Minister's best current estimate is that a further 63 staff will be required in the probation and welfare service alone to ensure the full implementation of the Children Bill. An indication of the lengthy timeframe the Minister envisages for the implementation of this legislation was revealed when the Minister stated that recruitment will be intensified over the next two years.

Why should we have confidence in the Minister's ability to secure this level of staff? In May last year the probation and welfare service had to strike to get the Government to agree to provide the staff which the Government review had said were required. Before this Bill is considered, 90 additional probation and welfare staff are required. The Government approved 46 posts last year and only one has been filled to date. This is a disgrace. An additional 91 staff are needed plus a further 63 to implement fully the provisions of this Bill. There is no indication that the Minister has taken steps to ensure that those staff are available when it comes to recruitment.

A huge number of social workers are needed to ensure that the current waiting lists are adequately met, let alone to accomplish the additional tasks delegated to health boards under this Bill. On the Order of Business last year the Taoiseach referred to the hundreds of children in the Eastern Health Board area alone who are on a waiting list to be seen by social workers. In the interim period that waiting list has increased, yet the staff needed to undertake this crucial work and assist children who may be at physical, social and emotional risk have not been provided. The Government is still adopting a crisis management stance on child welfare issues. That attitude must change urgently.

Significant additional responsibilities are placed on health boards under this legislation. As it stands, the health boards cannot cope with the level of demand for child welfare services. Currently there are almost 500 children awaiting referral to a social worker in the Eastern Regional Health Authority area alone. That is a scandal in itself. Now we are discussing placing substantial new responsibilities on health boards and bringing under their responsibility all those children between the ages of seven and 12 who previously would have been the responsibility of the criminal justice system. There is a huge demand for additional staff. The lead-in to making those staff available is at least four years because that is the length of the training course available currently for social workers, both within the health boards and in the Probation and Welfare Service. Massive recruitment and training needs to be done before any additional staff will be in place.

In addition to the staff shortages, the chronic lack of proper residential units to deal with existing demand is nothing short of a disgrace. Time and again in the High Court, Mr. Justice Peter Kelly has been forced to call the Government to account for failing to vindicate the constitutional rights of troubled children in the face of official inertia.

Earlier this year lawyers representing a number of children who are in need of urgent and specialised care had to seek an injunction forcing the Department of Education and Science to live up to the commitments it had given to provide additional secure units. The Department went to court seeking to ditch the timetable it had agreed to at an earlier hearing. Fortunately, the Department lost that case and has been required to build the agreed units. However, that it has taken a legal injunction to force the Government to provide even the most basic number of secure units, beggars belief.

It is indicative of a Government which refuses to place the welfare of children at the top of its political agenda. Child welfare and protection is one of the most serious social problems facing the country today, yet it has been delegated to a junior Minister with responsibilities spanning three Departments. There is no dedicated voice for children at the Cabinet table. There is no Department of Children which could cut through the ridiculous red tape created by the current administrative structures. There is no one in Government who can shout ‘stop' when a teenage girl, who has committed no crime but needs care and support, is sent to an institution for the criminally insane because no other facilities are available. Neither was there anyone to shout ‘stop' when any of the other cases, referred to by Deputy Neville, arose. They have reflected badly on the country's political structures and they are shameful.

Drift, not determination, is the hallmark of the Government's current policy. That is the situation that exists today. With debate and amendment this Bill can provide part of the statutory reform needed to radically improve child welfare services. However, without the political commitment to provide the considerable funds required to implement the Bill and reform of our social services, little will change. The Government has not grasped the size of the challenge facing it. The Government believes in a low tax, no spend society and is happy to preside over rapidly escalating gaps between rich and poor. It is a Government which does not believe in investing in the services necessary to build a decent and fair Republic. It would far rather slash taxes for land speculators, and that is precisely what it has done.

There is a fundamental contradiction in bringing before the House a Bill such as this, which demands significant additional current spending – a concept which is anathema to those in Government who hold the purse strings. I fear that this fundamental political contradiction will result in even more inertia and prevarication in our child welfare services. The record of this Government to date offers no alternative conclusion.

I will speak about a number of proposals in the Bill which runs to 272 sections. Part III amends the Child Care Act, 1991, as it relates to children in need of special care or protection who have not committed an offence but where:

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 special care or protection which he or she is unlikely to receive unless the court makes such an order.

Why was this section, and that dealing with family conferences, not brought in as separate legislation to amend the Child Care Acts, instead of being included in this Bill, the rest of which deals with the issue of juvenile justice? The Minister must also be aware that due to the chronic lack of appropriate services at present, families and social workers may be left with no other course of action but to avail of this section of the Bill to ensure that a child is provided with the required supports and services. If current child welfare services are not improved then obtaining special care orders may be the only way that those who care about the welfare of troubled children can access appropriate services.

I am also wary of the tone and language in this section of the Bill. The section deals extensively with issues such as the detention of a child in a special care unit, the obligation on the health board to prevent the child injuring itself or others, and the obligation to prevent children absconding from custody. However, not enough emphasis is given to the care, education and welfare of the child, surely the most important function of any special care or protection orders. I also regret that the Bill does not specify how often special care units should be inspected and fails to establish an independent body to inspect these units. That is a serious failing which I hope we can deal with on Committee Stage.

I welcome the proposals in sections 7 to 16 which deal with family welfare conferences. They provide a sensible framework within which a child, its family and the appropriate agencies can discuss a range of problems and formulate an action plan which, ideally, can be worked upon within the family context and without the need to resort to special care orders. Sadly, however, as we know, this will not always be the case.

While the Bill provides for an administrative service for the conferences, it seems to ignore the issue of financial assistance for families participating in them. There is no provision for private family time at these conferences. Surely if we are serious about encouraging young people and their families to take responsibility for their behaviour, the families should be encouraged and facilitated to be active agents in drawing up these plans, and not merely the guests of the State at a conference.

What is disturbing about this section is that family welfare conferences will only be convened at the direction of a court or a health board, in reality when crisis intervention is necessary. A major failing of this Bill is that it does not facilitate early intervention in families with problems. The model of the family welfare conference proposed in the Bill could be extremely beneficial to many families when problems first arise and they need assistance and support from social services. However, the Bill fails to recognise this fact and there is no vision of a child welfare service that goes beyond the notion of crisis management. Unfortunately, intervention at an early stage rarely happens and when it does, it is often too little, too late for many families.

Sections 17 to 51 in Part IV establishes the Garda diversion programme on a statutory footing. These important sections propose a new framework for dealing with juvenile crime. The scale of juvenile crime and its often appalling effects on a community is a growing problem. Last year approximately 15,000 juveniles were reported to the juvenile office by means of a juvenile referral form. In the first four months of last year alone, 2,687 juveniles were arrested in the Dublin area. Juvenile crime is a serious and growing problem, but one the Minister seems to be overlooking entirely through his procrastination.

The proposals in this Bill to put on a statutory basis the response of the Garda Síochána to this problem are welcome, but it is only a partial response. That respect for the law, for neighbours and for one's local community is absent from a large proportion of our young people is deeply disturbing. Does the Minister not accept that by the time many of these people come to the attention of the Garda, through the juvenile liaison scheme, they are so alienated from society that intervention is very often too late.

The Minister's delay in granting any kind of urgency to the preparation of modern juvenile justice legislation has left the Garda in limbo. They simply do not know what to do. Gardaí have neither the expertise nor the resources for the kind of intervention that is required to deal with juvenile crime.

No direction has been forthcoming from the Government for the past three years. The scale of juvenile crime, with over 15,000 arrests a year, is the strongest argument for a comprehensive early intervention child care service. Early intervention, which will deal directly with the circumstances which often lead young children into criminal activities, is urgently required. Yet again this Bill fails to provide for such a service and children at risk may only receive the help and support they need when they are already engaged in anti-social and indeed criminal activity.

I welcome the proposals for restorative cautioning specifically mentioned in the Bill. Forcing young offenders to face up to the trauma and damage that their actions have caused is a progressive and worthwhile policy. There is merit in the suggestion that conferences convened under the terms of this section should be chaired by a neutral chairperson as distinct from a juvenile liaison officer. I hope the Minister will respond to this in summing up. That is no reflection on the juvenile liaison service, which has been very progressive in this regard. However, it is inappropriate that a proper conference of this nature should be chaired by a person seen to be a party to it. If these conferences are to operate effectively and have the full confidence of the families concerned they must be seen to be independent. The terms of employment of the chairperson will be critical to building that confidence. The action plans provided for will generally have cost implications and it is not clear from the Bill where the resources will come from. I seek the Minister's clarification on that as it is so important it should be covered by legislation.

The proposal to provide courts with a wider range of non-custodial options for young offenders is long overdue. I received information from the Department of Education and Science last year that 19 children were serving custodial sentences of up to three years in some cases for not attending school or truancy. This is a regressive, damaging and ultimately futile policy to pursue. How locking a child up in a detention centre will change his or her attitude to formal schooling escapes logic. It is time the courts had the power to take an inclusive and comprehensive approach to the problems facing a child which comes before the court and applies a sentence which, while punishing an offender for a crime, appreciates that these people are still children and need support and assistance rather than penal custodial sentences if they are to have any positive future in society.

The term "detention schools" is particularly distasteful and I ask the Minister to consider changing it. I see no difficulty with the existing term "special schools." I am concerned by the proposals in Part X of the Bill which require directors of detention schools to admit every child referred to them. Will this proposal not lead to the development of a revolving door syndrome? Will children who are serving sentences have training and rehabilitation courses disrupted and terminated early as they are released to make way for new referrals that the detention school will be legally required to accept? This is a difficult area. I am not suggesting we revert to a situation where people can be refused, as there seems to be no follow-up with those children who are refused at present. I recently came across the case of a child sentenced to two years' detention and when gardaí took him to the detention centre they were told there was no room, so he was simply sent back to the community to continue causing the havoc he had been causing for the previous two years. All Members will agree that such cases cannot be allowed to continue, but we cannot have a situation where children are moved out of detention centres as we will have a revolving door syndrome such as that which operates in adult prisons.

I am also concerned by sections 56 and 57 of the Bill which relate to the detention of children in Garda custody. It is extremely worrying that even if this Bill passes into law there still exists the prospect of children who are detained in Garda custody being held with adults. Surely the Minister could have identified a network of Garda stations which have dedicated facilities for children and that the gardaí would be required to avail of these facilities if accommodation separating children from adults was not available in their base station.

I welcome Part XII of the Bill which deals with the protection of children and in particular section 247 which re-enacts the offence of causing or procuring a child to beg. The work which the Leanbh project has undertaken in close co-operation with the gardaí in recent times highlights the scandal of child begging and the stark fact that some parents force their children to beg. I hope this section will bring a halt to this practice.

This Bill does not radically differ from the Children's Bill, 1996.

I am afraid it does.

The fact that we have had to wait for three years until the Government figured out how to deal with this legislation demonstrates the incompetence and confusion that rules Government policy on children's issues. The Bill is comprehensive. However, to claim that it represents a radical departure for child care services or juvenile justice is inaccurate. The overriding problem with our child welfare services is the pro vision of resources, staff and direction. The Bill does not even attempt to address those issues and many sections seem designed to fit into the crisis management ethos that dominates our child welfare services. Until the chronic underfunding that has crippled these services is overcome there will be little real difference for the hundreds of children and families who feel stranded and isolated when a serious problem arises with a child or within the family. The Bill is lacking in vision and ambition. It fails to outline or guarantee the financial commitments which are necessary for its implementation and fails to chart a new course for child welfare services where early intervention as distinct from crisis management is the policy goal. It seeks to contain and control a growing problem of juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour without even considering how the causes of this problem can be tackled much earlier in communities, before children come into contact with the Garda.

I have more to say on this Bill and I look forward to Committee Stage. I hope we will not wait as long for Committee Stage as we have waited for Second Stage.

Tá áthas orm bheith anseo mar Aire Stáit leis an Aire, Teachta O'Donoghue. If one looks back to 1908 one could say this Bill is a long time coming, but one could equally say it was worth waiting for. It is the culmination of a long process and has the benefit of the expertise and knowledge of my predecessor, Deputy Currie. However, it also has the benefit of extra research, experience and knowledge, not just in our Department and country but from international sources also.

The Bill shows sincere and genuine high level co-operation between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Education and Science. The same work that went into preparing the Bill will also go into ensuring that co-operation continues for its implementation. The Bill also underlines the Government's commitment to tackling not only child welfare but social exclusion, as outlined in An Action Programme for the Millennium. We have seen how children have suffered from social exclusion. As has been said, unfortunately some children are living on the streets and others have had to go to court to have their rights protected. However, we can say we are facing up to these problems and this Bill represents one way of dealing with them. The resources and plans being implemented outside the legislative framework are equally important.

The Bill recognises, as does everyone, that the best place for a child is within his or her family.

I had the pleasure in recent weeks of attending fora organised by the ISPCC in Cork, Dublin and Galway. About 200 children attended at each venue and when asked what the most important thing was in their lives, family came to the fore each time. The Government has a policy of sup porting families and children within their families and communities in order that they can create their own solutions. We are providing new structures and resources for children and, as the Minister of State with special responsibility for children, I want to restate the Government's commitment to further develop these services.

The Children Bill recognises at its core the importance of individual children and it also recognises the importance of parents. It draws together support structures such as health boards, the Garda and other interested bodies which will not only work in the interests of all children but also in the interests of individual children. The Bill recognises that while children and their individual circumstances are different, there are certain similarities. All children need our care and protection, be they children with special needs who have never been in trouble but whose behaviour means they require special care, children on the edge of the law, children before the courts or children who have offended. The Bill rightly spans the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science and Health and Children.

One of the Bill's most important features, which distinguishes it from any previous legislation, is the family welfare conferences which relate to all kinds of children, particularly children who require special care. One of the most important elements of the family welfare conferences – and this may address a point raised by Deputy Neville – will be that children will be present at the conferences. Too often, we talk about children and on their behalf. Not only will children be present at the conferences but where recommendations are made for them, the children will be notified in writing.

The family conferences will be in a position to make recommendations to health boards on the care and protection requirements of individual children. The procedure will provide a system for the early identification of children who are at risk and a means of providing support and assistance for those children, following inter-agency intervention. The family conference is one of the structures which will enable us to ensure that children who require special care and protection will only be sent to a special care unit as a very last resort. One of the main recommendations which can be made by the conference relates not to the making of a care order but, alternatively, to the provision of services and assistance to children and their families.

However, we recognise that there are children whose behaviour poses a real and substantial risk to their own health, safety, development and welfare and that those children, although small in number, require special care orders. Such children require secure accommodation and possibly cannot be catered for in our general residential care system. This Bill will ensure that their needs are met.

It is important for children in the above cate gory and others in special residential care that they would be able to maintain links with their families and communities. It is essential that whether children are placed under care orders for six or 12 months or whether they are placed in long-term care until 18 years of age, they should be able to maintain those links because they must be able to reintegrate into their communities.

A range of services, from family support services to special fostering arrangements, will be available to children who require special protection or special care. A working party is currently examining the issue of special fostering and I look forward to seeing its report to see how best we can build on the very valuable work already being done in this area.

Where children are placed in special care by the State, it is important that would occur in units approved by the Minister and that such units would be inspected. For this reason, the social services inspectorate was established on a non-statutory basis in April 1999 to monitor all the social services operated by the health boards. For the first three years, the inspectorate will concentrate on child care, particularly on residential care. The inspectorate's main function is to support child care services by promoting and ensuring the development of quality standards. It will inspect children's residential homes, monitor the organisation, operation and management of child care services and evaluate the quality and responsiveness of services as experienced by the users and the carers which will hopefully result in an improvement of standards.

The inspectorate has already commenced its inspection programme. It is envisaged that one inspection will have been carried out in each health board area by May of this year. To date, six inspections and a pilot inspection have been carried out. At a recent conference of Irish care workers in Ennis, which I had the pleasure of addressing, one of the speakers stated that the inspectorate's inspection had been an inspiration. I hope that will be the view of all of the inspections carried out in order that we can ensure that where children are under our care, they receive quality care and service as they are children for whom all other options have been exhausted.

The Bill outlines a variety of options for children who come before the law which I acknowledge is the last place we want to find children. Early intervention and the prevention of children's involvement in criminal activity is extremely important. Detention should be and is a last resort. In this respect, the Garda diversion programme which relates to children who accept responsibility for their crimes is very valuable. The family conferences will investigate the reasons behind children's involvement in crime and will proceed to see how children and their families can be supported and prevented from proceeding any further. The conferences will treat children as individuals.

An action plan for each child will be agreed with him or her, not by someone on his or her behalf. The action plans will include a range of measures from children making apologies to their victims, a measure we know has been successful in other countries, to the possible payment or making of reparation. The importance of children's involvement in other activities, such as sport and recreation, will also be an element in the action plans. The importance of children continuing to receive a full education will be particularly highlighted.

The Bill provides that the action plans will be able to recommend that children or young people should stay away from certain places or people in order to avoid involvement in criminal activity. The Bill also refers to children who have been found guilty of offences and, again, all options will be explored before children are detained. These options might necessitate children being supervised by parents or mentors, attendance at a day centre and, although the word is not mentioned in the Bill, may involve a curfew element, particularly at night.

In recognising the importance of individual children, the Bill also recognises the role and importance of parents. Parents are crucial to the family conferences and are obliged to attend court proceedings. Deputy Shortall referred to seemingly parent-less children, parents who do not take responsibility for their children. It is important that parents would be obliged to attend in court and be made aware of the repercussions of their children's actions.

The Bill recognises there are parents who need special help because they are not capable of giving their children proper guidance. Under the Bill, they can be sent for treatment for drug addition or alcohol abuse and for lessons in parenting skills in order to protect and support their families.

The fact that parents and children are recognised means that detention will only be used when all else fails; it is a last resort. It is unfortunate that children are taken away from their parents but this is often done for the good of the child, the victim and society. As also applies to taking children into care, we must ensure all options are used and that responsibility is taken for children, bearing in mind their background, age and circumstances, in order to protect those who come before us.

It was mentioned that children have come before the courts. It is an appalling vista that any child has to go to the High Court to protect his or her rights or seek care in a special home. Mr. Justice Geoghegan's decision in 1995 was referred to. It took this Government to devise a plan to provide places for children who need special care or high support.

That is not true.

That plan is now under way and will provide 110 extra places. The health boards currently provide 60 high support or special care places for non-offending children. In conjunction with the health boards, we have devised a plan which will meet the needs in each health board area in order to ensure children do not have to go to the High Court to obtain their rights. A special care unit will be provided in the Eastern Regional Health Authority area and will consist of 24 places in Ballydowd, 24 high support places in Portrane, etc. This is not a long-term plan – 56 of those places will come on stream this year. It is not just a plan; it is backed up by considerable resources. This year £30 million will be spent on residential child care services.

On a point of order.

The cost of residential care is £100,000 per child per year.

Will the Minister of State give way to a question?

The Minister of State is not giving way; the Deputy must resume her seat.

It is not the Government's plan – it was forced on it by the High Court.

I was glad to take that question. The plan was devised by the Department in consultation with the health boards because we recognise we have a moral responsibility to children and—

On instruction from the High Court.

On the instruction of Mr. Justice Kelly.

—we do not have to wait to have a legal responsibility.

On instruction from the High Court.

That is wrong.

It is right.

The capital expenditure on any one of these units, for example that in Ballydowd, is £7 million. The cost for each child in a special care unit is £100,000. There is a commitment to providing resources. I hope it will not be too long before Mr. Justice Kelly—

There are still no places available.

The Minister of State is in possession and Deputy Shortall should desist from interrupting.

I am used to interruptions from Deputy Shortall; she also chose to interrupt my maiden speech which is most unusual in the House.

The Minister of State is a big girl now.

That is the British practice, not the practice here.

The programme is agreed and will be supported by this Bill. It is important that commitments have been given and resources provided.

There has been justifiable criticism of the lack of links between the three Departments responsible for residential care. This Bill allows for a special residential services board which currently operates on an interim basis. This ensures a system is available to provide the best possible care for our troubled children. The board will advise the Ministers involved on policy, the remand and detention of children in detention schools and children in special care units. Under the terms of the Bill, a child detention order may only be imposed as a last resort. This board will ensure there will be a co-ordinated response in the delivery of residential accommodation and support services to children in the care of the State. These services will be targeted at each child through education and special programmes. I am confident that this body, the establishment of which does not depend on the passing of the Bill, will ensure we co-ordinate services and take responsibility for each child.

Many other aspects of this Bill will have a major impact on child care services, particularly the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, which does not ignore young offenders for whom services will be put in place. The raising of the age of criminal responsibility will increase the likelihood that children will not enter the criminal justice system. I welcome the broadening of the definition of cruelty to children and the recognition that the emotional health and well-being of a child can be damaged by cruelty. Cruelty can now be defined as frightening, bullying or threatening a child. I also welcome the shifting of the burden of proof to adults who send children out to beg. They must now prove they did not do it as there is no doubt that children do not beg on their own initiative.

Under this Bill, Departments come together as responsible bodies. For too long, we have taken a hands-off approach. However, we are now identifying and intervening in problems, supporting children and putting the resources of the State at the disposal of them and their families before they are subject to criminal law. The political will is there and children do not have to be at Cabinet to be heard, at ministerial level to be effective or in a Department to produce results. This Bill, with the commitment and resources of this Government, will deliver.

I have listened to many outlandish statements and inflated claims from politicians. I have been trying to remember some that might compare with those made by the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. The only comparable one is the claim of Brian Faulkner that he was responsible for the introduction of one man-one vote. Some of the claims made by the Minister were outrageous. I am sorry the Minister is not present and I hope he will rejoin us quickly because there are some things I would prefer to say to his face, through you, a Cheann Comhairle, rather than in his absence.

I am sorry to say there was a streak of irresponsibility in the Minister when he was Opposition spokesman which, on the evidence of today's speech, has not been removed by his involvement in Government in the past three years. We should face reality; the Minister made irresponsible remarks and claims. He told us he was privileged to open the debate on a flagship item of legislation from this Government. He also said that not only is it a flagship item of legislation but one of the most important and far-reaching Bills to be brought before this House in many years. It is important and far-reaching but it is mostly the Bill that was brought before this House three years ago.

The Minister went on to say that the wait since 1908 and 1997 was worthwhile and well justified. We have used the time wisely to bring a balanced, comprehensive, innovative and imaginative Bill to fruition. He goes on to say the Bill we are now debating is radically different to that which has gone before. Its underlying philosophy is radically different, just as much as is its provisions and the distillation of the accumulated wisdom and the best practice worldwide in the area of juvenile crime.

We must face reality. The current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made one of the most irresponsible contributions ever when as Opposition spokesperson he spoke during the Second Reading of the Children Bill, which I as Minister or State with responsibility for Children introduced in the House on 12 February 1996. Deputy Neville has already given some flavour of the Minister's remarks. I will also do so from the Official Report of Wednesday, 12 February 1997, Volume 474. Referring to the Bill, the Minister stated:

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 . . . The Bill seeks to create the illusion of reform while maintaining the status quo . . . 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 . . . 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.

These were the responsible comments of the Deputy on the Bill. If the 1996 Bill was so bad, if its underlying philosophy was so different, if it was so lacking in innovation and up-to-date thinking and if it was so bad it could not even be amended, why did he not vote against it at the time? Why did he and his party not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill instead of giving it an unopposed return? Is that supposed to be an indication of opposition in this House? If a Deputy is honest, he voices his statements, makes his criticism and follows it through in the lobbies of the House. That is how to signal one's opposition. Despite the words of the Minister, he did not do so; there is a lesson in that.

I have often listened to Opposition speakers and asked myself what would he or she say or do if he or she were in Government? This is usually a fairly useless exercise, but in this case the unusual has occurred. The then Opposition spokesperson is now the Minister and, even more unusually, has responsibility to the House for the very legislation he attacked so vehemently when in Opposition. Therefore, very exceptionally, a direct comparison can be made and his credibility judged, both as Opposition spokesperson and as Minister. Before making the comparison, let us consider certain advantages the Minister had over the Opposition spokesperson. He certainly has not been rushed for time. The Children Bill, which I introduced in this House, received a Second Reading on 25 February 1997. This has been an inexcusable delay, compounding 25 years of procrastination over a Bill of this nature since it was first mooted, and largely due to the differences of opinion that existed between the three Departments of Health, Education and Justice. Different excuses were put forward at different times for the three year delay. On 29 May 1998 the Government Chief Whip informed me in writing that the delay was due to the many submissions from interested groups but that nevertheless it was hoped to commence Committee Stage in June or July 1998. The number of groups who made submissions turned out to be eight and the majority of the points made would have been made anyway in the course of the Committee Stage debate. None was fundamental.

On 30 March 1999 the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed Deputy Shortall that the reason for the delay was an appraisal of the juvenile justice system in other countries and of developments and advances in the juvenile justice area since the Bill was published in 1996. The Minister added that part of the appraisal involved the then Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Fahey, visiting New Zealand to study at first hand that country's system of juvenile justice. Apart from the fact that I as Minister of State had already visited New Zealand to look at the juvenile justice system and also the ombudsman for children – elements of the juvenile justice system had been incorporated in the 1996 Bill – the lack of product from New Zealand, so to speak, exposes the Chief Whip's letter for the excuse it was. Fortunately we got the real reason for the delay in a reply from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to Deputy Neville on 2 November 1999 when he said that the 1996 Bill was delayed to ensure and I quote, "that it took account of comments I made in my contribution when Opposition spokesperson to the Second Stage debate on the 1996 Bill". We have from the horse's mouth the real reason for the delay of more than three years in producing the Bill before us today. This is an attempt to justify the irresponsible criticism of the Minister when he was Opposition spokesperson.

I have no doubt the 1996 Bill would have proceeded to Committee Stage, where amendments would have been made despite the change of Government, except for the irresponsible speech by Deputy O'Donoghue. The original irresponsibility is built upon and added to by what approximates to criminal irresponsibility in delaying the Bill for three years. Deputies Neville and Shortall have already referred to learned judges, particularly Mr. Justice Kelly, who has been forced to comment on the lack of secure places for out-of-control children. Recently Mr. Justice Kelly was reported in the media as having condemned the legislative inaction which forced him to send a 17 year old girl, who was considered a serious risk to herself, to the Central Mental Hospital. The judge criticised the continuing failure to enact the Children Bill. In a report inThe Irish Times of 21 March, Mr. Justice Kelly is reported to have said that the Minister for Health and Children would have to find in short order an appropriate place for a 13 year old out-of-control boy or run the risk of being in contempt of court. In another reported case on 10 March, the judge had to send an extremely disturbed 17 year old girl to the Central Mental Hospital. The judge asked, “Where else can I send her?” Because of the State's failure there was neither an appropriate facility or a legislative framework to deal with such a situation. It was left to him to do the best he could in circumstances where the Executive and the Legislature had, to use his words “signally failed”. The judge's words represent a major condemnation of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. We have heard from Deputy Shortall about what happened over those three wasted years and the finger points to the Minister responsible.

Unfortunately from the Minister's point of view we also have his own words which are an indictment of himself. On 2 November 1999, Deputy Neville asked the Minister in a written parliamentary question the differences between the Children Bill, 1996, and the Children Bill, 1999, and if he would itemise the differences in detail – Official Report, Vol. 509, col. 1697. He has already referred to the most significant changes. I refer to a number of them: raising the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years, which I welcome; the 1996 Bill also proposed to raise the age to 12, but first to ten years and through three yearly reviews to 12. There is no difference in principle. It was subject to resources as I made clear on Second Stage when I said:

There is an irrebuttable presumption that a child under the age of criminal responsibility is incapable of crime. This means there can be no compulsory intervention in respect of the anti-social activities of such a child which, if committed by an older person would be an offence. Therefore, there has to be an alternative, credible way to deal with problem children. The framework provided in the Bill is that the health boards will have responsibility for these children. When the necessary resources are in place the health boards will be in a position to provide a range of supports for this under 12 age group.

The view in 1996 was that the necessary resources were not yet in place. If the position has changed, I welcome it but do not let the Minister claim it as a major reforming initiative. Did not the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, say of the 1996 provision:

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. . . . An opportunity for reform has been squandered; yet another issue has been side-stepped.

What a lack of consistency and credibility on the part of the Minister. The reply to Deputy Neville continues:

Provision is being made for a family welfare conference. This will be a preventative measure, organised by the health boards, aimed at providing services for children at risk and their families.

There will be the introduction of a court directed and supervised family conference. Did the Minister even read the 1996 Bill? All these matters were contained in it. The Minister's reply to Deputy Neville continues:

It is proposed to ensure that any person who aids, abets, counsels or procures an under-age child to "commit an offence" will be guilty of that offence.

I agree with that. On the Second Reading of the 1996 Bill, I had already agreed to consider such a proposal before Committee Stage because it was suggested to me by Deputy Shortall and Deputy O'Donnell at that time. The Minister's reply to Deputy Neville continues:

. . . the previous plan for a single board of management for the children detention schools is being replaced by a proposal that each school or natural grouping of schools will have its own statutory management board appointed by the Minister for Education and Science.

What is the reason for this change? What is meant by "natural grouping of schools"? Will there be any special or opting out arrangements for any school? As the Minister did not explain this in his speech I would like to hear the reason. The reply continues, "A new inspection system for the children detention schools is proposed".

In light of the serious abuses that have come to light it is obviously of fundamental importance that an inspection system is effective, vigilant and unexpected by those in charge of the schools so that they are not ready when the inspectors arrive. The 1996 Bill proposed an inspection system. Why does the so-called improved Bill drop the provision for an inspection at least once every six months?

In his contribution the Minister made great play of forcing parents to be made responsible for their children in terms of compensation for damage to personal property and underlined their parenting function. These matters were also features of the 1996 Bill. Why does this Bill remove from parents the onus to prove that they had reasonable excuse for not attending court proceedings in which their child is involved? The least that can be expected of parents – I emphasise the plural where possible – when their child is in court is that they will be in attendance unless they have some good excuses for not attending.

There are a number of other things I wish to say but I will try to confine myself to some of the more glaring things which the Minister said on that occasion and which are or are not included. Speaking on Second Stage of the 1996 Bill, the Minister said:

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.

We find exactly the same wording in the 1999 Bill, except that it is now Part VII. Those are good stirring words, dramatically spoken, even if lacking in the positive. The Minister's Bill in this respect is exactly the same. It is performances like this that give politicians and politics a bad name.

Hear, hear.

After three years of consideration, research, consultation and foreign visits by the Minister what have we have got? A feeble result of the Minister's engagement in a deep analysis is to produce this radically different and innovative Bill. It is the result of a considered reappraisal of the 1996 Bill. What nonsense. In 1997 the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, asked why the Bill was so bereft of vision? Why do we have pages of plagiarism, restatement and re-enactment? It is no substitute for a policy and the Government is clearly bereft of a policy on young offenders. Those comments were not true then in relation to the 1996 Bill. They have more substance now.

Deputy Currie was vociferous when heading up the taskforce referred to by Deputy Shortall and was the dedicated voice at Cabinet for children. In the other House he was described as the Minister for procrastination. I would concur with the last phrase. I came into the Chamber, having listened to the speeches of the previous speakers, with a view to speaking on the Bill, which is a good one. I would not have said in this Chamber that the 1996 Bill was a bad Bill. It was probably a good Bill and the Minister mentioned that in his speech. I was surprised that during the contribution of Deputy Currie, who was the designated voice for children in the previous Government, I did not once hear him refer to the contents of the Bill nor to how it best served the interests of children. The proceedings in the House during the past few hours give politics a bad name. The main thrust of Deputy Currie's contribution was his claim that he did it first and better and that the Minister's Bill is bad. Is it any wonder that politics and politicians are held in such low esteem?

Does Deputy McGennis want me to criticise my own Bill?

How then can he criticise the Bill before us? We wonder why "Oireachtas Report" is broadcast in the early hours of the morning.

Deputy McGennis did not listen to the speech.

I listened to every word of Deputy Currie's speech and to Deputy Shortall's. Deputy Shortall did, at least, refer to the Bill.

This is important legislation. The Minister has undertaken to make this legislation work while he is responsible for his Department.

That is a joke.

I can tell Deputy Shortall a joke. The previous Government introduced legislation for which the necessary resources were not provided. At that time I brought a young man to a health centre where I was told that because there was an embargo on staff recruitment, the Child Care Act, 1991 was not being implemented. That young man is dead. Opposition Deputies cannot afford to throw brickbats. The Opposition parties have left themselves scandalously open to criticism. Deputy Shortall admitted that the child welfare services have been in a deplorable condition for years. No one in this House can pretend that he or she has done more than anyone else. The resources are now in place.

The resources are not in place.

The resources will now be put in place.

We will wait and see.

It would be very easy for the Labour Party to publish a Bill and look for glory but not put resources in place to implement it. The Labour Party has not ever done that. The Labour Party was in Government for five years. Deputy Currie accused the Minister of taking three years to publish this Bill. Deputy Currie published his Bill in 1996 and brought it to second stage only when he was about to leave office. Deputy Shortall's party was in office for the five years of the previous Government. Why did she not demand action then?

If the Opposition Deputies want an acrimonious debate I am well able to give it to them.

We know what the Deputy is. She is a disgrace.

Deputy Currie did absolutely nothing. I have met groups who went to him when he was the dedicated Cabinet voice for children. They were disillusioned and disappointed and he did nothing. It is no wonder less than 40% of voters turn out at some elections. We waste our time in the House insulting each other. However, if that is how Deputy Currie and Deputy Shortall wish to debate I can do that as well as anyone else.

We know.

We know the Deputy's style. We hear her every week on Vincent Browne's radio programme.

I agree there is a crisis in the child welfare services. I support anyone who attempts to improve the situation of children who are in difficulties or who find themselves involved with the juvenile justice system. If the Government which I support attempts to improve their situation I am proud to be associated with it. I have a particular interest in this subject which is not new.

I welcome the provision for family welfare conferences. The entire Bill is innovative and I join the Minister in acknowledging the innovation of the previous Bill.

I support Deputy Shortall in her concern that family welfare conferences would be put into effect only in times of crisis. I understand that they can be triggered in two ways – if the courts are involved or if the health board welfare services deem a family welfare conference necessary. If that kind of early intervention is possible within the Bill I welcome it.

Early intervention of the statutory services is already happening. I met a residents' group in my constituency which is suffering daily and nightly from a group of unruly young people. Some of these young people are lawless and some have parents who do not give them any support and do not take responsibility for them. Attending the meeting was a big burly man who appeared well able to look after himself and who would take on anyone who might put his family at risk. This man broke down and cried in front of local authority officials and other residents. A local authority official responded that the local authority could not do anything about these young people and the support services had already been put at the disposal of the families to try to help the children to allow their neighbours to live in peace and harmony. Where the statutory services are attempting to help in such situations there must be an onus on parents to take part in the proceedings.

Section 9(2) states: "If, in the course of a family welfare conference, the co-ordinator is of opinion that the continued presence of any person is not in the best interest of the conference or the child, the co-ordinator may exclude that person from further participation in the conference." This is very important. Very often young people are afraid or are manipulated by another person in the course of a meeting. It is vital that someone contributing negatively to a conference or who appears to be forcing a child to respond in a particular way should be excluded from the conference.

The Minister has mentioned special care units for children in need of special care or protection. These are children who are not offending but who are out of control. Deputy Shortall gave statistics about children and some very high profile cases have been reported in the newspapers. We must look after children who are not yet offending but who are out of control. The young people to whom I referred when I spoke of attending a residents' meeting are such children. There is an urgent need to do something for them. The courts have pointed out this need to legislators and told us that we have a responsibility to deal with it.

I welcome the provision which directs a garda to deliver a child in his or her custody to the child's home. This provision is valuable for a number of reasons. It is better that a child be dealt with in his or her home surroundings, ide ally with his or her parents, rather than have the parents brought to a Garda station. Witnessing the child's home circumstances at first hand may lead to a realisation on the part of the garda that there is a need to involve the welfare services.

Section 16, paragraph 23F provides for the variation or discharge of special care orders. This is an important provision to avoid the view that a child has been placed in a special care unit to serve time. It will give the child hope for the future if the persons looking after him or her come to the view that their family circumstances have improved to the point where they can return home.

There has been reference to raising the age of criminal responsibility from 7 years – which was described as barbaric by other European countries – to 12 years. Those who encourage young children to commit a criminal offence in the belief that nothing will happen to them will now find themselves in serious difficulty. Deputy Shortall mentioned the practice of sending young children out to beg. I know of young children in my constituency who have been threatened by known criminals that if they do not sell small quantities of drugs they will be beaten up.

The Taoiseach was criticised when he did not appoint a Minister with specific responsibility for children. In a way this back-fired in the sense that Departments were reluctant to work together. The Bill is strewn with references to the effect that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will work with the Minister for Education and Science to try to achieve given objectives. The same level of co-operation was not achieved when one person had overall responsibility. It is therefore welcome that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will interface with the welfare services to meet the needs of children involved in crime or suffering from neglect.

The Minister has been criticised for saying this Bill is both innovative and reforming. Sections 111 and 112 in Part IX which deal with parental supervision orders and non-compliance with such orders will pin down the issue of parental responsibility once and for all. There have been calls by individuals and groups to make parents responsible for the actions of their children. To use a Dublin phrase, "when you are rearing you have to be sparing". We hope our children will not get into difficulty and will not end up before the courts or involved with the Garda Síochána, but the total abdication of responsibilities by some parents in the rearing their children is not permissible; it is not acceptable to allow children to run wild, roam and commit crime and to throw one's hands up in the air and say, "There is nothing I can do."

Under these sections parents may be obliged to undergo treatment for alcohol or substance abuse or to participate in courses designed to improve their parenting skills. This cannot but be good for the child concerned. There are thriving young mothers' groups in many Dublin constituencies – the churches are also involved to a huge degree – which provide personal development and parenting skills courses which are availed of in the main by lone parents who want to do what is best for their children by providing opportunities that they themselves did not have. The proposed sanctions should therefore be seen in a positive light.

Sections 118 and 123 deal with day centre orders. I appreciate the tremendous work being done by Candle Community Trust under the aegis of the probation and welfare service on behalf of young people at risk in the Ballyfermot area of my constituency. It had been working with and trying to help the two young men whose bodies were found in the canal. The Minister has put his money where his mouth is and granted the trust substantial funds to expand its activities. This has not gone unnoticed and is greatly appreciated.

Sections 133 to 136 deal with restriction on movement orders which amount in effect to the imposition of a curfew. On the passing of this Bill I will be able say to the group to which I referred, that the young people who are terrorising them and making their lives a misery will be stopped and told that they will have to remain indoors. This will be a source of great comfort for people who are trying to rear their families as best they can and live their lives in peace. The Garda response to date that there is nothing it can do has been a source of frustration and has given rise to a feeling of hopelessness among those who are at the mercy of unruly youths.

I welcome the Bill and do not care who initiated it or whether it is better than the first. I welcome its provisions which will go a long way towards improving the lives of those who want to live in peace.

Mr. Hayes

This Bill which has been in gestation for the past five years was initially introduced by Deputy Currie in 1996. More important, Deputy Currie was the Minister of State with direct responsibility for children's affairs. It was a novel appointment in that his portfolio spanned three Departments, the then Departments of Justice, Education and Health. That move was the first deliberate act on the part of any Government since the foundation of the State to recognise that the problems affecting young children in particular must be the responsibility of one Minister. I welcome the fact that when my party leader was Taoiseach, he appointed Deputy Currie to that new role.

Deputy Currie, in a pretty short period after the formation of that Government, put a huge amount of work into the establishment of the Children Bill, 1996. It is regrettable that it has taken the Government another three years, since coming into office in 1997, to introduce this measure which everyone accepts is virtually the same as the 1996 Bill. One of the reasons it has taken three years to debate the Bill again in the House is that in 1996 the comments of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, were excessive, unfair and unwise. The comments obviously had their source in another place and they were ill-judged at the time.

Unfortunately there is a terrible habit of introducing laws and putting resources in place afterwards, but if the law had been in place three years ago it would have allowed the Minister and his Department much greater latitude with the Department of Finance in terms of getting more resources and the argument about resources which is taking place at present would be redundant because the resources would have to be found. That is the net point concerning the rather silly display of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, over recent years. I have heard Deputy Currie ask repeatedly when are we going to see this legislation and I regret it has taken until the year 2000 to be introduced.

I welcome the Bill and am grateful we have an opportunity to debate it. I support the provisions in the Bill but seek clarification on a number of points. It is a sign of legislative inertia that most of the legal provisions surrounding children's rights and children who come into contact with the law stem from the 1908 Act. One of the points made in a policy document, which my party produced on this subject in the 1980s and early 1990s, is that the 1908 Act is dated. It is a sign of the times that it has taken more than 90 years to produce reforming legislation.

One would question how any legislation could make a huge impact on the lives of children who get into trouble, particularly those who get into trouble with the law. I hope the Bill will have an impact in that regard because if today's juvenile crime is not stopped and these children's behaviour is not altered, they will become the adult criminals of tomorrow. Some years ago the McBride report highlighted clearly that one third of all crimes in the State were committed by people under the age of 17. Whitaker, in his report, stated that one third of all juveniles in detention centres had problems which were directly related to alcohol and drug abuse, and the rate of recidivism among juvenile criminals was between 50% and 80%. Therefore, there is an obligation to change the pattern of behaviour of children who come into contact with the law. If the State does not do so, it is clear from the evidence which has been obtained that they will continue to commit crime, they will be in and out of prison and their lives will not be worth living.

The use of places of detention for children should be the last resort. The United Nations has highlighted that it is a scandal that such a significant group of young people must remain in detention centres in Ireland. In comparison with all the international evidence, Ireland comes bottom of the heap in this regard. We, as a mature society with so much resources at our disposal, have a responsibility to change this position.

Community service orders have never really been utilised. If somebody has a difficulty with the law, there is a tradition that the immediate way out is to pay a fine or, in the case of the Bill, to pay compensation to the victim. While that is obviously important, doing something practical for problem children is much more important than simply paying a fine. Paying a fine to the State is a once-off action, whereas a much more useful exercise would be to ensure that children who come into contact with the law are given something practical to do over a period of time by way of community service orders. These orders are self-constraining and they involve doing something practical for society.

The Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act, 1983, allowed for community service orders to be made against persons who are over 16. Will the Bill allow community service orders to be given to people under 16? For instance, if a 15 year old gets into difficulty, is it possible that a community service order would be made against that minor? Under the 1983 legislation, the maximum duration of a community service order is 240 hours. Is it possible, under the Bill, to increase this limit? The way forward is through the use of community service orders. The record of applying them in the State is poor and that is something which the Minister must identify, particularly when it comes to juvenile justice.

As others have said, there is a fairly strong relationship between low levels of academic attainment and delinquency. That is why another Bill which is currently before a committee of the House, the Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999, is so important. If we are really serious about identifying problem children, one of the ways to do that is to ensure that children who are at risk in terms of dropping out of full-time education are identified. It is a scandal that there is no strategy to deal with children who are dropping out of the schools on a daily basis. In some schools in this city upwards of one third of children are not at school on any given day. It is not surprising that these are the children who end up before the courts five years down the road. There is a huge responsibility on the State to provide intervention strategies which will ensure that those children are brought back into mainstream education and given something positive to do.

One of the problems with juvenile crime, which is witnessed by every Deputy who represents an urban constituency, is that peer group pressure has a huge impact on children who are running amuck on the streets. Recently I came across a case where a women, who recently attained a new job and got a car as a result, is now being picked upon in that community by a gang of 14 to 15 year olds simply because she is doing something which is alien to a large percentage of people in that housing estate. It is a scandal that one or two ringleaders can use peer group pressure to suck in a group of hoodlums to impact so negatively on the quality of life of that woman. It is absolutely disgraceful and there are many such examples. If we are really serious about creating positive peer group pressure we must give children, particularly in deprived areas, something very positive to do. In many estates on the fringes of this city there are large gangs of children who have nothing to do and who are roaming the streets in the afternoons and evenings causing mayhem. They are picking on women in particular, especially those on their own looking after children, and on people who have obtained employment and who are in a sense trying to better themselves. We must find strategies to ensure those children are dealt with. Each day a large proportion of my work in my constituency is based upon dealing with children who are out of control and the impact they have on life in housing estates. We are not talking about serious crime, but the intimidation people are suffering on a daily basis as a result of the failure of the Garda in some instances to be on the streets dealing with those children. We must address this issue.

I welcome the fact that early intervention in terms of children getting into trouble is a central theme of the Bill which identifies those who drop out from school and children on the run. One of the points made by Fr. McVerry some days ago was that youth homelessness has virtually doubled over a period of five years. We are talking about children who frequently come in contact with the law. It is a scandal that despite the wealth in the economy we have still not provided adequate accommodation and shelter for large groups of people on our streets. It is quite clear that young males in particular make up a large section of the homeless people in the city. We have not developed the kind of temporary and emergency accommodation to ensure those people are taken off the streets. Government must address this in a collective way.

I welcome family welfare conferencing as part of the Bill. Parents must take the responsibility if their child is causing trouble in an area. Too often in urban areas the gardaí tell politicians and community and social workers that the problem is that parents will not take responsibility for their child, that when the reality is presented to them they simply do not want to know.

I very much welcome that under the Bill a judge will be clearly able to compel a parent to attend before him and ensure that the parent is part of the family welfare conferencing. What number of conferences will be required and will the necessary funding be provided to ensure the resources for health boards and the local gardaí are put in place? I would also like the Minister in his reply to Second Stage to say if training has begun in terms of the Bill. It is quite clear that new skills will be required by the convenors of these conferences and I am interested to know the training his Department has put in place to ensure action can be taken. Resources, therefore, is a key aspect, and unless they are put in place the provisions in the Bill will not be workable.

The Garda juvenile liaison scheme has been working for quite some years and I welcome that for the first time it is being put on a statutory basis. The scheme can only work with proper community policing structures. One of the most important aspects of policing, particularly in Dublin, is community policing based on a dedicated number of gardaí spending considerable periods of time working in communities. They know the troublemakers and can clearly identify the children who are going off the rails. I take this opportunity to congratulate the community division of each Garda station. The problem is that a year after all the information is obtained by the community garda, he or she might be taken off the beat in that housing estate and be moved up the line into detective work. We must develop the community policing model as the most attractive model of policing. Many gardaí feel that detective and special branch work or promotion to sergeant is the pinnacle of their career. We must create an entirely new recruitment structure which will ensure community policing is the most important area of work. This should work hand in glove with the aspirations outlined in the Bill.

What is the total number of juvenile liaison officers? According to work I did in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were only 83 juvenile liaison officers in the force which then had a total strength of approximately 10,500 members. I understand that at that time 38 juvenile liaison officers were assigned to Dublin, four to Cork and two each to Galway, Limerick, Kilkenny and Waterford. There must be a massive expansion in the juvenile liaison programme and the number of officers attached to it. In particular, there must be a concentration in terms of recruitment and promotion in the area of community policing. This is the only way to ensure the information is given adequately in a local setting.

Others have spoken about the victims, and I would like the Minister to outline the sections of the Bill which deal specifically with compensation. As the Minister is aware the Law Reform Commission examined the issue of liability for child crimes and made six proposals, the most important concerning a compensation fund. The current compensation fund is simply not adequate to meet all the claims made against it. What compensation will a person who is hit by a stolen car driven by a child receive? Will it be effected by the proposals in the Bill? I am interested in the proposals of the Government in terms of liability because unless adequate compensation is given to victims people will feel that justice is not being done.

I welcome the provision of parental supervision orders in sections 111 and 112. It is proper that we should have the power to curfew children who are causing havoc in their homes or with a mentor. We should also have power to ensure parents take responsibility for that child during that period. Children should not be roaming the streets. Far too often children of ten, 11 or 12 years of age are out until 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning. It is not surprising that they get into trouble. The State cannot do everything. I do not accept the notion that implementing laws and putting resources in place will resolve every prob lem in the State. Parents, the primary educators, must have responsibility and in that regard I welcome the fact that parental supervision orders are an essential part of the Bill. On Committee Stage we might examine further how these can be implemented.

There are many good provisions in the Bill. It should have been brought forward and implemented some years ago, but now let us implement it and ensure it works.

I wish to share time with Deputy Haughey. I have listened to the contributions so far, most of which have been from Dublin and city based Deputies. Deputy Hayes pointed out some issues which once may only have been real to Dublin, but those issues are also becoming common in rural constituencies. In that context I welcome the provisions of the Bill and recognise that the Minister has responded positively to many submissions made in recent years. As a member of a health board, I am aware of the concerns and fears of guardians, parents, gardaí and teachers but the contributions of the Minister and the Minister of State recognised and met their demands.

The Bill has been described as "a blueprint for the development of the new juvenile justice system". It acknowledges that creative solutions and options must be put in place to address the problems of young people in trouble throughout the State. I also recognise that any system dealing with young offenders must retain the ultimate sanction of incarceration but the Bill clearly is based on the premise that this option should only be brought into play after a range of community-based measures have been exhausted.

The Bill includes four important provisions which relate to the age of criminal responsibility, the protection of children, the diversion programme and juvenile liaison scheme and family welfare conferences. I welcome the raising of the age of responsibility from seven to 12 years. Much has been made of the fact over the years that it was too low and had created doubts about the system. I further welcome the fact that health boards will be empowered to establish family welfare conferences in appropriate cases in respect of children at risk who have not committed offences and children before the court for their criminal behaviour but whom the court considers may need care and protection. It is an important provision for health board officials who work closely with local authorities and the Garda as they will have a valuable input to the conference because of their local knowledge, especially in rural communities. Essentially this is a preventative measure aimed at providing services for children at risk and their families.

The Department of Education and Science is embarking on a major development programme to enable it to meet its obligations under the legislation and to address the deficiencies and weaknesses in existing facilities. The Bill also proposes a greatly expanded role for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform under the statutory Garda diversion programme. Discussions at health board level suggested that the legislation should include major elements of the restorative justice programme, such as the introduction of a more proactive version of restorative cautioning than heretofore with the victim in attendance, which has been welcomed by everybody who has considered the Bill; the appointment of a person who is not a member of the Garda to chair the conference, which will be an integral part of the diversion programme; and the formulation of an action plan or written contract of compliance with the plan. I recognise their importance and value.

It is also proposed to expand these provisions through the introduction of a court directed and supervised family conference which will be run by the Probation and Welfare Service. This is another manifestation of restorative justice which will give the courts a further alternative in progressing to a decision and a possible finding of guilt. The courts are to be given the power to impose a suitable sanction on a child offender under 16 years in cases where detention is deemed inappropriate. This will contribute towards preventing a revolving door syndrome in child detention schools. These proposals have previously been mentioned by various health board committees and Garda liaison officers. In addition, where the courts are unable to impose detention in a child detention school due to lack of space, they will, as an alternative, be empowered to impose an appropriate community sanction.

The courts will also have power to impose a detention plus supervision order on children aged 16 and 17. Under it, detention and supervision in the community for a maximum of 12 months can be divided equally, thus providing greater opportunities for successful re-integration. The child detention schools will have a new, improved inspection system, which I welcome. The better the inspection system and safeguards which are built into it the greater the improvement will be. The leave arrangements from child detention schools will be expanded to include mobility trips and unaccompanied absences to gain work experience. The value of that cannot be overstated. It will be invaluable in giving children a sense of purpose and will afford them the opportunity to look forward to another way of life. The arrangements will be made more flexible so that the leave programme can be drawn up for each child detainee.

A special residential services board will be established to ensure the efficient, effective and co-ordinated delivery of services to children on whom child detention orders have been imposed, primarily offenders, or in respect of whom special care orders have been made, primarily out of control non-offenders. I also welcome that the meaning of "cruelty to children" is to be expanded to include mental or emotional ill-health or well-being.

The advantages of restorative justice are well documented. It is not an easy option but it ensures that, if successful, there will not be a finding of guilt, with all that entails. The child and his or her family will be involved in arriving at an equitable solution and the offender will be made aware of the effects of his or her criminal behaviour on the victim, possibly in the presence of the victim. That is also an important provision.

Section 12 updates the child protection provisions of the 1908 Act, thus allowing the Act to be repealed. An important element of this process was the acceptance of recommendations by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Family, Community and Social Affairs. I congratulate the Minister on drafting comprehensive legislation which has identified a plethora of creative solutions and options to deal with young people in trouble.

This is significant legislation, which will establish a new system of juvenile justice. When legislators last examined this issue with a view to introducing a comprehensive Bill, the Children Act, 1908, resulted. There have been many changes in thinking since. The concept of restorative justice, for example, is new. An updating of the juvenile justice system was long overdue. When one considers that 50% of crime is committed by persons under 21 years, one realises how important is the legislation.

I was afraid the debate might be very legalistic and academic. However, that has not been the case and a number of Members who represent urban areas outlined the problems on the ground relating to juvenile justice. Statistics demonstrate that many young offenders come from certain areas, which are by and large disadvantaged. There are problems relating to joyriding and drugs and alcohol abuse.

Debate adjourned.