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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 23 Nov 2000

Vol. 526 No. 5

Youth Work Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas le Fine Gael as ucht an t-am a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an mBille um Obair Ógra, 2000. Bille an-tábhachtach é seo ach beidh daoine i bPáirtí an Lucht Oibre agus i bPáirtí Fhine Gael a mbeidh brón orthu go bhfuil deireadh tagtha leis an reachtaíocht dheiridh a bhí ann toisc go raibh sé bunaithe ar chóras dílárnaithe.

This Bill, which has been generally welcomed – and I would welcome further support for youth work – provides for a number of decentralised structures. It is slightly schizophrenic in that it appears to propose to close down decentralised structures on the one hand, yet to bolster them on the other. The objective of the Bill stands on its merits and should be supported, which I propose to do here.

This Bill contains an aspect of youth work policy, which in itself could give rise to considerable debate regarding the voluntary sector and training that would lead to employment. Much of the Minister of State's contribution was devoted to the monitoring and assessment aspect of the work and the establishment of a national youth work advisory committee. The establishment of these new bodies have been noted by the National Youth Council, Comhairle Náisiúnta nÓg, which contacted me, and I am sure, every Minister and Deputy, to make it clear that it considers its position is not recognised as a co-ordinating body for the voluntary youth organisations. The Bill provides for the establishment of voluntary youth councils for the voluntary sector. I would like the Minister of State to clarify where the responsibilities of one of those council's begins and the other body's ends, whether there will be an overlap in their responsibilities or whether they will share responsibilities in certain aspects?

The National Youth Council also points out that the Bill, while focusing and correctly prioritising areas of disadvantaged, seems to be focused exclusively on those areas. It points out that all young people should be entitled to the work and resources embodied in this legislation. That aspect requires clarification. When an organisation is not explicitly referred to in legislation, it may consider it is being excluded. The National Youth Council of Ireland has been the natural representative body of voluntary organisations for as long as I can remember and I understand that will continue to be the case, but the Bill raises a question mark over that, given that the reference to other bodies in the Bill is explicit while the reference to the National Youth Council of Ireland is not so explicit. I would like the Minister of State to clarify that point.

An increase from 22 to 29 members of the national youth work advisory committee is envisaged, taking into account the greater workload it will have and the need for it to be more representative. While those objectives are contained in the Bill, to be consistent, it should also take account of the concerns of the National Youth Council of Ireland.

The reality many of us face in dealing with our constituents of all ages has been highlighted in this debate. That is helpful, as it grounds the issues concerning young people. From my contact with young people, two major issues of concern for young people are obvious. One is transport. Today of all days has been one when transport has been on everyone's mind. The lack of adequate public transport facilities affects young people more as they make up a higher proportion of the population who use public transport.

A young constituent recently told me that at an interview for a job at Dublin Airport it was agreed that public transport times would be part of the consideration when it came to rostering, yet that person had ended up being rostered to finish work at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., and it is a case of "like it or lump it". Employers do not appear to recognise not only the concerns but the requirements of young people regarding public transport, particularly when they cannot afford car insurance and through a lack of choice must depend on public transport. I hope the concerns of young people will be heightened by the debate on this Bill to ensure everyone will be able to relate to the experience that is particularly pertinent to young people.

Another major concern of young people is the lack of facilities available, ranging from the lack of playgrounds for the very young to not having a drop in centre or sports facilities. The provision of resources would partly address that problem. I hope Deputy Carey was correct when he gave a commitment that the Government would not be found wanting in providing resources. However, there is an added problem that requires the full co-operation of the insurance industry. The Bill provides that the Minister would arrange for the carrying out of research. I presume that is not a new development. The Bill is explicit in stating that there will be increased levels of research into the concerns and needs of young people. If I could make one request for research, it would be for research in that area. I have attended a number of conferences, one in particular on the needs of young people in Trinity College. The speakers who came from the UK and other countries outside Ireland were able to report that those countries appear to have got their act together in relation to satisfying the needs of insurance companies regarding facilities for young people of all ages.

The lack of playground facilities is a sad indictment of our failure to meet the needs and development of young people. In the UK it appears that one can establish a playground in an area which is overlooked by housing that is maintained once a week and get public liability from an insurance company for it. Every institution is afraid of litigation – that is why public liability insurance is required – but we must grasp the nettle and not be bullied into taking so many precautions with facilities that we have none in case there is litigation. Then the losers are young people and that affects the future of the country, so we are all losers due to this head in the sand approach.

This is a big concern that should be tackled, though not with the same disruptive effect as the taxi issue. I am not sure whether one will see young people engaged in that kind of law-breaking activity but it is important to grasp the nettle on behalf of those young people who are being denied basic facilities. Any time I canvass some adult says to me: "There is a gang down there and they are going to cause trouble, I know it. They are hanging around in the dark and they are a threat." I go down to those young people, as most Deputies would in those circumstances, and talk to them. I do not say that a person down the road says they are a threat but I ask them what they like to do and what they would like to see done. Almost always they say: "If only there was somewhere we could go."

Sometimes they have been thrown out of or do not fit into local youth organisations. However, the most basic facility would be a drop-in centre with a couple of pool tables, a coffee machine and some chairs and tables. We are talking about providing little more than that yet it is not available and when available it is so restrictive as not to be practical. I hope the issue of insurance for youth facilities will be researched and that dialogue will bring about an improvement in those facilities, as currently they are sadly lacking. It seems to come down to insurance; that is what local authorities are pointing the finger at.

Different Departments should also discuss the issue. Recently I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation about sports facilities and the difficulties being experienced by those trying to start such facilities due to insurance costs. The only reply was that any of the applications received for grant assistance did not mention a problem with insurance. I would be very surprised if anyone looking for grant assistance would point out the problems in establishing the facility if they get the grant; chances are they will let that go until they get the grant and then try to make use of it. That is the reality. Although the Minister may not be told about it I could name many people who could tell him about it; the Minister of State probably knows about it. That is what I would like to see happen here. It is even more important than the resources issue, which is important, but there is a blockage in the system in providing facilities for young people. That blockage must be broken.

Next year is the United Nations Year of the Volunteer and hopefully this Bill will fit in well with that objective. There is no doubt that youth work is suffering badly due to the shortage of volunteers. I have been a scout leader in Dublin and Cork and have done youth work through the years but at present I find it very difficult to find time for anything other than being a Deputy, a view which other Deputies will understand. There is a general lack of willingness and time among people to become volunteers and hopefully it can become part of the developmental work following the passing of this Bill to target adults who are in a position to pass on some of their experiences which might be of benefit to young people. That could provide the volunteers who are so badly needed.

Deputy Carey said that many of the administrative positions in youth organisations can be top heavy with people who may be young in mind but not in body. That works both ways, however; one needs the experience of people who have been around and who know what life is all about, whether in business or other fields. There is a shortage of such volunteers and I hope the Bill addresses that, as it is dragging down and breaking communities throughout the country which can no longer depend on volunteers.

The experience of youth work in other countries is fascinating. I had a rare opportunity that I will always treasure to attend a meeting of the World Scout Parliamentary Union, a body that is strongest in eastern Asia and eastern Europe. It developed out of a tradition in many Asian countries where youth work was not optional but was part of youth development. In many countries one had the choice of joining the scouts, the guides or the Red Cross. A person chose one of the three but not choosing was not an option. That may be going too far with the mandatory option and does not tie in with the spirit of the Year of the Volunteer but it highlights the importance associated with youth work, whether that is youth training or the involvement of the young in their own development. It is seen as integral and vital for the development of young people and the building of a free-thinking, diverse, democratic society. We should get the message across that when people are deciding whether or not to become involved in a youth organisation it should be pointed out that it is not just an alternative to looking at television but is an integral part of a country developing its greatest asset and resource – its young people.

I hope this Bill will help develop that debate and put in place necessary resources. It should also help to clear the blockage that I mentioned in relation to insurance, the provision of facilities and the recruitment of volunteers.

I welcome the opportunity of contributing to the debate on the Youth Work Bill, 2000, an Bille um Obair Ógra, and I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, on bringing in this legislation. This is a timely opportunity to discuss legislation that affects young people. Last year, when I was a member of the foreign affairs committee, I received an invitation to a youth parliament meeting in the Philippines. We were asked to send two members who were under 40 but we only had one member under 40 on the committee. We are often reminded that we have some young Members here but we did not have enough young people under the required age on the foreign affairs committee.

I missed it by a week.

The Deputy missed the committee as well.

I did indeed.

The Bill is welcome. The Minister said it was a long time in gestation but he has got it right and I am glad we are debating it. From speaking to people in the voluntary sector, I am aware that they have always been concerned that there would be recognition of the work they do and that they would be represented in the committees to be formed from this legislation. I was glad to hear the Minister say that it was essential to recognise the voluntary nature of youth work provision and to give recognition to that in the Bill. He proposes that a minimum of 75% of the members should be made up of volunteers and at least one fifth of the membership of the council will be made up of young persons under 25 years of age. That is welcome. The fact that the voluntary youth councils will nominate one half of the membership of youth work committees is welcome also. The Minister has addressed the important concerns of people who are working in a voluntary capacity for young people.

Many youth councils and federations do not operate on a strict county basis. That is important when one considers that the role of the vocational education committees is very much to the fore in the Bill. An organisation which calls itself the County Roscommon Youth Service looks after many of the youth clubs and young people in north Galway. Organisations such as that which cross county borders to look after the needs of young people should be recognised in some way.

One of the finest organisations I know in the west is the No Name Club, which is geared to providing entertainment for people in an atmosphere where alcoholic drink is not served. It is called a different name in Mayo, Dóthain, the Irish for "enough" and a different name again in Roscommon. The people who are involved in these organisations, which run discos and quizzes in venues where alcohol is not served, are doing very good work and I would like the Minister of State, under some heading, to help them with funding. They get some small sums of money through the Department and the various vocational education committees but they need more encouragement and assistance from the Department.

Grants such as the sports for all and the youth project grants are available. They provide small sums of money on an ongoing basis and are very useful. All sporting clubs and the no name clubs benefit from those grants but the only scheme in the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation that is of major benefit is the sports capital grants. When we talk about capital grants we are talking about constructing buildings or developing sports fields or community halls but there is little by way of help for the smaller clubs faced with ongoing finance and maintenance costs. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, has talked about allocating money for equipment, which is useful for people who have equipment in halls or sports centres. If that commitment is honoured, we will be able to get more money for young people because the money that is going towards capital projects presupposes that there will be construction or development of the type I have mentioned.

I am glad the Minister of State referred to the functions of the vocational education committees, which have shown their commitment to sport through the sport for all grants and the youth project grants. It was encouraging also to hear the Minister refer to the setting up of a youth work advisory committee. That committee will foster a spirit of co-operation in the youth sector. The Minister stated also that he will be increasing the number of members on the VEC to take account of the extra workload of the vocational education committees in relation to the provision of services for our young people. The vocational education committees are doing excellent work and they are made up of a broad cross-section of people. Under the new proposal, people from the IDA will be part of the membership. That is important because that organisation deals with the education of young people. I hope the vocational education committees will be successful in the work they are doing.

I referred earlier to the work of the Roscommon youth service. I recently attended a launch of its proposals for next year and up to 2003. One of the interesting points made at the launch was that the service was getting a grant of £70,000 to cover youth clubs in Roscommon and three clubs in north Galway. The people at the launch made the point that in the region of £70,000 would be paid to look after a young person in a detention centre for a year. When young people get into trouble, it is important to have a system in place where they can get involved at an early stage in these clubs. That would be of great benefit.

There are three clubs in Galway and 12 in Roscommon doing that kind of work and an indication of their success is that they have been able to progress their services every year. Obviously they need more money and they have lobbied successive Governments to get more funding. FÁS has been helpful to them in that regard. These clubs had a long struggle to get a premises. One such club is Day One in Roscommon, which Deputy Fahey, when he was Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, opened. They have a library in Castleblakeney, County Galway, so they have a basic office and library which they can build on. That organisation can do even more work for the young people of Galway and Roscommon. I ask the Minister to consider the development plan sent to his Department which covers the period 2000-03 and which highlights that volunteers and part-time and full-time staff are working together. This is a non-profit organisation which works with the young people of Roscommon and north Galway.

The plan highlights that the group is pleased that, in future, it will know the amount of funding it will receive. Up to now the allocation of funding for youth organisations has been on an ad hoc basis but the Bill will mean that organisations will know how much funding they are to receive. For example, the youth federation has stressed the need for the establishment of a youth service. It is important to put in place the financial, human and policy resources needed, and to develop the national youth service. Legislation is important is this regard and that is why I welcome the Bill.

On 13 September, when he launched a White Paper called A Framework for Supporting Voluntary Activity, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, mentioned the formal recognition we should accord to the community and voluntary sector in contributing to the creation of a vibrant, participative democracy and civil society. The Minister also stated that the voluntary and community sector is seen as an essential partner in economic and social development. This comment highlights that youth work deserves Government recognition for its educational value in addition to its community development potential.

The National Youth Federation has identified a number of priorities which must be put in place to ensure the future delivery of quality youth services in urban and rural settings. These strategic priorities must be implemented in a co-ordinated and incremental way so as to achieve the comprehensive delivery of improved services. These priorities are linked and cannot be traded off one against the other.

The Bill provides a sectoral framework for the first time. New procedures resulting from the enactment of the Bill and the implementation of the national youth work development plan, should take account of establishing a transparent system for the operation of existing grants schemes for youth work and youth service delivery before further expansion of existing schemes or new schemes are put in place. It is also important to audit existing services to identify quality and effectiveness and significant gaps in provision, thus targeting specific areas for service delivery within the lifetime of the plan. The Bill also challenges and eliminates unnecessary overlaps by existing providers.

The National Youth Federation would like to see the establishment of a policy and evaluation unit which would provide the relevant experience and skills through departmental officials for the implementation and development of youth services based on quality and best practices drawn from local, national and European learning. The federation is of the opinion that a team of youth work assessors and policy makers should be put in place to source relevant information and undertake research which would inspire volunteers and staff to work towards a brighter future for young people.

Policies are needed in areas such as child protection, youth participation, volunteer development, arts and cultural activities, quality assurance and curriculum development. The federation is keen to see the introduction of multi-annual funding to ensure a stable and credible range of services for voluntary youth organisations. I hope the Government's commitment to this area will be the norm for priority services.

The issue of salary scales and common grades across the sector has been brought to my attention. The contribution of paid staff is vital for each organisation in the areas of retraining and developing human resources. As I understand it, the grant-in-aid from the Department of Education and Science does not recognise salary scales while the investment by organisations in the training and development of staff gives rise to valuable personnel being poached and-or attracted by higher scales, particularly those available within the statutory sector or through new initiatives such as the partnership companies.

Departments are funding youth initiatives at different benchmark levels. The Department of Education and Science appears to operate a lower level than other Departments such as the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Social, Community and Family Affairs. It is time we introduced benchmarking which incorporated recognition for human, programme and capital structure costs. This should be agreed and adhered to as part of the recognition accorded to the community and voluntary sector, including the delivery of youth services.

Local youth services provide a unique facility for the provision of integrated, community-based services whereby youth projects and initiatives sit within a single organisation, thus achieving economies of scale, effective co-ordination and a significant profiling of young people's needs by virtue of the multiplicity of services available. However, this requires financial assistance which is the major bone of contention with youth services.

The National Youth Federation also proposes that any new funds would operate through the proposed VEC administrative systems, based on agreed procedures and criteria, and approved by the national youth work advisory committees. This will require that between the enactment of the legislation and the implementation of the youth work development plan, there should be an interregnum to examine this situation.

The current infrastructure for youth services requires examination. I referred to the long wait for premises experienced by the County Roscommon youth service. Well maintained buildings and access to facilities provided by statutory agencies such as vocational education committees would be a key resource. Funding is required to ensure infrastructural requirements such as buildings, equipment, transport and educational and recreational facilities are put in place in a co-ordinated fashion within the catchment of each VEC and under the management of youth service organisations. Where a national youth organisation overlaps two counties, there should be co-operation between the two vocational education committees involved.

I welcome this legislation but it will not succeed unless we increase the participation of young people. We must examine this issue, including democracy and the importance of people exercising their vote. We know from the turn-out at elections that young people have not been engaged in the democratic process. Improved participation at local level in the first instance would be assisted by local government, Dáil and other kinds of reform about which we talk.

I pay tribute to the Minister on introducing this Bill. Young people will contribute to the design and implementation of services which will have to be attractive, accessible and relevant to their peers, in partnership with the vocational education committees to which I pay tribute and the committed volunteers who are so important in the provision of services for young people.

Like my colleagues, I am delighted we have the opportunity to discuss this legislation. It is a pity that on a Thursday evening at 4.30 there are not very many Members interested in it. This type of legislation has been long awaited. I was in college in 1984 when we first discussed the national youth policy committee report. We all were naive at the time in UCD in thinking this would be implemented immediately if not sooner. We had discussions in 1997 with the introduction of a previous Bill and thank goodness Fianna Fáil got into Government and removed the notion of regional education boards and that we have referred the structures back to the vocational educational committees. It has never been more important to support young people and in particular to support youth work. Our population is very young and the necessity to support young people outside of the sporting arena and ensure personal development and assertiveness must be recognised. I am familiar with the youth services in my constituency involving drop-in centres providing youth information. They have been used by the statutory services, in particular the health board and the juvenile liaison officer in supporting young people who have found themselves in trouble with the law for instance. The youth services have been very involved in the probation service and have had referrals from the juvenile liaison officer and from other services. That is commendable work and I thank all of those involved in youth work in County Donegal. There are 18 permanent youth workers currently, who have really made a difference for the young people in the county.

The legislation will provide for people between ten and 21 years of age. Perhaps the Minister could reconsider that. Why should it apply at 10 and not younger? I thought this could perhaps encompass children in primary school from five years of age and up to 25, which is the normal definition of someone in youth work. Many youth organisations, for example the scouts and some youth clubs start with children who are just beyond the pre-school and play group age. Perhaps the Minister will consider if there could be an extension of the age group in the Bill.

I am delighted Donegal VEC has been forthright in addressing the legislation. It has always been very aware of youth work, and has been involved with Foróige which has been tremendous for the young people in rural Ireland in particular. It holds achievement days, and is very involved in all sort of activities with the elderly, with environmental projects and with all sorts of awareness projects. It is suggested that nowdays there is a notion of paid volunteers and that the concept of volunteerism is dwindling. That is not so along the western seaboard, where Foróige had 19 clubs last year and 38 very active clubs this year. That shows that volunteerism is alive and kicking. That is also attributed to the youth workers who are there to support and generate enthusiasm and to many of the parents. Perhaps it is not the volunteerism that has gone but the support from the parents, which is also very important. The youth work done currently is not a baby-sitting service, it is an all-encompassing service in which parents should also be encouraged. Teachers and people involved with young people should be encouraged in supporting young people through the youth work systems. My colleague Deputy Keaveney and I have been very strong in trying to ensure that County Donegal has a drugs and alcohol abuse awareness programme through the youth projects. The Garda are keen to support that through community development programmes. The link with the educational aspects of the vocational education committees will also be very important. That is why I commend the co-ordinating role of the vocational education committees which ultimately will link to the Minister's Department, which is important.

A number of issues could be further clarified by the Minister on Committee Stage. the legislation refers to the vocational education committees, the sub-committee and the link through the national youth work committee which will link with the Minister's Department and the statutory authorities. If the Minister tells the vocational education committees they have a co-ordinating role in consultation with the youth work services already there, what is to stop another statutory agency, for example, setting up something that the VEC considers unnecessary? Will the VEC and the youth work committee have the ultimate co-ordinating roles so that people will not be able to set up almost anything if they think they can obtain a few pounds to set it up? Quality assurance will be very important in youth work provision and I wish to be assured by the Minister of the role of the VEC in co-ordinating youth work projects and that there would not be ad hoc procedures in the administrative areas.

Funding will be very important. The Department says the introduction of this legislation will not have a huge financial implication. Perhaps that was just to get it through the Cabinet and past the Minister for Finance. Now that we have the opportunity to provide the proper structures for the service to be provided, we must have financial and administrative back-up. It cannot be done willy-nilly. It is important to ensure that there will be administrative people available to support it and not to the detriment of other parts of the VEC structure. Also, the groups should be financially viable for three to five years. A three year plan is proposed. Perhaps we could have a five year initial plan which would allow a lead-in period so that people can be set up and at least have achieved something?

One of the concerns locally regarding the financial aspects of support of the youth work services is that the partnerships have been very involved. The partnerships have taken up the slack in respect of which the Government and the Department of Education and Science have not been in a position to take action. There are three partnership companies in County Donegal which have established a group in the Gaeltacht areas to deal with specific needs and they have taken action to cater for the needs of the disadvantaged. One of their concerns is that youth workers have not been appointed on a permanent basis. It is difficult to set up and maintain projects if the people involved are only appointed on a temporary basis. The funding mechanism will be very important in that context.

The Minister of State indicated that a policy of gender-proofing will be pursued in respect of the people who will be elected or selected to serve on the relevant committees. In my opinion a policy of "rural-proofing" should also be pursued. The Minister of State indicated that there is a desirability to have representations from Traveller groups and other minorities. I ask that a more stringent line should be taken and, of necessity, people from the groups to which the Minister of State referred should be appointed to these committees. The disabled and those with special needs should also be able to participate in the youth work services in their locality. These people must be given recognition.

A number of young people have informed me that the national youth work advisory committee places too much emphasis on the statutory bodies and not enough on the voluntary youth groups. A balance must be achieved in this regard.

There are many youth clubs and organisations in County Donegal which are denominational in nature. I am in favour of young people growing up and working together, regardless of their denomination, but there are some clubs in the Protestant community in my constituency that wish to retain their current denominational status and they should be allowed to do so.

There should be some freedom in terms of appointing people to serve on the sub-committees and as representatives on the vocational education committees. In my constituency, there would be a need to appoint spokespersons who are involved with the Gaeltacht youth clubs, the disabled etc. There must be an element of flexibility in terms of those who will be appointed by the Department.

Unfortunately, a number of undesirable individuals have been involved in youth work. I ask the Minister of State to put in place a code of ethics similar to that which applies in respect of those working in sport. Those involved in youth work should be properly trained and there should be a code of ethics by which they must abide. A voluntary code of ethics applies in the area of sport and I see no difficulty with introducing such a code and a set of national guidelines in respect of youth work.

Another aspect of the debate relating to youth committees is that the young people involved want to be paid. I do not believe the legislation makes provision in that regard. However, I promised those with whom I was in contact in respect of the Bill that I would bring this matter to the Minister of State's attention because these people feel they receive no recognition while members of the statutory bodies obtain travelling expenses etc.

There is one other matter in respect of which I wish to seek clarification, namely, the appointment of assessors. This is tied in to the quality assurance aspect of the legislation. I live in a county which has a landmass of 483,000 hectares and a population of 130,000. Given that my county is so sparsely populated, it will be very difficult to assess the various clubs.

Debate adjourned.