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.