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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 23 Nov 2000

Vol. 526 No. 5

Youth Work Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill provides me with an opportunity to present legislation which gives a statutory framework for the provision of youth work programmes and services. Youth work plays a very important role in the social and personal development of young people. It aims to assist all young people to realise their full potential and become active participants in a democratic society. Youth organisations and projects provide the means by which this development can take place. A central aspect of youth work is the young person's voluntary participation in the services provided by youth work organisations. Youth work also has a strong ethos of volunteerism, with many adults and young leaders giving of their time and efforts freely in the provision of services with and for young people. It is, perhaps, because youth work is based on the concept of volunteerism that it has reached out to so many people, young and old alike, in society. The many organisations which my Department supports by way of financial and other assistance support, in turn, the work of the volunteer. It is my intention that the Bill will further develop and enhance the very valuable work being done by the organisations, agencies, youth workers and volunteers in non-formal education.

Youth work is rightly deserving of its own identity and the second legislative opportunity the Bill offers. The Youth Work Act, 1997, was a step in the right direction in placing youth work on a statutory basis. It was, however, predicated on the establishment of education boards which were subsequently deemed inoperable by the Government. It was necessary, therefore, to revise the Act to take account of this. On revisiting the Act it became clear that there were many other aspects of its provisions which required improvement and modification in the light of the reaction to it. The Bill represents a fresh start in which we can address the needs of young people and youth work in a more detailed, systematic and comprehensive manner.

Ever since the report of the national youth policy committee in 1984 the issue of youth work legislation has been on the agenda. The long progress to this point has been with Governments of differing complexions and, sometimes, with opposing views of the structures which should be in place to facilitate good practice and the effective administration of the youth service. There has always been, however, common ground that the youth work service, mainly of a voluntary nature, should have a legislative basis on which to function and operate.

There was widespread consultation with interested parties prior to the drafting of the Bill. It became apparent at an early stage that rather than have voluminous amendments to the 1997 Act to provide for the replacement of education boards by vocational education committees, it would be more desirable to introduce a new Bill. In the short interval since its publication my officials and I have met interested parties to discuss their views and comments. I am glad to say that there has been a positive reaction and the publication of the Bill has been generally welcomed.

The principal purposes of the Bill are to define what youth work means in a clear and concise manner; to detail the policy, budget, research, monitoring and assessment functions of the Minister regarding youth work; to define the functions of vocational education committees regarding youth work, particularly the procedures for planning, prioritising, funding and reporting on the provision of youth work programmes and services; to establish a special youth work committee in each VEC area; to provide for the continuation of the national youth work advisory committee and to expand that voluntary committee to reflect to a greater degree the current composition of the youth work community; to formalise the allocation of grants for youth work; to establish voluntary youth councils to represent the needs and demands of the voluntary sector at local level, and to permit the appointment of a national assessor of youth work so as to ensure the best possible use of Government moneys in the provision of youth work programmes and services.

To those Members conscious of the Youth Work Act, 1997, many of the concepts included in the Bill will be familiar. The national youth work advisory committee will be retained and strengthened through enlargement. The structures initially intended for the administration of the national youth work budget have been adjusted to take account of the existing situation and the local youth work committees and voluntary youth councils have had their roles clarified and extended. I intend to appoint at least one national youth work assessor as a result of the legislation before us and expect that this development will greatly assist in the best use of the resources available for the promotion of youth work. Those organisations that provide youth work programmes and services will have the added protection of a formalised system of safeguards in regard to decisions of the VEC and of the Minister.

This is a development much anticipated in the sector. Of all the provisions of the Bill, however, perhaps the most important is the emphasis that is being placed on co-ordination amongst the agencies and organisations which undertake youth work. For too long, Departments and voluntary youth work organisations have worked somewhat independently of each other, each providing a youth service tailored to its own particular needs. It is expected that co-operation between all the bodies and organisations and youth work committees and the national youth work advisory committee will foster a spirit of co-operation and information sharing that will be of enormous benefit to the sector.

The Bill outlines in detail the functions of the Minister in the area of policy formulation, co-ordination, budget, research, monitoring and assessment. These are key areas in youth work policy and it is essential that the Minister has overall responsibility for them and for the development of national policy. The functions will include the development and co-ordination of youth work programmes and services, including co-ordination with education and other programmes. The Bill will also allow for the Minister to provide annual funding for youth work programmes and services. It will enable the Minister to carry out or commission research in respect of youth work. It will provide for monitoring, at least once a year, of youth work programmes and services in receipt of State funding. Furthermore, the Bill provides for the assessment, at least once every three years, of State funded youth work programmes and services funded by Vocational Education Committees.

A very important function of the Minister will be to appoint the national youth work advisory committee. The Bill will provide for due regard to be had to the treatment of males and females; to those aged between 10 and 21 and those who are socially or economically disadvantaged. It will enable the Minister to give directions to a VEC or youth work organisation if, after assessment of a programme or service, that is required. Furthermore, there is provision for the Minister to direct any two or more vocational education committees to act jointly in the provision of youth work. These are necessary and important tasks for the Minister to exercise as part of his overall responsibility for the development of youth work and youth work policy.

I gave much thought to the manner in which delivery of youth work programmes and services might be organised at local level. I am convinced that, given the nature of youth work and its deliv ery in Ireland, the most appropriate statutory vehicle at local level should be the vocational education committees. The vocational education committees have a strong tradition in youth work and are much involved in youth work provision; they are uniquely and ideally placed to respond to local needs in youth work provision. I regard the decision to entrust statutory responsibility for youth work to vocational education committees to be a realistic and forward looking decision of the Government. The Bill, therefore, provides for vocational education committees to ensure the provision, within their administrative areas, of youth work programmes and services in co-ordination with voluntary youth organisations. It will require vocational education committees to prepare a three year youth work development plan for their administrative area. The legislation will enable vocational education committees to grant, withdraw or reduce financial assistance to youth work organisations as the situation demands. The Bill will enable vocational education committees to arrange for the provision of youth work programmes or services where they are not being provided. One must be conscious of the fact that every community has needs different from its neighbours and flexibility must be given to vocational education committees to allow adaptation to the conditions prevailing in each VEC functional area. That is precisely what is being proposed under the Bill. The three year planning process will enable vocational education committees to develop local youth work services in a visionary, imaginative and progressive manner.

It has long been my desire to re-introduce the post of national youth work assessor. This Bill will take a step further along the road to accountable and efficient youth service. The assessor will have a central role in the proposed structures. Not only will he or she provide invaluable information on the state of the sector but will enable decision making on the basis of a full appreciation of the merits of the youth work organisation concerned. In this manner, the vocational education committees and I will be able to promote best practice and value for money among the various groups which will come under the scope of the Bill.

During the consultation process, the widespread desire for a review process for decisions made by the administrative bodies was patently apparent. With this in mind, the national youth work assessor will be charged with a range of duties designed to allay any fears within the voluntary youth work sector that unfair or unreasonable decisions might be taken with regard to their funding under this new scheme. The process whereby many of the decisions of the Minister or the vocational education committees will only become final when the organisation concerned has had an opportunity to restate its case to the assessor, must be seen as a major safeguard for the providers of youth work services and programmes. As such, it is a very welcome addition to the youth work landscape. It reflects, I believe, the consensual approach to catering for the needs of the sector, which is a hallmark of this legislation.

The national youth work advisory committee has, over the past three years, proved itself invaluable in the development of youth policies. A number of issues of vital importance to the youth of Ireland have been and are being examined by the committee. Since its inception following the 1997 Act it has been responsible for, and has been an invaluable source of, advice for the production of policy guidelines and direction in the youth work area. At my request, it has also been active in the commissioning of a five year national youth work development plan. I anticipate that the committee will be in a position to present me with this plan by March next year.

Through this Bill, it is intended to expand the duties of the committee and formally give a role in the administration of the youth sector to the voluntary bodies and those statutory agencies with an interest in the field. Following what we all hope will be the successful passage of this Bill, the committee will set about the mammoth task of producing advice on the implementation of almost every aspect of it. The committee will provide guidelines for the vocational education committees as to the constitution of local voluntary youth work organisations and the standards to which they must adhere. Perhaps most importantly, it will examine how we can achieve the greatest degree of co-ordination of services, both within and outside the sector, to provide the very best return on investment in the young people of Ireland.

In order to provide the best possible service the membership of the committee will be expanded from a maximum membership of 22 to 29. The reason for this increase is twofold, first, to allow for the increased work load the committee will face and, second, to ensure the widest possible representation of interested parties. The membership structure has been adjusted to allow for two representatives from the Irish Vocational Education Association, and a representative of the chief inspector of the Department of Education and Science. The former reflects the greatly increased role envisaged for the vocational education committees in the operation of the new structures and the latter marks the intention to ensure the highest level of co-ordination between the formal and non-formal education sectors. The enhanced participation of the statutory side is matched with a major advance in representation on the voluntary side. In a development that epitomises the spirit of co-operation between the State and the voluntary sector, the national representative body of voluntary youth work organisations will be guaranteed 50% of the representation on the committee. Similarly to youth work committees at local level, the public and voluntary sector partnership embodied in the national youth work advisory committee will facilitate greater co-operation and co-ordination of services for young people.

In order to give full effect to the legislation, it is proposed to enable vocational education committees to appoint specific sub-committees for youth work. These will be known as youth work committees. The composition of these committees will be inclusive of statutory and voluntary agencies in order to give the widest possible representation. Each committee will provide a most important advisory service to its VEC in matters relating to youth work. It is my wish that the youth work committee will act in a positive and enlightened fashion in shaping the manner of youth work policy in its respective VEC area. It will also reflect the needs of the community in youth work by virtue of its wide, representative nature. In short, it will have a most important role in the development of youth work policy in each VEC area.

As regards the provisions in the Bill for the creation of voluntary youth councils, it is essential in order to recognise the voluntary nature of youth work provision to give due recognition to those volunteers involved in youth work. It is essential to recognise the voluntary nature of youth work provision and to give due recognition to those volunteers involved in youth work. Accordingly, I propose that a minimum of 75% of the members should be volunteers and at least one fifth of the membership of the council should be young persons under 25 years of age.

The voluntary youth councils will nominate one half of the membership of local youth work committees. This situation clearly illustrates the high regard and respect I have for volunteers in youth work. This provision is further recognition in the most positive manner of the key role played by volunteers in the youth work movement.

I will now turn to the various categories of youth work organisations and their recognition in this legislation. The Youth Work Bill envisages four categories of youth work providing organisations, three of which require recognition by the Minister and one – local voluntary youth work organisations – by the local VEC. The first category of youth organisations is the national youth work representative organisation. In accordance with section 18 of the Bill, the principal role of this body will be to nominate 50% of the members of the national youth work advisory committee. Accordingly, it is felt that the importance of this body and its national role deserve emphasis and for this reason it should be prescribed by ministerial regulation for a period of three years at a time. It is only to be expected that the National Youth Council of Ireland will be prescribed as the national youth work representative organisation.

There are well in excess of 30 national youth work organisations funded by my Department. I expect these organisations to form the core of the second class of organisations, the approved national youth work organisations. These bodies operate nationally and include organisations which are known to everybody and, in many cases, could be said to be household names. Through national lottery funding, the Department of Education and Science gives grant-in-aid towards the administration budgets of these national organisations in the form of the youth service grant scheme. While they will interact with each VEC at local level, a coherent national youth work policy requires that they have a close relationship with the Department of Education and Science.

The voluntary sector through its membership of the national youth work advisory committee will have ample opportunity to help shape policy in regard to organisations in this category. The Minister will have the power to revoke "approved national" status for good cause. However, the national youth work organisations concerned will have the safeguard of the national youth work assessor to ensure that their positions cannot be questioned unreasonably.

Designated local youth work organisations are those which provide youth work services at community level. These services are often affiliated to members of the national youth work representative organisation. The intention of the Bill is that where these organisations receive grant-in-aid from their local VEC they will also receive their designated status from the VEC. The guidelines the vocational education committees will follow in determining whether an organisation is eligible for status as a designated voluntary youth work organisation will be issued by the Minister with the advice of the national youth work advisory committee. The designated local youth work organisations will form the electorates for the local voluntary youth councils and will be eligible to receive grant-in-aid through the vocational education committees in the form of measures such as the local youth club grant scheme, the disadvantaged youth grant scheme and the youth information network.

The Minister may, from time to time, need to expend funds on organisations not directly involved in the provision of youth work or which are not voluntary organisations but which can provide a service required for the effective delivery of youth work services. For the purposes of the Bill these will be known as authorised organisations. Bodies to be included in this category may be consultancy service providers or non-national youth work providers who are needed to provide services outside the scope of the local vocational education committees.

The youth work functions of the Minister and the vocational education committees require that particular regard be had to the youth work requirements of those who are socially or economically disadvantaged. The concept of social inclusion is extremely important in the sphere of non-formal education and development of young people. Voluntary involvement in youth work programmes and services provides a real alternative to the formal route for many disadvantaged young people. It can help bring these young people back into the formal education sector with renewed enthusiasm and self-confidence.

Schemes funded by the youth affairs section of my Department to assist disadvantaged young people include grants for special projects to assist disadvantaged youth and the young people's facilities and services fund. There is also provision in the new local youth club grant scheme for particular regard to be had to the requirements of disadvantaged young people.

The provisions of the Bill have sought to uphold the Government's commitment to ensuring an equal opportunities ethos in the provisions of policy and legislation. The Minister's functions include a requirement to have regard to the treatment of young male and female persons in relation to access to youth work and to the number of male and female young persons likely to participate in the youth work programmes and services. These requirements are also applicable to the functions of the vocational education committees.

Current information available to my Department indicates that there is equal participation of young males and females in organisations receiving funding from my Department. While the Bill aims to ensure that regard is had to the treatment and involvement of both genders, it does not, and should not, aim to fix gender quotas. While many of the long established youth organisations in this State are single sex organisations, they continue to work closely with other groups and organisations in developing their young members' overall youth work involvement. Committees both at national and local level – the national youth work advisory committee, the youth work committees of the vocational education committees and the voluntary youth councils – are required to have regard to appropriate gender balance.

The important role of information in today's society is also recognised by the provisions of the Bill. Information is of paramount importance to those who are making decisions on further education, possible career paths and other life decisions. The Minister and the vocational education committees must endeavour to ensure that in carrying out their functions regard is had to the information needs of young people.

My Department currently provides resources for the development of a network of youth information centres which provide young people with easy access to information on rights, opportunities, benefits, health, welfare and other matters. This service also has relevance to those seeking advice and assistance in regard to travel and to the issue of mobility within Europe. These youth information centres, by providing information to young people on a wide range of subjects of interest to them, help them to develop their abilities and to overcome their problems more effectively.

In assisting them through the effective dissemination of information to identify their own resources, make their own decisions and take their own actions, they promote personal autonomy and resourcefulness and encourage their active participation in society. Through the youth information grant scheme the Department of Education and Science is able to provide practical assistance to vocational education committees and other bodies to provide this vital service. This Bill, in acknowledging the information needs of young people, pays tribute to the excellent work of all those involved with the youth information centre movement in every part of the country.

I emphasise again the degree of co-ordination and co-operation between statutory and voluntary interests envisaged in this Bill. The composition of the national youth work advisory committee and youth work committees clearly underlines this position and is one of the main strengths of the legislation. This will become more apparent when the legislation is in operation.

The Youth Work Bill, 2000, has been criticised for having a long gestation period. Perhaps this is so but we can argue plausibly that the wait has been worthwhile. Time has been taken to allow for full and mature consideration of what is needed to consolidate the youth work sector and to prepare a framework that should last for many years. There has been a comprehensive process of consultation which has built on the findings prepared in advance of the Youth Work Act, 1997. The result is a Bill that addresses the wishes and needs of the voluntary sector in a detailed manner as well as catering for the needs of those charged with the implementation of the new structures.

Above all, the Bill defines youth work in a fashion that is simple yet complete. Emphasis is placed on the voluntary nature of the service and that youth work's goal should be the personal and social development of young people. I am satisfied that the Youth Work Bill provides a logical and coherent framework for the delivery of youth work programmes and services at national, regional and local level for the new millennium. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome this long awaited Bill. The Bill has had a long gestation period and I hope it will prove worthwhile. I do not intend to delay the House unduly by going through the Bill on Second Stage, as we will have an opportunity to go through it in detail on Committee Stage. It is expected that every party will support it on Second Stage.

This Bill is before us because of a Government decision to change the focus of the delivery of education by the removal of the regional education boards and reverting to the previous status quo. Were it not for a decision to alter the plans of the former Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathneach, for our regional education structure, this Bill, or something along the lines of it, would have been implemented by now. Notwithstanding that, a political decision was made to remove the regional education boards and, accordingly, changes were necessary, one of which is this legislation.

On a lighter note, on many occasions when I have spoken on legislation I have prefaced my remarks by saying, "as a young person", but given that a young person is defined in the Bill as someone under the age of 25, I will no longer be able to refer to myself as such.

I welcome the Bill's definition of youth work as the planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation and which is complementary to their formal, academic or vocational educational training and provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations. The word "voluntary" is very important. Today, the words "voluntary" and "community" have almost disappeared from everyday use. In today's society we put a price on everything but a value on nothing. This legislation covers the active participation of up to 40,000 in youth work groups, assisting and liaising with up to 600,000 to 700,000 people. That is the scale of youth work carried out on an almost voluntary basis. At a time when work tends to be measured in terms of its commercial value, it is great that voluntary work is very strong in our youth work sector, and long may that continue. I hope that with the passing of this Bill the necessary structure will be put in place to ensure the continuance of voluntary youth work in our society.

The focus the Bill places on the role of the VEC is welcome. Given that vocational education committees have a long record of assisting in this field of endeavour, they are the ideal vehicle for implementing this legislation. They will be at the core of the operation of the proposals in the legislation. Having been a member County Cork VEC for almost nine years, I am aware of the commitment of the majority of VEC members and each VEC chief executive officer to youth work and the development of that sector. Being at the fulcrum of this legislation, a major role is being placed on them and I am sure they will meet that challenge head on. I am also sure that various VEC members will be eager to play their role on the youth work advisory committees, as they will be aware of the value of youth work in their communities and counties.

This legislation was flagged as far back as 1984 when the Costello report laid the foundations for it. Excellent work was done in researching this topic and many problems were highlighted and possible solutions flagged, but in the interim period successive Governments did not act on them. It was not only a question of money, there was a political difficulty in accepting that voluntary effort, voluntary organisations and youth work should be recognised on a statutory footing. Arising form reports published in this area and the work carried out in preparing them, we are now in a position to tie up the loose ends.

In doing so, it will be important to examine the financial cost of the legislation. We must ensure that value for money is obtained and I have no doubt it will be. The assessor of youth work will have a role to play in this regard. Those of us involved in voluntary groups witness first hand how well the small amounts of money available to local voluntary groups are used. The budget for youth work and the grants allocated to the groups working with young people have been modest, but the money has not gone to waste. Last year approximately £15 million was allocated to such groups. It was stretched to the limit in terms of being used to maximum effect. When this new structure is put in place, further funding will be required. I am sure every VEC, through the plans they will draw up, will set new targets for funding for the delivery of these services. There will be an onus on the Minister of State and his Department to deliver to the vocational education committees the finance required in this regard. I ask the Minister of State to give a commitment in that regard, as all the legislation and plans in the world will have little practical effect if the necessary resources to implement their provisions are not made available. I expect strong demands will be made by the vocational education committees for funding to deliver these services. The level of funding allocated to date for youth work and voluntary effort will have to be greatly increased if we want to ensure this legislation works.

To date, there has been a degree of duplication in the delivery of services in this area by various Departments. One of the big advantages of the legislation is that the delivery of such services will be streamlined, as this will allow the Minister of State and his Department, a youth work assessor, the vocational education committees, various committees, the youth work advisory committee and the youth work committee for each VEC to ensure best value for money is obtained, which is important.

Although record resources are available at present, that may not always be the case. We must put in place a structure that will ensure money is spent effectively and the duplication and possible waste of resources that could have occurred through the years will come to an end. If one goes back to the 1984 report, the targets outlined at that time were not reached. One hopes with this fresh start we will not just match the financial targets but will go beyond them, ensuring the Bill not only works in theory but in practice.

The Minister of State mentioned the assessor's role, which is obviously of crucial importance; the Bill will not work otherwise. I look forward to the reports of the assessor. When one considers youth work around the country, in some regions work is being done more effectively than in others. When there is a national referee who can comment, adjudicate and advise, in areas where youth work is not as strong as it should be, people will be able to learn and act on the advice that will be available from people such as the assessor.

I take the Minister of State's point about increasing the membership of the national youth work advisory committee from 22 to 29. Those Ministers with the power to nominate include the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Environment and Local Government, Education and Science, Social, Community and Family Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Will the Minister of State consider including the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development? There is a tradition of significant voluntary effort in rural areas and it would be appropriate to allow that Minister to make nominations for this advisory committee.

The Minister of State mentioned disadvantage, which is a broad term that can be used loosely. Perhaps he will outline what he means by it? Sometimes we hear areas described as disadvantaged as if everyone there – students, workers, unemployed and lone parents – all suffer from the same disadvantage. Disadvantage in relation to youth service and involvement in youth work does not apply only in impoverished areas, as one may have young people from some middle class areas with strong economic backgrounds who have no access to youth work or youth service. That must be looked at. When the Minister of State looks at disadvantage he should see it as being more an individual matter than a community or economic issue. In my experience it is not necessarily people in an impoverished area who are disadvantaged when it comes to youth service or activity. Often disadvantage can come from a parental view of involvement in youth clubs and youth organisations. Some people put such a high premium on education and on leaving certificate results, CAO forms and honours degrees at university level that they see no room for youth, community or voluntary work. That is sometimes from where disadvantage arises.

I welcome the provisions of the Bill and look forward to its enactment. It is of crucial importance that vocational education committees have the funding and staff to deliver on the commitments and plans they make. Those plans will be ambitious, particularly when the local youth work committees mingle with the voluntary youth councils. There will be a huge range of new proposals and plans, even if those ambitions are not realised in the first year or two. The vocational education committees will be expected to chart a new course and without the necessary personnel and financial resources they will not be able to meet their targets. I am surprised there has not been a greater debate about this Bill at VEC level. I spoke to some of the members of Cork VEC and few of them seemed to know anything about the legislation. They were interested in finding out what it would mean for their committees but the level of knowledge among vocational education committees, given what the Minister of State is proposing, is quite limited. Staff resources in every VEC are very stretched, as the Minister of State will be aware from Limerick, and that is certainly the case in Cork. Without the extra resources this Bill will remain a piece of paper rather than deliver a service.

I look forward to the Minister of State's reply and to examining the Bill in detail on Committee Stage. I welcome the commitment the Minister of State gave to recognising the National Youth Council of Ireland's role on a statutory basis. It represents 98% of youth groups, which is as close to an overall majority as one will get. It is only proper that its importance is recognised in the Bill.

If we have reasonable amendments I trust the Minister of State will take them on board. He said the gestation period for the Bill was quite lengthy and we will be able to judge whether that period was worthwhile on Committee Stage. Both funding and personnel resources will be necessary for this Bill to work and if it works it will be great, as words like "voluntary" and "community" will go back on the agenda at a time when people are rushing around to get their share of the Celtic tiger and when fewer people want to get involved in helping their neighbours or young people. It is time to redress the balance and this Bill is a step in the right direction

Dr. Upton

I welcome the Bill. An ultimately inoperable Act was introduced in 1997, with only some parts being implemented. I hope this Act, when complete, will be comprehensive, workable and will produce a good result for youth work in Ireland; I believe it will. The co-ordination of youth work and education programmes as well as other programmes providing services for young people is very appropriate and will bring structure and coherence to the sector.

It is a pity we had to wait for three years for any movement to address the problems that arose as a result of the abolition of the regional education boards and the Minister of State has acknowledged that inordinate delay. Leaving the Act to ferment quietly for three years did not inspire confidence that youth work was a priority issue for the Government, yet every day I am confronted with the reality of the need for a structured, operable and professional youth work service.

Young people, by and large, are idealistic and enthusiastic but sometimes they are also very vulnerable and they frequently need reassurance. There is a crying need for available, attractive, interesting youth activities that will allow young people to become valued citizens who will be encouraged to play an important role in the community. I have no doubt that, through structured youth work, that can be achieved.

There are so many negative reports relating to some youth activities, and we tend always to hear predominantly about the negative aspects – underage drinking, joy-riding and the ever present scourge of drugs. Talking to young people in disadvantaged communities in particular, it is clear that the lack of structured and positive activities is a major reason many of them end up in trouble of one sort or another. The provisions of the Youth Work Act introduced in 1997 are now coming home to roost and, hopefully, we will see it moved through fairly quickly.

The thrust of the Youth Work Bill is about management of youth work in Ireland. I welcome the fact that it will define youth work and the way it is carried out, who decides on the provision of the youth work and on the providers of youth work. The Minister for Education and Science will have overall responsibility for the operation of the Act, when it is in force, with the local vocational educational committees playing an enormously important and powerful role. They will be responsible for assessing local youth work needs, developing youth work plans and deciding which groups and organisations will have access to the funds to carry out that work. This powerful role, however, is moderated by the need to consult with local youth work groups and organisations through the youth work committees and voluntary youth councils and operating within a framework as set out by the Minister. I welcome that.

The vocational education committees will be given statutory responsibility for the development of youth work. It is significant that the Act provides for the bringing of youth work within the framework of the State. They must ensure the provision of youth work and youth services by co-ordination with approved, designated and authorised voluntary and local youth organisations and provide assistance, including financial assistance. For the first time, therefore, the future provision will be determined by a three year development plan produced by the youth committee in consultation with local communities and the voluntary youth council. If the VEC is not satisfied that there exists a community group which has the capacity to manage its own service, it will be appropriate, for example, that where the VEC provides a programme or service it should ensure the transfer of it to local management within five years of taking on direct delivery.

It is a welcome move in the right direction that youth work services and programmes will be co-ordinated with other educational services provided for young people. This role is also reflected in the proposed changes to the membership of the youth committees where it is proposed to include representatives of FÁS, the Garda, county councils and county boroughs. That is a significant development and attempts to ensure that co-ordination and integration of youth work with other educational provision at local level. This co-ordination is very important given the different sources of youth funding that have emerged in recent years such as local drugs task forces, young persons facilities and service funds, area partnerships and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The Minister and Deputy Bradford referred to the important role of volunteers, and I want to draw attention to that again. For many years, volunteers, through sheer dedication and interest, gave their expertise, time and energy to the process of providing youth work. That raises two important issues which we should examine carefully. We have been taking volunteers for granted, to a large extent. By their very nature they do not ask for or expect remuneration but times have changed and the traditional volunteer is no longer as available as they were heretofore. That is true not just of youth work but generally in many aspects of committee work. They also cannot be expected to dedicate their free time to the management and organisation of youth work and activities at a cost to their personal lives, which, unfortunately, is often the case. They give enormous commitment to voluntary activities often at the expense of their own families. Many times men and women have taken precious time from their own family time to dedicate themselves to the community. More recently, pressures of time have made these demands too great for many of them so it is not unreasonable that the State should recognise the important role of the volunteer and offer some recognition for their time and efforts.

Most volunteers are not remotely interested in monetary reward but it would be worthy to consider that volunteers, within the framework of the new Bill, should be recognised in some way. Perhaps they could be given extra time off work, extra holidays or some such recognition but there should be something positive and structured built into the legislation to recognise the important role of volunteers. We recently debated the demise of the volunteer in many aspects of society. The time and commitment of those who continue to have a philosophy of pro bono should be recognised.

I welcome the proposed establishment of local voluntary youth councils in each VEC area. I hope such a forum will be fully supported by provision of the Act so as to ensure that volunteers, upon whom we depend to deliver the vast amount of the youth work, receive the necessary support to allow these councils to have a meaningful say in assisting youth work in their area.

Maidir le mír a fiche dó, ba mhaith liom tagairt ar leith a dhéanamh do na deacrachtaí a ba chóir a sheachaint, sula mbunaítear na Comhairlí Deonacha seo. Ba mhaith liom aird an Aire a tharraingt ar an ráiteas i mír a fiche dó de na Treoirlínte. Seo iad na Treoirlínte a bheadh á eisiúint d'fhonn na Comhairlí a thoghadh. Ós rud é go bhfuil sé mar aidhm ag na Comhairlí seo ionadaíocht a thabhairt don oiread ógeagraíochtaí agus is féidir, beidh sé i gceist agam an cheist seo a ardú ag leibhéal Coiste, toisc go bhfuil baol ann nach mbeidh, mar shampla, ionadaíocht ag ógeagraíocht i nGaeltacht Chonamara ar Chomhairle Deonach Chontae na Gaillimhe, toisc an ceantar tíreolaíochta gur gá a chlúdú mar chuid den phróiséas roghnúcháin. D'fhéadfadh an rud céanna tárlúint i gcás na n-ógeagraíochtaí Gaeltachta i nDún na nGall, i gCiarraí, i gCorcaigh, i bPort Láirge agus i gCo na Mí. Déanaim an cás anois do na grúpaí seo, toisc go bhfuil modh oibre agus aidhmeanna ar leith acu agus iad i mbun obair óige, agus is gá seo a aithint ón tús, agus aitheantas dá réir a thabhairt dóibh.

Sa bhreis ar an gceist seo, ba chóir a dheimhniú go mbeidh deis rannphairtíochta ag mionlaigh ar nós eagraíochtaí na dteifeach, agus mionlaigh eile, i ngach ceantar ina bhfuil Comhairle Deonach ag feidhmiú.

Tá súil agam go dtógfar an cheist seo ar bord, nuair atá na rialacha toghcháin á bheartú amach anseo.

The second point I want to raise in relation to youth work is the need for training for those who undertake the work. That training should be done in a professional manner. Professional youth workers, like any other professional, should be suitably qualified. Youth work is complex and demanding and not everybody should or can do it. Comprehensive training is needed to do it properly and professionally. A number of colleges provide training and a number of organisations provide certification in youth work. Qualified persons required by most organisations carrying out youth work. It is important that agreement is reached between the different bodies as to what we mean when we refer to a qualified person and how the various levels of training relate to one another. Other areas of education and training have bench-marked their training effectively. I hope youth work is well on the road to the same end.

Careers in youth work should be available and open to everybody interested and equipped to participate. Nobody should be precluded on the basis of their disadvantaged background, for example, and for that reason the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act is relevant in this context. The purpose of that Act is to provide a ladder system that people can access and work their way through providing equality of opportunity for anybody who wants to engage in obtaining appropriate qualifications.

The number of people doing youth work in recent years has increased enormously. Many organisations and institutions, apart from the traditional ones, are also now engaging in youth work – health boards, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, special projects, Youthreach and Youthstart programmes and numerous community and partnership settings. Given this proliferation, it is important for all stake-holders to know what is meant by youth work, how it differs from and is related to other forms of provision or intervention, and how one gets to be called a youth worker.

Community employment schemes have influenced the increase in numbers of youth workers, many of whom see youth work as a stepping stone to a full-time career in youth work activities. There is nothing wrong with this aspiration which is to be welcomed. However, it is equally important that there is formal accreditation and recognition for those who wish to make a profession of youth work.

There is no doubt but that there will be a tightening up of requirements, and rightly so, for those wishing to enter the profession and the Bill will go some way to further professionalising youth work. There will be a legal definition of what we understand by youth work and a system of accreditation and certification is essential for any profession to have credibility. The national youth work development plan, which is now under way, will consider the human resource requirements of the youth work sector for the next five years, including the issue of training. Training, accreditation and certification are highly sensitive issues. It is vitally important that the process is not driven by vested interests and that the ultimate goal is one of ensuring the highest quality service for youth.

The level of funding one attributes to any effort is an indicator of one's commitment to it and how one perceives its relative importance. The funding of youth work is probably a good indicator of the importance attached to this whole area. My criticism of the process is that, in November, the national youth committees do not know their exact allocations of funding for the current year. There are six weeks left in this year and the committees are expected to be able to gaze into a crystal ball and know the amount of moneys available for the full financial year. This lack of information and commitment raises major questions for the youth committees, particularly regarding the uncertainty of staffing and how they will address possible shortfalls in funding. Above all else, they need to be able to plan and ensure they have sufficient funding to deliver their responsibilities to the end of the financial year.

Unfortunately the losers are the youth who are serviced by the various organisations in place. It is an indictment of the Department of Education and Science that the total budget allocated to youth work is about 0.6% of the Department's total budget amounting to a paltry £25.5 million. In 1985, the Costello report recommended that £20 million be spent that year. We are 15 years on from that recommendation and the total funds dedicated to youth work are, relatively speaking, less than those recommended 15 years ago.

Every organisation needs adequate funding to achieve results. It also needs to know that funding is guaranteed and the amount available so it can plan effectively. Youth workers are being treated in an off-hand manner by the Minister and do not know what their funding will be until the end of the year. I appeal to the Minister to review the Estimates and the paltry increase for the current year. This should be reviewed as this is an important sector which should be supported and funded.

Unprecedented amounts of moneys are now available and funding is being lashed out in all directions. Sometimes this is done to appease a local lobby group when a Minister sees fit. If the structure is not in place to ensure continuity, confidence and quality in one of the most deserving and needful sectors, this leaves youth work as the Cinderella of the education system. This is a dangerous situation which will ultimately cost us in terms of our regard for youth and the response we can expect from them. Day after day we hear about how vulnerable young people are. If we are to make any in-roads into the provision of decent youth services we must start, in this time of unprecedented wealth, to provide the formal, practical recognition of that need through adequate funding. There should be no more lip service and adequate moneys and back-up should be provided.

The Bill states that no additional costs are expected other than funding the assessor and the operations of the National Youth Work Advisory Committee, the Youth Work Committee and the voluntary youth councils. This statement is a serious indictment of the thinking concerning youth work. The view of the Department is that there is, for all practical purposes, sufficient funding in place, and only new elements are to be considered for additional funding. In other words, it is the view of the Minister that enough funding is dedicated to youth work, despite the recommendations of the Costello group over 15 years ago. This leaves us all in a time warp regarding the needs of youth and youth services.

A total of £302 million will be spent over the life of the national development plan which can be accounted for from existing funding. There is an increasing need for the expansion and development of services and research, all of which should be factored into the level of funding. It is not just a case of maintaining the status quo. We have to look to the future and emerging and research needs, which will be costly and demanding. Unless these costs are built in now, we will feel the consequences in the long-term.

The Cinderella factor is a reality and not an illusion. The commitment to youth falls down not alone in the area of funding, but also because youth should have a full ministerial post. We recognise the importance of youth so we should consider including the word "youth" in the title of a ministerial portfolio. Could we not include "youth" in the title of a Department so young people are recognised as a group in their own right? It would not over-burden the system to incorporate the word as a first step in recognising the importance of youth who deserve full ministerial responsibility in their own right and not a miserable 0.6% of the budget of the Department of Education and Science.

The idea of the youth work development plan being carried out by the National Youth Work Advisory Committee is to be welcomed. The plan provides an opportunity to think creatively about youth needs for the future and the type of youth service which will be needed. The plan needs to be innovative and to formalise ways in which all the stakeholders can work together. The opportunity for long-term planning is very important. In addition, the commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to implement the plan gives the process added value.

Up to now funding has generally been made available on the basis of applications formally submitted. The formulation of a plan should provide a solid basis for the distribution of funding, not just on the basis of an organisation being in the know and making an application. In the past the outcome was that those who knew that funding was available made an application and had a reasonable chance of success. The imposition of a structured plan will add rigour and value to any application. Formulated within the framework of the long-term plan, the next three to five years should see the shape of youth work for the future and the plan should outline the steps needed to implement it. For that plan to be realised and to be worthy, funding must be included in this year's budget. I ask the Minister to review the level of funding.

If we do not provide the necessary back-up to drive and implement the plan, it will fall by the wayside or become one more document gathering dust in our nice new offices. The plan will succeed and will be implemented if funding is in place and not by the production of a glossy report with pious recommendations. The implementation of the plan is what will count.

Under the legislation, the IVEA is named as an appropriate representative organisation and this is entirely appropriate given the key role of vocational education committees within the framework of the new Bill. However, this should not preclude the National Youth Council of Ireland as the body representative of 98% of voluntary youth organisations. In the legislation the treatment of the National Youth Council is at variance with the treatment of other bodies in the education field. In the Education Act of 1998 the National Parents Council has been named and recognised as the body representing the interests of parents in education. At national level, there are a number of precedents. There is no reason the National Youth Council should not be named as the body representing youth organisations. For example in the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999, ICTU and IBEC are both named as bodies with an entitlement to nominate members of the authority.

The appeals process and the appointment of an assessor is very important. It is important that the appeals procedure should be available, open and accountable. I welcome the recommendation that an assessor be appointed. However, it is questionable whether the appeal should be to an assessor in cases where the assessor would already have considered the appeal. I intend to raise this point again on Committee Stage, as it seems inappropriate to have an assessor review a case twice, which in effect is what would happen under the current recommendations.

The Minister mentioned disadvantaged groups. It is appropriate that priority be given to young people who are disadvantaged and that this should be spelled out in the Bill. However, the Bill should be clear that age and disadvantage should be separate. Young people who are disadvantaged socially or economically should be the priority. A professional approach to the operation of services and work for youth is good and desirable. It means that targets will be set, outcomes will be measured and those delivering the services will for the most part be professionals. All of this is positive, but excessive bureaucracy must be avoided and the special needs and aspirations of specific sectors must be accommodated. It must be possible to arrive at a formula that will allow moderation of the process without excessive interference. However, all young people between the ages of ten and 21 should also be given special consideration. I am referring to the separation of age and disadvantage. In the Bill as it stands, those between the ages of ten and 21 who are disadvantaged are placed together. We should look at those who are between the ages of 10 and 21 but not necessarily considered to be in the disadvantaged group.

The shift from centralised provision for youth work to a more involved model of youth work at local level is desirable. Involvement of local providers in the development of a youth work plan for the area is central to success. Ownership by those who are really involved is essential if the plan is to succeed. Local needs must be identified locally and the most appropriate services for an area must remain with youth work providers on the ground. Involvement of young people directly in the planning process through local voluntary youth councils is also central to the development of a service which will address the real issues for young people. At local level it will also be important to ensure that other initiatives such as area partnerships and the drug initiatives are co-ordinated and related to the youth work programme. The piecemeal approach has been necessary up to now in the absence of any more formal structured approach. We should not ignore the very valuable contribution of many sectors, organisations and groups, both statutory and voluntary, who contributed so effectively for so long. The Bill intends however, to put in place formal arrangements to ensure that the providers and the recipients will each be better positioned to avail of the appropriate services.

The Youth Work Bill proposes the formalising of the partnership approach to youth work with the State, its agents and the voluntary youth groups all involved in the process. It lays out the precise role and responsibilities of each player, with the State taking overall managerial responsibility for youth work and existing youth work organisations being the deliverers of the product.

Existing provisions by youth organisations will be recognised and built on rather than replaced following the establishment of new regional and local structures and funding mechanisms. It is important the status and current good practice in youth organisations is built on and that organisations feel secure following the implementation of the Bill.

The final outcome must ensure that youth will benefit and that we develop a society where young people are valued citizens who can make a meaningful contribution to their community. I welcome the introduction of the Bill in the House today and look forward to its quick passage, to seeing it in place and hope that the people who will benefit will be the youth.

I may share time with Deputy Dick Roche. Like other speakers, I welcome the publication of this Bill and compliment the Minister on its publication. It has been a long time in gestation but the consensus the Minister has managed to achieve is significant. Like others, I would welcome the fairly speedy passage of this Bill through this House.

I take the opportunity to thank the many thousands of volunteers who have given a great deal of time to developing youth work. I am glad to hear the Minister emphasise again that youth work is essentially pinned and delivered on the concept of volunteerism. I compliment the vocational education committees throughout the country who with very little funding over the years have supported youth work. I also compliment the voluntary organisations, in many of which I have been involved, such as the National Youth Council, CYC, the National Youth Federation, Fóroige, the small ones like ECO, the uniformed and non-uniformed organisations, for the work they have done.

This Bill proposes to put in place structures that will support their work. However, as other speakers said, there is no point in developing structures if we do not have the assent of the people to whom the services are being delivered and if we do not provide the resources. The Government has shown a commitment to do that. There are many important initiatives in the Bill, a few of which strike me as acutely important. The National Youth Work Advisory Committee, which meets people involved in the youth service and its various levels of participation will make an important contribution to the success of the delivery of the youth service. I welcome the Minister's proposition that a minimum of 75% of the members in the voluntary youth councils should be volunteers. That is an excellent suggestion. I hope some of the voluntary organisations will be democratic and open enough to ensure that young people can manage to make their way into these councils because – let us call a spade a spade – many of the youth organisations at the moment are top heavy with bureaucrats and administrators. There is merit in the Minister's proposal to give primacy to the volunteers.

With all the developments in youth work that have occurred since 1984 has youth work had an impact on the problems facing young people? It has had an impact on the problems facing many individuals but as a system it has had little impact in addressing the inequalities in society that create the problems faced by young people in marginalised communities, in cities and rural areas. Despite the individual models of good practice and the commitment of many innovative and creative youth workers throughout the youth organisations, the influence on national policy and on the institutions of the State that impact on the lives of young people has been very limited. I cannot think of any legislation that has been influenced by national youth organisations either working alone or together.

Regarding the understanding of youth work, there are almost as many interpretations of it as there are people. Early this year in my constituency of Dublin north west there was a forum for young people. The degree of confusion about the role of the youth service arose there. Among the various contributions by young people were a number of complaints about the lack of recreation facilities in the area particularly discos and a cinema. While nobody has yet gone so far as to suggest that the youth service should provide a cinema for young people, it has been suggested that it should respond to the demand for discos. Both the costs and risks of visiting discos in Dublin were cited as reasons for the youth service to respond to the fact that there is nothing for the young people to do in my constituency. Leaving aside the many practical reasons for not taking on the task of providing local discos for teenagers, it needs to be emphasised that it is not the role of the youth service to provide subsidised entertainment for young people. The role of the youth service in this area extends at most to providing young people with the support, encouragement and opportunities to formulate and articulate their opinions.

Debate adjourned.