I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to raise this matter this evening and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, for taking this issue.
For the first time in the country's history, there is a full Cabinet Minister with specific responsibility for children and all the various issues that encompass children and families. This is an opportunity to finally put issues relating to children's welfare, safety and protection front and centre on both the political and social agendas. This Department could get off to a good start if it could be seen to be used as a tool to bring together all the various agencies and perhaps other Departments to finally deliver on an issue on which the State has failed to deliver to date, namely, a specific missing children's phone number. This is a matter pertaining to the well-being of every child in this country and is an issue of concern that probably is at the back of the mind of every parent.
The role of this number is intended to be three-fold. First, it is to take calls on missing children and liaise with An Garda Síochána. Second, it is to provide a point of support and guidance for parents and family members of missing children and third, it is to support ongoing investigative efforts. We are told repeatedly, as I am sure all Members are aware, that when a child goes missing, time is of the essence. This State must and should do everything in its power to ensure the safety of its children and this includes providing timely assistance and intervention and ensuring that all processes and procedures are in place to protect children who go missing.
The European Commission has created a dedicated number to act as a single point of contact across all European states. However, after more than four years, Ireland has failed thus far to introduce this number, 116000, which has been introduced in 15 other countries. This delay is utterly unacceptable and at this point is becoming embarrassing in Europe. We must have policies and procedures in place to deal with cases of missing children and to ensure immediate and co-ordinated action can be taken whenever a child goes missing.
The necessity of this was brought home to me recently in my constituency when there was an attempted abduction of a young girl in Bray. Fortunately, in this case the young girl concerned managed to escape to safety but the incident has brought to the minds of everyone in Bray, County Wicklow and nationwide, the need to put in place these appropriate measures. There is a need to communicate the message to the Minister with responsibility for children that there is a need for her and the Department to co-ordinate the activities of the various agencies involved and to talk to organisations in the charity and NGO sectors which have been involved for a number of years in providing helplines on children's issues. The country needs to consult them and harness their expertise. It is one thing being the poor relation in Europe economically, but we must not become the poor relation when it comes to issues of child protection. I urge the Minister to take action on this issue which has been dragging on for far too long.