The motion before us relates to one particular amendment requiring the Health Service Executive to furnish, in the public interest, information and documents to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. That is a reasonable request with which I do not have a difficulty and will, therefore, support. I presume the motion is technically required to recommit the Bill to committee to address the particular amendment and there is some precedent in this regard. After what unfolded in the House this morning and having compared the list of amendments published yesterday to the list of amendments published on 11 January 2011, I was extremely disappointed. I have done a comparison between the amendments tabled then and those now before us. Key amendments tabled on 18 January, not only by myself but also by the then Fine Gael and Labour spokespersons on children and health and children respectively, Deputy Charles Flanagan and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, have not been retabled by the Minister in the new presentation of Report Stage of the Bill. This causes me great disappointment.
I will address those amendments when we debate amendments on Report Stage. It would have been better if the Bill were not before us today and the Minister had taken the time to revisit the amendments tabled by her own party spokesperson and by her Labour Party colleague in Government, as well as those tabled by me. Each of the three Opposition spokespersons' set of amendments strongly mirrored each others concerns. We were almost of one voice. I hoped the Minister would have made those amendments her own.
People must be understanding of my distress on receiving the Ceann Comhairle's notice disallowing my amendment, which is verbatim what we discussed in January. The list of those who voted for the first of the three amendments relating to aftercare for children in state care includes all the Fine Gael Members in attendance on the day. It includes the Taoiseach, the Fine Gael health spokesperson and the Ceann Comhairle. Labour Party Deputies who voted for the amendment include the Tánaiste, the Ministers of State, Deputies Jan O'Sullivan and Kathleen Lynch, and all the Labour Party Deputies in attendance. The list includes Deputies who have long, credible and honourable records in arguing for children's rights. I speak specifically of my colleagues who served with me for more than two years on the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, the Ministers, Deputies Alan Shatter and Brendan Howlin. Now, on 14 July of the same year, the amendment was not even to be allowed for discussion.
The Minister is aware that the key and crucial issue of concern to all of those who work on the front line of child care and the provision of services for children, particularly in relation to State care and support, is the welfare of vulnerable children when they have reached their eighteenth year. I found myself, effectively, gagged by the receipt of this notice this morning because amendment No. 14, the only one before us today, was being disallowed. I welcome the decision of the Ceann Comhairle to reverse that decision and I reiterate my appeal for the Minister to accept this amendment, which mirrors those placed by the Fine Gael and Labour spokespersons only a handful of months ago.
My amendment was disallowed on the spurious grounds that it would impose a charge on the Exchequer. In that regard, I cite something said by Focus Ireland that is directly relevant to this and which deserves to be quoted in relation to this Bill and for reference: "The outgoing Government maintained that it had very strong legal advice stating that the provision of aftercare is non-discretionary and must be provided when a care professional judges that there is a need." Focus Ireland argued that "may" does, in fact, mean "shall", and continued, "Whatever the lawyers say, from our experience this is not the way the system works". Focus Ireland laid emphasis on this final sentence: "If, technically, the legislation already gives these rights there can be no further costs involved in changing the wording so that the meaning is clear and all doubt is removed."
That is a very important point. As my amendment is now to be discussed, I hope the Minister will note that reference from Focus Ireland. I hope she will not make the same argument as the previous Government and will recognise the validity of the case being presented by Focus Ireland and a range of other non-governmental organisations that have long and credible records in giving voice to children's rights and needs. It is regrettable that we must come here again to argue for the statutory right to aftercare, which is the key and absolute kernel of what the Bill must be about. I will certainly continue to do so.
The provision of aftercare makes economic sense. Structured support has been shown to protect young people from becoming homeless, from the danger of addiction and from falling into a pathway of crime. I do not have to tell anyone here the huge financial cost, let alone the tragic human cost, of dealing with the consequences of drugs and crime and with their wider impact on society. A Government that claims to be a reforming Government must acknowledge, as the Government claims to do and as its spokespersons often did when in opposition, that it is far better to spend money on the care of young people, including accommodation, education and training, than to spend it building more prisons and detention centres. Very often, the absence of the first leads to the second. This is where the wider evaluation of the economic impact needs to be considered.
The absence of a statutory right to aftercare, especially in a society and economy facing the difficulties we now face, means that many young people will be thrown to the wolves. We have had far too many examples of that through the years. Many young people, having reached their 18th birthday, were shown the door. The phrase "thrown to the wolves" is not too strong to use. The Minister and other Deputies will recognise many cases from their own constituencies or from media reportage, where young people leaving State care fell into serious and dangerous lifestyle patterns as a result of the absence of aftercare.
I appeal to the Minister not to adopt the Bill today in the absence of an amendment that enshrines the statutory right to aftercare. It is crucial and a Bill without that key component part would be seriously deficient. That said, I support the motion, which intends to ensure the Minister can proceed. I not only welcome the establishment of the Department; I also recognise and appreciate the choice of Minister for the new Department and I wish Deputy Fitzgerald all the best. However, it was a major disappointment for many people that the broader media failed to focus and report on her first Question Time in the House last Tuesday. That was an important engagement and an important, historic day in terms of children's rights and needs. I was saddened that the new Minister taking her first Question Time was ignored by the popular press. I support the motion.