Juvenile Offenders: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to urgently implement the measures needed to effectively tackle juvenile crime and to prevent offending and re-offending by children and young people at risk of offending by ensuring appropriate measures including the following:

—the bringing into force of the remaining provisions of the Children Act 2001;

—a detailed plan with the deadline for implementation to be published immediately as to how the measures in the Children Act 2001 are to be implemented;

—proper ongoing and guaranteed funding and resources to be made available for the measures contained in the Act and in particular those aimed at preventing juvenile offending;

—increased use of community service orders and restorative justice schemes;

—proper funding and resources for the probation and welfare and social work services;

—rehabilitation of offenders legislation to be put in place; and

—long-term, ongoing and guaranteed investment in educational and work programmes specifically aimed at children and young persons at risk of involvement in juvenile crime.

I will begin with a description of a scene from a film which I am sure most people have seen. It is a very popular film called "The Shawshank Redemption". A memorable scene from that film is often shown. It features the character Red, played by Morgan Freeman, being asked if he has been rehabilitated. He gives a very memorable speech which I always find very striking. He conjures up an image of when he was young, and says he would like to go back and talk sense to himself as a young kid, when he committed a particular crime all those years ago. He cannot do so, and now he is an older man.

That scene reminds me that one is almost a different person when young, when a child and a teenager, and also that childhood and youth are a key period when a person can start on the wrong path. If only society and people could intervene at that stage, the person could be prevented from taking the wrong path. He or she might take the right path in life and not become involved in crime.

This also brings home the reality of children's rights legislation, which is very much based around the idea that children have unique rights and are uniquely vulnerable within the justice system. That is why we have set up the Children's Court in this country.

In preparing for this debate I looked at a report by Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, a senior lecturer in law in UCC. Last May she launched a study called The Children's Court: A Children's Rights Audit. Her report set out to examine whether children's rights were fully protected in the Children's Court. Dr. Kilkelly analysed the extent to which the Children's Court operates in line with international and national standards. Using international and Irish legislation, she set out the benchmarks against which the Children's Court should be matched. They include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN rules, the European Convention on Human Rights, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights with regard to Article 6 and how it should be interpreted in terms of trials involving children, the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 and the Children Act 2001.

Dr. Kilkelly makes the point picked up by other commentators, namely, that there are gaps in the Children Act which may need to be looked at again. She says that the Act provides important and detailed guidance to judges in the exercising of their sentencing functions as well as valuable direction regarding the environment where children are heard and how they can participate in criminal proceedings. She shows how the Act falls short of prescribing how the District Court has to be transformed into an age-appropriate environment in which young people have the right to participate in their own criminal proceedings.

I hope the Department will look at reviewing this legislation in light of Dr. Kilkelly's concerns. Mr. Geoffrey Shannon has meanwhile noted that New Zealand brought in a system which this country has tried to copy. New Zealand has found gaps in its system which we need to consider in terms of implementing our own legislation in the area.

The Children Act brings into force many of the UN and international standards with regard to how children are treated in the juvenile justice system.

The study she conducted is worthwhile and I hope the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is considering how her recommendations can be implemented. Informal, flexible and private court procedures which are accessible to young people are part of the basic international principles of youth justice. Age-appropriate language should be adopted and specialised tribunals created in order to facilitate the young person's understanding of and participation in the process. Specially trained personnel should be employed and a professional code of conduct devised to regulate their work.

The study tested 50 Children's Court cases against certain benchmarks, one of which was the required attendance of a parent or guardian. It was found that parents were not present in 30% of cases, implying that the child attended court alone. Despite the fact that the vast majority of defendants were boys, there was no father figure in 60% of observed cases. Reasons given for non-attendance included illness, family issues and work commitments. However, it emerged that parents had not been notified in some cases, which, given that the law requires their attendance, is unacceptable. The study noted that the children whose parents were absent seemed especially isolated, vulnerable and distressed. It is obvious that parents should be present to provide support for the children involved.

Dr. Kilkelly noted different practices among courts in terms of permitting children to communicate with parents during proceedings. Such communications were explicitly prohibited in the Dublin Children's Court. Issues were also raised by Dr. Kilkelly with regard to bail conditions, which are important elements of the process. The lack of bail support was identified as a problem. She argued in the study that a child may not have the capacity to meet bail conditions or avoid further offences while on bail. It is important that children are supported in meeting their bail conditions. Otherwise, they are set up to fail and become trapped in a cycle of repeat offending.

Section 96 of the Children Act provides that detention is used only as a sanction of last resort. That basic principle has been identified in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Dr.Kilkelly's study found that detention is increasingly being applied and that custodial sentences made up 23% of the 115 cases that involved sanctions. No clear reason was given for courts' decisions to impose custodial sentences but they seemed to be prompted by a collection of circumstances. For a number of reasons, custody is not the best option for children and it is not an appropriate tool in terms of meaningful sanctions.

Our motion calls for much more to be done to implement the sanctions already available under Part 9 of the Children Act. If we really want to intervene, sanctions such as community service must be used. Not only has the Government been lacking in terms of bringing provisions into force, but it also failed to address the issue of making resources available to the probation and welfare service so that it can provide supports when sanctions are applied.

Many other issues are addressed in Dr. Kilkelly's report, including the manner in which judges treat defendants. Children's courts do not encourage children to exercise their right to participate. For example, judges are often bad at speaking directly to children and their families in appropriate language. This failure to communicate and engage with young people marginalises them further and does not help them to realise the consequences of their actions. This is an important report and I would like to hear the Minister of State's response to its recommendations.

The provision in the Children Act to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 years has not been brought into force. InThe Irish Times last January, a spokesperson from the Department was reported to have said that there were no plans to commence the relevant section of the Act. She also claimed that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, discussed the matter and agreed to review the provision because they had serious doubts about it. More recently, The Irish Times reported that the Government intends to increase the age to ten rather than 12. It is ridiculous that this provision has not been implemented. Why was it put in the Act if the Government appears to be doing a U-turn on it?

It does nothing properly.

This issue, which has existed for the past 30 years, concerns children's rights and their unique position within the justice system. Current policy is at odds with the opinion of the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, who felt it contradictory to pass legislation which emphasised rehabilitation and deterrence over retribution if children aged between seven and 12 continued to be subject to prosecution. I would like to know the reason for the change in the Government's position. Does responsibility for the change lie with civil servants, the Minister or the Minister of State?

I second the motion and offer it my full support. It is an important issue and I welcome the Minister of State here to discuss it. We are seeing a lot of him because many of the issues currently before the House concern children. This motion addresses the area of juvenile crime and the prevention of offences.

The Government's amendment to the motion refers to the balance between the rehabilitation of young offenders and the protection of communities. We know that the numbers of centres in which young offenders are held has increased but I ask the Minister of State to describe the rehabilitation programmes the Government is sponsoring and what exactly is in place for the rehabilitation of young offenders. Unless those types of programmes are put in place we are failing young people. When a young offender comes before the courts it is an indication of a serious failure of the system somewhere along the way. A child should not come before the courts for offending but when that happens there is something very wrong. We have let those children down and have failed them at some level. Children who come before the courts represent the most vulnerable section of the community because something has happened in their young lives which has led to this situation. It is likely they are not attending school and are very vulnerable. I am basing these assumptions on general common sense assumptions. If a child is appearing before the courts there must be some difficulty in the family because the vast majority of children are raised successfully and become full participating members of the community. However, there is a section for whom that is not happening. We need to examine whether that number is increasing and, if so, the pressures causing this. We must ascertain whether there are sufficient measures in place to ensure the number does not increase. For the families of those in that position we have to examine whether these children are getting the support they need.

Two weeks ago I noted a number of reports on the issue of children in care and the extent to which there has been a considerable increase in recent years. The breakdown of these statistics compiled by health authorities and published recently in one of the national newspapers paints a disturbing picture of neglect and, in some cases, abuse of children. It shows that 4,984 children were admitted into State care in 2003.

That is not correct. They were in care and were not admitted to care in that year.

So in 2003 that number was in care.

Yes. There have been some accurate statistics but also some inaccurate ones. The figure the Senator has quoted is correct for the total number in care at that time.

I thank the Minister of State for that clarification. I take that point on board.

I do not blame the Senator because some of the reports are inaccurate.

I am relying on information which was in the public domain.

I know that.

The Minister of State would probably agree that the number of children in care, which obviously includes being admitted into care, has risen considerably during the past 15 years from 2,799 in 1989 to 5,517 in 2001. Clearly we are looking at a change in society. It must be taken into account that the number of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers coming into the country has increased from a few to a much larger number. Even taking that into account there is an increase in the number of children being admitted to and in care. Obviously one would be concerned about that because it points to a failure somewhere along the line. On the other hand it is important that we have the facility to take children into care. One of the notable elements of the report I read is that there is a regional variation. From a child's point of view, the issue of whether he or she is taken into care can depend on where he or she lives. Clearly that is not acceptable because there has to be a standard. Irrespective of where a child lives and the family of which he or she is a member, we need to know they have an equal opportunity for support.

Another element in the report about which I was concerned was the increase in the number of children in care. According to many professionals in the area it is a symptom of increasing pressure on families and underfunding of support services for those at risk. One would have thought in recent years, given the amount of media attention and public outrage in regard to stark cases of children in serious situations on the street ranging from homelessness to being found dead, that would have led to sufficient funding for support services for those at risk but clearly that is not the case.

The waiting list for therapeutic services for families in need can often be up to a year. Unfortunately, we meet such families on a regular basis seeking the support they need. That they may have to wait up to a year for it is unacceptable. That issue needs to be addressed to ensure vulnerable children do not fall into a worse situation because of the failure of the system and the lack of funding.

I commend the motion and thank my colleague, Senator Tuffy, for tabling it and look forward to the debate.

I move amendment No. 1:

To deleted all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"—recognises that the Children Act 2001 is a modern and progressive statute which provides a wide range of interventions for young offenders in line with its major principles of diversion, restorative justice and detention as a measure of last resort and:

—commends the Government on the measures taken to date to implement key provisions of the Children Act 2001 and notes with satisfaction the commitment to implement the remaining provisions of the Act in a co-ordinated manner and on a phased basis as envisaged at the time of its enactment;

—welcomes the additional staffing and other resources provided to the probation and welfare service in recent years to implement the Children Act 2001;

—acknowledges the significant progress made in implementing the Children Act 2001 through the establishment of the Special Residential Services Board and the development of the child protection and family support services in the health sector;

—notes the bringing into force of all the restorative justice provisions of the Children Act 2001 and welcomes the commitment of the Garda authorities and of the probation and welfare service to the effective implementation of these provisions;

—welcomes the current youth justice review and the consequent intention to restructure the youth justice system to improve the delivery of services in the area and to strike the right balance between the rehabilitation of young offenders and the essential protection of the community;

—commends the Government on the wide range of social inclusion measures put in place to tackle such areas as crime, drugs misuse and educational disadvantage, which have a positive impact on children at risk of offending and on young offenders; and

—commends the Government's decision in October 2004 to expand the strength of An Garda Síochána to 14,000 members to tackle crime generally in line with its commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government and congratulates the Minister and the Garda Commissioner for the significant progress to date in implementing the project plan to ensure that this target is achieved."

I welcome the debate on this motion. Having listened to Senator Tuffy, I too saw "The Shawshank Redemption". It is a popular film which gave an insight into the failure of the system to rehabilitate people at a younger age rather than have them incarcerated for life. I listened to the RTE crime correspondent, Mr. Paul Reynolds, on radio recently speaking about some of the more serious incidents that have occurred recently. He made the point that those involved in serious crime are now second and third generation families who have graduated from relatively minor crime to become some of the most serious criminals in society. That underlines the need to endeavour to arrest that type of behaviour at an early stage and breaking that generational cycle should be a main priority of our efforts in this regard. He said that when people graduate to serious crime it is a question of either catching them in the act or getting somebody into the witness protection system because of the sophistication of the crime lords. In all of this it is important to stress the important role and responsibilities of parents. Many of the difficulties encountered, not in all cases, are due to the lack of quality parenting which allows youngsters to get into positions where they develop and follow a career in crime, spending their life in and out of prison, rather than worthwhile work and have, perhaps, a much more fulfilling existence. As we have seen recently some lose their lives as a consequence of their involvement in crime.

In regard to the Children Act 2001, referred to in the motion and in the amendment, much of it has been implemented but some sections remain to be implemented. Senator Tuffy suggested raising the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years. While that is obviously desirable it is still outstanding. We have to bear in mind that we have seen headline instances where serious crime was committed by people at a very young age. Obviously there has to be provision to ensure it is avoided, if at all possible, but if it happens that they are taken and held to account and that every effort is made to ensure when they are released from detention subsequently that they will not recommit the crime. Rehabilitation has to be a major plank in all of this, particularly in the juvenile area.

The Springboard initiative, which is very much part of the overall family support mechanisms that were introduced, has a very significant role to play. It offers a range of interventions, including individual work, group work, peer work, family work, advice and practical help. In this regard it has potential to provide education for juveniles in detention allowing them to develop skills.

However, we need to go further. I know that job placement is envisaged in some programmes and is a very important component. The first problem facing people leaving prison is how to reintegrate into society. Getting accommodation and obtaining a job are key in this regard. As part of that overall effort the Minister of State should consider giving tax or other employment benefit incentives to employers to encourage them to take on a number of juvenile offenders, thus giving them a chance. They would then be monitored by the juvenile liaison system to assist in reducing the number who re-offend.

We need an holistic approach. The Children Act envisages taking such an approach. Youth advocate programmes also address the protection of children. The family welfare conferences will now form part of the system and when they go to court a judge will have a range of options to try to ensure that the offender has an opportunity to participate fully in normal life. The community sanctions include day-centre orders, probation training or activities, intensive supervision, residential supervision, family support and restrictions on movement. Many of these have been implemented and some are awaiting implementation. They will assist youngsters who find themselves on the wrong path to find the right path in future.

I understand it is proposed that the child detention schools are to become the responsibility of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform rather than the Department of Education and Science. It is important that the focus on education and acquiring skills should not be diluted by the transfer. The transfer could be beneficial if all the other interagency structures, which are being introduced, are integrated so that they all focus on the objective of achieving a better opportunity in life for those who unfortunately find themselves in such a situation. We also need to introduce parental responsibility and accountability into the system.

Ultimately the responsibility for children should rest with parents. If parents through negligence or lack of interest are seen to represent a strong contributory factor to youngsters going into crime, they should be required to pay a price. This would place an onus on parents to act responsibly and ensure their children are brought up as good members of society. While this area needs some more attention, overall we are heading in the right direction and I know the Minister of State will be anxious to accelerate the implementation of all these provisions.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this debate which is a vital issue in terms of justice policy and attempts to address the growing problems of anti-social behaviour, underage drinking and drug taking. These problems have become endemic in our society in recent years and we need to be strong in our resolve to deal with them.

My party believes that the solution to juvenile crime lies in treating both the symptoms of crimes and the causes that drive young people and adults to behave in a manner that is not acceptable. It is no coincidence that the incidence of juvenile crime is higher in socially deprived sections of our society. The Government appears to have done little to address the widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots". While it is all very well to say that a rising tide lifts all boats, it is little comfort for those who have no boat at all.

The question of juvenile crime must be addressed with a varied arsenal, combining primarily the principles of restorative justice with proper juvenile liaison facilities, community policing and renewed investment in educational and sporting facilities for young people. Traditionally, when a crime is committed, irrespective of the victim, the State takes the action against the offender. The concept behind restorative justice focuses on crime as an act against another individual or community, rather than the State. In this way, the victim can play a major role in the criminal justice process, receiving some type of restitution from the offender.

While restorative justice takes many different forms, all systems have some aspects in common. Victims have an opportunity to express the full impact of the crime upon their lives, to receive answers to any lingering questions about the incident and to participate in holding the offender accountable for his or her actions. Offenders can tell their story of why the crime occurred and how it has affected their lives. They are given an opportunity to right the wrong they have perpetrated against the victim, to whatever degree possible, through some form of compensation or restitution. Types of compensation include, but are not limited to, money, community service in general, community service specific to the deed, self-education to prevent recidivism, and the expression of remorse.

My party has always stood for the duality of rights and responsibilities. Just as we fight for the rights of Irish citizens to enjoy freedom of expression and association, so too do we believe that people who violate the rights of others and impede on their enjoyment or environment in whatever way, bear the responsibility to right that wrong where possible. However, as with all things, prevention remains better than cure and we must also enshrine systems and facilities that will remove disadvantage and the circumstances that may cause young people to break the law and to behave in such an anti-social fashion.

In the first instance, the areas that we all know to be marginalised and disadvantaged, in predominantly urban and suburban parts of Ireland, must be targeted for investment in facilities and programmes for young people. We know that investment in sporting facilities, support for social programmes and constructive community events divert young people from the sticky web of misdemeanour in which so many of them become entangled. If we know that these solutions are effective, we truly have no excuse not to implement them and use them to best effect in tackling anti-social behaviour and juvenile crime.

In tandem with this kind of targeted investment, the State must support effective programmes within our criminal justice system, not least of which is the network of juvenile liaison officers and community gardaí. Their mission is to reduce the rates of re-offending and, where possible, to nip crime and criminality in the bud. I pay tribute to the invaluable role the juvenile liaison system plays in keeping so many children on the straight and narrow.

I agree wholeheartedly with the wording of this motion calling for "proper, ongoing and guaranteed funding and resources to be made available for the measures contained in the Act and in particular those aimed at preventing juvenile offending." If we do not take the matter of juvenile crime in hand now, it will be more difficult in the coming years. It is galling that while many provisions and legislation already exist to implement progressive and compassionate initiatives to tackle juvenile crime, many of the key provisions in the legislation have not yet been put into force.

Four years ago, after a long and protracted process, the Oireachtas passed the Children Act, legislation that represents a triumph of co-operation between the various parties in this House and in the Dáil. The Act contains several forward-looking provisions that represent invaluable tools in the effort to build a better society for our children and our children's children. Unfortunately, many of its key provisions have not yet been put into force, whether for lack of resources or lack of imagination on the part of the Government.

The Children Act contains a range of measures including provisions to force parents to take responsibility for the actions of their children and for compulsory parenting courses. It is a gross waste of the time of the Oireachtas to have passed such an estimable Act only to ignore its potential. It falls to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to rectify this regrettable state of affairs, particularly when he and his Cabinet colleagues continue to tell us how much money the country has and how successful the economy is.

Juvenile crime is a massive and urgent problem. It did not emerge overnight. It has grown out of neglect of our society and our children. The trend we see today can only be reversed through investment and a desire to change on the part of those in political power. It is no longer enough for our Ministers to throw their hands in the air and decry the current situation; rather it is time that they, and all of us, took responsibility for doing something about it, now and in the future.

The Fine Gael Party has consulted the public at over 100 meetings nationwide on our proposals to tackle juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour. Crime is hurting our people, our neighbourhoods and our communities. Constructive proposals from a number of sources are now in the possession of the Minister, but the Government does not seem to have the commitment to resource and implement its own legislation, particularly the Children Act 2001.

The lack of resources does not wash anymore with the public when the public finances show such a significant surplus. The time for talking is long gone. We now need action and a willingness to tackle the problem of juvenile crime. The complacency and lack of urgency shown by this jaded Government inspire very little confidence.

It is a far cry from the guff we had to hear from Millstreet.

The Minister of State might have learned something there if he listened properly.

The Senator should read what the Fine Gael spokesperson said about juvenile justice.

If the Minister of State listened to it, he might have learned from it.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and compliment him on his approach to this issue. The Labour Party motion refers to measures to prevent children offending and re-offending and to how to help young people at risk of offending. If one looks at the range of actions that make up the work of the National Children's Office, it is obvious that truly helping children requires a broad approach. Many interventions are possible before a child ever reaches the stage where he or she becomes at risk of offending. Helping involves both a long-term and co-ordinated approach.

The National Children's Office was set up to drive the implementation of the ten-year national children's strategy and to co-ordinate policies and services for children at national and local levels, across many Departments and agencies. The Government recognises the cross-cutting, multifaceted and long-term approach needed to address the problem of juvenile crime. Through the National Children's Office and other initiatives it is working to address this issue.

Before discussing juvenile crime specifically, I want to talk about crime in general. I am glad that juvenile crime is distinguished from crime in general as it has particular causes and should elicit particular responses. The victims of crime are not concerned about the age of the perpetrator. They do not care whether the person who damaged their property or assaulted them is 13, 18 or 40 years of age. Who could blame them? The view of policymakers must be different.

Crime levels are never far from the minds of the public. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has responded to the concerns of the public in many ways, for example, through the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 and the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. The Garda Síochána was strengthened from 11,750 in 2002 to 12,227 by March last. The Government will continue to strengthen the force to an increased level of 14,000 gardaí. Legislation, resources and Garda numbers are just part of the broader approach required. However, this is not so evident in the Labour Party motion.

We must not overlook the importance of the personal responsibility of individuals, families and the community. When we start to abdicate our responsibilities to the State, the State's intervention must be in the enforcement of law and order. This ultimately leads to a "them and us" situation. Through education, for example, CSPE programmes, and awareness, we can instil in young people a sense of responsibility, not just for themselves but for the community in which they live. We can give them a sense of pride that will place a value on society. Simple programmes, such as litter awareness or the success of Tidy Towns projects, prove that this can be done. Individuals, families and communities all have a responsibility in combating juvenile crime. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the great support given by sporting organisations in providing facilities and a sense of purpose for young people.

There are particular contributory factors to juvenile crime and, therefore, particular responses are required. Part of that response will be legislative. The motion makes specific reference to the Children Act 2001 which is important, modern and progressive legislation. It recognises correctly that detention is a measure of last resort in addressing juvenile crime. Research has pointed to many factors that lead juveniles to commit crime, namely, the environment in which they live, family, friend and peer influence, a strong adolescent desire for material possessions, fashion, money, etc.

Research also illustrates that at times these demands can be intensified by society, particularly societies such as ours that see increasingly high mobility, social change and materialism. Social changes can create anxiety and disillusion for adolescents, thereby contributing to juvenile crime. The Children Act thus provides for a broad range of interventions for young offenders, based on the central principles of diversion and restorative justice. We must welcome this approach and the approach of the Garda Síochána. When responding to juvenile crime, gardaí consider whether the offender might be included in the Garda juvenile diversion programme. I cannot overstate my support for and the importance of this scheme.

In certain circumstances, a juvenile who freely accepts responsibility for a criminal incident may be cautioned as an alternative to prosecution. At a time when commentary inaccurately suggests that we as a society are moving towards increasing criminalisation of children, the juvenile diversion programme is a valuable alternative to prosecution. I was delighted that the scheme was put on a statutory footing under the Children Act. While alternatives to prosecution are desirable, the youth diversion programme, as its name suggests, relates more to diverting young people away from crime by offering guidance and support to juveniles and their families, which is critical. The programme has proven to be extremely successful in doing that. I welcome the focus it places on local interventions. I understand that the Garda national juvenile office received almost 20,000 referrals, relating to more than 17,000 individuals, under the programme in 2003.

The motion before the House refers to many ways of addressing juvenile crime, including legislation, funding, resources and the probation and welfare service. I have focused on juvenile diversion and reducing recidivism. It is to be welcomed that the Government, its Departments and agencies and, in particular, the National Children's Office have taken positive steps in these areas. I accept that juvenile diversion programmes and projects are not appropriate in all instances. Given that detention is a measure of last resort in addressing juvenile crime, however, we must consider such approaches to an increased extent. Research shows that over 85% of those formally diverted from prosecution under these measures do not come to the attention of the Garda again by their 18th birthday. The diversion programme is just one strand in the overall approach to dealing with juvenile crime. That we need other ways of dealing with it is reflected clearly and realistically in the amendment, which I support.

I welcome the Minister of State and his continued interest in all issues relating to children. I compliment the Labour Party on proposing this motion on juvenile crime, which is an issue we neglect at our peril. It is frequently the case that young people who come before the courts as adults have been involved in crime for a considerable portion of their short lives. They may be involved in crime because they live in vulnerable circumstances or because they have some intrinsic problems. The Government amendment praises the work of the Special Residential Services Board, which was introduced under Part 11 of the Children Act 2001. I would like to highlight what the board says about its objectives on its website:

Children who are non-offending but who have severe emotional and behavioural problems have been coming before the courts and have been the focus of much public attention. There is an urgent need to develop the capacity of existing residential services to deal more effectively with the emotional and psychological needs of children who have suffered considerable trauma and who may be behaviourally challenging. This will require more investment in staff training. There is continuing public concern with regard to youth offending and a need to address systemically the origins, nature and consequences of youth crime. Significant additional resources are required to implement the Act, particularly by the juvenile justice system for the provision of facilities, a wide range of care and support services and for the implementation of community sanctions. In the long term, the most effective approach is to build on the prevention and early intervention mechanisms already developed to ensure that children in difficulty can be identified early and a range of family supports provided so that emerging problems are tackled before they escalate.

We all consider it to be important and essential that such resources and supports are put in place.

I remind the Minister of State, as I have reminded numerous Ministers, that this country suffers from a serious lack of child psychiatrists and child psychologists. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland was one of the first countries to sign, children's mental health is a human right. However, some 2,000 children in this country are waiting to be seen by psychiatrists. It is estimated that 120 child psychiatrists are needed in this country, but we have just 45. As far as I know, we have no vacant places, unless some places have become available in recent weeks. As the Special Residential Services Board has pointed out, many Irish children have serious behavioural problems. That might be why many of them get involved in crime in the first place.

I would like to discuss the results of a recent survey conducted in Clonmel. I doubt that Clonmel is any different from any other urban or rural part of Ireland. The survey indicated that 20% of children either have behavioural problems or difficulties associated with mental illness, or will develop such problems before they reach adulthood. Such children, who suffer from depression, for example, or are at risk of suicide, are not getting the medical help they need. It is not good that people over the age of 16 are being inappropriately dealt with in adult institutions. People in their late teens may develop serious mental problems, such as schizophrenia, which can lead them to get involved in crime. The earlier one begins to offer treatment for such problems, the better. It is unfortunate that early diagnosis and treatment are being neglected.

We hear all the time that the psychological services available to the courts are totally inadequate. Children who are non-offenders are sent to detention units or, in some cases, to adult prisons or adult psychiatric services because not enough secure units are available for young people. I appreciate that it can be difficult to put such units in place, but we have to do so. I have been saying for ten years that just 20 beds — 14 in the west and six in Dublin — are available for psychiatrically ill children, but there has been no increase in the level of provision.

We have to consider the circumstances of children which lead to them coming before the courts. Every speaker so far has mentioned early intervention. I am sure the Minister will do likewise because it is a terribly important aspect of the matter. The National Educational Psychological Service badly needs to be expanded, particularly if it is trying to deal with conditions like attention deficit disorder. I am delighted that Senator Ormonde is present for this debate. We are aware that children who start to get into trouble in school often then start to get into trouble in the community. Problems in schools need to be addressed at a very early stage before they start to get worse.

Several Senators have spoken about the importance of games. The motion before the House mentions the need for "long-term, ongoing and guaranteed investment in educational and work programmes specifically aimed at children". Why is it not possible to ensure that games are taught on a broader basis in primary schools? I recently had the benefit of reading an article by Ms Mary O'Hanlon, who is the deputy principal of the Holy Family senior national school in River Valley in Swords. In the article, Ms O'Hanlon quoted from a report produced for the European Commission's year of education through sport in 2004. The report stated that lessons and games help children to learn "to repudiate violence and destructive behaviour; to live and make decisions with justice and honesty; to respect differences in gender, race, beliefs, etc., accepting others with their own characteristics and peculiarities; to be tolerant; and to acquire attitudes leading to integration and harmony".

Although I was absolutely hopeless at games in school, I remember that they were a great diversion. My mother was a great believer in having us out playing all day because she reckoned that exhausted children do not get into trouble. We need to place a stronger emphasis on trying to get more primary school children involved in games. I am aware that the various sporting organisations are doing some good work. We need to ensure that the education of children does not just focus on getting them involved in games as a means of ensuring they become physically better — it is also a means of ensuring they develop emotionally and socially so that they are better able to integrate with society, which is very important.

Perhaps the Minister of State can speak later in this debate about the reporting of family law cases. Such reporting was not allowed for a long time, of course, because of thein camera rule. I had hoped for more reporting of such cases, on an anonymous basis, after a barrister was selected to produce such reports, with the agreement of those before the courts. Reports of family law cases might give us a better sense of the real difficulties encountered by some families and a better idea of how we might address such problems.

The Minister of State knows he has the support of all sides of the House in trying to do something about this issue. It was interesting to read the reports from Paris, where there has been a great deal of destruction in recent weeks. Police there say the main problem was posed by those under 14 years of age. The curfew in the city has been imposed on those under 16. A considerable portion of the destruction was caused by juveniles rather than those aged between 20 and 25 years. We must examine this issue because it is important. When one sees how out of control the situation can get, we must ensure that such a scenario never happens here.

I welcome this debate and agree with a considerable portion of the Labour Party motion, although there will, no doubt, be a vote on it at the conclusion of Private Members' business. The Government has tabled an amendment extolling the work we have done in this area, which is set out in bullet points. The content of the Labour Party motion chimes in with my aims as Minister of State and is something I intend to implement within the lifetime of this Government. I would, of course, qualify some elements of the motion in the name of Senator Ryan but it accords considerably with my aim as Minister of State attached to the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, all of which are involved in the implementation of the Children Act 2001.

The one area of the Labour Party motion which I welcome but which does not fall within its spirit is the call for the passing of legislation on the rehabilitation of offenders. I welcome its inclusion in the motion but it falls within the remit of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform because such legislation would apply to all offenders, not just juveniles. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is examining this issue but Seanad Éireann might be a better place in which to examine it.

The rehabilitation of offenders is a legislative lacuna. A person convicted of a crime in England whose criminal record is transmitted to Ireland continues to retain an Irish criminal record after the UK criminal record is expunged, which is an extraordinary state of affairs. Many jurisdictions have arrangements whereby offences eventually become spent and the person with the conviction receives a clean slate in the sense of not merely serving a sentence but having his or her criminal record wiped out. This does not happen in Ireland. I mention this because it is worthy of debate, although it is not exclusive to youth justice.

Senators' contributions to this debate were very stimulating. I will not bring Members through every aspect of the Government amendment. The Government is implementing the Children Act 2001. I have secured additional staffing for the probation and welfare service to enable it to implement the Act and have a presence in the Children's Court, which did not occur before my appointment and the Government's term of office. The Special Residential Services Board has been established on a statutory basis and is providing a service to the courts by indicating the services that are available for troubled children who come before them. This matter must be fine-tuned. Our survey of the courts revealed that a considerable number of parties are willing to appear before the courts to suggest what should be done for children but that fewer parties are willing to discuss the services which are available. Courts and judges want clear options, whether they involve diversion, sanctions, detention or care.

The Act's provisions regarding restorative justice have been implemented in terms of the provision of restorative justice by the probation and welfare service as an alternative to the full court hearing, as well as the Garda diversion programme. The amendment refers to the youth justice review. In 2004, I was not satisfied that I would be able to commence the Children Act 2001 within the lifetime of the Government and asked it to consider instituting a youth justice review to restructure the youth justice system, improve delivery of services and strike a balance between rehabilitation of offenders and the essential protection of the community. This review has now been completed and I will bring proposals on foot of it to Government in the coming weeks. The youth justice review aimed to bring about an effective youth justice system, complete the implementation of the Children Act and secure the necessary resources to see this happens. The review also aimed to bring about essential legal changes in the Children Act to finalise its implementation. I will return to Senator Tuffy's query about the age of criminal responsibility. I have attached considerable importance to implementing the above measures, which is why I welcome this motion.

On my appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I was struck by the lack of a unit dealing with youth justice. The Garda established its excellent juvenile liaison scheme several decades ago and the work carried out by juvenile liaison officers has been praised by Senators on both sides of the House. This scheme has now been put on a statutory basis as has the Garda diversion scheme. However, this was the preserve of the Garda. The detention of offenders over the age of 16 was the preserve of the Prison Service and community sanctions were the responsibility of the probation and welfare service, although the bulk of the service's work is naturally and rightly taken up with the management of adult offenders.

There was no research base on juvenile justice, the approaches used in other countries and what we could learn from them in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Department even lacked a statistical base on the issue. I suggested the creation of a youth justice unit within the Department that would be dedicated to analysing these issues and coming forward with solutions. Otherwise, and with respect to Senator Cummins, we will end up with the same scenario as that at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis in Millstreet, County Cork, last week, where Deputy Jim O'Keeffe called for the electronic tagging of children as the ultimate solution to youth justice problems. I accept that Senator Cummins is on the side of the angels in today's debate but this subject leads rapidly to that kind of analysis at many party conferences, congresses and Ard-Fheiseanna.

I am glad the Minister of State mentioned Ard-Fheiseanna.

I am being very ecumenical, given the genuinely ecumenical nature of this debate. The youth justice unit in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is consulting widely with those in the youth justice sector and has brought forward very effective proposals for the Government. One of the key proposals is the creation of a youth justice service within the Department. Senator Jim Walsh referred to the issue of who takes operational responsibility for child detention schools. The responsibility must be moved from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform if we are to have a holistic approach to the issue. I wish to reassure Senators that this responsibility will not be moved to the Prison Service and these schools will remain child detention schools. The matter will be brought to Government in the coming weeks so I do not wish to divulge too much detail. One of the ideas I put forward in public debate and would like to see established is making child detention schools the norm for the detention of all offenders up to the age of 18 and abolishing the provision of child detention centres as separate parts of prisons which would hold juvenile offenders aged 16 and 17, as envisaged in the Children Act. I hope that we would use the Scandinavian model whereby every offender under 18 is housed in a child detention school, which would be entirely separate from any penal complex. The Children Act did not go far enough in this respect.

It is extraordinary that we passed the Children Act without putting the means that were essential for its implementation in place. It is impossible to have good legislation unless it clearly designates who is responsible for providing services for the groups it is aimed at. The Government amendment refers to the Government's decision to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána and to extend various social inclusion measures. Offending behaviour among young persons is of great concern to the Government and we have regular reports of violent crime. Senator Henry referred to recent events in France and Senator Cummins referred to problems with drug taking, drink, lawlessness and anti-social behaviour. In this jurisdiction those problems are more concentrated in the young adult group than in the under-18 group but that does not absolve us from the need to establish a robust system of juvenile justice and care for offenders.

I accept the Children Act 2001 provides a sound basis for a modern, progressive youth justice system. Much implementation has occurred and the objective is to complete it. Complete implementation was never envisaged in a year or two; a long timescale was set and I am trying to accelerate the process. The Act is in place for four years and I wish to see its provisions implemented within the lifetime of this Government. It is major legislation with 271 sections and its implementation involves three Departments and their respective agencies. This requires parallel action by these bodies on an agreed timetable and many sections are interdependent.

I referred to the statutory diversionary programme. Senator Cummins referred to restorative justice, which is included in this programme. The victim does not always want restorative justice and this has been the experience of juvenile liaison officers in implementing the Act. A number of conferences have been held where the victim was given the opportunity of confronting the juvenile offender. In legal theory this is a very attractive idea but victims do not always want to meet the offender and we must take this into account.

The family conferencing provisions, involving the probation and welfare service, have also been implemented. This is another form of restorative justice to which I have already referred. The fundamental detention provisions have not yet been implemented and these are important because in this section it is clearly stated that detention is a matter of last resort and that no person under the age of 18 can be lodged in a prison.

We must implement these provisions by bringing clarity to this area, through legal amendments. To implement a part of this kind one must have absolute clarity about the power of the courts as they must withstand severe legal challenge on occasion. The provisions we enacted in 2001 are unnecessarily complex as we envisaged a distinction between offending and non-offending children, which is valid as some require care and some protective detention.

Regarding children detained in a protective way, there are several categories including those who are sentenced, remanded, males, females, over 16 years of age, under 16 years of age as well as 16 and 17 year olds. In total this amounts to eight different types of institution for a core group of approximately 120 offenders. As a legislative scheme this is unsustainable so I must examine how sense can be made of it and how it can be implemented quickly. I am keen to do so, as Senators will appreciate.

Of the remaining parts of the Act, one of the crucial issues is family welfare conferences. Section 77 of the Act allows the judge to refer to a family welfare conference. In the course of a criminal case a judge can require the HSE to appear in court and participate in a conference on a person before conviction. The HSE can examine what services can be put in place.

New Zealand has a similar provision and is a jurisdiction of a similar size to our own. There can be up to 50,000 conferences per year, a substantial figure. The resources required would be substantial but I am confident I can secure funds to implement this on a pilot basis in particular districts. I am anxious we put a provision into the legislation that the HSE should always attend court when requested by the judge to do so. I see too many reports of the HSE's failure to attend when judges request its attendance to examine the services available to children.

The judge should be advised by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the options available and those in care services should advise what they can provide. Some provincial venues have this working relationship between social workers, probation officers and juvenile liaison officers. Much of the Children's Act requires such an interagency approach. It is not solely a matter of resources, but of getting different agencies to work together. All of us in public life know how difficult this can be. If I can strengthen the legislation to procure interagency co-operation, I will do so.

Senator Tuffy referred to the age of criminal responsibility. The 2001 Act originally specified the age of criminal responsibility as ten years, with a graduated increase to 12. The United Nations was unhappy with this and the commission on children and the Convention on the Rights of the Child suggested we should opt for 12 years of age. I have examined this matter and am open to Senators' views.

Some practical difficulties exist and as the matter is now before Government I do not want to go into great detail. I agree with Senator Tuffy that we must implement this provision as quickly as possible. The present common law arrangement whereby a child of seven years of age can be prosecuted is unsatisfactory.

It is appalling rather than "unsatisfactory", which is far too soft a word.

It is not acceptable and we must implement the section of the legislation relating to the age of responsibility. There are reasons it has not yet been implemented, one of which is that the health boards claimed it would cost a substantial amount to implement. If one legislates that every person under the age of 12 who commits an act amounting to an offence has not committed an offence, one must decide who will look after this person. The Act envisaged that social workers would deal with these cases at all hours instead of the Garda Síochána. A substantial sum of money would be required to attend to these children and this sum must be validated.

I am satisfied I can make proposals to Government that will ensure the rapid implementation of an age of criminal responsibility. I do not want to anticipate the Government's decision. I agree with the headline figure of 12 years of age but there is a difficulty with serious offences committed by ten and 11 year olds. On rare occasions serious sexual crimes have been committed by 11 year olds. The public would not be satisfied that such an offender would be left to the attentions of a social worker. In the United Kingdom, the Bulger killing may not merit the word murder but manslaughter can be committed by 11 year olds. The Houses will be able to discuss this at a later stage as proposals are being brought before Government to ensure that the age of responsibility provisions are commenced. I am committed to doing this and the detail of that can be examined by the House.

I mentioned the work of the youth justice task force and the project team for this was established in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in October last year. The group made proposals that are before Government; it is important that the necessary funds are secured to implement the Act and that we make progress on clarifying where particular responsibilities lie.

Senator Tuffy mentioned Dr. Kilkelly's work and highlighted the importance of research in this area. The Department must have a youth justice division to enable us to carry out the basic fundamental research required in an important area such as this. It is a requirement of the legislation that parents should attend and we must examine the reason parents do not do so. I dealt with the question of the age of responsibility.

Senator O'Meara referred to rehabilitation in the widest sense and that is very much the philosophy of the Act. There has been an increase in the number of children taken into care, primarily due to neglect rather than abuse. There has been a large increase in our population. One of my major concerns as Minister of State is to ensure we have uniform standards in regard to who is taken into care. One of the difficulties with the health board system was that there was considerable divergence between different community care areas. One of the most startling figures in those statistics are the divergent numbers who have been taken into care in apparently similar geographical districts.

Senator Cummins rightly praised the work of the diversion officers and was concerned about the non-implementation of the 2001 Act. I agree with him that it must be implemented and I am committed to doing that. Senator Minihan also commented in that context.

Senator Henry touched on the area of child psychiatry, which strictly speaking does not arise under the legislation but is an issue the Senator rightly raised in this context. When Mr. Justice Kelly in a series of historic judgments required us to establish secure care units for "out of control" children, a great deal of investment was made in providing them, yet many of the behavioural problems with which those children present relate to issues in the child psychiatric service.

Senator Henry also raised the question of the reporting of family law proceedings. I understand that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has taken a legislative initiative in that regard and used powers under the courts legislation to provide for greater scrutiny and research in that area.

I am usually rude but I wish to say the Minister of State is welcome. The fact that he ran away, so to speak, from a few of the hard questions is perhaps understandable. Given all the kind words he used about the Labour Party motion, it is not clear to me the reason there must be an amendment, or one of this scale, to the motion but we will live with that.

There is a fundamental issue to be dealt with in terms of young people, the law and juvenile crime. It is easy for some of the trumpeting journalists who preach to the politicians about juvenile crime to portray it as if it were something perpetrated overwhelmingly by hulking 17 and a half year olds who are essentially distinguished by their birth certificate from tough guy crimes. We are talking not only about the 16 year olds or 17 year olds but children aged five to seven who come into contact with the law, children who are under the extraordinarily and quite primitive age of criminal responsibility. There are also offenders in the seven to 12 years age bracket. First and foremost these are children. That does not necessarily mean they are easy to deal with or that they are delightful little angels; it simply means they are children. The consensus in the Oireachtas was that 12 years of age was the appropriate age below which children should be treated as children, as people who cannot be seen as being personally culpable and responsible in the way that an adult or a mature young person could be regarded as being culpable and responsible for their actions.

It is easy to produce an exception to say that we should not have a principle in place. There is a good lawyer in front of me and he is as good as anybody at finding a spectacular exception. The Bulger case is grist to the mill for the champions of one Sunday newspaper of the "hang ‘em and flog ‘em and lock ‘em all up brigade" of crime journalism, but it is not the answer to the 99% of children who, while they are involved in activities we all know are wrong and unacceptable, are still children. It is high time we as politicians took courage in our hands and kept on saying that these are children and that we will not solve the problem by any of the usual methods. The "hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade" would have us believe that there was a time when because we beat children when they were in institutions, they would behave themselves afterwards. As one who was at the receiving end of the nasty side of some of the victims of that system, it did not make them any less violent; if anything it turned them into profoundly disturbed people with absolutely no threshold of self-control because they never dealt with themselves in terms of personal choice. They were terrorised into conformity when they lived in terrorising institutions. Once they moved out of them that discipline went. The "hang ‘em and flog ‘em" approach, apart from the morality aspect, is extraordinarily inefficient, wasteful and wrong and it is does not work.

I am genuinely glad that the Minister of State is providing for people to engage in research in this area. The question to which I have always wanted an answer in regard to crime in this State, particularly when dealing with child offenders, is "what works?" One element that works is to eliminate child poverty. The Government, which has had unprecedented resources, has singularly failed to deal with the issue of child poverty. We can argue over how one measures poverty but, by an universal index of poverty based on medium incomes, we are in a shamefully low position. It does not have to be like that. Depending on how one measures poverty, between 16% and 20% of our children live in households with income poverty. Child poverty is as low as 2% in civilised countries and as high as 25% or 26% in that most uncivilised of places, the United States. We are much closer to the United States in this respect.

I do not suggest that eliminating child poverty will end juvenile crime. We need to ensure that children live in households which have a decent income, that they receive decent early intervention education and are educated in classes with sufficiently low pupil-teacher ratios to enable teachers to have sufficient time to do their job. The education system needs to be backed up by a proper psychological service with, as Senator Henry said, the further backup of a good child psychiatry service. The combination of the elimination of income poverty and the ending of service poverty — service poverty being that with which most of our poor children live — would bring about change.

The new rhetoric of the Government is the rhetoric particularly from the socialist wing of Fianna Fáil, of which the members of the entire Lenihan family have always been among the most notable——

There are not very many in that wing.

I am not the third man.

The third man is Deputy Michael D. Higgins — there is absolutely no doubt about that. There is a wonderful rhetoric of compassion, concern and all the good, social democratic instincts, but the fundamental problem is the delivery of the resources to follow through on that. The delivery of such resources is what distinguishes conservatism from social democracy. That is the reason the countries in Europe where child poverty is low are the countries where there is a strong healthy and vigorous social democratic tradition. I invite the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Government, even at this late stage in their total capitulation to the PDs, to remember that.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan. I am pleased the motion was tabled at this particular time in light of what has happened in recent days and weeks. It is important that we talk about juvenile crime because if we do not curb it now the next generation of gangs will emerge on our streets.

I wish to deal with the amendment to the motion. I agree with the Minister of State that work still remains to be done but some parts of the programme have been implemented. The co-ordination aspect of this work is currently in train. The Minister of State referred to the youth justice system and the rehabilitation of young offenders. We must also take into account the protection of the community, which is an important aspect of the matter. The Minister of State has referred to this issue which is one to which we will return in future.

The role of the Garda is central in dealing with young offenders. I agree with some of the points made by the Labour Party. The Minister of State has also reciprocated on those issues. We must examine why the fabric of society is breaking down. A problem exists in that marriages and families are breaking down and there are no supports for young children or families. In some respects, people have too much money. People from both ends of the social spectrum are involved in juvenile crime.

Parental control and responsibility are central to this issue. We could throw all the money we like at it but we must get the fundamental issues right.

We could solve many of the problems that way.

Order, please.

The earlier the better — pre-school and early childhood education.

I could not agree more with Senator O'Meara. The earlier the intervention the better. We must examine how best we move forward with intervention strategies. I could speak at length on this subject having been involved in this area for much of my career. I welcome the introduction of welfare conferencing by the Minister of State, which would involve probation officers, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, teachers, career guidance counsellors and juvenile liaison officers. Members of the community should also be involved as this is a community issue.

I read an article recently about a pilot project in operation in Nenagh in Senator O'Meara's county. The project is working very well and I congratulate the judge who took it upon himself to set it up. This proves the effectiveness of community involvement. The judge visited New Zealand and on his return he arranged a public meeting. He was responsible for involving members of the community, teachers and other key people in the Nenagh area. The project has an 85% success rate which proves that such projects can work if one gets the involvement of all the interested parties. We can throw all the money we like at projects but they will not work if we do not have the goodwill and backup of local people.

A Bill was introduced recently in regard to anti-social behaviour which involved juvenile liaison officers, local authorities and schools, which have a major role in the prevention of juvenile crime. There should be no doubt about the importance of involving schools, to which the Minister of State referred. Nobody is better placed than teachers to detect when problems arise.

That is difficult with 35 children in a classroom.

I would welcome a back-up service in this regard. Teachers are aware of absenteeism and who is not contributing to the class, which are indicators that a problem may exist. It is important that we would get the infrastructure right in regard to education, social welfare, the probation service and the community at large. A multi-agency approach is required. I am not convinced that co-ordination is adequate between Departments. There are many loose connections. When one contacts one area, one often finds the other area knows nothing about it. The Minister of State has introduced a one-stop-shop with the National Children's Office and I look forward to its work coming fully on-stream.

It is important to direct the operation of the Children's Court in a sensitive manner. Judges may need to be retrained to deal with certain situations. The focus should also be on parents and teachers and how best we can rehabilitate young people. That is the way forward. Schools can play a big part in rehabilitation in terms of improving sporting activities. The Cathaoirleach will be delighted to hear me compliment GAA clubs which do much important work in getting young children and their parents involved in sport. That is another way forward. At the end of the day if we do not have parents and the wider community working together on this issue we will not get anywhere. The project in Nenagh is a prime example of what works and I look forward to this being repeated elsewhere.

I wish to share time with Senator Bannon. I will speak for three minutes and he will speak for five minutes. I am very fair.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan. I am pleased to have a chance to debate this issue. I support the Labour Party motion. I agree with most of the sentiments expressed on this side of the House, particularly the views of Senator Ryan on the problems of young offenders. His point about child poverty was correct. That is the single biggest contributory factor to the problem of young offenders. The greatest role the Government can play is to reduce the number of children who find themselves in those situations. Comparative poverty is still a problem in this country. Many children live close to the poverty line despite the economic success we have had in recent years. As we face into the Estimates tomorrow, and with the budget imminent, it is apt that more funding would be found in this area.

I echo the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Cummins, on the subject of restorative justice. I did not hear the full contribution of the Minister of State but I understand he outlined that an element of this provision in the Children Act had been implemented. I do not see any evidence of that in my immediate area. This is something which should be pursued. Placing children in detention facilities should be the last resort.

Examining restorative justice would be a much more beneficial path to take in terms of the future development of the children in question.

I refer to the Children Act about which the Minister of State spoke to my colleague, Senator Cummins, last year. There is a delay between offences being committed and something being done about them, whether in the courts or elsewhere. For the offender to appreciate he or she is being punished for committing an offence, it is essential action is taken as close as possible to the time the offence is committed. That is not happening and I urge that whatever steps are necessary be taken to ensure that happens.

I too welcome the Minister of State and support the Labour Party motion. On 20 October 2004, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, told us that the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made it clear in 2001 that the Children Act would take a number of years to implement. It is now almost 2006 and sufficient time has passed in which to implement this Act. I support the Labour Party motion which calls for its implementation without further delay. During that same debate in October 2004, my colleague, Senator Cummins, said some progress had been made in the implementation of the Act but that the words of the Government before the last general election — a lot done, more to do — would be apt in the case of the Children Act. That was one year ago but a lot more still needs to be done to ensure the Act is implemented.

We must, however, question how well we are served by the Children Act or how good intentions towards children are served by the fact that almost 150 children and teenagers have been placed in adult prisons since the beginning of the year in breach of the international treaty which prohibits the detention of juveniles in adult prisons. Over 147 young offenders between the ages of 15 and 17 have been placed in adult prisons such as Cloverhill and Limerick prisons since January of this year. As we all know, adult prisons are most unsuitable for young offenders. I am aware of the efforts of the prison authorities to keep young offenders separate from adults in so far as possible. However, they are obliged to deal with referrals from the courts and the situation is far from ideal.

The practice of placing young children in adult places of detention is likely to be raised before the UN committee on children's rights early in the new year. It will monitor Ireland's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 1998 the UN report led to the setting up of the National Children's Office and the Ombudsman for Children.

More than half the teenagers in the State's secure prisons for young offenders ended up in adult prisons or were homeless within six months of their release. Of the 57 boys released from Trinity House in 2003, 25 returned home and the remaining 24 ended up in prison, health board residential care or back in secure units.

Juvenile crime is on the increase at an ever younger age. At a most simplistic level, we could perhaps attribute this to the advent of the violent computer games which, in many cases, seem to be played without parents' knowledge or consent or without restrictions being placed on young people. We have been told this time and again. Last June five children aged between 11 and 12 years were arrested in Britain on suspicion of attempted murder of a five year old found with neck injuries. Of course, we are all only too aware of the murder some years ago of little Jamie Bulger which, in many ways, led to the destruction of the innocence of childhood.

In Ireland, a troubled 14 year old set fire to a room with children in it and is now in a special care unit in Sweden costing this State a considerable amount of money. This boy has been in a number of care units since the age of six, has suffered a mental breakdown and has been on numerous medications. His mother is unable to manage him and there are fears for the community if he is released.

Drugs and alcohol have also played a part in the rise of juvenile crime. Anti-social behaviour is making life hell for residents in certain urban and rural areas, particularly the elderly who suffer greatly in districts in which juvenile behaviour is out of control. In my area, some young people are out of control. A middle aged man with a young family was victimised and terrorised by a fire rocket being thrown through his letter-box last week. He was hit in the stomach and spent three days in hospital. Gardaí were unable to access his estate because youths blocked off the entrance which is a tactic also used in drug dealing.

Fine Gael calls on the Government to honour its commitments on the provision of extra gardaí. It is impossible to expect our disaffected young to tow the line without the deterrent of a visible Garda presence.

The Senator's time is up and he should conclude.

We should perhaps look to America——

The Senator should conclude.

——where the PAY system is in place — the prosecution alternatives programme.

The Senator should conclude. I call Senator Glynn.

It is something the Minister should consider for young people.

I ask the Senator to conclude. I call Senator Glynn.

The Cathaoirleach does not like to hear the truth.

I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark. It seems to imply I am biased.

If it suits, I will.

I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark unreservedly.

If it suits, I will.

Will the Senator withdraw that remark?

If it hurts, I will.

It does not hurt. I want the Senator to withdraw that remark unreservedly.

Can one not speak the truth in the Chamber?

The Senator's time was up, which I told him. He knows there is a Standing Order dictating times. I gave the Senator six minutes even though he had only five. I was too liberal with him. Will the Senator withdraw his remark?

I thank the Senator.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Much of what I wanted to say has been said, although I wish to make a few observations. The Children Act has been an important instrument in tackling a number of adverse situations as they affect children. Much is being thrown at children these days, including drugs, crime, theft, etc. More than ever before, it is imperative that everything possible is done for the children of today — the Oireachtas Members, parents and workforce of tomorrow — to allow them to have a childhood and to develop.

We must welcome the great work done by gardaí in tackling the DID people, that is, the dealers in death — the drugs barons and the drug pushers. Problems not only occur in disadvantaged areas; one would be surprised to know the addresses about which we talk at times. A good parent can live anywhere.

To some extent, greater emphasis should be placed on the attendance of children at school. I am sure everyone in the Chamber remembers when if a child was absent from school for a day or two and if a satisfactory explanation was not forthcoming from the home, gardaí called to the house to ask where Joe or Mary was. I do not know to what extent that system is still operational today, but I am led to believe that in certain areas truancy is at unacceptable levels.

It has been said that young people must deal with other situations today, including the impact of television and the Internet. Some of the material being downloaded by children from the Internet is outrageous and does not bear mentioning. That problem must be tackled in a forthright manner.

Underage drinking is a problem all over the country, including Mullingar. I am not satisfied that enough is being done to curb underage drinking. When I was doing a course in substance abuse therapy, one of those on the course was a 22-year-old woman who was a dry alcoholic. She was an only child and had regularly been out until the small hours of the morning. Her parents were elderly and were glad to hear her voice when she came home, but they never thought to check what condition she was in. By the time they discovered that she was addicted to alcohol and other substances it was far too late and, consequently, she got into serious trouble with the law.

When speaking about children we must always look at the home and the parents involved. The persona of a child is mainly formed in the home. Some people say there has been a decline in parental control, but I do not think so. In some instances, children are controlling their parents very well. That is the truth. References have been made to attacks on old people. Some teenagers will attack and rob the elderly, leaving them for dead. Senator Bannon mentioned the Jamie Bulger case, which was a serious matter. I agree with my Opposition colleagues that children should not be admitted to institutions unless as a last resort.

Close attention should be paid to the development of child and adolescent psychiatric teams around the country. Planning for future psychiatric services was a great buzz-phrase at one time and Mr. Liam Flanagan was the author of such a report back in the mid-1970s. Such community services are better than the old hospital-based ones but they are expensive to resource.

It is imperative to provide proper funding for the provision of child and adolescent psychiatry, which was the Cinderella service for some years. While matters have improved, there is nothing so perfect that it cannot be further improved. We must keep pushing out the boat. I acknowledge that great strides have been made in this regard. The Children Act was an innovative piece of legislation and many of its provisions have now been brought into operation. Although much has been done, we need to do that little bit more. There is always more to do, but maybe that is one of the curses of being human.

We must focus on our children who will be the politicians and leaders of tomorrow. We must also put those who would corrupt children, in whatever situation, out of circulation where they belong.

I agree with the point made by the Minister of State, Senator Glynn and others that the Children Act is a good piece of legislation. I recall when that legislation was going through the House, both Senator Ryan and I tabled amendments to provide for a commencement date on the total Act. It was not brought forward, however. The former Minister of State, who is now the Minister for Education and Science, assured us there would be no difficulty in putting the whole Act in place, yet we are still waiting. It is a lesson to be learned, but I will leave it at that.

The debate about parents and parenting is important and we should start at the beginning. Those who drafted our Constitution came to the conclusion that parents had extraordinary skills in parenting, education and a variety of other matters. I do not know what the thinking was behind that. It might have been a nice idea, but there was no sense to it. Senator Glynn is correct in saying that children can control their parents, but that may be because some parents have never learned the skill of controlling difficult adolescents. I am a teacher and it took a lot of training and experience to learn how to control children with difficulties, so parents should not be expected to cope without knowing how to do so. Parenting courses should be provided for them.

I always apply the nursery test in this regard. I could visit a nursery in the nearest maternity hospital and without looking at the children, but only seeing their addresses, I would be able to give the Minister of State a profile of where they are likely to finish up during their lives.

That is correct.

We all know that 90% of the prison population comes from clearly defined urban areas, so why do we not do something about it at an early stage?

Quite right.

I would like to speak more about child care, education and life skills, but my time is limited. I would like every child to be able to cook and learn interpersonal skills, but that cannot be done solely in school, which accounts for only six or seven hours per day. The remainder of the time will shape their life experiences. I would stake my reputation on guaranteeing that if every child in disadvantaged areas could be opened up to a whole new set of experiences, it would improve the situation. These experiences, include things they will not come across at school. Some children are not skilled in contact sports, but other pursuits like orienteering, archery, sailing, canoeing and cooking would awaken a passion in such children. That training would allow them to succeed in a given area of expertise.

Children from disadvantaged areas are brought closer to prison if they do not experience success in their lives. This is not a soft, liberal view; it represents hard thinking. As the Minister of State knows, in my professional capacity I have visited every detention area for young offenders in this State. I have dealt with the management of such centres and I know how they operate. They are doing fantastic work, but youngsters must still adjust to the outside world after being released.

Let us commence all of the Act, as well as teaching parenting skills to parents. We should also apply the nursery test and examine where children come from. We must then help them to do things they never did before, including travel and sporting activities. By doing so, we could change things for the better.

It would be a disgrace if the Government backtracks on raising the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12.

Hear, hear.

That provision is in keeping with the rest of the Government's legislation. As the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, said when he held that portfolio, it would totally contradict the principle behind the Act not to bring that provision into force. The Minister of State said he hoped he could persuade the Cabinet to introduce this provision, which highlights the fact that he should be a member of the Cabinet. This provision brings home the need for a Minister for children in Cabinet. I would be happier to see the Minister of State in the Cabinet than many of the others there now.

The reasons given for the delay in introducing this legislation are part of the wider failure in our society to recognise the unique rights of children. These reasons do not stand up to scrutiny. If cost is a factor against raising the age of criminal responsibility, the Government would not be able to pay for family conferences and that provision is just window dressing. The reference to cost also contradicts many of the provisions in the Government amendment — for example, that it has done such great work with the probation and welfare service.

It is ridiculous to say the seriousness of the offences is the issue. The issue is whether the child has the intellectual and legal capacity to bear that criminal responsibility. I welcome the Minister of State's comments about the rehabilitation legislation. I intended it in the broader sense that the Minister of State applied because the rehabilitation aspect of the Children Act is limited.

That should be extended but rehabilitation legislation should also be brought in for the general population. I know of a case involving someone who committed a once-off offence which was out of character but that is on the person's record for life. It affects the person's ability to get a job and so on. There should be a system similar to the English one the Minister of State described.

I did not have a chance to discuss educational programmes and so on as mentioned in the motion. The Minister of State, however, is familiar with the work of the Carline Centre for Learning. The centre fights for funding during the year, and from year to year. It needs definite guaranteed funding to help it to fully realise its programme, which it cannot do now as it has to cut back on programme materials.

The issue of cost in respect of the Children Act is bogus because family conferences, which have been enforced, are its most costly feature. The Government should bring in the legislation in full and provide the necessary resources.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 21.

  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lydon, Donal J.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Minihan, John.
  • Mooney, Paschal C.
  • Morrissey, Tom.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Walsh, Kate.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bannon, James.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, Fergal.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Meara, Kathleen.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Terry, Sheila.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators O’Meara and Tuffy.
Amendment declared carried.
Question, "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to", put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.