Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 63, to delete lines 23 to 41 and substitute the following:
"(c) by inserting the following subsections after subsection (2):
"(2A) Where the court makes an appointment under subsection (1) (as amended by theChild Care (Amendment) Act 2011), without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the court shall give directions relating to the service of documents for the proceedings concerned on the guardian ad litem.
(2B) A guardianad litem shall for the purpose of the proceedings for which he or she is appointed promote the best interests of the child concerned and convey the views of that child to the court, in so far as is practicable, having regard to the age and understanding of the child.”.”.

I thank Senators for their contributions. The main objective of the Bill is to safeguard the best interests of children who are in need of special care, as we have been discussing. What is being enshrined in the Bill will support its achievement. Special care is a last resort but it is an important part of child care which does meet the express needs of a very small number of children. It is only used when other forms of residential or community care are considered to be unsuitable. It is appropriate that these cases should continue to be presented to and determined by the High Court. That will allow for the consistent, well managed and structured presentation and consideration of the applications which come before the court for special care orders. I thank Senators for their response and their support for the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 64, to delete lines 1 to 17 and substitute the following:
"(a) the guardian ad litem concerned may instruct a solicitor to represent him or her in respect of those proceedings and, if necessary, having regard to the circumstances of the case, may instruct counsel in respect of those proceedings, and
(b) where a guardian ad litem instructs a solicitor or counsel or both pursuant to paragraph (a), the costs and expenses reasonably incurred for that purpose shall be paid by the Health Service Executive and the Health Service Executive may apply to the court to have the amount of any such costs or expenses measured or taxed.”,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 64, to delete lines 19 to 25 and substitute the following:
" "(3A) The court may, on the application to it of the Health Service Executive, order any other party to the proceedings in question to pay to the Health Service Executive any costs or expenses payable by the Health Service Executive under subsection (2C).", and".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 4:
In page 64, to delete lines 26 to 28.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. She has been very attentive in doing so. She was very effective in this House when she was the Leader of the Opposition.

As this Bill was brought forward by the last Government, naturally we did not intend to oppose it. We welcome it. The Minister's Department is one of the most important in the State, particularly now, and I believe this Minister has a great grasp of the issues. I welcome her clear and well articulated comments on the Donegal case and the Cloyne report. Well done to her.

The Minister's determination and commitment to the issues dealt with in the Bill are evident. I hope she knows that Members of the Seanad are anxious to support her in her role and to inform the policies she will bring forward in the future. Now that the new Department has been established we wish to make it a success. What the Minister has done in the Bill today is very important. The Government amendments took on board much of what was said in the debate regarding guardianad litem and I welcome the fact that the Minister moved so quickly to do that. I look forward to working with her in the future.

With regard to the guardianad litem, the amendments I committed to bringing forward will remove the discretion of the judge as to whether a guardian ad litem is legally represented and provide that the guardian ad litem may instruct a solicitor and, having regard to the circumstances of the case, may instruct counsel. The effect of the amendment is to continue the practice for the guardian ad litem to be in a position to appoint legal representation in care cases and special care cases, and the judge has discretion regarding the appointment of the guardian ad litem in the proceedings.

I thank Senators for supporting the amendments. I appreciate the support of the House for this Bill and the very constructive comments from Members. I am sure I will return to the House to discuss the detail of some of these areas when we establish the new child and family support agency and as work progresses on putting the Children First guidance for the protection and welfare of children on a statutory basis. Undoubtedly, some of these issues will arise again, particularly aftercare services. I note how strongly people feel about those services. As I said previously, we will gather information on the current practice in this country and examine what is being done, where there are gaps and how we can best deal with them.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.