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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Dec 2013

Vol. 228 No. 3

Child and Family Agency Bill 2013: Fifth Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I congratulate the Minister on the passing of the Bill. It is a very important Bill as far as she is concerned and I suppose, along with the referendum on children's rights, it is the culmination of her work since her appointment as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It is a great day for children. This country has a lot of making up to do as far as children are concerned and I am delighted to be here today and to wish the agency every success. I thank the officials in the Department and the Minister on all the work she put into this Bill and wish the agency every success, in particular, as it will provide protection to the children of Ireland.

I congratulate the Minister on this Bill, which is an immense undertaking. For a long time, many of us who have been children's rights advocates imagined this but the Minister has brought about the reality of an agency dedicated to children and families. This will ensure children get the services they deserve and need. I thank the Minister for all the work she has done on the Bill to bring it to fruition and I also thank her officials. I wish every success to those who will transfer to the new agency. Change can be difficult but it is tremendous that the Minister has cross-party and cross-group support for this. It shows this important issue is above party politics and we are all extremely supportive of ensuring the Child and Family Agency will be a success.

I, too, congratulate the Minister on this extremely progressive measure. Having read a number of the historic reports, although not as historic as we would like, into the failures of the system to protect children, it was very clear that much criticism was levelled at the failure of agencies to work together. This legislation will go a long way to address that. I compliment my colleague, Senator van Turnhout, and many of the organisations which deal children and youth affairs, in particular Start Strong and Barnardos. I also congratulate the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the work it did in preparing the road for this Bill.

In regard to amendment No. 33, which we did not discuss, relating to the amendment of the Child Care Act 1991 and the after care of children leaving the care of the State, as the Minister knows, it is a particular concern of mine given the number of children post-care who end up in homeless provision - two thirds in the most recent statistics. I know the Minister has the approval of Cabinet to deal with this but will she make it an urgent priority?

I congratulate the Minister on the work she put into this Bill as well as those behind the scenes. The agency needs a lot of preparation and much preparation has gone into this. I mention the efforts the Minister showed by her attendance here - the Bill was not delegated to somebody else - and her real interest in every aspect of the Bill. I congratulate the Minister and the House on the passing of the Bill.

I join with colleagues in thanking the Minister and her staff. We must keep in mind the fact that as this is a new agency, much work had to be done to prepare for it. I mention the detail in the Bill, which was very well drafted. I wish the Minister and the new agency every success in the future. This is a milestone in how we manage this whole area. I join with Senator Hayden in thanking the members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and all those who contributed to the debate in a very constructive way.

As a Member who participated in the debate, I would like to thank the Minister for the briefings which were made available to us in advance of the Bill. In particular, I pay tribute to Senator van Turnhout who put an enormous amount of work into the Bill. Perhaps in the future when we are looking at political reform, there might be more scope for more engagement in advance of amendments being tabled. I know the Minister is very committed to that type of reform but it is a fluid business and, as a Parliament, we need to become more fluid when it comes to engaging and taking amendments on board.

I thank Senators who contributed to the debate on this legislation and repeat my thanks to Deputies who contributed to it as it proceeded through the Dáil. It is very heartening that there is such a positive response to the establishment of the new Child and Family Agency which has a very big task ahead of it. We have all the historic reports of the failings in child protection and we are on a course to change that. It will not be done overnight but this is a very strong foundation in terms of an approach to the services of selecting out the services and having them in a separate agency.

Like many Senators, I pay tribute to the staff in my Department, including my Secretary General, Mr. Jim Breslin, Ms Liz Canavan, who was involved in drafting this legislation, and all of the team. It is a huge piece of legislation. Much dedicated work has gone on over a very long period of time because, as I said, it is major public sector reform in terms of 4,000 staff transferring and new functions.

I record my thanks to everyone who was involved. I also mention Ms Maureen Lynott, who was the chair of the task force and who did such good ground work in preparing for the vision of the agency, what it should look like and the services which should be within it, and the considerable detailed work the members of that task force did. It has been extremely helpful and influential in terms of approaching the establishment of the agency.

In terms of what Senator Conway said about the changes in approach to legislation, the suggestions the Taoiseach has been making about having committee hearings at an earlier stage with experts is the way to go and it will give that kind of fluidity about which the Senator spoke and will probably be more satisfactory for everyone. I hope the way I responded to the amendments today and the suggestions I made about how various issues can be taken further, will make a difference in terms of how the agency functions and that Senators' contributions will impact on the development of the work of the agency. I thank the NGOs because prior to going into the Dáil with the Bill, I published quite a number of amendments to it to capture some of the key points people felt were missing at the earlier stage.

Accountability is a crucial part of the Bill. The performance framework and the annual performance statement are included in it. That is very strong in terms of giving directions and guidelines and reforms are already underway in children and family services. As was said, it will be a solid platform and a sound basis for continuing change and improvement in how children and family services are delivered. It delivers on a very key part of our programme for Government commitment.

Many people have worked collaboratively to ensure the agency gets off to a strong start. I look forward to that continuing collaboration, which will be very important. Children and families and those in need of support, assistance, guidance and direction deserve the best service we can offer. The establishment of the child and family agency is a positive step in the right direction but I repeat we have much work to do.

On behalf of the House, I wish the Minister well with the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.