Before we commence I remind Senators that they may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded. Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Amendment No. 4 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 3.
Children (Amendment) Bill 2015: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (7):
“(7A) Where a child is convicted of an offence and a period of detention is imposed on the child by a court, the period of detention shall not exceed the term of detention or imprisonment that the court could have imposed on a person of full age and capacity who is convicted of such an offence, and may be less. The Court shall have regard to the age, level of maturity, best interests of the child and principle of imprisonment as a last resort in determining the nature of any penalty imposed.”.”.
I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 1 and 3. We have only submitted a handful of the amendments that we submitted on Committee Stage because we have taken on board the Minister's views on some of the issues. However, the amendments we have tabled are those on which we have been lobbied and on which we have strong views ourselves. We believe they would strengthen the Bill and that is why we have resubmitted them on Report Stage.
I will set out our position on amendment No. 1, as I did on Committee Stage. We note that section 8 amends section 149 of the Children Act 2001 and provides that where a child is convicted of an offence, the period of detention imposed on a child should not exceed that which the court would have imposed on an adult. While it is noted that the purpose of the section is to give consideration to the principle of equality of treatment between children in detention schools and adults in the prison system, given the importance of the principle that detention should be a last resort for children we recommend that this provision be amended to more closely reflect the spirit and wording of section 96 of the Children Act 2001.
I will set out the rationale for amendment No. 3. Section 8 provides that where a period of detention greater than three years is imposed on a child, a court must give its reasons for doing so in open court. It is of note that the original Children Act 2001 provision, before it was amended by the 2006 Act, contained an upper limit and did not permit a court to impose a sentence on a child in excess of three years. Therefore, we suggest that the proposed section 149(2) be amended. We are making this submission in light of recommendation 33 of the strategic review group on penal policy as published in September 2014, which states:
The Review Group recommends that, in all cases where a custodial sentence is imposed by a court, the court should set out its reasons in writing for so doing. The Group further recommends that this requirement be incorporated in statute.
As far back as February 2003 the Law Reform Commission recommended that a District Court judge should be required to give concise written reasons for any decision to impose a custodial sentence. The strategic review group considered whether this requirement would constitute a significant additional burden on the courts and concluded that it would not. The obligation to provide reasons already exists. This recommendation simply requires that those reasons are recorded in writing. In a case where the liberty of a child is at stake it is imperative that there is clarity around the rationale for such a significant decision. Such a statutory provision would promote consistency in sentencing and bring clarity and transparency not only to the courts but to victims, offenders, legal practitioners and the public as well.
I second the amendment and support the first amendment put down by Sinn Féin in principle. However, as I said on Committee Stage - I maintain my position now - I believe the amendment is incorrectly placed. I have contacted Sinn Féin and the Bills Office seeking clarity following Committee Stage.
The Sinn Féin amendment seeks to insert a new subsection 7A after section 88(7) of the Children Act 2001, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Section 88 deals with remand in custody and pertains in the most part to the designation of a place as a remand centre. Section 88(7), as amended, states: "A place may be designated as a remand centre only with the consent of its owners or, as the case may be, its managers."
Although subject to amendment by this Bill, section 88(8) currently reads: "Where a remand centre is part of a children detention school, children remanded in custody to the centre shall, as far as practicable and where it is in the interests of the child, be kept separate from and not be allowed to associate with children in respect of whom a period of detention has been imposed."
The Sinn Féin amendment concerns provisions regarding a period of detention imposed on a child by the court. Upon my reading of section 88, a new subsection (7A) to section 88 of the principal Act simply does not fit. Rather, I believe, the amendment should belong to section 88(8), which deals with provisions regarding a period of detention imposed by court. Thus my amendment, amendment No. 2, seeks to expand upon the amendment of section 149(1) of the Children Act contained in this Bill by stipulating several criteria.
First, not only must the period of detention imposed on a child not exceed what the court could have imposed on an adult convicted of the same offence, it can be less. This stipulation is made in section 96(4) of the Children Act dealing with principles relating to the exercise of criminal jurisdiction over children, which holds: "The penalty imposed on a child for an offence should be no greater than that which would be appropriate in the case of an adult who commits an offence of the same kind and may be less, where so provided for in this Part."
Second, in determining the period of detention a decision should reflect the spirt and wording of section 96(2) in particular which reminds the court that it "should take the least restrictive form that is appropriate in the circumstances" and that "a period of detention should be imposed only as a measure of last resort".
The third criteria relates to the best interests of the child principle. Given the new children's rights article in the Constitution, and our obligations to children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is vital that this principle appears and flows consistently through legislation impacting on the lives of children. I have adopted the wording for this amendment from the Irish Penal Reform Trust and I note that those involved also envisaged that the amendment would sit under section 8.
As for the rationale behind the amendment, I note the chilling observation of Dr. Andrew McLellan, chief inspector of prisons for Scotland from 2002-09. He said: "Prison may sometimes do good, but it always does harm." Ireland is bound to respect and uphold the internationally and domestically recognised principle of detention as a last resort for children. The rationale underpinning the fundamental principle and international human rights rule that children should be detained only as a measure of last resort is a three-fold recognition. First, detention is harmful to children.
Professor Barry Goldson, senior lecturer at the department of sociology, social policy and criminology at the University of Liverpool, has written extensively on the corrosive impact detention has on a child's life, including straining family relations, the reinforcement of negative behavioural traits, experiences of bullying, intimidation and violence, isolation, institutionalisation and stigmatisation. Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, with whose expertise in this area we are all familiar, has also enumerated the negative impacts of detention on children, including the deprivation of liberty, separation from their usual social environment, separation from family and exposure to criminal contamination.
Second, noted in the preamble to the United Nations standard minimum rules for the administration of juvenile justice, known as the Beijing rules, is the appreciation that children, owing to their early stage of human development, are distinctly vulnerable to these negative effects. This vulnerability is further exacerbated by the fact that many of the children subject to detention are extremely damaged.
Third, detention should be used as a last resort to militate against the organised hurt inherent in placing damaged children in damaging environments and to uphold the rights and safety and promote the physical and mental well-being of children as stipulated as a fundamental perspective in the United Nations rules for the protection of juveniles deprived of their liberty, known as the Havana rules. The principle of detention as a last resort for children, the best interests of the child and the articulation of factors to which the court shall have regard in determining the nature of the penalty, if any, imposed are not just window dressing to be articulated in some places and not others. These go to the very core of our juvenile justice policy and international obligations and we are duty-bound to articulate the principles at every appropriate juncture.
I support Sinn Féin's amendment No. 3. Given the seriousness and gravity of the decision to impose any period of detention on a child, I do not believe it is too much of an imposition on the court to give its reason for doing so in writing. As Senator Cullinane has said, the Law Reform Commission recommended in 2003 that a District Court should be required to give concise written reasons for any decision to impose a custodial sentence. I further note recommendation 33 of the 2014 strategic review group report on penal policy which stated that in all cases where a custodial sentence is imposed by a court, the court should set out its reason in writing for doing so. The group further recommended that this requirement be incorporated into statutory law. The strategic review group also considered whether a requirement to document a determination in writing would constitute a significant additional burden and found it would not. I also believe the requirement for a court to give its reasons in writing might go some way towards ensuring remand is not inappropriately resorted to by the court in circumstances where the child requires a child welfare intervention. I ask the Minister to recall the point I made in this regard on Second Stage. For these reasons, I support the Sinn Féin amendment.
The amendment I tabled, amendment No. 4, could strike a balance, if required, but I hope amendment No. 3 is accepted and there will be no need for it. At the least, the Bill should stipulate that in giving its reasons for its decisions in open court, the court shall use language that is appropriate to the age and level of understanding of the child. This would mirror the language of section 88(3) of the Children Act, which holds that where the court decides to remand a child in custody, the court shall explain the reasons for its decision in open court in language that is appropriate to the child's age and level of understanding. The need to use language that is appropriate to the child's age and level of understanding throughout the juvenile justice process is also clearly set out in the 2010 guidelines for the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on child friendly justice.
In summary, I suggest an amendment should ensure the period of detention imposed on a child may be less than what the court could impose on an adult convicted of the same offence. We must ensure the principles of detention as a last resort for children and the best interests of the child are articulated appropriately in this provision and that some of the factors, such as the age and level of maturity that the court shall consider when determining the nature of the penalty, if any, are clearly stated. As suggested in amendment No. 4, it is important to mirror the language that is already used in section 88(3) of the Children Act.
I support the concept behind Senator van Turnhout's amendment. In fairness, I believe the Minister would concur with the tone and tenor of what the Senator has said and that he will explain that. However, there are also extreme situations and we cannot anticipate what will happen in the future or the situation then. Therefore, we must be careful not to tie the hands of the Judiciary in this regard. We must be conscious of the fact that serious crimes can be committed by juveniles and we cannot turn a blind eye to what might happen in the future. I will respect the Minister's view on this issue. If he outlines proposals along the lines of what Senator van Turnhout has said, that will be satisfactory.
Amendment No. 1 proposes to insert the words "and may be less" and states: "The Court shall have regard to the age, level of maturity, best interests of the child and principle of imprisonment as a last resort in determining the nature of any penalty imposed." This is proposed as a new subsection (7A) in section 88. I note however that section 88 deals with remands in custody as distinct from detention following conviction. Amendment No. 2 proposes to insert the words "and may be less" and a statement, "The court shall have regard to the age, level of maturity, best interests of the child and the principle of detention as a last resort in determining the nature of any penalty imposed", into section 149(1).
In regard to the insertion of the words "and may be less", it is provided in section 149(1) that the period of detention imposed on a child by a court shall not be more than the period of detention or imprisonment that could be imposed on an adult. This does not mean that a lesser period of detention cannot be imposed on a child. It is inherent in the provision that the period of detention imposed on a child may be less than that which is imposed on a person of full age and capacity.
In addition, as I stated on Committee Stage, section 96(4) of the Act, providing for the powers of the court in regard to child offenders, provides that the penalty imposed on a child for an offence should be no greater than that which would be appropriate in the case of an adult who commits an offence of the same kind, and may be less. Therefore, section 96(4) already includes the words "and may be less". A penalty may include any one of a number of sanctions, ranging from community sanctions to detention as a measure of last resort.
I do not consider that inserting the words "and may be less" is necessary, as section 149(1) already implicitly provides for a lesser period to be imposed on a child. In addition, section 96(4) is explicit on this point, clearly providing that the penalty imposed by a court on a child, which may include detention as a measure of last resort, may be less than that which would be imposed on an adult.
In regard to adding the words "The Court shall have regard to the age, level of maturity, best interests of the child and the principle of detention as a last resort in determining the nature of any penalty imposed", the principles proposed in the amendment are already explicitly provided for in the Children Act 2001. Part 9 of the Act provides for the powers of the courts in regard to child offenders. In particular, section 96 provides for the principles relating to the exercise of criminal proceedings over children. Section 96(3) provides that a court may take into consideration as mitigating factors a child's age and level of maturity in determining the nature of any penalty imposed, unless the penalty is fixed by law. Section 96 also provides that when dealing with a child charged with an offence, a court shall have due regard to the child's best interests, the interests of the victim of the offence and the protection of society. This reflects that where criminal proceedings are an issue, the best interests of the child must be balanced with the interests of society and the victim. This is critical.
Section 96(2) of the principal Act provides that a period of detention should be imposed only as a measure of last resort. As the amendments proposed relating to a lesser period of detention being imposed on a child and a court having regard to the age, maturity and best interests of the child and the principle of detention as a last resort are already clearly provided for in the Act in section 96, which sets out the principles to be applied by a court when exercising criminal jurisdiction over children, I am not accepting amendments Nos. 1 and 2.
Amendment No. 3 proposes to provide in a new subsection (2) at section 149 that the court shall not impose a period of detention in excess of three years and where it imposes any period of detention that it shall give its reasons in writing. Detention, as already said, is always a measure of last resort and that is set out clearly in section 96(2). Section 143 of the principal Act also makes it clear that a court should not make an order imposing a period of detention unless it is satisfied that detention is the only suitable way of dealing with the child. Section 96(4) makes it clear that the penalty imposed on a child should be no greater than that which would be appropriate in the case of an adult who commits an offence of the same kind and may be a lesser period. The Act provides various safeguards in terms of detention always being a measure of last resort and the duration of any period of detention to be imposed vis-à-vis an adult, where detention is the penalty imposed on a child. The imposition of a limit on the period of detention of a maximum of three years in all circumstances regardless of the offence that has been committed would not be appropriate. We can all think of serious crimes that could be committed by a 17 and a half year old. The idea that three years would be the maximum sentence would not sit well.
On the proposed amendment to provide that where any period of detention is imposed on a child, the court shall give its reasons for doing so in writing, section 143(2) provides that where an order is made under subsection (1), the court making the order shall give its reasons for doing so in open court. This provides safeguards in terms of the reasons being stated in an open court in the cases of all children appearing before a court. It should be noted that these matters fall under Part 9 of the Children Act and are matters within the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality. We continue to have close co-operation on criminal justice matters relating to children. There are already sufficient safeguards in terms of the duration of any period of detention and a statement in all cases in open court of the reasons for any period of detention being imposed. I am, therefore, not accepting the amendments proposed.
Amendment No. 4 proposes to insert the words "in language that is appropriate to the age and level of understanding of the child" into the substituted section 149(2) as provided for in section 8. It should be noted that these matters which fall under Part 9 of the Children Act are matters within the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality. As I said on Committee Stage, we have close co-operation on criminal justice matters relating to children. I have consulted, as I said I would do, with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the proposed amendment to provide that where a court imposes a period of detention in excess of three years on a child, it shall give its reasons for doing so in open court in language that is appropriate to the age and level of understanding of the child. It is important that where a lengthy period of detention is imposed on a child, the child understands fully the reasons for it. Having consulted my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, I am therefore accepting the amendment proposed. I note that a similar issue arises in regard to section 143(2) of the Children Act 2001 and I intend to bring forward an amendment at a later Stage in this regard.
Does Senator Cullinane wish to reply to the discussion?
Is amendment No. 1 being pressed?
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 10, line 6, after “offence” to insert the following:
“and may be less. The Court shall have regard to the age, level of maturity, best interests of the child and the principle of detention as a last resort in determining the nature of any penalty imposed”.
I second the amendment.
Is it being pressed?
It is because I feel we are trying to be consistent with our legislation. I have listened to the Minister, but I tabled the amendment for the sake of consistency.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 10, line 8, after “court” to insert “in language that is appropriate to the age and level of understanding of the child”.
I second the amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 24, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
“(2A) Where an inquiry is held under subsection (1) the child shall be provided with an opportunity to be heard and to respond to any allegation of disciplinary breach orally or in writing.”.
We dealt with this on Committee Stage and made reference to it on Second Stage but we feel it is important to table this amendment again. It reads:
In page 24, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
"(2A) Where an inquiry is held under subsection (1) the child shall be provided with an opportunity to be heard and to respond to any allegation of disciplinary breach orally or in writing.".
It is vital to ensure that the procedures that children encounter in detention settings are accessible to them in light of their age, vulnerability and often literacy difficulties. While sections 17 and 18 make provision for the director of Oberstown Campus to hold an inquiry into an alleged breach of discipline and to inform the child of the breach and the time and date of that inquiry, it makes no express provision for the right of the child to be heard in such a situation but leaves it to ministerial regulations to prescribe the procedure.
Given that forfeiture of up to 14 days remission, which is an effective loss of liberty, is potentially at stake, we submit that the underpinning of the convention on the rights of the child to participate and to be heard would require that the child must be given an opportunity to be heard and to respond to any such allegations in the first instance. While section 17 provides that the procedure relating to an inquiry may be prescribed by the Minister, we submit that the opportunity to be heard is of such importance both in terms of the child's rights and due process that it should be included in the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015. We submit that where the sanction imposed is one of loss of remission, the reasons for the imposition of such a sanction should be recorded in writing and communicated to the child in language which is accessible to them.
Section 17 provides that the director may hold an inquiry into an alleged disciplinary breach by a child. The provision allows for the discretion of the director in deciding whether to hold an inquiry or not. Where the director decides to hold an inquiry into a disciplinary breach, he or she shall inform the child of the alleged breach and the date and time of the inquiry. Section 201(3), which is being inserted into the principal Act, provides for the procedure relating to an inquiry to be prescribed by the Minister. The procedure prescribed would include matters providing for fair procedures such as providing the child with an opportunity to be heard and to respond to any allegation of a disciplinary breach.
As I indicated on Committee Stage, it is intended that the operational and practical matters relating to such an inquiry will be prescribed and these will include matters relating to fair procedures for a child. Matters such as giving the opportunity to be heard and to respond orally or in writing are basic principles of fair procedures and natural justice and will be incorporated in the regulations. It is not proposed to incorporate some of the procedures relating to an inquiry in primary legislation and to incorporate other procedures in secondary legislation. All matters relating to an inquiry by the director will be prescribed in regulations. The issue of fair procedures proposed by the amendment will be comprehensively addressed in regulations to be adopted on foot of the enactment of section 17. I do not, therefore, propose to accept this amendment.
Does Senator Cullinane wish to respond? No. Is the amendment being pressed?
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 25, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
"(1A) Any child who breaches the rules of a children detention school may be disciplined on the instructions of the Director of the school in a way that is both reasonable, proportionate and within the prescribed limits.
(1B) Without prejudice to the power of the Minister to prescribe limits for the disciplining of children detained in children detention schools, the following forms of discipline shall be prohibited -
(a) corporal punishment or any other form of physical violence,
(b) deprivation of food or drink,
(c) treatment that could reasonable be expected to be detrimental to physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing, or
(d) treatment that is cruel, inhuman or degrading.".
Section 201 of the Children Act 2001 includes an important prohibition on certain forms of discipline, including corporal punishment, physical violence, deprivation of food or drink, treatment that could reasonable be expected to be detrimental to physical, psychological or emotional well being or treatment that is cruel, inhumane or degrading. The most recent HIQA report, which was published in February 2015, found that the management of challenging behaviour in Oberstown was not consistently in line with best practice and single separation was used frequently and for long periods of time. The report outlined the example of one child who was locked in a room for 83 hours and 45 minutes over a period of four days, including sleeping hours. Given the concerns expressed about the management of challenging behaviour and the use of single separation, it is not clear why a prohibition on such treatment has not been retained in the new section 201. Section 17 of the Bill substitutes alternative wording for section 201 of the 2001 Act. While permissible sanctions for breach of discipline should be set out in the new section 201A, it is prudent to also maintain an express prohibition on certain disciplinary sanctions. Such matters are expressly prohibited under section 13 of the Prisons Act 2007 in respect of adults. The original section 201 should be retained in any amendment under section 17 of the Bill, but with the addition of the word "proportionate".
Amendment No. 6 proposes to substitute new subsections (1A) and (1B) to section 201A to set out the manner in which a child may be disciplined by a director and to set out the sanctions which are prohibited. The proposed subsections would in the main replicate the existing section 201 of the 2001 Act. The Bill proposes a new system of discipline to facilitate the introduction of remission in children's detention schools and to that end proposes a new section 201 to replace the existing section. That and the following sections 201A to 201D, inclusive, provide for a new disciplinary regime to support the introduction of a system of remission of detention in children's detention schools. In future the only system of discipline operating in detention schools will be as provided for in the Bill in the aforementioned sections. Where a child is alleged to have breached discipline, the director will only be able to proceed in accordance with section 201. He or she will have discretion to decide whether to hold an inquiry under the section but he or she will not have discretion to discipline a child in any other way, as was provided for in the existing section 201. It would not be appropriate to operate two disciplinary regimes, one permitting a child to be disciplined on the instruction of a director, albeit with safeguards, and another providing for an inquiry by the director, with safeguards and operational procedures to be prescribed in regulations. I do not propose to accept the amendment.
While disciplinary provisions are included in the Bill, policy in this area must have regard to the fact that children's detention schools are not prisons. It is necessary to preserve the child-focused model of detention. For this reason, a series of provisions introducing the concept of good order will operate alongside a more codified system of discipline. Good order relates to all of the steps that may be taken by staff or management to reduce, de-escalate and, where possible, stop instances of inappropriate behaviour by children in detention. It is preventative in the sense that the ultimate aim is to interrupt a pattern of inappropriate behaviour and prevent it from evolving into an actual breach of discipline, which would result in the initiation of formal disciplinary procedures. In this sense it is related to the concept of early intervention. It also includes the concept of children learning appropriate behaviour and the prevention through learning of future inappropriate behaviour. The consequences of a breach of good order will include verbal prompts by staff, informal warnings, conversations with the child and verbal suggestions or instructions to a child to leave a room or a place, such as a sports pitch, or to go to the child's own room. This may be contrasted with the concept of discipline, which is a more formal regime that will only be initiated at the discretion of a director of a children's detention school. The system of good order will be outlined in rules to be adopted by the board of management under section 179 of the Children Act 2001 and regulations to be adopted by the Minister under section 221 of that Act. The director of a children's detention school will have discretion to initiate the proposed system of discipline in the event of a repeated breach of a good order rule by a child which escalates to a disciplinary matter. The proposed system of good order rules will be closely modelled on the care policies currently in place in children's detention schools.
In regard to the proposed amendment, section 201A(1) outlines the sanctions permitted for a breach of discipline, namely, caution, reprimand, prohibition on certain recreational and other activities, forfeiture of pocket money or forfeiture of not more than 14 days of remission. These are the only sanctions permitted following a finding of breach of discipline. I indicated on Committee Stage that I intended to consider the matter further and to consult the Attorney General's office on it. On consulting that office, I have been advised that the old list of prohibited sanctions in the 2001 Act existed in a context where there was no list of permitted sanctions. Listing all inappropriate punishments is an unnecessarily difficult, bordering on impossible, way to prohibit them and creates the risk that a discipline not included in the list might be perceived as permissible. The important point is that it is no longer necessary to incorporate a list of prohibited sanctions because the Bill solves the problem from the other direction by listing permitted sanctions only. For these reasons, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 26, line 38, after “sanction” to insert “and/or finding”.
We discussed the issues arising in this amendment on Committee Stage. The new section 201B sets out a right of petition by a child to the Minister against the finding, the sanction or both. It is unclear why the petition should be made to the Minister rather than a child friendly independent tribunal, such as the Ombudsman for Children. While it is in line with the provisions in the Prisons Act 2007 in respect of adults, it does not take into account the vulnerabilities of children and the challenges a formal petition process might pose. Given the existing remit of the Ombudsman for Children in regard to complaints taken by children in detention, a right of petition to that individual may be more appropriate than a petition to the Minister. Furthermore, the section allows the Minister to obtain additional material from the director but it does not allow for additional interaction with the child. While the Minister will be able to affirm, modify, suspend or revoke a sanction, it does not appear possible to affirm, modify or suspend a finding. We propose that this provision be amended by adding the words "and/or finding".
Did Senator Leyden wish to speak?
I disagree with this amendment because when I was in what was then the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, which employed some 30,000 people, I dealt with all issues in regard to appeals and I would have to say that I would prefer to go before a Minister than a civil servant, with respect to our colleagues here. A person who is appointed a Minister has great knowledge and experience in terms of representations, constituency work and so on and he or she can bring an enlightenment to an issue which may not be the case with other people who have to make those decisions. I recall dealing with those issues on many occasions and bringing my own experience to bear in that regard. I totally disagree with the amendment. We should have more faith in Ministers, and give them responsibilities. There were 30,000 people employed in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and all disciplinary issues came to the Minister's office and the Minister of the day, or Minister of State, would delegate responsibility for dealing with those, which had to be done in a humane way.
A case was brought to my attention where people did not turn up for work because they were single parents. Such cases were often brought to my attention. In the case I refer to I said that I wanted a social worker to look at the situation. There was no disciplinary action taken and no dismissal because I felt, irrespective of other senior employees in the post office in Galway and from my experience of dealing with people, that it was only right and proper that the matter should be dealt with by social workers and that the person should not be sanctioned or fired. That was only one of hundreds of cases that were brought to my attention.
Other serious issues arose in regard to people in post offices and I could bring my experience to bear on those and try to resolve them without going to civil servants, with respect. I have great faith that the Minister, and future Ministers, would look at such situations from a humane and practical point of view. If a vote is called on this amendment I will vote against it.
The amendment I brought forward and which we agreed on Committee Stage, subsection (2) of section 201B, provides that where the finding of the director is the subject of the petition, the Minister may affirm, modify or revoke the finding. Where the sanction imposed by the director is the subject of the petition, the Minister may affirm, modify, suspend or revoke the sanction.
The purpose of the amendment proposed would appear to be to enable the suspension of a finding. It is more appropriate that a finding be affirmed, modified or revoked with certainty, and that there is a clear outcome for the child following a petition to the Minister arising from a finding of the disciplinary breach.
Further, I would point out that section 18 of the Bill deals with provisions consequent upon a finding against a child of a breach of discipline. On Committee Stage there were references to the part of section 18 which provides for a new section 201B, which allows for the petition of the Minister by a child against a sanction.
With regard to the proposed section 201B, it was argued that the petition should not be to the Minister but should be to some form of child friendly, independent tribunal, for example, the Ombudsman for Children. The Ombudsman for Children cannot replace the Minister in his role under section 201B for the following reason: there is already a free-standing entitlement of any child to make a complaint to the Ombudsman for Children on any aspect of his or her time in a children's detention school under the legislation governing that office.
The existence of the proposed system of discipline in this Bill is without prejudice to the powers under the Ombudsman to receive a complaint from any child in detention. I am not proposing, therefore, to accept amendment No. 7.
Does Senator Cullinane wish to respond?
Is the Senator pressing the amendment?
I thank the Minister. It is significant that this Bill has passed because it brings the three detention schools into one legal entity, which have been spoken about for quite a long time. The practical effects of this change will be the creation of a single management team and it will ensure that there is one director in charge of the operations. That is critical to the success of Oberstown, and I welcome it. In the coming weeks the members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children will visit Oberstown, and I look forward to that visit.
There is one issue which is not appropriate for legislation but I ask the Minister to take it into consideration. I have a concern about the visiting committee report for St. Patrick's Institution for 2014 where, time and again, a concern has been raised about staff. They say that the regime, and that is their word, will cope with the older, physically stronger and more challenging children, namely, the 16 and 17 year olds but what de-escalating techniques may be used to deal with that very challenging behaviour? I ask the Minister to ask the board of the detention centre to give consideration to that. I have no doubt they are doing that but it is something on which we need to have a discussion. These are not young children. They will be physically challenging. They may have to discuss the system and devices that they will use in Oberstown but in terms of best practice around the world by other professionals, and I have spoken to health professionals about dealing with complex behaviour, we could draw that expertise into this single entity and ensure that we start the way we mean to continue.
I congratulate the Minister and his officials. This Bill is significant and I hope the Lower House gives him the same co-operation he got here and that we bring it into operation because it is hugely significant.
I congratulate the Minister on getting the Bill passed in the House, with the co-operation and assistance of Senators. His willingness to listen to the points made by Senators is very much appreciated, and the fact that he was prepared to amend, where necessary, any issues that arose. It is a very important issue. We have to deal with these situations. I look forward to visiting the actual facility because there is no point in speaking about it without having seen it. I would like to accompany the group on that visit, as I am sure would other Members of the House because it would be worthwhile. It was the practice here many years ago that we would visit institutions such as Mountjoy or elsewhere to see the facilities for ourselves. It is welcome that the Oireachtas had that direct knowledge. The Minister should be credited for bringing the Bill forward quickly. I hope he can get it passed in the Lower House before the summer recess to allow it be brought into law.
I commend the Senators who spoke so passionately in the debate on this issue. I, too, believe it is very important for our children and the Minister has to be commended also. As other speakers have said, I hope the Bill passes swiftly through the Lower House. I, too, would welcome the opportunity to visit Oberstown. This is a good day for the future of our children.
On behalf of the Fine Gael group I congratulate the Minister on getting the Bill passed in the Seanad. I hope it has an easy passage through the Lower House. On behalf of Senator Henry, our spokesperson on children, who cannot be here today, I compliment the Minister again. This is an important Bill and there was a lot of passion expressed in the debate on it. The Minister accepted some amendments. It is an important Bill because young children will now be treated in a different manner in terms of some criminal charges. I thank the Minister.
I thank all the Senators for their contributions and their constructive amendments. This is an important Bill. It is a Government commitment to end the practice of sending our children to adult prisons where the regime is of a different nature. The focus in our detention schools is on education and rehabilitation, and training for life to give our children who get into trouble a better chance to have a full, meaningful and productive life as members of society. I thank the Senators for their co-operation.