I move amendment No. 29:

In page 7, subsection (2), lines 20 and 21, to delete "of voluntary bodies providing child care and family support services" and substitute "of statutory, professional or voluntary bodies providing child care, educational or family support services.".

Section 5 provides for the establishment of child care advisory committees in each health board area to advise the board on the performance of their functions under the Bill. The committee would include representatives of the voluntary bodies. The spirit of that is right but it is a bit weak in so far as the statutory bodies need to be involved.

This amendment asks that in subsection (2), lines 20 and 21, we delete "of voluntary bodies providing child care and family support services" and substitute, "of statutory, professional or voluntary bodies providing child care, educational or family support services."

The main point I would like to make in support of the amendment is that at present there is a crying need for remedial teachers in all our schools. There are parishes where there are 500 pupils and in one parish 100 pupils who require remedial teaching. That has been identified by the teachers. It is vitally important that such people are included in the section so that those children will be assessed and, consequently, be given the opportunity to develop as is their right. One can make a good case for having the professional bodies involved in that exercise under section 5.

Amendment No. 30 in my name states:

In page 7, subsection (2), line 21, after "services" to insert "including community groups, child care practitioners and representatives of children with mental handicap.".

As things stand, section 5 is very general in terms of the potential membership of the advisory committees. The section states that they shall be composed of persons with a special interest or expertise in matters affecting the welfare of children. What I am seeking to include are not only those people but, specifically, representatives of community groups who are relevant, child care practitioners, and representatives of children with a mental handicap. In relation to the former I might say that in large urban areas, or areas of disadvantage and deprivation, there is a need to have the practical problems on the ground conveyed to the health board. Secondly, there should be a practical input of people who are directly in the field, be they social workers or child care assistants. Therefore, there is a need to include child care practitioners. Thirdly, an area often forgotten is the special needs of children with a mental handicap. I am referring to speech therapy needs and other specialist requirements. Often in the work of health boards these can be very much down the list of priorities and forgotten about. It is vital that such people are represented on the advisory committees.

As the section is phrased it is possible for the Minister and the health boards simply to appoint political hacks to these advisory committees or to appoint people who might not bring to bear a certain expertise, knowledge and practical experience. Section 5 (2) is too vague and too general. I would be inclined to support Deputy Sherlock's amendment and make the section as wide-ranging as possible and, at the same time, specifically include certain groups as I have outlined.

I would like to support both amendments. This is a very important section. The child care advisory committees will be crucial in planning, monitoring and ensuring that adequate resources are available. In fact, they will be important in seeing that the intentions of the Oireachtas in this legislation are actually implemented on the ground.

I have argued with other Members of this Committee that it is a pity that there is not a national co-ordinating body as well and, hopefully, we will have another opportunity to address that question which we certainly have not abandoned.

In relation to the first step of co-ordination this section is too vague. I welcome very strongly the notion of the voluntary sector being involved on a statutory basis but we need clarification from the Minister on how the members will be appointed to the child care advisory committees, how he will decide in relation to expertise on those who are qualified to serve on them, the responsibilities these new committees will have and the degree of accountability they will have.

Those issues need to be expanded upon by the Minister so that we will have a clear view before we pass this section on the role and function of the committees, the nominating procedure involved and the type of individual likely to be chosen. I welcome the amendment which broadens the scope on a statutory basis for those whom we know would like to involve themselves and we would like to see involved in these advisory committees on the ground.

I want to respond directly to Deputy Howlin and give an overview of the functions of child care advisory committees, particularly in relation to section 5. That section provides for the establishment of at least one child care advisory committee in each health board area to advise and assist the board on the performance of its functions under this Bill. Subsection (1) requires each health board to establish a child care advisory committee. The functions of each committee will be to advise the board on the performance of its functions under the Bill. The board will be required to consider any advice tendered to them but will not be bound to accept it. Subsection (2) provides that the members of each committee shall be persons with a special interest or expertise in child welfare, including representatives of voluntary bodies providing child care and family support services. That is very important and it answers Deputy Howlin's question in that the people who make up the advisory committees shall be people with a special interest or expertise in child welfare.

What constitutes that relevant expertise?

I presume they will be people who are in the educational and medical fields and in social work. Relevant voluntary bodies involved in child care activities in the health board areas will be asked to nominate representatives. That should alleviate the worries Deputy Yates had about political hacks being appointed by the Minister because the Minister will have no function. It will be a matter for the health board in each area to decide who should be there. They have to be people of repute, people with special interest, with expertise and they have to be representative of various voluntary bodies in the child care area. Here we are getting together a core of people dedicated, with professionalism, expertise and interest in child care, to advise the health boards on the child care services that are needed and the action to be taken in particular situations.

Subsection (3) makes it clear that membership of a committee does not carry a salary but that travel and subsistence expenses can be paid. Similar arrangements apply in relation to membership of the health boards. Subsection (4) provides that the rates of travelling and subsistence payments will be determined by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

Subsection (5) enables the Minister to issue general directions on the membership, constitution or business of child care advisory committees. This will enable the Minister, for example, to direct health boards to include a child psychiatrist or a representative of a children's residential centre on the committee. However, the Minister will not be able to nominate specific individuals. The Minister could also avail of this provision to request the committees to examine particular topics, for example, the problem of homelessness among young people or any other topic.

Subsection (6) provides for the establishment of more than one child care advisory committee in a health board area. The initiative to establish more than one committee could either come from the health board themselves, in which case the Minister's consent would be required, or from the Minister who could direct a health board to do so. It is envisaged that one committee would be adequate in most health board areas but it might be desirable to have more than one committee in certain areas, for example, the Eastern Health Board area which covers a huge population.

It is clear that the Minister may direct a particular profession or professional group to be represented on the committee but he cannot nominate a specific individual; he may direct a health board to have more than one child care advisory committee; he may direct a board or a committee to discuss a particular topic, but he cannot have discretion over an individual's appointment. I hope that clarifies the situation.

Can the Minister indicate how they will arrive at their terms of reference for working? It is such a broad, expansive area. Is that something that each committee will decide for themselves or will it be necessary to have a uniform approach? At what stage will that be decided?

The Deputy appears to be worried about the directions under which they will operate. Subsection (5) enables the Minister to issue general directions on the membership, constitution or business of child care advisory committees. That means the Minister in consultation with the Department can issue general directions. When the Bill is passed the child care section of the Department of Health, in consultation with the health boards and with the various professional groups, particularly people in the child care area, will issue general guidelines and regulations under which these committees will operate. We hope that we will get a broad consensus and make sure that the maximum flexibility is available to these committees to operate in the best interests of children. That is usual after any Bill is passed; the relevant Minister through his Department lays down the guidelines and regulations after a consensus is sought and the best advice available is found.

Presumably they will all operate under the same structure.


May I ask about recommendations for spending? What kind of restrictions will there be on such a committee on proposals for expenditure?

The committees will have no power to spend money but they will have the power to advise on the expenditure to be incurred and recommendations to be made in the provision of services. It would then be a matter for the health board out of their own resources to fulfil the desires of the advisory committee or, if they had not got sufficient resources, to request the necessary resources from the Minister and the Department. The advisory committees themselves will have no function in expending money.

Amendment 33 goes into all that in greater detail and I presume we will return to that. Regarding the membership of the committee and amendments Nos. 29 and 30, did the Minister say what the total number on the advisory committee will be? It seems it will be for the board or the CEO to decide what the membership would be. This could lead to this being effectively a subcommittee of the health board, that they would duplicate the views of the health board and would not have an active independent advisory role. Therefore, there is a need to look at this again not only along the lines of amendments Nos. 29 and 30 but if there are established organisations — for example in Wexford town the ISPCC have a family centre — they should have nominating rights on the membership of the advisory committee because they might have separate views or experiences on the ground. Surely there are some organisations who should be entitled to put forward a member to play an independent advisory role rather than health boards picking people they think most suitable? Often you could have a conflict of opinion about local services and so on and it would be very desirable to have these conflicting views thrashed out at advisory level. I would like the Minister to clarify exactly what number will be appointed; will they be appointed by the CEO or the board? Will different health boards have different sizes of committees, and for how long will an appointment be made? Will it be for the lifetime of the board? As the committee know, different appointments come up at different times with local authority elections and so on. We need to look at this again. The Minister made no references to sectors such as mental handicap that have already been referred to.

First, I will not stray to other areas that in the initial part of this discussion broadened the scope of amendments Nos. 29 and 30. We have already addressed amendments Nos. 31, 32 and 33 and we should leave those until we get to them. In relation to membership of the committees, as I have tried to outline, there is a vagueness in the section as it stands. I and other Members have asked about their responsibilities and who defines them, whether there will be a uniform code of practice, whether that is optional, the numbers involved, who makes the appointment, whether they will be drawn primarily from the health board and if they will be independent of the health board. The fears expressed by Deputy Yates will be justified on the ground if the advisory committee's views are a microcosm of the views of the health board because then they will be devalued. They need to be an independent voice made up of people dealing directly with children. The Minister needs to go much further than he has done now to allay the fears of Members and assure us that what are to be established are independent child care advisory committees which will have a certain amount of authority, will be accountable to the health board and to the people of the area in a general way and that all those individuals who may at times be at conflict with health boards will be invited to participate if they have the expertise and the commitment to child care services. All those things need to be addressed by the Minister and he needs to reassure us.

As a follow up to Deputy Yates and Deputy Howlin, I also would like to emphasise the importance of the autonomy and independence of the committee and of the broadest possible special interest representation thereon. Can we be assured that all special interest groups working in the area, who will be seen as reflecting children's interests, will be part of it? As Deputy Yates said, our worry and concern are that in some way they might be a subcommittee of the Eastern Health Board. I welcome what the Minister said, that while he would have no influence on the appointment of the members themselves, he could direct a certain task to be undertaken collectively by them. Other than the Minister's directives regarding different tasks to be undertaken, research, etc., under whose aegis or influence will the advisory committees be working? Will they draw up their own agenda, will they work in a national capacity but within regions or will they work under the direction of their own regional health board?

If one was to draw an analogy between former local health committees, which had a statutory role in advising the health boards, and how ineffective that whole system was because of the failure to recognise their position, one wonders how effective this advisory body will be. The Minister said that under subsection (6) a health board may, with a consensus, establish more than one health advisory committee. I know the Southern Health Board area best and I could just imagine the effectiveness of an advisory committee set up by that board. You can be sure that it would have little or no effect, good, bad or indifferent. As the debate goes on here, more problems are emerging. For instance, in the north Cork health district, will the local social worker, superintendent or health nurses have a role in this advisory committee? There is no point in selecting representatives of voluntary bodies and telling them that they comprise an advisory committee to the board without having something that will be really effective, because we are told time and time again by social workers of the great problems with which they are confronted by reason of having no proper input into the system for solving the problems of child care. The Minister also mentioned the educational aspects; do I take it that he is accepting amendment No. 29?

The Deputy is very presumptuous. I will respond to both amendments together. Subsection (2) already provides that the child care advisory committees shall be composed of persons with a special interest or expertise in matters affecting the welfare of children. This expression clearly covers what Deputy Yates referred to as "child care practitioners" and what Deputy Sherlock referred to as "representatives of statutory, professional and voluntary bodies."

With regard to Deputy Yates' reference to community groups, the existing subsection specifically provides for the involvement of representatives of voluntary bodies providing child care and family support services. This expression is sufficiently broad to cover any type of voluntary body that could have a genuine contribution to make to the work of the committees. Deputy Yates wishes to include representatives of services for the mentally handicapped but the mentally handicapped services already have their own well organised network of regional committees. These are working well and I see no reason to duplicate their work by extending the remit of the committees we are establishing here to the field of mental handicap.

Deputy Sherlock seeks to extend the remit of the committees to the area of education. While I accept that education is a vitally important service for children, I remind him that health boards do not and will not have a statutory function in relation to education. Since the primary role of these committees is to advise health boards on their functions it would not make sense to include education within the remit of the committees. Consequently, I regret that I will not be able to accept the amendments. However, I would like to refer to some of the specific points raised.

The committees shall be established by the health boards and not by the CEO and their membership shall be chosen by the health boards in the light of directions given by the Minister under subsection (5) which enables him to give directions in relation to the membership of the committees. These directions could require health boards to appoint representatives of specific bodies or types of bodies or representatives of particular professional groups, for example, social workers, child psychiatrists, child care workers or, indeed, public health nurses as appropriate. The directions have not yet been worked out. As I said, we will do that after the Bill is passed. I accept much of what has been said about the need for an independent role and that can be taken into account when the directions are being prepared.

Deputy Sherlock compared these committees to the local county health committees who used to act in an advisory role to health boards within each county. They were a county based general type of committee. Here, we are talking about a specialist committee where people with a specialist interest, with a professional interest in a specific area, would be involved, so I do not think we would be really comparing like with like.

A large number of committees and bodies are concerned with child care throughout the country. Deputy Yates talked about the ISPCC family centre in Wexford. We cannot specify that the ISPCC family centre must be involved as they are not represented all over the country, but where they do exist they should be taken into account and represented on their local committees. The same applies to other organisations or bodies who have a specialist role in a particular area. We are leaving it as flexible and as wide as possible. We have not yet decided on the numbers on the committees. We believe we should not be rigid, perhaps we may place a minimum and a maximum number.

There is another amendment down in relation to co-options and so on, and we will come to that and discuss it later. Obviously, I could not give an undertaking that each and every organisation will be represented, although I hope that the maximum number of organisations will be represented, especially those who have a specific role to play in the area of child care. The aim will be to have as wide as possible a spectrum of views represented.

I do not see these committees as mere subcommittees of the health boards. They will have a particular role to play, they will be in a key advisory area and will have an opportunity to communicate openly with the professional officials in the health board dealing in the child care area. There will be much dovetailing of the professional administrative and voluntary advisory areas, which we hope will ensure a very good service. The involvement of the voluntary sector will be crucial to the success of the committees and I see them having a large share of places on each committee.

I want to make one very brief comment on the Minister's reply. He said very clearly that he did not see the committees becoming involved in education. I would like to make it perfectly clear that that is not intended. It was merely making provision whereby teachers who can identify problems with children in their schools have some way or means of being able to make the case for such children.

I am taken aback at the Minister's response. He said that he did not know what directions he will give to these advisory committees, or how many people will be on them. He did not state how long the membership will serve, in fact he has very little idea of who will be on these committees or how they will work. He has made a very eloquent case for these amendments——

Or what they will do.

Exactly. None of these directions have been drafted. At the moment it is a blank piece of paper. He has made a very eloquent case for these amendments because we need to have more detail and this is the only opportunity the Oireachtas will have to put some bones and flesh on this situation. Quite frankly, I am astounded that he does not know any of these answers.

I found the Minister's response profoundly depressing, although, having been in this House for ten years, I will never be surprised again by anything Governments do in the area of children's services and children's law. The Minister is telling us, ten years after the publication of the Task Force report on children's services, that he actually does not know why he is forming these committees. I find it extraordinary that the Department have not worked out the so-called guidelines, the functions that these committees are going to perform. The Minister assured us a few minutes ago that guidelines would be issued. He said the Minister for Health will instruct the health boards as to the functions the committees would perform and how they should perform these functions. The Minister took some time elaborating the provisions of the subsections of section 5. It seems that neither the Government nor the Minister have a clue as to what these committees are going to do. I was a member of a local health committee, a subcommittee of the health board, which was one of the most useless bodies anyone could have thought of establishing and which had no serious function. I would see — and Deputy Sherlock's comment on this was right — the possibility of these committees being a rerun of the local health committees the Government abolished two years ago.

The committees will be appointed by the health boards. That means the political party that has the majority on the health board will appoint a few tame people who support their views on children's services. Will we have a committee which will say that the Government are doing a grand job, because perhaps Fianna Fáil have a majority on the health board and Fianna Fáil appointees are made to this committee? That is not what a child care committee should be about. These committees should be independent. There is absolutely no reason the legislation cannot detail the specifics of the organisations from whom they should be appointed.

The Minister might indicate to us whether, in the context of these guidelines to which not a great deal of thought has been given, it might possibly be contemplated that a series of organisations might be listed, such as the ISPCC, Dr. Barnardos or the Irish Association of Social Workers, from whom people will be picked. In other words, will it be left to the discretion of the political members of the health boards to ensure that the people who are put on these committees will clearly be from a group of independent organisations? Will social workers attached to community care teams within the health boards be eligible to be appointed to these committees and be allowed to exercise an independent overview of what the health board are doing in the area of child care? Section 5 sounds grand, we will have committees but, as I recall it, what the Minister is doing in this area does not comply with the Task Force recommendations in the context of the type of national committee we should have. I will come back to that later.

It seems that what we are going to have is a subcommittee of a health board with a few political appointees appointed by whoever holds the political majority on the health board. That is not an appropriate way to do things. Even more appalling is the Minister's rejection of Deputy Yates' amendment which seeks to have included representatives of children with mental handicap. There may be separate committees dealing specifically with the overall area of mental handicap but a child with a mental handicap is still a child.

This Bill is designed to impose obligations on the health boards to promote the welfare of children within their area. I do not believe we should maintain a discrimination in this area. We must recognise that children with mental handicap need special services but at present the provision of such services is not adequate. An independent committee within a health board area, with a statutory function and a statutory role, should include representatives of parents of children with mental handicap who, in a public way and in a way that will directly impact on the health board, will be able to comment on the adequacies of services provided by health boards for children with mental handicap. As regards the parents of children with mental handicap, the Minister indicated that this is an area that apparently will be excluded. He is discriminating against those parents and those children and that is not acceptable in this day and age. I would ask the Minister to reconsider that approach.

The committees dealing with mental handicap within the health boards have particular roles but they have no statutory role. I find it extraordinary that we should establish child care advisory committees while excluding representatives of children with mental handicap. There should be a specific designation that requires an inclusion as opposed to an exclusion of these people. I would ask the Minister to reconsider the approach he is taking with regard to that particular aspect of matters.

Deputy Shatter may be a bit depressed by what the Minister has said but I am amazed at the criticism being levelled at the Minister who stated quite specifically earlier that before the guidelines are drawn up he would consult with as wide a number of people as possible in this area to get the best possible guidelines. I have no doubt that the Minister and the Department have the general guidelines they would like to implement clearly in their own minds but they do not want to do that until first they consult and, second, this Bill is passed. The legislation before us, as far as I am concerned, is only the outline of how child care is to be tackled.

If you start, as was suggested here, by listing in the Bill the organisations that will be represented on the child care committees, that would be totally wrong and a group such as the one in Wexford, mentioned by Deputy Yates, could be excluded. There are specific family support groups in every country and in towns throughout the country and if you start naming in legislation organisations as has been suggested, you are going to end up excluding a huge number of very worthy organisations in, say, my health board area but which may not exist in the Western Health Board area.

The two amendments, as I see them, would tie the hands of the Minister or, later, of the health boards. Subsection (2) is wide, although somebody else might say it is vague. Would it not be better to let each health board and child care committee make up their own minds as to whom they believe are the best people for the job rather than specifying groups which should be entitled to representation? This is what we are trying to get away from. I would be very disappointed if the Minister was to come in and state the groups that are going to be represented on a child care committee because that would exclude many more groups than it would include. I ask Deputy Sherlock and Deputy Yates to withdraw their amendments because they do not improve the Bill.

With regard to the allegation that Fianna Fáil want this method of appointment so that they can appoint political hacks and so on, that is typical of the kind of innuendo that is being thrown at us here. Health boards do not consist of a majority of political members. There is a considerable number of medical and qualified people, like social workers, public health nurses and so on, on the health boards. It would not be a political decision. I do not like the kind of snide remark that this is a conspiracy by Fianna Fáil to gain control of child care committees. The health boards will make the decisions. I have every confidence that they will make them in a professional manner and that they will do so for the good of children, not for party political reasons or anything else.

Depression, like the latest flu is contagious because I am depressed not by what anybody has said as much as from the basis on which people are approaching this. I am depressed however, that we would politicise an issue of fundamental importance. Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 seek to broaden not to narrow the focus. It is right and proper that the Oireachtas, in forming legislation, would do more than give broad general strokes, particularly in regard to legislation that has been ten years in gestation, this being the third version, and that has come before the Oireachtas as a result of an inquiry established by a predecessor of mine, a Labour Deputy from Wexford, Brendan Corish when he was Minister for Health.

This Bill is of crucial importance. We all want to do the best for the children of this country. For the Oireachtas, having had the benefit of ten years of reports and discussions, not to take specific decisions would be fundamentally and totally wrong. We are slipping back into the situation where if an amendment comes from the Opposition benches, regardless of its merits, it is opposed by the Minister, and his backbenchers must row in to support him in opposing it. That is dreadfully wrong. The Minister should acknowledge that the two amendments seek to specify the composition of childcare advisory committees which will be crucial to the implementation of this legislation. There has not been a shred of evidence put forward by the Minister or anybody from the other side that the amendments are flawed. He simply says they are unworkable. I do not see how that could be the case.

In relation to the guidelines which have become the focus of much attention — Deputy Dempsey talked about the broadest possible consultation on them — under subsection (5) the Minister may make these guidelines — I think there is a further amendment to deal with that——

On a point of order, that amendment has yet to be discussed. We do not know at this stage, and Deputy Howlin does not know, whether that will be taken. Let us not bring the argument into another section.

Deputy Howlin, without interruption.

I am making a point of order.

If Deputy Dempsey can refer to section 5 and the Minister can refer to section 5 in detail, I can refer to section 5 (5). I will take heart from what has been said by Deputy Dempsey now. Maybe he is going to give me an indication that amendments from the Opposition benches have a prospect of being accepted by the Government. I do not, however, think I should take that for granted. This is important legislation. It is important to specify the people who will be involved, and I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment put in good faith.

Before the Minister replies may I make one point? With regard to the point made by Deputy Dempsey on subsection (2) referring specifically to voluntary bodies, do I take it, in rejecting that amendment what is being rejected is the inclusion of statutory and professional bodies?

I am not going to answer for the Minister, but I would like to clarify the point I made in relation to subsection (2). The point I made was that any body with a special interest or expertise in child care under this section can go on the child care advisory committee. If, as was suggested by both speakers, one starts listing organisations, I would be totally opposed to that. Despite what Deputy Howlin says, I think he would agree with that point. We should not start listing organisations or types of organisations. If any body with a special interest or expertise are included in the Bill, all the people everybody here wants to see on the child care committees can go on them. If we start being specific as to the types of organisations we want to see on these committees, we could exclude other people. That is the point I am making and I make it sincerely, not because the Minister has said something else.

To say the least, I am very disappointed at the response of some of the Opposition Members. I am disappointed that Deputy Yates is astounded, Deputy Shatter is profoundly depressed and Deputy Howlin feels depressed. I hope that this epidemic will not spread and that this committee will be able to sustain itself for the duration of the work today and in the future.

Deputy Yates made a very clear attack on me. He commented on something I never spoke about. The Minister does not know anything, does not know where he is going, does not know what he is doing and has no backup from his Department. That was the basic theme of what he had to say, but he finished up by saying he did not know how long the membership would last. I have referred to the length of time the members were there, and it is unfair to attack a Minister when he is trying to be broad, flexible and warm——


And optimistic.

Supremely optimistic. I said much of what the speakers said would be taken into account. Everything has been taken into account. Deputy Shatter was profoundly depressed and appalled at the suggestion that these Fianna Fáil dominated health boards would make political appointments. I never mentioned a political party here. We are here representing the people of this country. We are the elected people; we are the legislators. No Minister or Department has any right to be rigid, to assume or presume that a committee or Members of the Oireachtas will deliberate or arrive at a consensus in any particular way, nor has any right to draw up guidelines or directions until the elected representatives decide on the type of legislation they want and have an input into the genesis of the type of structure they require when the legislation has been passed. It would be very presumptuous on my part, or on my colleagues' part or on the Department's part, to draw up any directions or guidelines until you, the elected representatives of the people, have had your input and your deliberations on the legislation and have given advice on the road we should travel. I thought I was being fair and broad in encompassing all the suggestions that have been put forward here.

I concur with what Deputy Dempsey says. We want to ensure that no body is excluded and that all considerations would be taken into account. In many cases health boards have not a majority of political members. Often the balance of control is held by the professionals and the nominated people. Often that is a good thing too, but I see nothing wrong with politicians having a majority role. It is an honourable profession. In the majority of cases, the health boards and politicians make the best decisions for the situations that have to be addressed.

It is unfair to politicise a child care advisory committee, a committee's work, or any attitude that is put forward here particularly by myself and others on this side of the House. I want to assure Deputy Howlin that we do not oppose amendments because the Opposition put them down. We oppose amendments because of technicalities, because of what we think is best for legislation, based on the best legal advice that is available to us. We are not here just to oppose. As this committee evolves and as our work is debated, you will see that we are not here to oppose everything, and nobody need have that worry.

I want to address some of the points that have been raised. Deputy Shatter talked about the mentally handicapped. The child care advisory committee's role is to advise the health boards in relation to its functions under this legislation which primarily relates to children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. As such the committees will not have a role in relation to the mentally handicapped or services for the mentally handicapped. It could happen that a mentally handicapped child might need to be provided with services under this Bill. In that case, such a child would be cared for and would be covered but in general the mental handicap area is a specialist area with its own network of committees right across the board. My colleague, the Minister for Health, has placed very strong emphasis on these committees over the past year and they are working well throughout the country. I see no reason to duplicate their work in the committees which we are establishing here.

The Deputy also criticised the fact that the directions under subsection (5) have not yet been drawn up. It would be more than a little presumptuous, as I said earlier, of the Minister or the Department to draw up detailed guidelines or directions before the Bill is even passed. Surely it is only proper that we should wait to see the final shape of section 5 and of the Bill as a whole before we rush into preparing detailed guidelines. This is the system that operates and pertains to all Bills that are passed. Once they are passed, the legal people sit down, the Departmental specialists sit down, the consultations are held with the Minister or the Minister of State involved, with the various statutory and professional bodies and eventually directions and guidelines pertaining to whatever Bill is passed are agreed. They operate on a uniform core basis and this is what will happen in this case. As I have said, I intend to have wide-ranging consultations after the Bill is passed, not only in relation to section 5 but in relation to all other provisions in the Bill.

I do not wish to unduly delay the discussion of this section as there are more amendments we will be pressing to a vote, certainly amendment No. 30, and we will be supporting amendment No. 29 if it is so moved. The Minister places great stress on the fact that he is prepared to accommodate the Opposition. We have got to amendment No. 30 and every one he has shot out of the water so far, and there is no substance on the basis of our experience to suggest that he is interested in accepting our amendments. The second point I would like to make is that I do not think it is reasonable to say that you have not published these directions and guidelines, considering, as Deputy Howlin said, the length of time this legislation has been gestating. This Bill was published in May 1988 and I would have thought it reasonable that someone in the Department or the Minister would have a fair idea of what the directions would be and that he would have completed that process of consultation by now.

In relation to our fears that these advisory committees could either be subsumed sub-committees of the health board or inert bodies of no standing, we have to look at what the Minister is providing. What he is saying is that the persons who will go on to these committees will be persons with a special interest in the welfare of children. Who is a person with a special interest in the welfare of children? We are all persons with a special interest: every parent, every Fianna Fáil councillor has a special interest in the welfare of children.

I am delighted to hear the Deputy recognises that.

What the Minister is suggesting reinforces our fears. I believe our grounds for suspicion are well founded on the basis of that definition. If the Minister is anxious to accommodate our views, he should accept these amendments.

In relation to the specific point about mental handicap, the Minister might recall that those involved in mental handicap, their friends, parents, relatives and so on, had occasion to take to the streets before Christmas to articulate their views in relation to their requirements. One of the points they have continuously made to all of us is that they do not wish to have a segregated service, be it an educational service or a health service; they do not want to be compartmentalised. They want to be integrated into our educational service, they want to be integrated into our child care services. The type of discrimination and exclusion the Minister is proposing is wrong and is certainly wrong in the context of this milestone legislation which happens once in a century. It is very negative, discriminatory and runs counter to all the integration they are seeking. As far as we are concerned, we will be pressing a vote on amendment No. 30.

I listened with interest to what Deputy Yates has said and I am not going to respond again to the matter in a very long reply. I detect from what he says that he feels that the child care advisory committees should not be established at all.

Not at all. I am saying that the Minister should accept our amendment.

The Deputy says that we are not going far enough in establishing these committees. Surely there must be a role for the professionals, the interested people, the experts in the field to advise on the effects of a Bill and the necessity of services in a particular area, taking into account the various factors, demographic, urban, rural and so on. That is what we are trying to cater for and I cannot understand why the Deputy is opposed to that.

In relation to what Deputy Yates said about the mentally handicapped, why did he not include other handicapped people. In my view he has included the mentally handicapped because at present there is a strong lobby about caring for the mentally handicapped. The Deputy's amendment has excluded other handicapped people. He is trying to cloud the issue because this Bill concerns the welfare of children who are in need of care if they cannot get it from their parents or guardians. It is the Deputy who is compartmentalising the mentally handicapped when he should be dealing with the welfare of children in general. I cannot see how the Minister can include the mentally handicapped to the exclusion of other handicapped people.

I should like to make a brief point in response to the Deputy. I can understand the argument against naming organisations because it would create a difficulty in the long term. However, the suggestion put forward by Deputy Yates is a fair one and it should be given serious consideration. Representatives of the mentally and physically handicapped, without naming them, should be on these committees. At the end of the day we should do what is necessary for the children. The Minister should give further consideration to this matter.

We are all aware of the frustration and desperation of the parents of the children referred to by Deputy Yates. The one point they made again and again was that they were not consulted, that they had no conduit and had no way of making an input about their needs. Surely this is the purpose of those local advisory committees. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment or agree to consider it and give a commitment on Report Stage. This amendment is worthy of acceptance as it stands. It specifically mentions the mentally handicapped and it should be included for the physically handicapped children because they do not have a role and their parents do not have a role.

Having a fairly good knowledge of the problems the people in the front line — social workers and so on — have encountered, if amendments Nos. 29 and 30 are not accepted by the Minister I submit that we still have a situation where the professional people will be very frustrated. There will be a sub-committee of the health board and members appointed by the board. There are sub-committees of the health board who are affected and others who are not. By excluding professional people, social workers or indeed the public health nurses, which is what the Minister is doing by not specifically accepting the professional and the statutory when the section specifically mentions "voluntary", the Minister is excluding the others. There could be no good grounds for this and I appeal again to the Minister to reconsider the amendment.

I should like to reassure the committee that everything that has been said will be taken into account. All the organisations that have been named will be considered and taken into account when recommendations are being made. We do not want to be exclusive, we want to ensure that there is the broadest possible consideration of appointments to these committees. If we were to name particular bodies, be they statutory, professional, voluntary or otherwise, we could find ourselves excluding some area which is not active today but from which we may need to appoint someone to a committee in the future. We want the flexibility to ensure that consideration can be given.

There is no flexibility. The Minister has just mentioned "voluntary" specifically.

The section says "persons with a special interest or expertise in matters affecting the welfare of children, including representatives of voluntary bodies providing child care and family support services".

What we are proposing is exactly what the Minister had in mind. To say we are trying to exclude people is not correct. We are trying to put an onus on the Minister to appoint certain people as well as the people he had in mind.

Mr. Fitzgerald

Will the Deputy not agree that they are already covered by the wording the Minister is already using.

They may not be covered.

Mr. Fitzgerald

Let us put it this way, there are lots of professional people around the city involved in voluntary bodies. You will be aware of that. Indeed the same applies in rural areas. In many cases the professional people are to the fore in voluntary bodies. That is not exclusively so but in many cases it applies. I am concerned about some of the remarks made about health board members. I thought some of the remarks seemed to be an attack on the integrity of councillors and seemed to suggest that in some way they would not act in the best interests of children. Some of the Deputies should clarify their position in relation to that. I am not referring to Deputy Sherlock's remarks in relation to the health sub-committees, I do not know anything about them. If what he says is true then naturally I would be concerned about an advisory body being a toothless organisation or whatever.

In relation to the assertion that councillors would appoint political hacks, I have never served on the health board but my understanding of the operation of health boards is that members, whether they be councillors or medical practitioners have always acted in the best interests of the delivery of the service in their area. That is my understanding of it. Maybe Deputy Yates has a monopoly of wisdom in relation to their operation. Indeed he would appear to assert a monopoly of care in relation to childrenvis-�-visthis side of the House.

I was also baffled, quite frankly, by Deputy Yates because as he and I know a number of organisations who have been contacted, still have not concluded their deliberations on the Bill. I think it would be very wrong and pre-emptive of the Minister to come in here and say: "I have done all my thinking in relation to this Bill. In the case of this child care service this is exactly the format it should take. We are not open to any further suggestions." To level the accusation that the Minister has done nothing and has not consulted with the relevant bodies is something he knows not to be true. The organisations that have been consulted by the Minister have spoken to him. I am aware of that. I have spoken with some of them. I know in at least one case that a very reputable organisation concerned with child welfare is still deep in deliberation in relation to the Bill. We have to be a little bit more honest and fair about our approach to the Minister's attitude. I commend his flexibility.

Deputy Sherlock referred to a specific need in his area for mediation for children. That is a problem that is applicable to certain areas. There are other problems applicable to other areas that are more acute. The need for flexibility is very obvious. I am glad to see the Minister has recognised that. I am also glad to see that he is not moving into very specialist areas. I do not see the need to move into specialist areas, such as the mental handicap, with regard to the provisions of this Bill. They are very specialist areas that are treated in a specialist way. I am not saying that we compartmentalise them. Indeed, the educational field is doing everything in its power to bring about a more integrated situation. When you talk about integration of the mentally handicapped, I believe such a concept is more relevant to the educational field than to the health field.

On a point of information, the present wording of the section is that a committee shall be "composed of persons with a special interest or expertise in matters affecting the welfare of children". Taking up the point that Deputy Sherlock made earlier that perhaps there would be an input from a teacher or an educational source, I take it that that "special interest" would cover that and that there would not be any conflict with regard to education and health?

Absolutely. We have no opposition whatever to that. It would cover nurses, teachers, any professional or anybody who has an input into the child care area. This is why we want the flexibility because in certain areas it may be very important, particularly in the rural areas, to nominate teachers and public health nurses and superintendent public health nurses or whatever. In a large urban area like Dublin you will have professionals deeply involved in the area and it may not be necessary to have the broader situation. Flexibility is very important. On some committee, take Dublin again as an example, the available expertise would be so great that if you were to put everybody on the committee it would be totally unworkable and cumbersone. This is why we are asking for flexibility. Anyone who is a professional in the child care area, be it in the area of education, medicine, social work or whatever, of course, would have to be considered for appointment.

I think we have given these amendments the maximum of informed and erudite thought. Is Deputy Sherlock pressing his amendment?

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 8.

  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Yates, Ivan.
  • Howlin, Brendan.


  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 7, subsection (2), line 21, after "services" to insert "including community groups, child care practitioners and representatives of children with mental handicap.".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 8.

  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Yates, Ivan.
  • Howlin, Brendan.


  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
Amendment declared lost.

We have three amendments left on section 5. Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 are related. Is it agreed to discuss them together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 7, subsection (5), line 30, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

Having listened to Deputy Dempsey, I move my amendment with a little more confidence. If the Minister is unwilling to support it then we will have the support of Deputy Dempsey this time which would tip the balance in any vote called subsequently. Quite clearly an amendment is often introduced to require something to be done rather than allow it to be optional. We have had a very protracted debate in relation to the importance of national consistency in these guidelines, to actually have the views of the Oireachtas treated not only as an optional extra for health boards but to ensure that there would be uniformity and consistency across the country in their implementation. It is important that these guidelines be made and are binding. I know that in the past even the word "shall" was deemed by Deputy Yates not to be strong enough. He wanted to remove "shall" and put in the term "have a statutory obligation". In normal legal parlance the word "shall" is a very clear directive. The direction of the Oireachtas should be that the Minister "shall" make directions in relation to child care advisory committees, and the section should follow on from that. This a straight-forward amendment and I hope that on this occasion the Minister will confound us all and accept it.

My amendment No. 32 states:

In page 7, subsection (5), line 32, after "membership" to insert "(including the power to co-opt a limited number of members)".

This amendment proposes that if an advisory committee feel they lack a certain level of expertise they would have the power to co-opt additional members. This is basic commonsense because it would improve a committee and obviously could be done only with the consensus and approval of the committee as a whole. If the Minister is serious about accepting any amendments he will have to accept this one. I would also be inclined to support Deputy Howlin's amendment. It is obvious from what the Minister has said that general directions will be given to child care advisory committees and that, therefore, the acceptance of the word "shall" should simply follow on from that, as is going to happen anyway.

I agree with Deputy Howlin that it would be desirable that the Minister should be under an obligation to give directions under this subsection so as to ensure uniformity of approach among health boards. It is our intention that the committee should have as much latitude and discretion as possible in organising their affairs, including a right of co-option, Therefore, I agree with Deputy Yates that it might be useful to provide specifically for this. Co-option could be a very useful device and would enable the committees to draw on the expertise of particular individuals as the need arises. However, I am advised that the two amendments we are debating could give rise to technical drafting difficulties and if the Deputies are prepared to withdraw their amendments I will bring forward a suitable amendment at Report Stage to cover what they propose.

Perhaps the Minister will explain the technical drafting difficulties in accepting a substitution of the word "may" for the word "shall". That is absolutely mind boggling.

Because we have taken the two amendments together we will have to redraft the section. If they were taken in the bald state in which they stand it would complicate matters. Therefore, in deference to the wishes of the Deputies who proposed the amendments, if they withdraw them I will bring back a new amendment to cover the points they are making.

We have reached a milestone and I happily withdraw amendment No. 31.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 32 not moved.
Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

We are resuming on section 5. The substitute amendment No. 33 in the name of Deputy Ivan Yates is on the white list. Amendment No. 136 is related. I propose that we take the two together by agreement. Agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 7, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following subsection:

"(7) Each child care advisory committee shall have the following powers and functions:

(a) it will have access to all information relating to child care services in its area;

(b) it shall make recommendations in relation to the improvement of child care services to the child care authority;

(c) it shall be a consultative body to voluntary organisations;

(d) it shall make annual reports to the child care authority on child care services;

(e) it shall submit plans for the future of services in its area;

(f) it shall review the needs of children in its area;

(g) it shall draw attention to individual child cases as it sees fit and promote the development of child care services in its area.".

As can be seen this is a substitute amendment. It reflects the concern expressed by everybody here this morning to ensure that the advisory committees are independent, that their tasks are defined and guidelines, which would allow flexibility, are laid down. As a committee and as legislators, we need to define what the principal tasks and functions of these committees should be. It is proposed in amendment No. 33 that each child care advisory committee have certain powers and functions.

I would also like to refer to amendment No. 136, which is very much in line with those proposals. It reads:

The child care advisory committee may seek a review in any case with which they are concerned, and it shall be the duty of the health board or child care authority to fully pursue and investigate such a case.

Perhaps the Minister is ahead of me here and will say that the proposals being put forward and the functions outlined here are exactly those he was thinking about. We are all anxious to ensure that the best possible legislation in regard to children is put through. This legislation has been in gestation for some considerable time and, as we know, there are very real problems and difficulties for children. We hear a good deal about child abuse, for instance. Not only do these proposals give us an idea of the functions child care advisory committees should have but they are very good guidelines for the kind of work they should focus on within the community.

It is absolutely essential, and I know the Minister would agree with me here, that they have access to all information relating to child care services in their area. We need to ensure that there would be no health board or Department of Health rule which would preclude the making available of any relevant information needed. We should all work to ensure that these committees have complete access to and could demand access to whatever information is available so far as the child care services are concerned. They should be expected to make recommendations in relation to the improvement of child care services to the child care authority and be a consultative body to voluntary organisations as this would be of tremendous help to the many voluntary organisations working in this area already. I would also like to think that the results of any research undertaken by these advisory committees would be made openly available to the voluntary organisations who may not themselves have the resources to produce this kind of information or who may not collectively have set up such a consultative body.

Subparagraph (d) reads: "it shall make annual reports to the child care authority on child care services". Again, all of us realise that through the making available of annual reports we can measure progress, highlight recommendations and see if further legislation is needed. It would set down a marker for all of us to examine what progress was being made and to see if further reform is needed.

Subparagraph (f) reads: "it shall review the needs of children in its area". The results of such a review would be of the most tremendous value not alone to the child care advisory committees and the health boards but also to the children section of the Department of Health itself. Advisory committees, working within the community with their special interests and expertise, may in fact be able to provide an amount of information and make recommendations, to the special section within the Department of Health which may be of tremendous value to them.

Subparagraph (g) reads: "it shall draw attention to individual child cases as it sees fit and promote the development of child care services in its area". None of us would quarrel with that. What all of us should be lobbying for is that they should be allowed to draw attention to the need for development of child care services in an area and that the necessary investment and resources needed be made available to make sure that we have an even spread because at present assessment units, treatment units and validation units for children are spread wide apart with the result that many people, particularly in rural areas, are required to give of their time and do much travelling. I would like to think that we would have a national network with all parents and child care workers in all areas having access, if possible, to the information available to the advisory committees and having specialist treatment available within their own areas. I know all of us will applaud and work towards achieving that aim.

Amendment No. 136 relates to the powers of a health board or child care authority. In order to guard the independence and autonomy of a child care advisory committee it would be only right and proper that they would have the power to seek a review of cases with which they are concerned and that the health board or child care authority would fully pursue and investigate such cases so that the child care advisory committee would always be confident that each case has been subjected to full and independent review.

I would like to conclude by saying that these proposals are designed to add to and strengthen this legislation. By ensuring that each of the powers listed in the amendment are provided for, we would, from the very beginning, be giving clear guidelines to everybody concerned while ensuring also that the members of the advisory committees, and those appointing them, would be very much aware of their functions and responsibilities. Indeed, I hope recommendations will arise as a result of the advisory committees carrying out these functions.

First, I would like to indicate that I support the inclusion of this new subsection. As Deputy Barnes has rightly said, it follows logically from the long discussion we had this morning. We wanted to put meat on the bones of the child care advisory committees because we all have our individual views on what they should be.

As I said this morning, there has been much discussion about exactly what their role and functions should be. It is important that the Oireachtas should lay them down. There has been a tendency in recent years to enact broad enabling legislation and leave it to the Minister subsequently by way of statutory instruments or by regulation to flesh out the intentions of the Oireachtas. I know from serving on the Committee on Legislation some years ago that the volume and number of statutory instruments and regulations that come from Departments in relation to Bills enacted by the Oireachtas is overpowering and daunting. It is incumbent on us as a matter of principle to give back to the Oireachtas the specifics of making legislation. In an area like this that is doubly necessary. Although I have no doubt the Minister will argue that what we are doing is putting in place a framework which can be fleshed out in due course I would hope that the essential principle, that I strongly support, is that the Oireachtas in open session is the vehicle to enact the laws in as much detail as is practicable.

The new subsection is a fairly good attempt at outlining a rule, or a series of rules, for the new child care advisory committees which would draw wide-spread support from across the caring agencies as well as across the political parties and among individual Members of the House. It allows for access to information, which is crucial. It allows a mechanism for reporting. It allows a mechanism for planning, which is absolutely essential and it allows a mechanism for doing qualitative research into the extent of the problems. One of the problems we all have faced over the last number of years is the lack of comprehensive information on any aspect of child abuse, child neglect, child homelessness or any aspect of deprivation of children. There is little or no quantitative information available and it is important that that specific responsibility be devolved upon the new child care committees. Not only should they have that information but they should be able to act upon it by actually publishing a report and by setting out a strategy by way of plans for the future development of child care services and the protection of children. I want to make two points. It is incumbent upon us to enact legislation in as much detail as is practicable. Secondly, if the specifics of this subsection are inserted it will be reasonably comprehensive and could enjoy a fairly broad measure of support across the political divide as well as among those involved in the caring agencies.

I would not claim the terms set out in the new subsection (7) to be totally complete nor do I suggest that they could not be improved upon. However, it is important that we have a clear vision and sense of direction as to what the role of these advisory committees should be. In making the case for setting out such a role we must briefly look at the way health boards operate at present. Health boards are to be given the responsibility of carrying out all the work in terms of the child care services. The nature of health boards is that they have three programme managers to look after special hospitals, general hospitals and community care. I am leaving aside the Eastern Health Board, which may be more complex. The Minister said earlier in the debate that there will not be a separate programme manager for child care services. Therefore, a health board that meets once a month will have the whole child care business tacked on to their very busy schedule of running hospitals, community care services and the hundred and one other problems they have. The amount of time they will be able to give to imaginatively planning and researching the problems of the child care services will be very limited. They are hard pressed to do all they have to do at the moment. Therefore, it is very important to set up, through the advisory committees, an engine room that will have the capacity to get to grips with the problems that will surface in each region. That is the reason I have submitted this amendment. It is very important that we do not leave it to new regulations to be put forward at some future date over which none of us will have any control.

Also contingent on some of these developments is that the committees have a budget or recourse to a budget. The Minister this morning said that they would have no budget. That certainly indicated to me that they will only be talking-shops without the ability to back up their opinions with hard evidence based on research or based on factual information of case histories. We must ask the question, are we serious about these advisory committees? If we are serious we must enact provisions for them. I have specifically included recourse to a panel of experts and that would, obviously, cost some money. In relation to subsections (f) and (i) they should have the power to second-guess some aspects of the work on individual cases. For example, where a child is put into foster care or residential care and the parents do not have the wherewithal to take a legal case, surely it is only fitting that they should be able to refer some aspects of the case to an advisory committee. There are no terms of reference setting out their role in individual cases. I am not saying they should have an executive role but they should have powers to make recommendations. That is why subsections (f) and (i) are included. They should also be obliged to make an annual report.

The Deputy may have run ahead of us.

I am sorry, subsections (h) and (i) are excluded from the substitute amendment. The point is still valid for subsection (g), which states that the advisory committee shall draw attention to individual child cases as they see fit and promote the development of child care services in their area. Therefore, what I am setting out is, firstly, that it should have some budget, that it should carry out some research and, arising out of that, make recommendations. I am suggesting that it should second-guess individual cases and make plans arising out of that. All in all, as Deputy Sherlock said earlier today, we do not want a toothless lion, we do not want something that is, in effect, a talking-shop. We want something that can bring expertise to the health board level, that can bring to the services some imagination and creativity which are badly needed. One must consider the volume and range of work that health boards have to carry out at present covering all hospital and community care services. I hope that the Minister will at a minimum say that this is going to be the basis of the regulations. I would prefer, in view of the amendment being so long-winded, that he would come back on Report Stage with his own proposals rather than waiting for regulations to be introduced after the Bill is passed.

I am particularly enamoured of this aspect of the Bill. Introducing these child care committees is highly meritorious. I agree with a lot of what has been said by other speakers who covered the subject. Specific responsibilities should be established and the degree of accountability of these people should be clearly spelt out. That is ultra-important at this stage. Earlier we talked about the type of personnel to be appointed to these child care committees. The type of people who are appointed will be vital and the choice of those appointees if done properly will perhaps allay the fears of Deputy Yates.

He talked about the expertise and professionalism that will be required, and I agree with him totally on that aspect. I want to see a high content of social workers involved in these committees. They are the people who will have a major responsibility for the care and welfare of the children in their normal day to day work, but let me be quite emphatic about this; I do not want to see these child care committees in a position where they usurp or erode the role of the health board — and we may be close to that in this amendment.

I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in that context. I do not want to see any encroachment on the role of the health board in the final analysis because that is where the matter is being handled, and that is where it ought to be handled. That is the part that worries me about this amendment, albeit as I have said, this whole area of the child advisory committees is something I totally approve of in their proper context.

I too welcome these committees. I agree with Deputy Jacob that there is a possibility that the function of the health board could be usurped by the child care committees. Under the Bill the ultimate responsibility will lie with the health boards. Under section 5 the power of the committees to advise on the performance of the health board's functions is very specific; indeed that was possibly overlooked. The section provides that "a health board shall consider and have regard to any advice so tendered to it". Therefore it is very specific that these committees are basically advisory bodies on policy and on other general issues. That is where perhaps the mover of the amendment and those who spoke in favour of it are slightly missing the point. In some areas the amendment deals with specifics rather than the generality and that is where I would have some problem with the amendment as it is phrased.

There should be some indication in the Bill as to the functions and powers of the committees. The Bill, as it stands, is slightly bald. Paragraph (a) in the amendment may constitute a problem on the basis of confidentiality because it could allow the advisory committees to seek information in relation to specific cases. I really do not think that is the function envisaged under the Bill. There is a provision in the health board to examine this and if there is a problem ultimately it could end up in court but we should not set up another tier to examine specific cases.

I see no great problem with the other paragraphs except paragraph (f) which states: "it shall review the needs of children in its area". Again it does not specify whether it is in relation to particular cases or on a more general basis, but I anticipate the mover of the amendment means in general. There could be a conflict there as to whether it is in relation to the needs of a particular child in their area. Here again the problem between the advisory body's and the health board's functions could come into conflict. Paragraph (e) says it shall submit plans for the future of services in its area. I do not see that would be the function of the health committees as envisaged under this section, but I feel that the advisory committees are necessary.

I agree with Deputy Sherlock. I served on a local health committee and they were relatively toothless, but that was because they were dealing with more or less the same area as the health boards, except that the health boards had the power. These advisory committees will be dealing with a specific area and these people will be specifically interested in this area. That is why I think the committees would have many more functions.

Deputy Yates asks for funding. Again you are going down the road of extra funding. The funding will not be enough for the advisory committee, there will always be more demands and you would be splitting the funding for the child care area. I do not think that is a good thing.

I hope many of the functions Deputy Yates is putting forward will be part of the role of the advisory committees. These committees will play a consultative role with voluntary bodies and will be able to plan the future of child care services which are evolving from day to day.

In relation to paragraphs (a) and (g), regarding "access to all information", I am dubious about having access to information on individual cases and things like that. I know you have to have a broad outlook but confidentiality and sensitivity in certain cases are of the utmost importance. Perhaps the Deputy will outline what he had in mind in relation to those.

I have listened to the debate on this issue and what intrigues me is the fact that at present we are enacting legislation which has been awaited for years and for which there is a crying need. There is no doubt about that. The section provides that the health board shall establish such committees and an amendment is proposed to insert a subsection which outlines the functions of that committee. Looking at paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f) and (g) one would have to agree it is reasonable to give some bit of authority to the committee who are to be charged with a major responsibility. Within the structure of the health board there are subcommittees; the general hospitals body have their own responsibilities and the psychiatric services will not be concerned with this issue. We are talking about community care. That body will rely to a great extent on the advisory committees to give effect to the legislation being enacted so that in each area the provision will be meaningful, unless these committees have the little power as is requested in that amendment, they will have no impact, they will have no say. I cannot understand why members of the Government party do not see fit to accept what is being proposed in the amendment here. I hope the Minister will agree to accept it.

We are discussing two amendments. The first is a seven part amendment proposed by Deputy Yates and the difference between this and the original amendment is that the functions proposed in paragraphs (b) and (f) of the original had been deleted as they were ruled out of order.

While much of what is contained in the substitute amendment is basically a lengthy elaboration on what is already provided for in subsection (1), I am concerned about the proposal in paragraph (g). This envisages a child care advisory committee having a role in drawing attention to the cases of individual children. My concern about this arises from the later amendment, No. 136, which proposes that the committees could seek a review of the case of any particular child and that the health board would be obliged to investigate the matter. It seems to me that these two amendments taken together would radically alter the role of the committees.

Obviously individual cases can highlight gaps or inadequacies in services or the need for changes in procedures or policies. Indeed, one such case has been mentioned during the course of our deliberations here earlier. However, there is a major difference between the occasional airing of an individual case in order to highlight a particular difficulty and what could be the effect of the Deputy's proposals, that is, to grant the committees free rein to interfere in the arrangements for the care and supervision of particular individual children. I do not believe that this would be a healthy development. It would transform the committees from advisory bodies into some form of appeal or watchdog body. It was never intended that the committees would have such a role and I would be opposed to any such change in their terms of reference.

Perhaps, later on, the Minister will elaborate on subsection 7 (c)?

A number of members of the committee have raised questions about the power of the advisory committee to investigate an individual case. One cannot look at this in the abstract. The advisory body are to advise the health board on the performance of their functions but in considering what advice they will give to the health board they cannot review the performance of the health board if they do not have access to the information. I should say in passing that it is wrong to pre-suppose that information given to the advisory committee would be leaked and that they would not have respect for confidentiality or the sensitivity of individual circumstances. The type of people I envisage sitting on this adivsory committee would treat very sensitively any information they would have about an individual child or case.

Essentially, this advisory committee should have access to basic information. For example, if there were complaints from parents or others about the level or quality of care in a health board residential centre, if parents who had lost custody of their children or other people were concerned about some aspect of the quality or care or the work of an individual social worker, to whom can they turn? Invariably their only recourse is to the courts. That might be totally unsuitable in some cases or it might not be an option open to them from the point of view of cost or time. Therefore, if the advisory bodies are to have a meaningful role they should at least have access to information. It would, of course, be strictly confidential and they would have to be very professional in their approach. At present I would not go as far as to say that there should be an appeal process but if they are not given access to the information, perhaps it could be considered. Essentially, therefore, if the committees are to operate they must have a certain level of information.

The Minister asked if the committee should be a consultative body to voluntary organisations. I imagine that if there were individual centres — and I come back to a particular one of which I am aware in my own constituency — there might, from time to time, be opposing views within voluntary organisations locally or between the health board and voluntary organisations as to the future of any particular centre and what way centres and services might develop in the future.

There are all sorts of considerations, cost considerations, needs in terms of volume, location and so on. It is appropriate that voluntary bodies or even community groups — and I am talking about play-school groups also covered under this legislation — would have access to the advisory committees at a later date. However, the essential net point in this amendment is not, as Deputy Fitzgerald said this morning, that I have a monopoly on wisdom in these matters but that it is vital — as all Deputies on this side of the House said — that the Oireachtas has some say and some idea of what these advisory committees will do. I am not saying that they cannot be improved but the priorities for the advisory committees are a matter for them.

The essential point is that this morning the Minister said that these general directions have not been determined by the Department despite the length of time this Bill has been in existence. It is absolutely vital to finalise the directions as there are eight different health boards which interpret different things in different ways. They have different levels of services ranging from mental handicap to community care, depending on the initiative of individual board members or the skill, professionalism and resources available to that board.

Will child care have a uniform service? It is absolutely vital that the maximum reference is laid down in the legislation so that it will not subsequently be open to different interpretations. I will withdraw this amendment if the Minister is prepared to make a commitment that he will bring forward on Report Stage proposed directions as outlined in section 5 (5) rather than leave it to the four winds all going in different directions, as so often happens in the health service.

Deputy Yates said, reasonably, that he will not press the amendment at this stage if the Minister provides us with further information on the functions and role of the child care advisory committees. I was terribly disappointed to hear the Minister's reply to this amendment which lasted about 60 seconds. We must ask ourselves what these committees will do. What will be their terms of reference? What will they discuss? Under section 5 the advisory committees will advise the health boards on the performance of their functions under the Act, presumably their functions under section 3. All that is very vague as the health board officials will surely be aware of their functions under the Act. I fail to see what role the child care advisory committee have if they are reduced to advising the health board as to their lawful functions under this legislation.

The amendment is reasonable. Perhaps since the Minister has picked out subsection (c) as one that he does not particularly go along with, I would like to bounce the ball back to him and ask if he has anything positive to say in response to the amendment. If he has, perhaps between now and Report Stage he will inform us of his plans to put some flesh on this child care advisory committee. I fail to see what is the point of having such a committee. What is the point in having such a further talking shop, and God knows, we as legislators have sufficient experience of what has happened in the past where successive Governments have appointed bodies and, at the same time, neglected to give them any power, neglected to give them any function. Unfortunately we appear to be heading down the same road here.

As regards a point of concern expressed by both Deputies Ahern and Coughlan regarding individual cases, I see the point of confidentiality, of the sensitive nature of such a case. Nevertheless under the Bill as at present formulated there would, in my view, still be a situation where the committee while advising the health board in the performance of its functions under the Act would be in a position to deal with an individual case if one were to marry section 51 with section 32 (d), that it would not be possible for the committee to deal with section 32 (d) and yet not deal with an individual case.

I would be hesitant to say or to suggest that the advisory committee may not have any function at all in individual cases. It would be a pity to close the door on the committee and say, "no you cannot have any functions at all" as far as any individual case might be concerned. I hope, therefore, if he is not going to accept the amendment the Minister will give us a resumé of the practical functions these committees will have. Presumably these meetings are going to be called within months of the legislation being enacted. Let us have more than just appointments being made. Let us use these committees for functions that will see them having a positive role in the child care area.

Under the present formula there is no reference at all to their power. We have different committees in different health board areas going in different directions. Who will interpret the function and the role of these committees if the Minister does not do it? He has an opportunity. If these committees are worth proceeding with, for their own benefit they are going to have to know what are their functions and their role. I believe we must broaden the scope of their definition or of their functions from what we have at the moment. I look forward to the Minister being positive on this matter.

I support the amendment. I do not know how we can function without the proposals of Deputy Yates. I hope that sense will prevail, if not now later on. As I spoke earlier on some of the other amendments, I was concerned at the apparent impotent nature of this section. These child care advisory committees are going to be welcomed. People are going to expect a great deal of them and expect to see practical action and a certain amount of motivation because they are there in the context of this new Bill.

Subsection (5) states the Minister may give directions on membership, constitution, or business committees. That is nothing to do with the kind of things that are mentioned in this amendment or with terms of reference of work. I am really concerned at the broad nature of the areas that could be taken under their umbrella, or indeed the narrow nature. I would prefer to see us setting down guidelines as to how they should operate. There is really no point in putting labels and not then going ahead with direction and meaning for these committees.

Earlier today the Minister spoke about the views and opinions of legislators, that he wanted to hear them and that in finalising this legislation all the views and opinions would be taken and considered from all sides of the House. I hope that in this context the Minister will take account of the very strong feeling that exists with regard to this amendment and what it is attempting to achieve, but could I just ask for clarification on one point. What role will these committees havevis-�-visthe public? I know it expressly says that they are going to advise the health boards. At the present time there does not seem to be any structure which the public, if they have a concern or a grievance or a worry about an area of child care, can use. Will these committees be open to the public? I will give an example of the kind of case I am talking about. An instance where a member of the public in the country was very concerned that child abuse was happening in a home quite near them. It was in a fairly small community. They did not know where to go to find out what they could do about it. Another instance was of a mother who had a child taken from her and fostered by the court five or six years ago when she was quite ill. She got better then and wanted her child back and did not know where to go about it. Will these committees have any role to play in cases like this or are they specifically only for advising the health board? It is a resource that should not be excluded in the context of public concern with regard to child care.

We are dividing on the issue as to whether these committees should deal with specific cases or being able to deal with specific cases. As I said before, while I feel that the section is slightly light on its functions I think the Minister should put in something somewhere so that we can have a look at what functions these committees would have. If we are talking about advisory committees, that is what we are talking about and nothing else. It was Deputy Yates who mentioned the appeal body. He would not go as far as to say it would be an appeal body but I have no doubt it would ultimately be an appeal body if the committee was entitled to investigate each individual case. I do not think that is envisaged in the section.

We referred earlier to having all the information available. Again, probably what he is talking about there was in relation to specific cases. The fact is, if there are people on the committee who have a special interest in child care they will have all the information that is necessary to have an input into a report advising the health boards. On a general basis there would be enough information available to the advisory committee so that they could advise the health board. I feel that there should be something in relation to information but it should be of a general nature.

This section deals with an advisory committee. We have agreed to disagree this morning that it was an advisory committee and it had particular functions which were to advise the board on the performance of its functions under this particular Act. What it does not mean is this advisory committee becoming an appeal body for individual cases. It does not mean this committee looking for information on individual cases and making recommendations to the health board. It does not mean any of those things and it should not mean any of those things. It does not mean that this committee should have access to information, say, from my own area, education. I would not give information out. I would have to treat as confidential the information I got from a guidance counsellor. I certainly would not like any committee, particularly an advisory committee who should have no role in this area, to look for or have a statutory power to try and get information from me.

I have no objection to much that is in this amendment. A lot of it is good and I am sure the Minister, the health boards and so on would agree with it. What I am saying is that there are a number of sections in the Bill that I could not agree with. In regard to the individual child or case issue that was raised earlier, Deputy Yates implied that the fear expressed by some people was of a leak from the committee. That is not the case. The issue is one of confidentiality of information that a professional might get in the course of his or her work and the onus that might be put on that person to relay that to a committee. I am quite clear on this. We are dealing with child care advisory committees. An advisory committee advises on general matters such as some of those mentioned here and I do not dispute that but I would not and could not go along with everything that is in it. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify some of the areas and that the information he gives will enable us to move on.

In relation to Deputy Howlin's point, Members of the Oireachtas at times say that we allow a little bit too much flexibility and that we should incorporate more functions into legislation and have an input into matters. I think this is a different kind of Bill. This is one where the people on the ground, the people at health board level, the professionals and so on, need to be consulted first before the specific functions are put in or before we finalise the functions of these child care advisory committees. I accept the point the Minister is making in principle. In a lot of legislation we tend to put in the general provisions and let it be interpreted by the courts. This is a very different type of legislation and for that reason I would be more in favour of allowing flexibility at a local level, with as wide a consultation as possible before we finalise the functions and the other matters we were talking about earlier.

Deputy Dempsey has again outlined what he feels should not be the function of the child care advisory committees and I think we really have to reflect on that. The choice that is before this committee is to enact into legislation the amendment in the name of Deputy Yates, proposing a subsection which at least sets out functions and roles. The alternative is simply to leave the section as it is which says that the committee's role is to advise the health board on the performance of their functions under this Act. Nobody has said that that is sufficient in itself and I think there would be a consensus that it would be insufficient. Certainly more than one speaker from that side of the House said so.

I think it is incumbent on the Minister to say two things: that he accepts that the section as printed is too bald and needs to be added to and to give us an indication that he will prepare something himself, that we will enact into legislation some general principles so that we know that there will be functions put to the committees on the ground and that they will be of a comprehensive nature; in other words, that each health board will not be operating its own independent fiefdom in isolation from everybody else, that it will not be like a patchwork quilt. It is not as if we have not experience in this area.

In virtually every aspect of the health services we already have that patchwork where the level of service that you can get, whether it is the dental service, hip replacement or half a dozen other issues, is different depending on the health board region you live in. I do not think that is good enough when it comes to child care services. The level of service that you get should not depend on your geographical location within the country. There should be a structured way by which that can be eliminated and the only way that can be done is by national regulation.

What the Opposition Deputies are saying is not unreasonable. We are asking the Minister — and I agree with Deputy Yates; he is not the repository of all wisdom when it comes to child care legislation——

He would never concede that.

He has made an honest effort to identify particular and specific functions in paragraphs (a) to (g), which might not be agreed by everybody, but the Minister would at least agree that such a subsection should be inserted or give us an indication that he will come back with his own amendment.

In relation to the consultation that is required, I will come back to the original point I made. This did not fall out of the sky last week; this is ten years in gestation. We have had consultation. I and probably every member of this committee has had consultation with every child care organisation. The Committee on Child Care Services was set up in 1977, chaired by Flor O'Mahony, and that committee reported in due course. Volumes of information and submissions have been available since then. The consultation has gone on and I think we can properly reflect the views of people. I do not think we should say that we really do not know anything about it, that we will wait until this legislation is enacted and then we will start drawing up guidelines in consultation with everybody else.

We know the basics we want to enshrine into legislation and I appeal to the Minister not to let this section go by now by just forcing a majority vote and allowing this blandness to be enacted into legislation because it will impact adversely on the whole implementation of this Bill. This really is the monitoring procedure on the ground and it is an important fundamental section to the Bill.

I have listened very carefully to the contributions by ten members of the committee, which is a very big number, who have spoken on these two amendments. I do not believe that Deputy Yates has answered my concerns about paragraph (g), particularly in the light of the later amendment No. 136. He referred to the limited appeal avenues available to parents, in particular in child care cases. I would like to put on record the appeal options that are available. Appeals can go to the courts. In some cases the courts can investigate certain complaints. Appeals can be made to senior professionals — for example, a senior social worker. Appeals can be made to the relevant programme manager in a health board, to the CEO of a health board, to members of the health boards, to Members of the Oireachtas who can take their own course of action on any matter, to the Ombudsman, and finally to the Minister for Health. Therefore, there are reasonable options of appeal available to people in particular cases.

Deputy Flanagan and particularly Deputy Fennell raised a few points on which I would like to comment. Deputy Flanagan felt I was beginning to sprint rather than conduct a middle distance performance. I thought I was always better at the middle distance than the sprint so I will try to slow it down.

In response to points made by Deputies Flanagan and Fennell, I would like to say that subsection (5) gives the Minister power to lay down directions in relation to these committees, including directions in relation to the business of the committees. This will enable the Minister to set down the broad parameters within which these committees will function. However, I think we should be careful not to impose a rigid or uniform formula so that individual committees and health boards will be able to respond to different needs in their areas.

Deputy Fennell raised the question pertaining to the role of the committeesvis � vis the public. As far as I am concerned the committees are bound to take public concerns into account. They could invite members of the public or indeed professionals to meet them or to come to their meetings but, of course, that would be at their discretion. I would see them having a key role and I would see their meetings probably being held in public.

I have listened to the passionate pleas made in respect of both these amendments. I appreciate the sincerity with which the amendments have been tabled. I have studied them in great detail. I see some difficulties regarding drafting and legalities in relation to some of them. However, as Deputy Yates is prepared to accept, these committees should not have a role in relation to individual children, and if he is prepared to withdraw the two amendments, I would be prepared to have another look at the question of inserting a new provision spelling out the functions of these committees, and I would be prepared, after due consideration, to bring this back on Report Stage.

I appreciate the Minister's final remark. I would also acknowledge that there is a greater consensus in the committee for paragraphs (b) and (f) of this amendment than there is for paragraphs (a) and (g). On the basis that a quarter of a loaf is better than none at all, I would say to the Minister that that is acceptable and I will not press amendment No. 33.

In relation to (a), while it might not be desirable that the advisory committee have access to all information, it should have access to general information, because I would not like a situation where a programme manager could turn around at a meeting of the health board and say that when the advisory committee reported they did not realise the implications of (a), (b) and (c). In other words, they should be entitled to all general information while respecting the sensitivities and confidential aspects of any individual case. I want them to be able to make as informed an opinion as is possible and certainly they should be as informed as is the health board. On that basis, and on the understanding that the Minister will make a genuine attempt to give adequate terms of reference on a statutory basis for these advisory committees I will withdraw amendment No. 33.

Before we leave this amendment I think I should draw the Minister's attention to one particular area. At the commencement of his reply he listed all the various appeals mechanisms available in individual cases. Of course one of the difficulties is if an allegation of abuse, be it of a physical, sexual or other nature, is made against parents in respect of a child and the child is taken into care by order of the District Court, the only real functioning method of appeal is the Circuit Court. For many parents that only works if they have legal aid provided through one of the Government law centres. There is a great difficulty in this area. In my experience the Government law centres, when they are asked to take on an appeal from a District Court care order, tend to adopt the approach that once the health board have formed a view that there is probably not much of a case to fight, legal aid is not provided. The reality is that for many parents the possibility of an appeal where there is an allegation of abuse is not a viable option.

Where a child has been abused it would be my view generally that the child must be provided with whatever care and protection are necessary. If we are going to protect the welfare of children, we must make sure that children are not wrongly taken into care. On occasions mistakes are made in the districts courts. A very vivid example of that is one that I think the Minister's attention should be drawn to. There is a need to provide guidelines to health boards as to how they should react when they are informed that there is a legal aid application made to bring an appeal. The case that came before the Supreme Court — it was dealt with last autumn — and which gave rise to so much publicity and resulted in emergency legislation having to be passed through the Dáil, arose from a background in which a child was taken into care in a District Court case in November of 1986 and when the parents wanted to get legal aid to appeal against that they were refused legal aid for a Circuit Court appeal on the basis that they did not have a proper case they could bring and they were not in a financial position to process their case. It was only some months later when they found lawyers willing to take the case for them to the High Court and the Supreme Court that they were able to vindicate their position and their child's position. As a result, two and a half years later, a nine and a half year old girl who was taken into care at the age of seven was released. That is a case in which, if the local law centre had been allowed by the legal aid board to provide legal aid some two and a half years earlier, the case might never have reached the stages it had to reach through the High Court and Supreme Court proceedings. I did not intend to raise this case at this point but I am only responding to what the Minister said about appeals. Appeals are only a reality if people have the financial or legal wherewithal to go ahead with them. The case I have outlined is a very stark example of how the appeals system did not work because the basic legal assistance the people required to process an appeal was not made available to them by the State.

In the context of the case Deputy Yates made for subparagraph (a) I think it is very important that these committees have access to the general information with regard to child care services and indeed to general information as regards the policy approach of health boards because when an application is made to the legal aid board for legal assistance for processing an appeal, the board, under the legal aid provisions, will be asked for their views as to whether assistance should be provided. They do not have a veto but they can make the case that there is not a valid case to process an appeal and that can result in a legal aid board concluding that legal assistance should not be provided. As a result there may be young children taken into care who should never be placed in that position. That is something we must be very careful of. To provide care and protection we must make sure the appeals system is truly working. Because of the problems with the law centres at the moment and because of the difficulties in this area it may not always be working properly.

I appreciate what Deputy Shatter has said and I can appreciate that for various reasons things just may not work in any particular system. In response to the committee, and in particular to Deputy Yates, I am grateful for their co-operation and I want to assure the committee that, on Report Stage, we will bring in proposals for a new section covering this area.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 5 agreed to.