SECTION 10

Last Tuesday when we were finishing up we decided to give 10 minutes each to the remaining three amendments to section 10. I propose we continue along those lines and begin with amendment No. 55. You will note that amendments Nos. 56 and 57 are related so perhaps we could telescope them or telescope the time.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) It shall be the duty of all child care and medical personnel to report cases of concern as to the possible mal-treatment, neglect or abuse of children to the appropriate officer of the Child Care Authority.".

I am glad you have given me the opportunity to have some debate on No. 55. In cases where general practitioners examine children and find there is evidence of abuse — physical abuse, violence and so on — in the current patient-doctor relationship, there is a difficulty about dealing with such sensitive matters, which the medical people believe should be brought, perhaps, to the attention of the appropriate authorities — the child care authorities. There may be involved, say, a well to do middle-class family who would not have had experience with social workers. It is proposed that there would be some reporting system so that where doctors would be concerned they would be able to bring such cases to the attention of the authorities. This is because often GPs can be uniquely aware of problems that no one else may be aware of. In the narrow interests of protecting the welfare of the child and in the best interests of the child, I am proposing amendment No. 55. This would make it mandatory in appropriate cases — and I would leave it to the committee or to the Department to define the instances in which this would be appropriate — that there be some reporting mechanism.

I know the IMO have expressed concern about this area, about areas they wish to report, but they feel it is a breach of the current patient/doctor relationship, so it is genuine and I put this forward as one solution. It may not be the only solution but I think it is something whereby the other systems that are put in place — instructors of child care services, social workers and so on might not pick up on cases of suspected abuse where a general practitioner would. That is the purpose of this amendment.

I support the amendment because I think it speaks for itself, that if you enact legislation in the area of child care, all those medical personnel, or others concerned or connected, must have the power to report such cases. I often wonder what the position has been in the past where there was such a restriction. I will not go further than to say that I support the amendment wholeheartedly.

If I may speak with my G.P. hat on, you will find if you look at the statistics that medical personnel are one of the smallest groups to report child abuse cases. It is normally teachers. Why medical personnel should be singled out I do not know. Normally what would happen is that it would be casualty doctors who would be concerned. They would be moreau fait with child abuse cases. They would see more of it than the G.P. One would be in touch with the director of Community Care on a regular basis about unusual happenings in one’s practice or in the area that would come to one’s notice. That is just my opinion as a G.P.

This amendment proposes to place a legal obligation on certain persons to report suspected cases of child abuse to the health boards. At present, the reporting of alleged cases of child abuse is entirely voluntary. This is the position, generally, throughout Europe, whereas the concept of mandatory reporting is primarily an American development when it was introduced during the sixties and seventies. There are arguments for and against such a provision. For example, the professional coalition on the Child Care Bill in their submission to members of this Committee have the following to say about this amendment and I quote:

There is a very large issue which would require more extensive debate as it has implications for clinical practice, children's and parent's rights. There are differing views between and within professional groups.

The whole question of mandatory reporting was considered in detail by the Law Reform Commission in their consultation paper on child sexual abuse published last August. The Commission have sought views on their tentative proposals from a wide range of groups and individuals concerned about the problem of child abuse. The next step is for the Commission to reconsider the proposals set out in the paper in the light of the comments and suggestions that have been made. The Commission will then submit their final report to the Government, setting out their conclusions and recommendations. I think it would be premature of us to reach a final decision on this matter until we have the benefit of the commission's report. I would suggest, therefore, that this amendment be withdrawn and the matter considered again, if necessary, at Report Stage by which time the Commission's report should be available.

Should the Commission come out in favour of this I hope it will be given constructive and positive consideration by the Minister and the Department. I agree that there is not a consensus on this matter but if there is the possibility of abuse of a child not being detected because of lack of reporting by medical or other personnel, it is a serious matter and needs to be taken up. On the basis of that I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 55.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Can we proceed to consideration of amendments Nos. 56 and 57 which are related.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) (a) The Minister shall prescribe a code of practice for the Garda Síochána in operating the provisions of this section.

(b) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (a), these regulations shall provide that:

(i) appropriate treatment and counselling be provided for offenders;

(ii) a level of specialisation in core personnel and in the provision of treatment centres be attained; and

(iii) following disclosure of sexual abuse the child victim be immediately separated from the offender.".

Briefly, the position here is that the last day we had considerably varying views in relation to what members of the Garda Síochána might or might not do in emergency circumstances. Sections 10 and 11 of the Bill provide that they can bring children to a place of safety. I think it is appropriate, in view of the vagueness and possible variations of interpretations, that a code of practice be established for the Garda Síochána. In paragraph (b), I outline what should be the basis of that code of practice. I would also support — seeing as we are taking amendment No. 57 — further training for gardai. I feel that the discussion from the committee's debate the last day underlined the need for amendment No. 56. I think the Garda themselves would appreciate some framework within which they could operate given that they do not have specialist expertise in the child care area.

My amendment No. 57 reads:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) The Commissioner of the Garda Síochána shall, in consultation with the Minister, make provision for the training of Garda personnel to enable the Gardaí to carry out their powers under this Part, and the Commissioner shall ensure that a sufficient number of trained Garda personnel are stationed in each Garda division.".

This amendment speaks for itself in that we are now into an area nearer where you are giving this new responsibility to the Garda Síochána. In enacting legislation and giving that kind of power and responsibility, it follows that there has to be some code of practice and training also. What we are asking in this amendment is that the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána shall, in consultation with the Minister make provision for the training of Garda personnel, to enable the Garda to carry out their powers under this part and that the Commissioner shall ensure that a sufficient number of trained Garda personnel is stationed in each Garda division. Obviously whatever has to be done would be in consultation with the Minister. There is a need to provide this kind of training and advice for the Garda who will be given this new and fairly hefty responsibility.

I strongly support both amendments. Arising from the discussion we had last week, there is a recognition that there needs to be a very clear framework in which the Garda authorities would operate in relation to child care matters and that should be appropriately provided for in legislative terms. In relation to amendment No. 57 I would envisage that, certainly in the large metropolitan areas, there would be a core of specialist gardaí and ban gardaí trained to handle child care matters. I am sure the Minister would consider that to be a very necessary element of the overall framework in which this Bill will ultimately operate.

We talked quite a bit about this at the last session. The sentiments that have been expressed regarding the role of the Garda in this, their code of conduct, etc. and the proposal that they be educated in this area are quite easy to agree with as far as I am concerned. I would be interested in what the Minister has to say about how appropriate what is being sought here is to this Bill. I feel it is not all that appropriate to the Bill. Perhaps we will be entering into other areas, maybe causing erosion in them. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say along those lines when he is responding.

I accept much of the spirit of what is contained in these amendments, especially the need for the Garda to be properly trained to deal with sensitive matters such as child sexual abuse. As members of the committee may be aware, the training arrangements within the Garda Síochána are being revamped following a detailed review of Garda training conducted by a special committee of experts established by the Minister of Justice a few years ago. In my last ministerial responsibility I was pleased to be involved with the provision of a new Garda college which is at present being developed in Templemore, County Tipperary, at a cost of circa £17 million. In addition, regional and divisional inservice training schools have been established. I am advised that instructions are provided to members of the force on all aspects of duties and legislation which the Garda are called upon to enforce. For example, I understand that all banghardaí in the Force attended a series of seminars during 1987 and 1988 on the subject of crime against women and children. As a result there now exists within the force an enhanced level of expertise to ensure the proper investigation of cases of rape, child sexual abuse and other crimes of this nature. I have had inquiries made of the Garda authorities and I am satisfied that any training or instruction required to enable the gardaí properly and effectively to operate the provisions of this section can and will be provided through the various training arrangements I have outlined. In view of this and the new modern developments in Garda training, perhaps the Deputies will be prepared to consider withdrawing these amendments.

If I heard the Minister right, he said that the banghardaí took part in a course related to violence against women and the family. Can he say whether it was only banghardaí who were on this course? If so, I would suggest that that probably was a bit shortsighted because there are very few banghardaí for the whole country. Would it not be equally important that all gardaí, or young gardaí, should have this training because they are dealing with this problem all the time? Would he clarify this?

I can assure the Deputy that all banghardaí were on this series of seminars which were held throughout 1987 and 1988. The up to date situation is that a new Garda training college is being prepared, a new Garda training scheme is now in place rather than as theretofore gardaí coming in and doing perhaps less than a six months' stint of training and then being out on the beat and on duty. Under the new training scheme, they alternate between periods at the training centre and deployment on practical duty before they are commissioned. There is a totally new change in the whole educational area and structure of Garda training. We are assured by the Department of Justice that from here on, at least, the gardaí coming out to do duty will have this extra training.

The question I was making was why only banghardaí were involved in the special training course. Would it not be important, if these courses were necessary, that they be available for all gardaí, regardless of gender?

I would say that due to the sensitive areas of difficulty we are talking about it was probably the view of the Department of Justice that at first they would train the banghardaí because they specalise in matters dealing with women and children. The fact that it has been done for the banghardaí means that it will be done, I presume, in turn for other gardaí and, as I have said, for all the recruits coming in.

I welcome, as I am sure all the members of the committee welcome, the news in relation to Garda training and the advancement in the provision of facilities and so on. The core issue, and this is a matter of principle, is, whether when enacting a piece of legislation such as that before us, we legislate specifically for the framework in which it should operate or whether we should just accept, as of course we do accept, the Minister's word that all will be well on the day. It is my view generally that we should specifically legislate for the standards we require to operate legislation like this. For that reason it would be important to provide for the inclusion of these amendments so that we can ensure that not only have we the commitment of the Minister, which I know he will honour, but also the legislative framework to demand that that particular commitment comes to pass if in a year, or two years or five years, we find that there is not adequate training within the Garda Síochána in relation to child care matters, or that there are not adequately trained personnel deployed throughout the country, or there is not a code of conduct specifically set down for Garda Síochána acting under the provisions of this Bill. It is important, as a matter of principle, accepting the goodwill of the Minister and all the tremendous work that is going on, that we specifically legislate on these issues.

I would say it is imperative. The Minister used the words "very sensitive" about this area, which it is. In such a sensitive area in legislation such as this, it is not good enough or sufficient to say there is a training college and that all aspects of this area will be taken care of. If we are to enact legislation to provide for adequate child care facilities putting in the frontline, if you like, the Garda Authority in this regard, surely we must have some little say in ensuring that there are, as was previously mentioned, a code of practice and adequate training. I would appeal to the Minister to reconsider that matter.

I, too, am somewhat disappointed with the Minister's response in so far as while the provision of a new £17 million training centre and improved training facilities for the Garda in general are desirable, they do not meet the specific points that are raised in amendments Nos. 56 and 57. On the last occasion some members of the committee painted pictures of the gardaí potentially using certain sections of this Bill to arrest anybody they had suspicion about, inferring that the gardaí could not be trusted in certain cases if they were given certain powers. The case was very strongly made that we could not have the word "and" instead of the word "or" because gardaí were not to be trusted. Now we are seeking to put in a code of practice to give a framework. The regulations are not my regulations; they are regulations to be prescribed by the Minister after the passage of this legislation. I am not even setting out what those regulations should be. It is a pity that the debate did not run concurrently on the one day because it would have made the point for this. I know there is a time limit on amendment Nos. 56 and 57 but so far as I am concerned we are pressing the matter.

Deputy Yates is stretching it somewhat when he says we do not trust the Garda. We do not want to put overdue constraints on the Garda. We want to be absolutely clear that we can ensure the best law possible is proposed by us and ultimately implemented. I am not aware of any legislation, whether it be the Rape Bill currently before the House or other criminal legislation where specific mention is made of Garda training. The provision of training is an operational matter and it is and should remain the responsibility of the Garda authorities.

There are a number of reasons why I cannot accept these amendments. On amendment No. 56, Deputy Yates' amendment, I do not believe it would be proper or appropriate for the Minister for Health to prescribe a code of practice for the Garda. The training of gardaí and the development of operational procedures are the responsibility of the Garda authorities and I do not think it would be helpful for the Minister to interfere in this area. I have every confidence in the Garda authorities. We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that all members of the Force are familiar with the provisions of this section and are advised how to operate it.

There are other reasons why I cannot accept amendment No. 56. For example, a number of the matters mentioned in it have nothing at all to do with the Garda. Subsection (4)(b)(i) talks about providing treatment and counselling for offenders and subsection (4)(b)(ii) refers to the provision of treatment centres. While we would all agree that these are desirable developments, they are not matters for which the Garda have any responsibility and, as such, these references are totally out of context here. I also have difficulties with subsection (4)(b)(iii), concerning the immediate separation of a child and an alleged offender in alleged cases of child sexual abuse. All the advice available to me is that instant intervention of this kind is fraught with danger and can result in unnecessary distress for all concerned. For these reasons I regret I cannot accept amendment No. 56.

With regard to Deputy Sherlock's amendment No. 57, my main difficulty with this is the imposition of a statutory duty on the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána to ensure that a sufficient number of personnel trained in relation to child abuse are stationed in each Garda division. While I would accept that this is the ideal we should aim at, given the nature of the operational constraints that exist in the Force, it may not always be possible to guarantee this. It would not be appropriate to tie the hands of the Garda authorities in this way. It would be totally inappropriate for the Minister for Health to dictate either to the Minister for Justice or the Garda authorities on how they should do their business.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 6; Níl, 8.

  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Lee, Pat.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Treacy, Noel.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) The Commissioner of the Garda Síochána shall, in consultation with the Minister, make provision for the training of Garda personnel to enable the Gardaí to carry out their powers under this Part, and the Commissioner shall ensure that a sufficient number of trained Garda personnel are stationed in each Garda division.".

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 6; Níl, 8.

  • Doyle, Joe
  • Lee, Pat
  • Fennell, Nuala
  • Sherlock, Joe
  • Howlin, Brendan
  • Yates, Ivan

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot
  • Barrett, Michael
  • Jacob, Joe
  • Coughlan, Mary
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • Dempsey, Noel
  • Treacy, Noel
Amendment declared lost.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.