I welcome the fact that the Minister's amendment has given us an opportunity to discuss what we mean by "suitable accommodation". It should be said that the debate we are having results from the tragic ongoing case of this teenage girl who has come before Dún Laoghaire District Court, and we would not be having it if it was not for the courageous approach taken by District Justice Wine in Dún Laoghaire District Court. He should be congratulated for the stand he has taken. The applications which have been made to him on successive occasions in the court have been simply to dismiss the charges brought against this girl and leave her at risk in the community. He courageously refused to go along with that, faced with a girl who was apparently prepared to try to take her own life. The authorities were sitting doing nothing and if not for the courageous approach taken by the district justice this young girl might no longer be alive. I do not believe it is any exaggeration to say that. I have been appalled at the manner in which the Department of Education, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health have sought to disclaim, individually, responsibility for the care of this young girl. She has been in some sort of departmental black hole where each Minister has found the problem too hot to handle.
It should not have been necessary for this matter to come before the District Court in Dún Laoghaire on what I calculate to be nine separate occasions so far. The Minister might clarify for me, as I just do not understand, why the health board did not intervene at an early stage. I fully accept that, if the Director of Public Prosecutions indicated that there was no criminal case to be processed, that, in a sense, ended the Director of Public Prosecutions' involvement. But here was a teenage child clearly at serious risk, a child clearly in serious need of medical help as well as accommodation. If the 1982 Act was inadequate to tackle the problem, as I believe it is, it seems to me now, in the context of this girl's case, the current Bill we are dealing with may not be totally adequate either.
I do not understand why the Eastern Health Board some weeks ago did not move to have this girl made a ward of the High Court and, under the wardship of the court, provide care for her. I do not understand that. There has been no public discussion of this angle on things and it appears now the health board are finally getting themselves involved. I appreciate the health board do not have the type of secure facility that may be required. I know there is a problem here, but there is no reason why the health board could not have intervened a number of weeks ago to have this young girl made a ward of court, to have taken the burden off District Justice Wine. The matter would have been brought into the civil family law area of the court's jurisdiction, rather than being dealt with through the criminal processes. A courageous district justice refused to give in to the authorities. That deserves to be said. The Minister may respond to us and say we are taking a liberty on this amendment in raising this issue, but this legislation is about children and, of course, the defect in it is that it does not address the juvenile justice area at all and what we have seen on exhibition to us. It is relevant to the place of safety order, and I will come back to this in a moment. What we have seen on exhibition in this case is the arrant nonsense of three different Government Departments having responsibility for children. The Task Force on Child Care in 1980 recommended this responsibility be in one Government Department and we are still not doing that in this Bill. That is why this Bill is grossly defective. We will see similar pass the buck operations in the future.
The Minister has an amendment in front of us detailing suitable accommodation, and in the Dáil today we heard from the Minister for Justice of the long-term plan to provide accommodation. I think there should be a definition in the Bill of what the Minister means by suitable accommodation. This amendment deals with section 13, and it is relevant to the provision of places of safety. I appreciate that this amendment is limited to that, but in my view when you are dealing with suitable accommodation not just by way of place of safety orders or in respect of permanent care orders under this legislation, and when we are dealing with it in the broad spectrum of providing for children at risk, whether they come to the notice of the authorities through the civil family law care process, through the criminal process or otherwise, all this should fall under the aegis of the Department of Health. We should never again see the appalling, callous piece of political buck passing that has been on view in the last few weeks between the Department of Education, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health who have been very slow to intervene. All I can say is long may we have more district justices like District Justice Wine, and indeed District Justice McDonald who was placed in a similar position in the last few days when he had to look for care for a young boy. We are placing our district justices in an impossible position. We are asking them to deal with children who could just as easily come under the care provisions as under the criminal provisions in circumstances where we do not have the facilities to care for these children and where we are maintaining a facade that we care for these children. It is a miracle that this young teenage girl has not succeeded in taking her own life. If something as tragic as that occurred, it would put a very particular political responsibility on the shoulders of Ministers who have tried to avoid dealing with this problem in the seven or eight weeks it has been seen and dealt with in Dún Laoghaire District Court.