Deputy Yates has some amendments. He has asked me to say he will not be pressing his amendments to a vote if they are not agreed. He will be at liberty to re-enter them on Report Stage when he has heard the Minister's replies. We are on section 17, amendment No. 101. Deputy Fennell to move.


I move amendment No. 101:

In page 12, before section 17, to insert the following section:

"17.—If a justice of the court in the hearing of a custody case between parents under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, deems it appropriate he may avail of a supervision order where custody is awarded or alternatively may invoke a care order if he is not satisfied as to the suitability of either parent having due regard to the best interests of the child's welfare.".

We are availing of the opportunity of this Bill to ensure that this facility is inserted to enable us give children greater protection in guardianship cases. I would be interested to hear the Minister's view on this. Before he replies perhaps I may put on record the views of the professional coalition on this Bill. They agree with this amendment. They consider it is useful for the court to have the option in circumstances in which parents are not suitable guardians. The coalition agree that, in cases concerning children, the court would appoint an advocate to act on the child's behalf. It is an amendment I would ask the Minister to seriously consider.

I appreciate that Deputy Yates has communicated with us and that he is detained in his county today. If we all knew we might be there as well.

In response to the amendment moved by Deputy Fennell, I am in broad agreement with its thrust which would make it clear that the court could — in dealing with a custody dispute between parents under the Guardianship of Infants Act — refuse to grant custody to either parent and instead place the child in the care of the relevant health board or grant custody to one parent subject to the child being supervised by the health board. This could be a very useful device in cases where the court found that neither parent was fit or suitable to have care of the child or where the court considered it desirable that the child be supervised in his or her home by the health board.

There are two matters which are not covered by amendment No. 101 which need to be addressed. The first is that it may be desirable that this type of procedure be available not only in disputes between parents, as amendment No. 101 provides, but also in disputes between parents and third parties, that is persons who have de facto care of the child. The second point is that we may need to build in some mechanism to ensure that the relevant health board is notified, is given an opportunity to assess the case and, if necessary, to give evidence to the court. These are two points that strike me now. It may be that others will arise following detailed consideration of the matter between officials of my Department and the Department of Justice which has responsibility for the Guardianship of Infants Act. I would ask the Deputy to consider withdrawing this amendment on the understanding that I will table a suitable amendment to cover these points on Report Stage.

I accept the Minister's logic on this amendment. It would be appropriate if he returned with a suitable amendment because we have dramatically changed the wording of this section which warrants something that would fit in better which would be welcomed on Report Stage.

I thank the Minister for his agreeable reply. I might reiterate the importance of teasing out matters on Committee Stage when we can pick up things that perhaps the Minister may not have realised were important. We will withdraw the amendment on that basis.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.