Amendments Nos. 156 and 158 together, by agreement, please.
I move amendment No. 156:
In page 16, lines 23 to 32, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
"(1) The provisions of this section shall apply to any child who is in the care of a health board and who is, without lawful authority, removed from the custody of the board or from the custody of any person who is taking care of him on behalf of the board or prevented from returning to such custody at the end of any period of leave.
(2) The health board may request the Garda Síochána to search for the child and to deliver him up to the custody of the board and the Garda Síochána may take all reasonable measures to comply with such a request.".
Section 32 sets out the steps that may be taken when a child is unlawfully removed from the care of the health board or from the care of a person looking after a child on behalf of a health board, for example, foster parents or a children's home.
Amendment No. 156 proposes to insert two new subsections in place of the existing subsection (1). A number of important changes have been incorporated in the proposed new subsection (1). The first is that the scope of the section is being broadened to cover all children in the care of health boards and not just as in the present subsection (1) children who are the subject of care orders. It is vital that there be procedures available to facilitate the recovery of any child who is unlawfully removed from the care of a health board regardless of the legal basis for his placement in care.
I would like to emphasise, however, that this will not affect the right of a parent whose child is in voluntary care under section 4, to remove the child if he wishes to resume care of him. Since such a removal would not be unlawful the provisions here would not apply in that case. However, the section will apply where a child is removed from voluntary care by a person who has no legal right to do so, for example, by a relative or other person acting without the consent of the parents.
Amendment No. 156 also proposes to insert a new subsection (2) to make it easier for health boards to recover children who have been unlawfully removed from care. What is proposed is that when a child who is in care is removed without the consent of that health board the board will either look for the child itself or request the gardaí to search for the child and to return him to care. I understand that this is the existing informal practice and in amendment No. 156 I propose that it be given clear statutory backing. What was originally proposed in the Bill was that a health board would have to go to court for an order authorising it to recover the child. This would serve to delay the recovery of the child who could be at serious risk in the meantime. I have decided to drop that procedure in favour of the more flexible arrangements involving the gardaí that I have just outlined. We may already have dealt with amendment No. 157 when we were dealing with amendment No. 60. Briefly the main purpose of it is to extend the list of premises, etc., that may be searched by the gardaí to include tents, caravans and other temporary or moveable structures.
I should point out that the existing subsections (2), (3) and (4) in the Bill will remain in being and what is contained in amendment No. 158 will follow them. The purpose of the new subsection (5) is to facilitate the speedy determination of applications for an order requiring a person to deliver up a child to the custody of a health board. It is proposed that an application for an order could be made ex parte, that is, without notice to the person who is suspected to have possession of the child. Obviously, the attempt to recover a child could be frustrated if prior notice of the application had to be given.
The new subsection (6) provides that the justice may, if he is satisfied that the matter is sufficiently urgent, hear and determine the application other than at a sitting of the District Court, for example, in his own home. Subsection (7) provides that the provision of the new Part V will apply to proceedings under this section with any necessary modifications. This means that the various provisions in Part V in relation to hearing of proceedings in private — section 21; power to proceed in the absence of a child — section 22; prohibition on publication or broadcast of details of the proceedings — section 23; presumption and determination of age — section 24 — all will apply to proceedings under this section with any modifications that may be necessary. I hope I can have your agreement.
I have no problem with section 32 or with the amendment. I have one query on amendment No. 156. The child care coalition say the health board may request the Garda Síochána. . . . they had requested that the Minister add the words "or any person lawfully caring for the child," because at weekends health board personnel might not be available. Perhaps you might consider that.
It would have to be the health board. We would have to be explicit——
What is the position at weekends?
In any emergency the health board would be responsible and would have to have their staff available. We gave the commitment earlier that we would have to provide weekend cover.
I fully support the section and the amendment which is an improvement. In relation to the removal of children from the State, there is an international convention governing this — I do not have the file with me — that so far has not been signed by Ireland. It is envisaged in the spirit of this section that Ireland would accede to that international convention.
You are talking about the Child Abduction Bill — there is an international convention on it — which the Department of Justice are at present drafting. We expect the Minister for Justice shortly to take that before Government for their approval. It is moving forward.
I move amendment No. 157:
In page 16, subsection (4), lines 44 and 45, to delete "(including any building or part of a building" and substitute "specified in the warrant (including any building or part of a building, tent, caravan or other temporary or moveable structure".
I move amendment No. 158:
In page 17, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following subsections:
"(5) An application for an order under subsection (3) may, if the justice is satisfied that the urgency of the matter so requires, be made ex parte.
(6) An application for an order under subsection (3) or for a warrant under subsection (5) may, if the justice is satisfied that the urgency of the matter so requires, be heard and an order made thereon elsewhere than at a public sitting of the District Court.
(7) Subject to subsections (5) and (6), the provisions of Part V shall apply to proceedings under this section with any necessary modifications.".