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UN Conventions

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 26 September 2012

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Questions (6, 8)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

6. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the State has signed the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Communications Procedure; and if so, when same will be ratified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40492/12]

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Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

8. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the State has signed the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; and if so, when same will be ratified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40493/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 8 together.

When the third optional protocol to the convention was opened for signature by member states in February 2012, I announced that it was my intention to sign the protocol on behalf of Ireland as soon as possible. My Department is currently finalising the State’s combined third and fourth reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and a full update on the position in regard to the signature of the protocol will be given in that report. This is the first report to be submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in over five years.

Due to the wide-ranging nature of the convention it has been necessary to consult with all Departments in regard to both the preparation of the new report as well as the new optional protocol. This is to enable full consideration to be given to the implications of signature. Once the report is finalised and submitted to the UN committee it would be my intention to sign the third optional protocol in due course on behalf of Ireland. Ratification would generally take place some time after that, once the State is satisfied that the necessary legislative and administrative procedures are in place to enable full compliance. This matter will be assessed by the legal unit of my Department in due course.

Ireland has signed but not yet ratified the second optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and it is my stated intention to progress to ratification in due course, once I am satisfied that the State will be able to meet all its obligations therein. I recently discussed the issue of ratification of this protocol in a meeting with the UN special representative on violence against children, which took place in my Department on 11 June last, during the special representative's official visit to Ireland. We agreed that the matter would be prioritised in due course following completion of my Department's current work on the upcoming children's referendum, the submission of the State's next report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the setting up of the new child and family support agency.

Many of the criminal law provisions of the optional protocol to the convention have already been implemented in existing domestic legislation. Legislative proposals that the Minister for Justice and Equality intends to bring to Government in the coming months will, I understand, facilitate compliance with the criminal law requirements of the optional protocol and other international related legal instruments. It is also proposed to put in place the necessary administrative procedures and arrangements to allow for accession and, subject to the advice of the Attorney General’s office, it is proposed to ratify the optional protocol and related international legal instruments as soon as is practicable. It would be my intention in due course to bring a joint memorandum to Government, with the Minister for Justice and Equality, to enable Ireland to ratify the second optional protocol, which has been signed by Ireland.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply and I appreciate that much work has been done on these matters. In explanation, the communications protocol gives an assurance policy, so to speak, for children. In the short space of time the Minister has been in office, she and her Department have been doing a great deal to wipe away the history we have had of neglect of children. However, there may come a time in the future history of our State where we will once again neglect children and their rights. This protocol gives an international insurance policy for children and their advocates to appeal to the United Nations and have those rights vindicated.

We have not yet signed it. The Minister has stated clearly to the House that she intends to sign it, which is to be welcomed, but the question is on the time line. I understand she is in a particularly busy period and the amount of legislation she is dealing with is impressive. The children's rights referendum is coming up. Hers is a particularly busy Department and it is also a fairly new one, but the signing of the protocol would mean a great deal in that we would be meeting not just our domestic obligations to children but our obligations on the international stage also. We now have a chance, given the way children have been treated in the past, to be a shining light internationally. The signing of the protocol as soon as we possibly can would ensure this. Can the Minister give a specific time line in that regard and also for ratification of the second one about which I have asked?

I thank the Deputy for the question. It is on our agenda. We intend to ratify the second protocol as quickly as we can and move to the third one. I would think we will be in a position to do this in the coming months. On the second protocol, I am waiting for some legislation on which the Department of Justice and Equality is working. I will bring a memorandum to the Government on it with the Minister for Justice and Equality. Further legislation is being prepared by the Department of Justice and Equality to strengthen the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and facilitate full compliance with the relevant international legal instruments. Once that is done, it should clear the way for ratification of the second protocol. As regards the third one, I will be working on the report on the rights of the child shortly. An amount of work is being done on it in my Department and I am aware it requires that we liaise with other Departments to get their responses to what is included in the protocol.

In support of Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin's points and welcoming the Minister's response, given the proposed constitutional change in regard to children's rights and the focus on the right of the child to be heard, would this not be an opportune time to sign the first protocol referred to concerning the communications procedure? I strongly believe it is.

Regarding the second protocol referred to on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, indicated here in July that he expected to bring legislative proposals to the Government in the coming months. Has the Minister had an opportunity to engage with the Minister for Justice and Equality on this matter in the intervening period? Does she know when we can expect the legislative proposals to be presented to the Government and, subsequently, the Houses of the Oireachtas?

The legislation is being actively worked on by the Department of Justice and Equality. I have had a discussion with the Minister about the protocol and it is something I would be very keen to do. It complements the work we are doing at a constitutional level, yet it is a practical measure that we need to sign. We await the legislation the Minister will bring forward. I do not have a precise timeframe, but I can correspond with the Deputy on the matter. I do know, however, that it is a high priority for the Minister.

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