Child Protection Issues: Discussion with ISPCC.

I apologise for the slight delay in getting to the delegates; the joint committee had a considerable amount of housekeeping to do. I welcome from the ISPCC Mr. Ashley Balbirnie, chief executive, Ms Mary Nicholson, advocacy manager, and Ms Caroline O'Sullivan, director of services. Before we begin, I draw attention to the fact that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, unfortunately, the same privilege does not extend to witnesses. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. While the ISPCC has circulated a document to members that they have studied, the delegates should make a brief presentation, after which I will seek comments and questions from each member.

Mr. Ashley Balbirnie

I thank the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to make a presentation. We understand there are distinct time considerations and will try to keep our presentation reasonably brief.

Our request to make a presentation stemmed from the launch of our campaign entitled 24 Hour Child which calls on the Government to establish a nationwide 24-hour child protection and welfare service. Mental health problems and child abuse are not limited to the hours of nine-to-five, Monday to Friday. Children and families need support and protection on a 24-hour basis. We would like to substantiate this for the committee by addressing the key question as to why the ISPCC specifically believes a 24-hour service is necessary, an issue Ms Nicholson, our advocacy manager, will address. We will then discuss the key elements of a 24-hour service, a matter Ms O'Sullivan, our director of services, will address. I will come back in at the end with some very brief concluding remarks.

Ms Mary Nicholson

The question is why there is a need for 24-hour services. We are trying to convey the message that, through our range of services in the ISPCC, we can show there is a clear need for an out-of-hours social work service, something we have advocated for a number of years. As a number of issues have arisen in recent years, we must act on the matter now. As things stand, there is only an out-of-hours social work service in the Dublin region. When such a service is needed outside that region, the Garda Síochána is left to intervene. Gardaí have a role and remit, but much of the time they deal with the criminal end. Somebody must be available to assess, intervene and support the child and family involved.

We can consider recent events without going into the details too much, as I know people are familiar with the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Sharon Grace and her children. It was suggested they had sought social worker and out-of-hours support in the hours before their deaths but that it was not available. There is the more recent awful case in Monageer, but nobody knows what the outcome might have been or if it might have been changed. However, there was no out-of-hours child protection and welfare system available to the families involved.

Childline was established 21 years ago in 1988. We initially answered 35,000 calls, which figure rose to over 400,000 from children and young people last year. Of these 400,000 calls, the vast majority, 78%, were made outside the hours of nine to five, Monday to Friday. Children called for a number of reasons, including some that might be considered ordinary such as to find a listening ear, but others had more difficult problems and were looking for support outside normal hours. Regarding the figures for child protection and welfare service referrals we made to the Health Service Executive, the majority arose from calls received out of hours. As there was not necessarily a support service available for the children concerned, we would have had to contact the Garda Síochána. This reflects the fact that children and families need support outside the hours of nine to five. If an out-of-hours service was available, it could stop issues escalating to the level where children have be taken from the home because there is an immediate risk to them. We answered over 7,000 calls related to cases involving mental health problems and 28,000 calls related to cases involving abuse and violence, many of which would have been made outside the hours of nine to five. Children, young people and families are telling us they need support. Therefore, we know from the evidence available to us, from media reports, inquiries into cases such as that in Monageer and other cases involving child abuse and deaths in recent years that there is a clear need for a framework to be put in place.

The Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, indicated over a year ago that this issue was not off the table and that there was a need for a comprehensive system to meet the needs of children. However, such a system is still not in place. Therefore, we are concerned about what needs to be done to ensure a 24-hour service will be provided. Ms O'Sullivan will outline what such a service would entail.

Ms Caroline O’Sullivan

I will deal with what we consider must be the crucial parts of a 24-hour service. Ms Nicholson has argued that 24-hour services are required. There is no real question about this. To focus on the core issues, we have listed four points. The availability of social workers is essential. We are well aware that ten beds will be provided. If a child is in crisis, he or she can be removed to one of these ten beds and placed with a foster family. That is a step in the right direction. One must consider the needs of the child at that time. Having a bed available meets one need; providing security and a safe place to stay meets another, as will having the professional support of a social worker. Social workers are trained to deal with children at risk. They have statutory responsibility. We support inter-agency involvement, a multidisciplinary approach, the involvement of on-call doctors, gardaí and social workers. However, without a social worker being part of the initial group, a child's interests will not be met adequately.

The second major point about social workers is that not only can they go into a family if it is deemed that there is a crisis, but they can also go in and carry out an assessment to see if a child must be removed or whether services can be provided in order that the child does not need to be removed. We must recognise that children are best placed in their homes. If they have support available through NGOs and a social worker is assigned to the family, that is a better option. We must consider the fact that agencies must work together. History has taught us that it is imperative that services are integrated and agencies work together.

The HSE publishes annual reports on the adequacy of its family and child protection support services. The social work divisions and community care teams are struggling. They deal with 20,000 referrals each year, the majority of which are based in families unable to cope, involve neglect issues, angry and aggressive children. Social workers must deal with crisis cases because of limited resources. The families which will be in crisis if they are not provided with support immediately will be left aside. However, it will be more costly and detrimental and they will be on waiting lists for longer and longer. Preventive services are vital. NGOs have a major role to play in this regard. I refer particularly to levels of risk. NGOs provide family support services, active listening services, mentoring services and support services. The ISPCC provides such services. We are in a good position to provide preventive services, leaving the health board and social work offices to concentrate on higher risk cases and provide a better service. If we were to consider reallocating resources in that way, the possibility of providing for 24-hour services would be more realistic.

The other aspect of 24-hour service provision is that children should be able to access services directly. A child cannot seek support from a social worker without parental consent. The parent must consent unless the child is 16 years or over. That is not a good place to start. If the parent is the person causing the child harm, how can we accept that the parent will give consent to the child to speak to a social worker? Children should be able to access services directly without parental consent in order that their needs can be addressed with limited input. Preventive services are of major importance, but they are under-resourced. Many organisations can support the Government in these areas.

These are the four crucial areas to be addressed, even though we could talk forever on the subject.

Mr. Ashley Balbirnie

There is a real need for 24-hour services. The awful events of the Grace and Dunne cases make that clear. From the point of view of the ISPCC, this is underlined by the work done in dealing directly with children across all of our services. In that context and as Ms Nicholson indicated, 78% of our calls are received outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. The demand for our on-line service — Childline Online — has quadrupled in the past year, again mainly on an out-of-hours basis. Our experience of running what, in effect, is the only genuine 24-hour, seven days a week national service only underlines the need that exists.

As Ms O'Sullivan indicated, we are glad the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs has announced that the building blocks of an out-of-hours service have been initiated. We are also glad that he genuinely appears to favour an interagency, multidisciplinary approach, which is a positive development. However, we are concerned that without the 24-hour gap being fully closed, children will remain at risk. The Minister of State indicated that the cost of providing the service would be €15 million, whereas Professor Brendan Drumm indicated that it would be €20 million. Whatever the actual figure, we are of the view that the funding must be provided as a matter of priority.

For the services to work effectively, they must form part of a wider constitutional and legislative change involving a referendum on the rights of children and the placement of the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis. We did not want to conclude our presentation without mentioning this matter, which we could discuss all day.

I thank our guests for a clear and straightforward presentation.

I welcome our guests and echo the Chairman's compliment regarding their presentation, which was concise, clear and to the point. I will try to be brief. There is nothing in the presentation with which I disagree. As a practising GP, I am aware of the absolute need for 24-hour social work services. GPs are no substitute for social workers and they are aware of that.

My view of what the Minister of State said regarding the putting in place of building blocks would be slightly more jaundiced than that of our guests. Additional resources have not been allocated in the area of out-of-hours primary care in respect of this issue. More and more is going to be expected of those in general practice and, to be frank, I see what is being done as a cop-out. What is required is that to which our guests referred, namely, a proper 24-hour out-of-hours service for families and children in trouble.

I commend our guests on the work they have done. In light of the major increase in the number of calls received to 400,000, there is clearly a serious demand for the service. The fact that 78% of those calls were made out of hours says it all.

I agree with our guests' assertions regarding bed security and having the support of professional social workers available. There are not enough beds and we are aware that a child was sent out of the country on an E111 last week because a bed was not available at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. In addition, there is an insufficient number of psychiatric inpatient beds available for those who are in real trouble.

I wish to ask a question to which I should know the answer and in respect of which I am seeking reassurance from our guests. Are all ISPCC employees who work with children vetted by the Garda?

Ms Caroline O’Sullivan

Yes, absolutely.

I thank our guests for their presentation. How many social workers would be required to sustain the service? I am sure the ISPCC would be interested in working with psychologists. Does the ISPCC operate on a voluntary basis or is it funded by the Government? I previously worked as a midwife and in almost all cases, social work services were required out of hours, either at night or at weekends. In such cases, speed was of the essence. I recall an instance when we were obliged to have a Garda detective present in the nursery of the maternity unit because a social worker could not be found. That was an outrageous misuse of resources and personnel. What was required at the time was a social worker who could deal with the situation.

I thank our guests for their extremely succinct presentation. I agree with everything contained in it. I accept that there is a need for a full 24-hour service and Ms O'Sullivan stated that children should have direct access to such a service. I do not disagree with this. The difficulty from the Minister's point of view concerns the logistics of how to put a multidisciplinary nationwide 24-hour child protection and welfare service in place, to which the child would have direct access, as this would mean more or less that one would have to have a service available in each county. While I agree with the provision of a multidisciplinary service, I wonder if the ISPCC has given any thought to the delivery of such a service? It was suggested NGOs might be involved. How would one provide a comprehensive out-of-hours service that would be easily accessible in all parts of the country?

I know from experience in Cork that the ISPCC does an excellent job and sometimes provides the only people available. The statistics for the Childline service have always disburbed me. Is there a breakdown of the figures available? Are they all first-time callers? If the statistics represented the numbers of first-time callers, it would mean that virtually every child in the country had called Childline. That should set alarm bells ringing. One can never be too careful when it comes to children. Clearly, there are repeat callers; perhaps children feel the only person to whom they can speak consistently is the person manning the Childline service. When a child or somebody not so young rings the Childline number out of hours and the person on the telephone has a clear reason to believe there is substantial abuse, what can he or she do about it?

I welcome the group. I fully agree that we need a 24-hour service. We have been provided with information that 78% of all calls were received outside the hours of nine to five, Monday to Friday. I presume that is an accurate figure. From experience of the problems that arise in families, they tend to arise either at the weekend or in the evening. Does the ISPCC have good statistics and information? Perhaps in tandem with other NGOs or the HSE, it could make the case that in employing social workers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. one is not dealing with half the number of problems and crises that arise. We have to build a watertight case to make this a priority in current economic times. I have no doubt that it must be a priority. It is almost inconceivable that one would not have social workers available outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There was a reference to NGOs working together. From talking to them I am aware there are gaps in services for children, but there are overlaps also in what organisations do. However, there is a strong willingness for organisations to come together and work and as a result provide a better service for children. Does the ISPCC have ideas on how that could be made happen? Should the HSE lead it? There seems to be an urgent need for organisations to pull together and work because what we all want is a better outcome for children.

I welcome the ISPCC's succinct presentation on the need for a 24-hour service. However, I am worried about the roll-out of such a service. Are we talking about a Dublin based service? I come from the south east and I am worried about the provision of service in areas such as Cork, Waterford, the west and north west. I am living near Wexford and knew about the tragic circumstances in the two Wexford cases. If a 24-hour service had been available, would it have prevented these tragedies? I am sure there are other serious cases, but employees in the HSE go home at 5 p.m. There are many hours between 5 p.m. on a Friday evening and 9 a.m. on a Monday morning. How can the roll-out of the 24-hour service be achieved in all parts of the country?

I thank the delegation for its very succinct presentation. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has launched a campaign entitled "24 Hour Child" which calls on the Government to establish a nation-wide 24-hour child protection and welfare service in Ireland. Everybody in this room agrees that it is necessary and I would support it 100%. The Minister said we have the building blocks of this. However, what is being sought is a long way off. The ISPCC will have to exert pressure to have this delivered. It is a tragedy that we do not have this already. This is a very effective committee but there is nothing it can do at the moment on this issue. The Minister for Health and Children has stated that we cannot afford to do it now. I have a serious problem with this. What can be done to make it happen, and what is the content of the ISPCC's campaign?

Having been involved in a school, I have been at the end of a phone on a Friday evening when I felt a child was in difficulty, and unable to contact the duty social worker, my fear was that by sending the child home, not having delivered on my duty of care, I could potentially have been sending the child into a dangerous situation. The only alternative was to call the Garda Síochána and, in fairness, the Garda Síochána always dealt with the situation in a proper manner. If a child was sick I could not bring that child to a doctor without a parent or a guardian. I could not do that off my own bat even if a child was injured on a football pitch, but is there any legal or constitutional reason children or young people cannot seek support in their own right?

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I also welcome the representatives of the ISPCC. I would like to relieve them of the 100% burden of trying to achieve what we are all agreed is necessary. We must all play our part in bringing this about. I fully endorse the proposal to establish a 24 hour, seven day, child protection service, which was the first recommendation of the Monageer report. I note Mr. Balbirnie's remarks regarding the Minister's declaration of intent. I am very disturbed by the rejection of this recommendation and it is something that needs to continue to be challenged.

The ISPCC is probably aware of the recent announcement on the privatisation of out-of-hours placement of at risk children in foster homes. What is its view on that, given that it followed quickly on the publication of the Ryan report which dealt with a situation in which the State also abrogated its responsibility and placed the care of children in private hands as opposed to making openly transparent, publicly accountable arrangements? Given the shock of the nation at the Ryan report, it is not a huge mental gymnastic feat to wonder how privatising the care of children in 2009 sits comfortably with that. Has the ISPCC expressed any concern about the recent announcement? I have been pursuing the Minister on the subject and I am not comfortable with it.

Some 20 children placed in the care of the State have died in the past six years, including Tracey Fay and David Foley, but the recommendations made in the report have not been published. How will we learn what was wrong at the core of the system without complete and transparent access to all the recommendations made, including in the Monageer case? We need to learn what is wrong to ensure there will be no repetition.

The ombudsman is coming in later and one of the key items on the agenda is the establishment of a child death review committee. I am interested in what the ISPCC has to say on the matter.

As the delegates have heard, members are very supportive of the campaign and I add my voice to theirs in that regard. Given that we did not achieve our aims during the halcyon days of the Celtic tiger, it will be immeasurably more difficult now. Therefore, we will all have to work together.

I am interested in what the delegates have to say about the network of NGOs and statutory services. Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked about the number of personnel we would need to put the appropriate service in place. In the interim, can something be done on a county or sub-county level to bring together the statutory bodies and NGOs? Many people with social work qualifications are not working as social workers. Do the delegates believe it is possible to put in place a roster system whereby people can be recruited from the statutory and NGO sectors to provide an out-of-hours service? Do they believe there would be impediments to such a system in the shape of the trade unions?

Mr. Ashley Balbirnie

I will answer the more general questions. I will hand over to Ms O'Sullivan who will talk about how the proposed idea would work in practice and how it would tie into the service we currently offer. I will then ask Ms Nicholson to talk about making the case for working with other NGOs in the campaigns we are running.

We were asked about what we were doing and how our fine words were going to translate into making an impact. We are engaged in advocating our case and take every opportunity to do so publicly. We address political representatives in fora such as this and have met the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children to make our case. We are trying to provide more 24-hour services and have invested further resources in our Childline unit to that end. We have also provided more resources for the on-line unit which attracts a lot of contacts out of hours. We are trying to produce hard facts and figures to back up our case such as the fact, of which we advised members, that 78% of calls are made out of office hours. We are doing a combination of things to ensure we put our money where our mouth is.

We were also asked about practical issues. I accept that everybody involved in the ISPCC must be vetted by the Garda. That must be the case. Ms O'Sullivan has been heavily involved in this from the start.

I am always happy to answer questions on funding. No statutory funding has been received by Childline since its inception. I am especially happy to answer that question today, given that the Safeguarding Children document was launched in the North of Ireland this morning. It was announced that the Westminster Government had recently allocated £30 million for the expansion of the Childline service across the United Kingdom. It was announced this morning that a chunk of that money would be allocated to the service in Northern Ireland where the authorities accept that there is a need among the public. No public funding is used. We raise 90% of our funding. Last year we raised approximately €7 million, of which 90% was raised through our fundraising mechanisms.

In the ISPCC we are heavily dependent on volunteers. One of the interesting aspects of the organisation is that we have slightly more than 100 employees but in excess of 300 volunteers. The Childline service could not operate without that volunteer base. We have six Childline centres dotted around the country, into each of which groups of volunteers feed. They undergo a rigorous eight week training programme and are not people we take in off the streets. They are heavily trained and highly competent and work on a totally voluntary basis a couple of hours a week. They are massively important in what we do. We operate on a regional basis. We have four regions and at any one time a number of live operatives are available to answer Childline telephones. Managers are always on-call on a regional basis.

This might be a good point at which to hand over to Ms O'Sullivan who might speak about some of the other issues raised.

Ms Caroline O’Sullivan

We run 24-hour services between Leanbh and Childline. We operate out-of-hours services for Childfocus and Teenfocus — the face-to-face services we operate around the country. We always have a staff member on-call. Each member of staff works on-call at different times and the service operates on a shared basis across the country. A member of staff is always available at the end of the telephone if a crisis occurs, somebody needs support or a volunteer comes across something on which he or she wants advice. The service is available all the time. I am personally on-call all the time to the managers. I do not think it is a big union issue. The reality is that the ISPCC is a voluntary organisation with a budget of between €7.5 million and €8 million. We have 130 staff and 400 volunteers and manage to provide 24-hour services without huge issues arising. Our staff have mortgages to pay and children to look after the same as everybody else. The reason we can do it is that we adopt a can-do approach. There must be some level of transfer. We achieve a huge amount with a small budget. It is not necessary to have a huge budget as the on-call system works well because people take it on. It works out that managers are on duty once every six weeks. Our staff are on-call once every ten weeks. There is always a junior staff member, a manager and the director on-call. It is not such a big deal. One takes a telephone call and advises. We have offices around the country, as has the Health Service Executive, and they act as bases from which people can offer support if required. I am speaking from practical experience. It is not pie in the sky. We are doing it and we know it can be done.

On the question of how many social workers are required, we do not suggest it is necessary to have a nine-to-five service. The on-call system can work well, but there should be a social worker available.

On having regional areas, we are always taking examples from other countries. In the United Kingdom there is an on-call service available in each borough. That could fit in quite well with the ten-bed scenario and the private providers to which reference was made. The private beds are fine. We welcome the fact that something is being done for those children who are in crisis in order that they are not put into a Garda station and that they are not placed next to an inspector in a hospital because no social worker is available. That is a step in the right direction and we welcome it. However, it is not enough. The ones who will be taking the children to the beds available are gardaí. They need psychological support, social work support and effective active listening support. Social workers are qualified, trained and bound to provide that. We will not sit here and state a magic number such as 100, 200 or 500, but it can be done effectively with current staff if people put their heads together to reorganise working hours so that they need not be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are many options. It could be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., or whatever. There are many ways of working around that, and it fits with family friendly policies which the ISPCC has developed so that staff can work around hours, which suit us, suit our clients but also suits the staff members with whom we work.

On the question of the part NGOs play, there is a significant number of NGOs across this country. Some services are duplicated. We became most aware of that when we put together a complete strategy for all of our services. We reviewed research done such as the National Economic and Social Forum report on delivering quality public services, we looked at all of the gaps around the country and at the services. Based on that, and linking with the other organisations in the various regions, we decided where to focus our efforts over the next five years, and that has worked exceptionally well. We have redirected our resources so that now, even so far this year, we have had more contact with clients than we had in the previous full year. That is not saying that last year we did not see many. We saw a great many families, but we focused our work and recognised the economic constraints under which we function. Like every other charity, ISPCC is not in a strong financial position. However, if one wants something enough and if is willing to refocus and redirect, then one can provide strong solid services. That is our experience.

On Childline, the 400,000 figure is for telephone calls. We decided not to try to identify the callers because we do not want to identify them. The point of Childline is to give power to children. If a child is being abused, every bit of power in the child's life has been taken away. If a child rings Childline, the one piece of power the child has is that he or she can tell us who he or she is, the child can tell us when he or she wants help and he or she has a choice. The children know that if they tell us that there is something really serious happening for them, we advise them on that and tell them that if they tell us who they are, we will pass it on. However, that is the child's choice. He or she may not be ready then. We also must explain to the child what might happen.

My question was not about identifying but about the breakdown of the calls.

Ms Caroline O’Sullivan

We are not exact on the number of callers. We do not have the equipment for that. We broached our various providers and supporters who at present are saying, "No way, José." We would like to have that information and that is certainly something at which we will look in terms of planning for the future. We have probably 100 regular callers, by which I mean they would ring three to four times a week. Again, that does not make up the 400,000.

Mr. Ashley Balbirnie

The difficulty is that to identify the repeat callers one must identify the number and once one identifies the number, one is taking away the confidentiality from the child, which is our top priority around which we must work to some extent.

What happens when ISPCC gets a call where, clearly, there is a difficulty?

Ms Caroline O’Sullivan

If it is between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., we follow the Children First guidelines — we do our risk assessment and pass it on to the social worker on call. When it is outside of those hours, we need to do a risk assessment and that is where our on-call system comes on board. They contact the staff member on call, who, if unsure, will contact the manager on call and then I will be contacted if there is still any area at which to look.

Effectively, if the child is at high risk, we must refer to the Garda at that point. What we have done in Leanbh is when we have referred a family whose child might be out begging late and the gardaí contact us, our staff sometimes go to the Garda station to support the child in that instance. We cannot do that across the country because we are not based everywhere across the country, but what we can do is contact the Garda and link in with it in terms of our view and our risk assessment. We commend the Garda which has been superb. It reacts and responds and has been a terrific support.

Ms Mary Nicholson

Most of the questions were answered. To add to what Ms O'Sullivan stated about what we can do, if we look at models in other countries — obviously, we do not have the complement of staff we have in the day time — they have what are called gateway services which would be the initial port of call so that somebody at least gets to talk to someone. The reality is that sometimes here we do not even have someone to outline the supports available and where one can go, and who can even say that the Garda needs to intervene. A gateway service would be an initial port of all for someone in difficulty. In the North there is a helpline in each of the boroughs for children with suicidal thoughts or mental health difficulties. It is an out-of-hours service that offers an immediate response, which is often what is needed. We speak of money here, but that is not all that is involved; it is a matter of changing our thinking and being more creative. Ms O'Sullivan spoke about NGOs and statutory agencies working together. We can often deal with preventive, low-end cases, which means social workers with the relevant skills and statutory responsibility can deal with their end. It was asked who would lead such a process — these meetings are held informally around the country. We work effectively with NGOs and statutory agencies and refer to each other. In reality, the HSE would have to take the lead, but there must be a framework for us to work together rather than relying on existing relationships. We must all change our thinking and work towards the same goal because there is repetition and overlapping. We must examine what we can do to see that both NGOs and statutory agencies play their roles.

Regarding children trying to access direct supports, there is a difficulty with the legislation which must be addressed. We do not have a problem with privatisation, but this comes back to a multi-agency, interdisciplinary approach. It should come within the remit of the social services inspectorate and follow policies and procedures like any other statutory body. It comes back to putting Children First on a statutory basis. NGOs, statutory agencies and private entities should follow the same rules and procedures and come under the same social services inspectorate, but this is not the case.

Deputy Ó Caoláin mentioned child deaths and whether we spoke about children who died at the hands of their parents or in care. We need a review; there must be transparency. Parts of the Monageer report were redacted, but to act on recommendations we need to know exactly what they are. However, that is only half of the issue. There is a plethora of reports with recommendations — the main ones being the provision of 24-hour services and putting Children First on a statutory basis — but they have not been implemented. While transparency is crucial, action is required on recommendations.

I thank the delegates for being so forthright in answering our questions; it is clear why the ISPCC is such a successful NGO and its commitment obvious. I hope the committee can continue to engage with it on the matter over a period of time because we are all anxious to support the organisation. The delegates should feel free to keep in touch through the clerk.

Sitting suspended at 4.15 p.m. and resumed at 4.20 p.m.