I have fairly full notes here and with the permission of the Chair I will circulate them. They are notes rather than a speech and I will be departing quite substantially from them but they may be of assistance to the Senators.
It is a very considerable pleasure, and indeed a considerable source of pride to me as Minister of State with responsibility in the area of youth affairs to be provided with this opportunity of coming in and speaking to this House on the Final Report of the National Youth Policy Committee, a report which was laid before this House on 10 October of last year. Senators will be aware of the fact that the debate has already begun in the other House on the contents of the report and such was the level of interest that that debate stands adjourned and is shortly to be resumed. It is highly appropriate that Members of this House should in turn be provided with an opportunity to comment on what is generally accepted as being a most comprehensive analysis and a most important report.
Perhaps I can begin by taking up Senator Browne's concluding remarks and thanking and expressing my personal appreciation and that of the Government for the commitment shown by the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Justice Declan Costello of the High Court, the rappoteur, Mr. Tadhg Ó Cearbhaill, a most distinguished public servant, and the other members of the committee who laboured long and hard in their endeavours. I think there will be agreement from all sides that an exceedingly fine job was done and an exceedingly fine report was produced in a very short period. When the committee were established the Government, rather than allow this to be long-fingered and drag on into the distance, invited the members of the committee to do their work within 12 calendar months. They did that to the day and the report was presented, almost uniquely by a committee, in the time limit suggested by the Government.
It is worth going back 12 months to consider the circumstances that motivated and prompted the Government to establish such a committee and in doing so to give them the very wide and comprehensive terms of reference they enjoyed. First, the need for the support and development of our youth service is not an issue of contention. Successive Governments of different political persuasions since the early seventies have contributed to the support of voluntary youth organisations and services which they provide. Having said that, there has not been any substantial attempt to place youth services in context, both as to the established needs of young people and also as to the place of such services in the overall Government provision of services more generally. It was against that background that the National Youth Council of Ireland and a number of other bodies called for an overall national policy within which voluntary youth organisations would be able to find a secure and valued place.
Before taking office we gave a commitment to adopt such a policy. Prior to the election that returned us to office we set out in some detail the procedure which was to be followed. We suggested that the first step in such an exercise would be the publication of a short discussion document which would simply ask questions that would act as a trigger for discussion. We did that when we published "Shaping the Future". We then said that we would establish a high level committee representative first of all of young people themselves and the voluntary organisations to which they give their allegiance, representative too of the Government Departments that serve young people and representative also of a number of other organisations and interest groups that were clearly concerned and had a contribution to make.
By appointing a committee of the calibre that we did and by the fact that the Taoiseach lent his personal prestige to the exercise it was open to us to show just how important was the priority that the Government attach to the exercise. Senators should take reassurance from that that now that the report is available to us it will not be treated lightly and that it is not going to be consigned to some dusty shelves in some remote Government Department.
Anyone who had fears in that area would have those fears eased by examining the track record of this Government since taking office. Our first year in office, 1983, was the year of major departure for the youth service. Members will remember the controversy that then existed with regard to the position of development officers. Fifty four officers working with different national youth organisations faced extinction. Contracts were due to expire and there was no indication as to their position. Understandably, organisations such as the National Federation of Youth Clubs and so on who had taken advantage of the existence of the scheme to develop their structures to expand suddenly found their whole existence in question. The Government, of course, responded and made those posts permanent and, at the same time, increased the grant aid in support of each such officer from £5,000 at the installation of the scheme to £7,000.
People will also recall that at that time the provision for the youth service showed an increase of only 1 per cent. That seemed to us to be something that was quite intolerable, and that was immediately redressed. An additional allocation of some £550,000 was provided in order to ensure the development and expansion of various voluntary youth organisations. It has not stopped there, and the subsequent years of our period in Government have continued to show the Government placing an emphasis on the voluntary youth service and honouring a commitment to regard its funding as a priority.
That was very important to us as we set about this exercise, because had we not been able to make that movement, had we not been able to show voluntary organisations that their place and their role was appreciated and that it was not going to be an appreciation which stopped at lip service, then it would be inevitable that they would approach any initiative such as the Costello committee with some scepticism. So it was important that before launching on this exercise we were determined to build on sound and secure foundations, and that is just what we did. The figures speak for themselves. In 1982 £1,400,000 was allocated, two years later £2.2 million was allocated, an increase of just about 50 per cent. This year the Estimates provide for a sum of £2.8 million for the youth service, an increase of 26 per cent, and that against a background of considerable financial restraint.
The committee were launched in the full and certain expectation that the Government would live up to their commitments, and we now have that report. The stage has been set for an honest, substantial and considered response to the report. It is important that we get the timetable right on what we can reasonably expect out of the report. I have heard some suggestions that it might have been desirable not to debate the report at this stage in this House or not to have had a debate in the other House but instead to wait until the Government had considered the report in detail and could come back and say which recommendations were being accepted and were being rejected and over which period any particular recommendation was going to be implemented. It seems to me that would be an entirely unhappy way in which to proceed. It is altogether more satisfactory that both Houses of the Oireachtas are now being given an opportunity to comment on the report at a time when the report is itself under consideration by Government, so that Government in responding to the report will have the benefit of Senators' views. There are a number of issues in the report on which public representatives are in a particularly advantageous position to comment. There are, for example, sections dealing with the evolution of local structures on which public representatives from all around the country will be uniquely well positioned to draw on their background in local politics to comment on what might be the best structures to evolve.
Equally, the members of the committee indicated that they accepted that the report could not and would not be implemented overnight and that any implementation would be on a phased basis. If that is so then clearly there are some areas that have to receive priority. The views of Senators, and indeed from the other House views of Deputies, in identifying the areas of priority will be a very considerable advantage to the Government.
We regard the exercise we are now engaged on as a very important part of our response to International Youth Year. As already commented on, this year, 1985, has been designated by the United Nations as International Youth Year. Ireland is a member of the 24 nation advisory committee which oversees and guides member states in their celebration of the year. Members who have copies of the report before them will see that the logo for International Youth Year and its explanation and relevance to the themes of that year have been reproduced on the cover of the report. We were concerned that this very major exercise should be seen for what it is, a very substantial part of our preparations for International Youth Year, though obviously, that was not the sole extent of our concern or interest.
In regard to International Youth Year, I simply comment in passing that a committee has been established at national level to prepare for the year and organise it. I am very happy to say that a wideranging programme is now coming together. We have a very worth-while programme now at national, regional and, most important of all, at local level.
I made reference to the extra resources that have been made available in this year's Estimates. Of course, the provision to that effect was made in the context of the Government's national plan, Building on Reality. It was there that the Government reiterated their commitment to establish a national youth policy for International Youth Year. Such a youth policy
"will have its own distinct purposes but would interact with other policies and measures."
I quote from page 109 of that document:
The policy will be aimed at assisting all young people to become self-reliant, responsible and active participants in society. It will include:
—a clear philosophy of youth development and a statement of principles to guide Government policies;
—an objective assessment of the factual position of young people in contemporary Ireland;
—a detailed plan for the provision of services to young people generally and disadvantaged young people in particular;
In the context of their consideration of the national plan, and in advance of its publication and of having an opportunity of considering the cost of the report, the Government set aside an additional sum of £1.5 million for the youth services. That allocation allows a degree of flexibility which facilitates planning on a response to the priorities outlined in the plan. On the capital side, Senators will be aware that I have also made provision in the national plan for the reintroduction of capital facilities for youth and community organisations. A further allocation of £3 million in capital support for community and youth facilities is there provided for.
I say that to assert again and make clear that there is no question of the Government standing still until the wider debate, not just in this House, we are now engaged on is completed. The Government in many instances have anticipated the findings of the report and in other instances are already responding to it. That is evident for example, in the Government's decision in the last two years to make funding available to groups dealing with disadvantaged young people, it is like the HOPE organisation in Dublin dealing with the homeless. It is evident, too, in the funds made available on the capital side anticipating a recommendation that was to emerge from the Costello Report. The Government are already responding to the suggestion that what could be described as its "facelift" grants for the overhaul of dilapidated and perhaps unsafe youth facilities should be made available, and to the suggestion that support should be made available to An Óige organisation in regard to their hostels. Therefore, it is most important that the debate should not be derailed by any belief that because we are having the debate the time for action has been postponed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our very first statement in response to the report accepted the recommendation that a national youth policy should be guided by a clear statement of youth development and based on a statement of principles which would govern the detailed implementation of the policy.
In chapter 3 of the report the philosophy and the principles expounded by the National Youth Policy Committee deserve all our consideration. I echo the views of Senator Browne that this is an exercise which perhaps is long overdue. It is entirely desirable and valuable that the committee should have made explicit the philosophy that informs all of their recommendations. Too often we have eschewed ideas which ought to be promoted and have been quite shy about the values that we say we are upholding. The democratic philosophy and vision outlined in the report and the evidence it presents in relation to active participation in society seems to be absolutely cogent and compelling. The report stresses the importance of participation by young people in society and the need for adequate social and political education.
I am concerned that young people should have an adequate opportunity to participate in the whole process of policy review and formulation, so it was with some enthusiasm that I accepted the very final suggestion of the report, which was that a popular version of the report should be published which would be aimed at promoting understanding and discussion among young people. This popular version was itself produced and published in record time when it emerged on 10 December 1984 under the title Looking for Action and was done with the co-operation of the National Youth Council and the Institute of Public Administration. As a result of that, the substance of the work of the committee is now being made available to every second level school in the country and to many youth groups all around the country too. Young people are thus being given a chance to respond to the report and to make their views known on a whole range of issues which affect them. I would like to see the report as a landmark in the development of services to young people and as charting a way towards a national youth service and providing an analysis of the position of young people in society and the trends and prospects that face them over the next decade.
There has been, and this is quite understandable, criticism of the fact that this was just one more report, that we had other reports in the youth service and this just takes place alongside them on the shelf. First of all, I accept that very good work has been done in this area by previous Ministers of State from both sides of the House who have addressed themselves to the needs of young people, but it is just not right to suggest that the Costello report is simply a rediscovery of old truths. The terms of reference and remit of the Costello Committee go far beyond anything which has been attempted before. That is not in any sense to downplay the significance of A Policy for Youth and Sport published by Deputy John Bruton, who is now Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism, or Development of Youth Work Services in Ireland published by Deputy Tunney when he was Minister of State. Both of those were valuable and, indeed, seminal exercises and contributed very substantially to the evolution of the Government's attitude for young people and their needs. Unlike previous reports, this one was not confined in its deliberations to the narrow remit of youth work, important though that area is. Instead it addressed itself, to the wider issues relevant to young people and their needs.
There are one or two aspects of the report to which I might usefully address myself at this stage. I do not want to prolong my contribution because I am anxious to hear the views of as many Members of the House as possible. Members will be aware that the National Youth Policy Committee commissioned an extensive and nationwide survey — a public opinion poll — on the attitudes and behaviour of young people in Ireland. In its own right, that survey is the most important contribution to youth research. The Irish Press, for example, on 13 December 1984 in an editorial referred to aspects of this survey as it was published in Looking for Action, the popular version of the report to which I have already referred. The editorial concluded, and I quote:
This report should now be put on the top of each Minister's desk and studied with the care and consideration that our young generation deserve.
I want to assure the House that, in keeping with the commitment we brought into Government with us to introduce a comprehensive youth survey, the report of the policy committee and the survey of the attitudes and behaviour of the young people of Ireland have been the concern of relevant Ministers in the past few months, as the Government move on towards their goal of introducing that comprehensive youth policy in International Youth Year. However, it is not just a report addressed to Government Ministers. It is a report which is and should be of interest to all of the social partners, to teachers, politicians and the churches, for example. It must be a cause of concern to the churches that only reuniting Ireland by violence ranks lower than religion among young people's priorities. When young people were asked to list their priorities on the basis of a number of possible areas of concern, only the possibility of reunification by violence was identified by them as being less important than religion. It is only right that I should say that there was a substantial gap between the lowest and the second lowest. I do not want to make too much of that comparison, but I think it is of some note and must cause some concern. If the churches have any reason to be concerned by that report then I must say that we all have more reason to be concerned, because there is less joy for politicians and political parties in the report than for almost anybody else. Politicians, the House will note, rank lowest behind trade union officials and public officials as the group in society perceived by young people as being least prepared to listen and least capable of understanding their views. That must be of concern to us. We ignore that perception at our peril, a perception now scientifically and statistically documented, a perception that is further reinforced by the level of apathy surrounding young people's political attitudes. Members are aware that I have already taken some steps to attempt to turn that tide. I indicated that I was prepared to consider applications from political parties represented in Dáil Éireann for grant assistance towards the employment of an education officer the specific remit of whom would be the area of political education, the intention being that such officers would be responsible for training programmes for young people within the youth movement's political parties and that they would be expected to demonstrate over a period tangible results in the form of increased participation at local level by young people in community affairs. All four eligible parties have indicated that they are interested in the proposal, and I expect that formal appointments are likely to be made shortly.
I do not want to overstate the benefits that are likely to accrue from that initiative. I accept that, for the most part, political and social education will have to be undertaken in the schools and that that must come through a reformed curriculum. I accept that that must be supplemented by informal education which, for the most part, will be gained through participation in youth organisations. That said, I am quite convinced of the need to strengthen our democratic political life through preparing and educating skilled and motivated young people to be involved at all levels.
A second area to which I wish to address myself is the relationship of a youth policy and disadvantaged young people. The committee devoted section 4 of their report to this most important area of social concern. The committee identified many forms of disadvantage and made recommendations which are challenging and which have to be seriously considered if we are to make real progress towards a comprehensive youth service for all our young people.
I can only refer again to the initial Government statement which stated that, as a matter of social justice, the Government believe that the needs and rights of disadvantaged young people require special measures in order to produce equality of opportunity. For that reason, it is very encouraging to see the report devote a whole section to the specific needs of the disadvantaged covering topics such as school attendance, neighbourhood youth projects, youth encounter projects, the issue of homeless young people, the question of substance abuse, youth offenders and so on. It is also only right to say that the Government have not in any sense been inactive in dealing with this area. The House will be aware that a number of those areas have been the subject of separate Government response. I will cite, for example, the problem of substance and drug abuse and the plight of young travellers. At this stage we can safely say that the horrific problems of drug abuse and all the attendant evils need no elaboration in this House. The Government established a ministerial task force which resulted in September 1983 in a comprehensive Government statement covering law enforcement, treatment facilities, community education, youth development, research and resources. Subsequently the National Youth Policy Committee met with the task force in February 1984 to convey their views on substance abuse. Senators will be aware that the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1984 amended the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977 in a number of significant respects in order to aid the drive against the criminals who push drugs. The Costello Report makes the point, which I endorse without equivocation, that properly developed youth services can play an important part in prevention. The September 1983 Government statement has clearly recognised this. Senators will also be aware that, in accordance with Government policy, a National Co-ordinating Committee on Drug Abuse was established on 2 January 1985. The committee are representative of Government Departments, voluntary bodies and other agencies concerned with drug abuse and will advise the Government on general issues relating to drug abuse.
In respect of policy in relation to young travellers, Senators will be aware of the Government statement issued in July 1984 setting out a comprehensive programme to provide accommodation and other services for travellers. The statement was issued consequent to a review body report, and a task force of Ministers considered policy in relation to travellers generally. Obviously the concern the Costello Report has indicated for young travellers must now be considered, especially the case that is made very eloquently for access to youth and community services.
There are other forms of disadvantage which have not, perhaps, received as much attention from either legislators or the media. One most distressing area that has occupied the attention of this House in recent months and very recently occupied the attention of the national media is the problem of the homeless young people. This problem I hope to meet head-on, and to do so in consultation and co-operation with a number of my ministerial colleagues.
Central to the report are chapters 10, 11 and 12, which describe the present range of services to young people, define the new youth service proposed, assess youth service needs and outline how a possible structure for the youth service might be built. When we speak of a comprehensive youth service, what is meant? The committee recommend that youth work service — that is out-of-school education provided in the main by voluntary organisations — together with special services to youth, such as information and advice centres, youth encounter projects, work with detached or disadvantaged young people, should both be encompassed by a new national youth service. This new service, which would be provided by local youth service committees representative of voluntary and statutory agencies, would be comprehensive in two ways. It would be available to all young people throughout the State, and it would comprehend a whole range of services as required by young people from time to time or place to place.
It would be quite wrong of me to conclude without taking the opportunity of paying tribute to the tens of thousands of volunteers who shoulder so ably the burden of the youth service at present. The Costello Report acknowledged their tremendous contribution to the development and welfare of our young people, and went so far as to design its recommendations for a comprehensive youth service around the very real and substantial achievements of voluntary youth organisations.
As I indicated earlier, the report concludes with an acknowledgment that those recommendations which are accepted will fall to be implemented in stages. I believe that a planned, phased, approach will also be necessary, both because resources are limited, and because we need to keep learning. As we go we put ourselves in a position to review our progress, to identify our strengths and, having identified them build on them, and to eliminate the weaknesses that will emerge. It follows from that logic that any rigid approach, any blanket prescription for the whole country could prove quite disastrous. I do not expect on reflection that any Member of the Seanad or any of the groups interested would argue for such a course of action. What we all desire at this stage is steady, constructive advice based on a clear picture of where we want to go.
I look forward very much to hearing the views of Senators. I simply want to reiterate that there will be no shelving of this report, no attempt to talk away a commitment that the report is receiving the most urgent attention. It is against that background of urgent attention that the views of Senators are now so timely.