Thursday, 28 March 2019

Ceisteanna (5)

Clare Daly


5. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the actions she will take to act on the recommendations of the UN special rapporteur regarding the sale and exploitation of children and the culture of silence here in relation to issues of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation in particular the recommendation for a dedicated and integrated strategy to respond to sexual violence against children. [14608/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

My question relates to the damning recommendations of the United Nations special rapporteur regarding the sale and exploitation of children. I refer in particular to the whole area of the culture of silence around these issues. I am thinking particularly about the recommendation for a dedicated and integrated strategy to respond to sexual violence. I have asked the Minister a number of questions on these issues previously. How we deal with the past and legacy issues, however, actually informs how we deal with the future. What are the Minister's plans to deal with those recommendations?

The special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography visited Ireland, at the invitation of the Government, from 14 to 21 May 2018. The special rapporteur met with representatives of a number of Departments and agencies during her visit. I met with her at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Her report assesses the situation in Ireland and makes a range of recommendations relevant to a number of Departments. I welcome the report. I have already taken steps to address a number of the recommendations relevant to my Department. For example, a submission will shortly be made to the Attorney General on the ratification of the second optional protocol on the sale and sexual exploitation of children. We will shortly be opening a pilot "one house" centre for victims of child abuse. This will bring together the supports from Tusla, the Health Service Executive, HSE, and An Garda Síochána under one roof in one house.

The development of a national strategy covering child sexual abuse and exploitation was among the recommendations of the December 2017 Garda Inspectorate report, Responding to Child Sexual Abuse - a Follow Up Review. An independently-chaired inter-agency implementation group, comprising representatives from the Departments of Justice and Equality, Children and Youth Affairs, Public Expenditure and Reform, An Garda Síochána and Tusla, has been established to examine the recommendations in that report, including in relation to the desirability of a national strategy or other overarching whole of Government framework that would coherently draw together the existing actions and key stakeholders.

Regarding the culture of silence in respect of issues of child abuse, I believe this exists too. I do, however, genuinely believe that we are making progress in acknowledging and confronting the dark, shameful unspoken secrets that exist in our communities. The Children First Act 2015, which I fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures, including raising awareness of child abuse and neglect, mandatory reporting of child protection concerns and improving child protection arrangements in organisations providing services to children. There has been an increase in reports of concerns about children who may be at risk. I think this is some evidence towards moving through that culture of silence.

In fairness, it was an excellent report and perhaps we should be looking for more time in the Chamber to discuss some of these issues. I acknowledge, as the special rapporteur does also, that there have been measures implemented, particularly in respect of preventing and responding to abuse now. Progress has been made in this area and that is a fact. I am glad to see the Minister has announced other measures which are also going to be implemented. I would really like to focus, however, on some of the historical points as well. How we deal with the past does inform how we deal with the future.

The special rapporteur was particularly critical on some of these issues. I refer in particular to her call for a "comprehensive national examination of forced and illegal adoptions, including audits of the records in the hands of the State while ensuring that individuals whose records were falsified have access to information and redress". The special rapporteur also called for a full investigation into the human rights abuses in the Magdalene laundries and was very concerned that we do not have enough proper information with regard to abuse now and the lack of records.

Are there plans in those areas to address some of the recommendations made?

I can certainly speak about the issue of illegal registrations in the context of the recommendations made. The Deputy will be aware that a review of sample files within the custody of the State is taking place. The process is being overseen by an independent reviewer, Marion Reynolds, the former deputy director of social services in Northern Ireland. The findings of the review will assist me in reaching a decision on what, if any, subsequent action might be deemed to be necessary to identify more fully the scale of illegal birth registrations. As I expect to receive the report in the Easter period, it is imminent. Some of the other issues raised by the Deputy could form part of it. She made a point about developing a new strategy. We are examining its desirability. One thing at which the group is looking is a way to keep it as a possibility. However, what is most important is following through on implementing actions identified in other settings and frameworks.

The problem is urgency. The point was made. Those involved were critical of the remit of the mother and baby homes commission not being broad enough to deal with the illegal adoption issue. While it is welcome that the Minister might have the report in April, we need to be moving to implement its findings. The probe was clear in respect of the culture of silence and the prevention of survivors from being able to talk and about how it constituted further abuse. It is regrettable that we keep having piecemeal investigations, rather than doing the job comprehensively. To me, in some ways it is part of the same process of denial. Are we to be dragged kicking and screaming to deal with the matter eventually, come clean and have a full acknowledgement as a society of how the people concerned were wronged? Tragically, the longer we delay, the more the number of actual survivors will dwindle. We need to dig deeper into some of the points made about the culture of silence and undertake a comprehensive review. Again, I am keen to emphasise the urgency, particularly in dealing with the issue of illegal adoptions.

I appreciate the Deputy highlighting the need for urgency. I feel it too, especially when I meet those involved. I met some of them two evenings ago at the extraordinary exhibition at the National Museum that I launched. It was called "(A)ddressing our Hidden Truths" by Alison Lowry.

The Deputy made one point about how the commission should have had broader terms of reference to consider illegal registrations or adoptions. The commission is looking at the issue of adoptions to the extent that it has to do with what happened in the mother and baby homes. We are doing another block of work at the same time in the light of what Tusla has found. In some ways, it is good that it is happening in parallel, as distinct from widening the terms of the commission. Already it has so much to do that it has had to delay. Things are happening in parallel, which is good, especially in the context of the need for urgency and the questions to be answered. I hope the Deputy agrees with me on the process in approaching the matter of illegal registrations first through the use of sample methodology, etc. and then reviewing what has been found. That is a reasonable way to look at the wider issues involved. That is what I am hoping to do.