Home > Joint Committee on Health and Children debate. Sixth Report of Special Rapporteur on Child Protection: discussion (continued).

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Health and Children debate. Sixth Report of Special Rapporteur on Child Protection: discussion (continued). (19 Nov 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/joint_...

....Senator Jillian van Turnhout:   We all have a very strong opinion on the alcohol sponsorship. 

I fully agree with Dr. Shannon on the aftercare issue. Deputy Ó Caoláin has asked those questions. I will move to the child and family agency. The main issues that Dr. Shannon raised were alcohol, child and adolescent mental health, the role of the public health nurses and children with disabilities but none of those is foreseen in the first phase of the agency. How will we ensure that those essential services will be connected? Dr. Shannon talked about re-imagining. I remain concerned about the referral pathways for families. Given Dr. Shannon’s experience of child death reports does he have any advice? I do not see all families entering this new agency through social workers because the upstream role of public health nurses that Dr. Shannon mentioned is essential.
Given his legal background Dr. Shannon understands well the difference between “in care of the State” and “cared for by the State” but I choose to not fully comprehend it because I believe that children in direct provision are not living in a standard, normal family environment. I am very concerned about them. In his reports Dr. Shannon has written about its detrimental impact on children and has called for a report to examine that. I also wish to raise the problem of lesbian gay bisexual and transgender, LGBT, asylum-seeking children. I know that BeLonG To Youth Services, which Dr. Shannon mentioned, is doing excellent work in that area but I remain concerned about it.
Dr. Shannon spoke about transposing the EU directive on the child abuse material, which I wholeheartedly endorse. I have produced a report on the issue that Dr. Shannon supports. Ireland should have a system of filtering websites containing child abuse material.
Dr. Shannon talked about courts not being the battleground, about surrogacy and adoption. Has he been consulted on the Children and Family Relationships Bill that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence is drafting? The Minister made quite a good statement on the Bill. Dr. Shannon also mentioned the alternative dispute resolution. These will be very critical areas for our development. I endorse everything that Dr. Shannon said. In discussions on adoption all too often we hear only from the perspective of the parents. We hear about Irish parents bonding with children of foreign adoptions but these children have a right to an identity and we very often lose sight of that right. I am concerned that in drafting this legislation there should be no confusion with the rights of the adults. The rights of the children must be got right first and foremost then the rest will fit in soundly.
Deputy Ciara Conway:   I thank Dr. Geoffrey Shannon for taking the time to speak to the committee today. More important, I thank him for giving voice to things that have been unspoken for so many years. Some of the issues that he has highlighted are systemic ones on which we can put new tags or names. As Deputy Ó Caoláin said, bullying has been around for a long time and we know that it has a detrimental impact on children’s well-being. Unfortunately, cyberbullying is only another platform for bullies. The issue is the same.
The most salient matter raised by Dr. Shannon is one that never gets enough attention or recognition, alcohol. This is by far the most serious social issue facing Ireland on many fronts, health, family relationships, mental and physical well-being. It costs the Exchequer billions of euro each year, yet our Ministers find it difficult to stand up to sporting organisations on alcohol. This committee produced a very strong report on alcohol and spoke about an outright ban on sponsorship. I concur with Dr. Shannon’s comments because even in media reporting we hear about heroin which is a difficult drug and has major social consequences for communities and families, and we hear about the misuse of hash and crack cocaine but we never really face up to the problem that alcohol poses, particularly for children. I worked as a child protection social worker and the underlying issue in 95% of cases was alcohol abuse. It is used as an excuse for domestic violence and for child abuse, and as an excuse for physical or criminal damage but the issue is the abuse of alcohol and people’s access to it. Unless we really start to face up to that we are at nought because the issues are all the same when it comes to trying to protect our children. If Dr. Shannon analysed child protection cases that come before the courts, as I am sure he has done at some stage in his career, he would find that alcohol is prevalent in the majority of cases. We talk about prevention and support but we do not talk about tackling alcohol. Dr. Shannon is right, it is not just up to this committee or to him, or to the authors of reports, there has to be a whole Government approach to it. We need to decide for once and for all that this is something we have to face up to.
I have a brother training to be a doctor in Galway and we talked about this over the weekend. He has the pleasure of the company of people from many countries in his class so his experience of college is very different from mine because now there are many alternatives to alcohol for young people but the Irish do not see them. Until we face up to that all these issues will remain the same for adults and children.
Even more harrowing is the fact that alcohol is prevalent in all of the child death reports by Dr. Shannon and Norah Gibbons. Is it really worth losing children’s lives for the sake of alcohol abuse? I have been saying this for years and I am so glad that somebody else is saying it. I hope people will listen to Dr. Shannon if they will not listen to us. I hope that people outside this room will take on board the fact that somebody of Dr. Shannon’s calibre and experience has seen this and highlighted the issue. We can have all the child and family support agencies in the world but until we face up to alcohol issue we are at nought. I thank Dr. Shannon very sincerely for highlighting this because it is a problem for so many children and families up and down this country. Until we take it seriously we will back here again and again talking about the failings of systems because we have not lived up to our responsibilities in respect of what is a social and a public health problem.
Chairman:   I also join with Deputy Ó Caoláin in thanking Dr. Shannon for his briefing and raising these issues today in the Oireachtas.
Deputy Sandra McLellan:   I welcome Dr. Shannon here today and thank him for the report, which is so comprehensive. I compliment him on the amount of work that he has put into it. I agree with everything in it. I also agree totally with what Deputy Conway said about alcohol. In 95% of cases it is the root cause of all the problems. I will not go into it because Deputy Conway has aired it pretty well.
We do not have any legislation on surrogacy but every day people go out of the country for this service and we need to implement legislation soon. Dr. Shannon stated that 13% of marriages across the European Union are bi-national and child custody battles between an Irish parent and one from another country, be it in Europe or elsewhere, come to our attention regularly. This is becoming a major issue. The Hague Convention comes into play quite often but people say it does not apply, decisions are overturned. A great deal of money, time and effort is wasted but the child is at the centre of all this.

[For the full debate, click on this link to the Oireachtas website]

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