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20 May 2010 Edition

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Dáil joint motion by Sinn Féin and Labour Party on children's rights

Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Children’s rights – a life and death issue


BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHA

CONCERNED at the failure of the Fianna Fáil/Green Government to make a commitment to hold the promised referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party this week tabled a joint Dáil motion urging that the referendum go ahead in 2010.
Before the Dáil resumed on Tuesday to debate the motion, the body of 17-year old Daniel McAnaspie was a found in a field in County Meath. The Dublin youth had been stabbed to death. He was under the care of the Health Service Executive and is now officially the 24th child to die in the care of the state in recent years and the first to be murdered.
“The death of Daniel McAnaspie overshadows and adds poignancy to this debate on the rights of children in the Constitution,” said Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, opening the Dáil debate for his party.
Expressing sympathy to the bereaved, he said:
“This tragedy reminds us that this is not an abstract debate of interest only to legislators and lawyers; this is a life and death issue. It is about the protection of children in Ireland today. That protection and their rights need to be fully vindicated in the Constitution, in legislation and in the provision of services.
“It should not have been necessary to bring forward this Private Member’s motion at this time. Sinn Féin and the Labour Party have done so out of our concern at the failure of the Government to give a firm commitment to holding a referendum to strengthen the rights of children in the Constitution.
“We have repeatedly asked both the Taoiseach and the Tánasite in recent weeks if and when a Referendum Bill will be published, if and when the Government will agree the wording of the amendment, if and when the Cabinet will fully discuss the matter. Their answers have been evasive and minimalist and they give rise to great concern that this vital issue is being sidelined for reasons of political expediency.
“The lack of robust constitutional rights for children has left a situation where successive governments have been able to wash their hands of their responsibilities. The current legislation in place is not enough to hold them to account.
“We need this referendum this year not only because children deserve to have their rights as individuals acknowledged but also because governments cannot be trusted to uphold children’s rights without a stronger constitutional obligation.”

PUBLISH THE FACTS
Ó Caoláin said it was impossible to say how many deaths were avoidable had the state cared better for children under its direct responsibility.
“We need to know as much as possible about each and every such tragedy and therefore the reports on each should be published so that the facts can be made clear, the lessons learned and the systems and practices put in place to try to prevent any more avoidable tragedies.
“I support the call of the McAnaspie family for a public inquiry. The Garda Síochána must, of course, pursue Daniel McAnaspie’s murderers with determination and I urge anyone with any information to bring it to the Gardaí without delay. Parallel with this there must be a full and public investigation of how the state and all its agencies dealt with Daniel and the results must be published in full.”
Ó Caoláin described as “self-congratulatory” the amendment to the Sinn Féin/Labour motion tabled by the Government. The Government actually had to change the amendment at the last moment as it had been sloppily drafted. In his scripted speech, Minister for Children Barry Andrews stated that a referendum ‘may’ be held but changed that to ‘will’ when he spoke in the Dáil. Calling on the Government to act, Ó Caoláin said:
“The final report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children was published and given to the Government in February- three months ago. There has been more than enough time now for the Government to consult with all the relevant departments and the Attorney General and bring forward a Bill to hold a constitutional referendum on this matter. All that is lacking is the political will from the Government to do so.”

ONUS ON GOVERNMENT
Ó Caoláin said the onus is now on the Government to set the date for the holding of the referendum in 2010. He said:
“The HSE is rife with problems regarding how they manage the children in their care.
“We have recently found how there are 20 reports lying on HSE shelves on the deaths of children in state care which are still awaiting publication. No valid excuse has been given by the HSE for the delay. They should already have been forwarded to the Ombudsman for Children, the Health Information and Quality Authority and the Garda Síochána. It is possible that some people involved were criminally negligent in carrying out their duties to the children in their care. Out of 20 reports I would be surprised if the Gardaí did not feel there were grounds to carry out investigations in at least one of these cases.
“The fact is, the state has failed in its obligations to its children. This is a long-term problem evident in the systemic failure testified in the Ryan Report and other inquiries into residential care institutions throughout the years, to more recent damning reports that have scandalised residential centres such as the Ballydowd Centre in west Dublin - closed after a HIQA report after €13 million being put into it by the state.
“There is a systemic failure in the child protection sector. Children are placed in inappropriate accommodation and fostered out with no sign of a social worker for years on end. In some cases, children are exported to residential centres overseas at the cost of millions because the state refuses to invest in the facilities necessary to treat children who have severe behavioural difficulties or who have suffered major trauma and abuse in their lives.
“How many times have we asked about the situation regarding vetting of people who work with children? We have been promised a National Vetting Bill and a new Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill and there is no sign of either of them.”
Concluding, Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
 “Enshrining children’s rights in the Constitution will not be the magical cure for the ills of the child protection system but it will put a great deal of pressure on  government and on all state agencies to honour their commitments and obligations to the children of Ireland.”

Sinn Féin support the call of Daniel McAnaspie’s family for a public inquiry 

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