Dáil Éireann - Volume 525 - 07 November, 2000

Priority Questions. - Ombudsman for Children.

102. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will appoint an ombudsman for children in advance of the promised legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24517/00]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Ms Hanafin): The Government has approved the drafting of a Bill to establish an office of ombudsman for children. A parliamentary counsel has been appointed to prepare the Bill. Officials of my Department are working with the parliamentary counsel with a view to ensuring the Bill is ready for publication by the end of the year.

It is proposed that the office will be independent and that the ombudsman for children will be appointed by the President and accountable to the Oireachtas. It is also proposed that the principal functions of the ombudsman for children will be as follows: the promotion of the welfare and rights of children; to respond to individual complaints; the establishment of mechanisms through which there will be regular consultation with children and an advisory role to Government.

The appointment of an ombudsman for children is an important part of the national children's strategy which the Taoiseach will launch on Monday, 13 November. The strategy will provide a framework for addressing the range of children's needs in an integrated way over a period of years.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I would have thought that the Minister of State would do me the service of answering the question asked, that is, if the Minister will appoint an ombudsman for children in advance of the promised legislation, as happened when Mr. Michael Mills was appointed administrative Ombudsman. We did not await the relevant legislation; he was appointed and the legislation followed later. Given the work done in the High Court by Mr. Justice Kelly in highlighting children's issues, that secure accommodation could not be found for a 17 year old, that a 16 year old was subsequently found dead in a Dublin flat and the appalling weather conditions which have to be endured by children on the street, is it too much to expect that the Minister of State will address the question asked? Given the serious situation, particularly in regard to child homelessness, the children's needs highlighted by the Judiciary and the precedent set in the appointment of Mr. Michael Mills as administrative Ombudsman, will the Minister agree to appoint an ombudsman for children in advance of the promised legislation?

[239] Ms Hanafin: As the legislation is almost ready in the office of the parliamentary counsel and money has been made available for the establishment of the office of the ombudsman for children, it might be pre-emptive to appoint an ombudsman for children in advance of this. The Government took the initiative last year. The heads of the Bill were brought to it in April. There are many voices for children in promotional and welfare positions, primarily within the Government.

Mr. G. Mitchell: It would be to mislead the House to suggest that the Government has taken a new initiative. I am sure the Minister of State did not intend to do so. As Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Currie left behind the heads of a Bill four years ago. Why is it taking so long to introduce it? I have been asking on the Order of Business every day when we can expect to see it. It has been long fingered. If it were not for people such as Mr. Justice Kelly and me raising the issue in the House, we would not see it as soon. Will the Minister of State indicate a date? When will an ombudsman be appointed to deal with children's issues?

Ms Hanafin: It was the Government which decided, on 26 July 1999 as part of the initiative to prepare a national children's strategy, to establish an office of ombudsman for children. There are many voices for children, led primarily by the Government. There is no evidence of heads of a Bill prior to that date. The heads of the proposed Bill were brought to Government in April in the context of the national children's strategy which will be launched next week. It is my understanding that the legislation will be published before the end of the year. Money has been set aside for the establishment of the office as a priority.