Saturday, March 20, 2010

SPEECH TO FINE GAEL CONF 20 03 10

Good afternoon....etc...

Thank you for the opportunity to come and speak this afternoon....etc..

I have been asked recently, am I finished my campaigning? Now that the Murphy Report has been published .........am I finished?

One in five children in the care of the State does not have a social worker.

Hundreds of children in the care of the State have gone missing.

Thousands of children live in poverty.

The HSE fails its statutory obligations to children every day.

Many children leaving the care of the State quickly become homeless.

It is a criminal offence to fail to have a television licence.... but not to fail to report the abuse or neglect of a child.

Since the HSE was formed it has not published a single report into the death of a child in its care........though there have been over twenty such deaths.

And a Catholic Church which covered up the rape and sexual abuse of children for decades in this country enjoys major involvement in our national school system.... a school system in which the current government claims it has no responsibility for the safety of children.

Am I finished now that the Murphy Report has been published? No ....I’m not finished .... and I hope you’re not either....

The next Government has a huge job of work to do in order to advance the safety, welfare and protection of children. In health, in education and in the care of the state, children have been failed appallingly for many years.

The Children First Guidelines need to put on a statutory basis as a matter of urgency - the current Government’s plans do not go far enough in this regard and the promise to have legislation drafted by the end of this year does not demonstrate an appreciation of the need to enhance child protection measures now.

It is imperative too, that the rights of children are more properly protected in the Constitution, it is deplorable that the current Government cannot even guarantee to a hold referendum by the end of this year.

The monitoring and support of convicted sex offenders in Ireland is almost non-existent. Sex offenders who have served their sentences are generally released into the community without supervision, though some may be under the supervision of the Probation and Welfare Service. The requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 2001 do not mean that there is any real supervision. ... and that’s not just my view, they are the words of Judge Yvonne Murphy in the Murphy Report.

There is an urgent need for changes to this system to be made ...
· Firstly, there is no actual sex offenders’ register. Released offenders simply notify the Gardai of their intended residential address. A multi-agency approach to the support and monitoring of released offenders must be developed along with a more stringent regime of signing on procedures with regular personal visits to Garda stations by released offenders.
· Secondly, those responsible for monitoring sex offenders should have the powers and the resources to make regular unannounced visits to the homes of released sex offenders.
· Thirdly, monitoring of sex offenders should include polygraph testing, electronic tagging, curfews and other restrictions, for example an offender who only ever abuses children after he/she has taken alcohol should have it as a condition of their release that they don’t consume alcohol.
· Fourthly, parents and Guardians should be able to register a concern with authorities about any individual who has access to their children about whom they are genuinely worried .......and in some cases it should be possible for them to be told if such an individual is a known sex offender or not. This measure is already being rolled out in the UK, having being piloted to great effect over the last eighteen months.... the pilot scheme in four counties saw one in ten calls to police uncover evidence of a criminal past. Out of 315 applications for information from concerned parents, details of 21 paedophiles were revealed.... these were sex offenders known to the authorities who were putting themselves in a position of having access to children again, and they were stopped because those parents could register their concerns and access this information.
· Finally, It is not appropriate to offer shorter sentences to offenders who participate in treatment programmes in prison, as the current Justice Minister has proposed – those who don’t participate voluntarily should be considered very high risk on release and should be monitored accordingly.
With regard to Garda Vetting - There is urgent need for Garda Vetting of people working with children to be extended to facilitate the passing on of soft information, organisations working with or providing services to children have called for this to be done for many years but to no avail.

And then there’s the HSE..... its inability to work in its current structure is plain for all to see..........the safety, welfare and protection of children must no longer be left in the hands of an organisation so obviously unfit for purpose. A new Department of Children, with a Minister who knows what he or she is doing, is a must for any new Government interested in seriously addressing the current broken system.

EMPOWERING CHILDREN with knowledge, confidence and language is an important part of the child protection process. The STAY SAFE and SPHE programmes within schools are a significant part of this.

· All teachers should receive a basic SPHE pre-service training as all teachers are involved in social and personal education of young people.
· There should be a module in the SPHE programme dedicated specifically to Child Safety, Welfare and Protection at post-primary level.
· Children’s knowledge of SPHE should be assessed regularly.
For how much longer must children wait for these and other child protection measures to be implemented? What more must happen before Government is persuaded of the need to radically enhance measures which are meant to lend themselves to the safety, welfare and protection of children in this country? If the next Government continues this Government’s failures, then we will listen to many more harrowing accounts well into the future as today’s and tomorrow’s children ask ..... why was I not protected by you?....................I urge you not to let that happen.....!!

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