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Children's Ombudsman outlines her concerns on new Health (Amendment) Bill 2010
• Children’s Ombudsman uses unique statutory powers to outline concerns in Advice submitted to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
Read OCO's Advice on the Health (Amendment) Bill here
On 8 March 2010, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs announced that he had established an Independent Group to examine the results of completed reviews of deaths of children in care since 2000. However, the Independent Group encountered difficulties in accessing documentation necessary for the performance of its functions. The Government decided to overcome these obstacles and address the question of the provision of sensitive information by the HSE to investigatory bodies more generally by introducing the Health (Amendment) Bill 2010.
It is important that the Independent Group receives all the information that it needs to carry out its task. The Bill brings this closer and is therefore a positive step. The Bill was referred to the Ombudsman for Children on 14 June 2010. In her advice to Government the Ombudsman for Children outlines three core concerns in relation to the Health (Amendment) Bill 2010. These are as follows:
- First, the Bill allows the Minister to seek information or documents from the HSE. It then allows the Minister to pass to the Independent Group any such information or documents that the Minister considers may be relevant to its examination or inquiry. It is not suggested that the Minister would withhold information. But the fact that the Independent Group cannot directly source information and documents, and it is the Minister who determines what is relevant, is regrettable and may weaken public confidence in any report as a result of the Independent Group’s work. A properly constituted statutory inquiry should have its own means of compelling documents and information, rather than relying on the power of the Minister to do so.
- Second, the Bill only provides for the use of the information and documents furnished by the HSE by the Minister. The Independent Group is not authorised by the legislation to publish any report it may issue. A properly constituted independent inquiry should be able to publish its own report, rather than the Minister doing so.
- Third, the Bill does not address the issue of documentation or information derived from in camera proceedings which the Independent Group believes, following careful consideration, should be published in the public interest. The use of such information or documentation in a report by an Independent Group should be possible without the necessity for a court application. But the Bill does not allow the Minister or the Independent Group to do this.
The issue of child protection, including child death is very significant one for this Office. As far back as 2006 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child raised the question of the examination of child deaths in Ireland. Since that time, and as a result of a number of instances of child death which were brought to the attention of the Office, the Ombudsman for Children has been calling for an independent child death review mechanism.
Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children says, “While this legislation addresses a specific problem that has arisen and is welcome to ensure cooperation in that context, it will do little to address the wider culture of cooperation required from public bodies in the context of children’s rights”.
“I recognise that the important steps that have been taken in recent months; however more needs to be done to ensure that vulnerable children get the protection that they deserve.”
Although this Office is satisfied that it has the powers it needs to compel information and documents, it has encountered pockets of resistance. Many of the issues dealt with by this Bill have – at times – been raised by the HSE as reasons for not supplying this Office with information. This has caused unacceptable delays to a small number of significant investigations.
While it is appreciated that these are not matters which the Bill was ever intended to address, they are nonetheless important issues which will affect children into the future and which need to be taken forward without delay.
Notes to Editors
• The Health (Amendment) Bill 2010 (the Bill) was referred to the Ombudsman for Children by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on 14 June 2010. The version of the Bill referred is that of 11 June 2010 at 16.00.
• The advice on the proposed legislation has been prepared in accordance with section 7(4) of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002. It provides that the Ombudsman for Children may give advice to a Minister on any matter relating to the rights and welfare of children, including the probable effect on children of the implementation of proposals for legislation.
Aoife Greene 01 865 6810