Dáil Éireann - Volume 494 - 08 October, 1998

Other Questions. - National Children's Strategy.

9. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans, if any, there are to alter departmental responsibilities to facilitate the drawing up and implementation of a national children's strategy. [15800/98]

Mr. Fahey: I am satisfied that my current remit which extends to the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform is sufficient to enable me to prepare an integrated national children's strategy.

Mr. Shatter: Does the Minister of State agree that his performance in the House to date confirms that he does not have the capacity to do as he stated? In the context of the national strategy, will the Minister of State identify the page in the [1522] Government's published programme of proposed legislation on which the Bill to provide a statutory basis for the social services inspectorate appears? On what page does it appear in the programme circulated by the Government Whip?

Mr. Fahey: I reiterate that the work being done in the three Departments at present by the additional staff in the Department of Health and Children in conjunction with the extra staff and resources in the other two Departments enables us to proceed with the preparation of a national children's strategy.

I find the questions on the social services inspectorate amusing. During the number of years when Deputy Shatter's party was in Government it made promises about the inspectorate, but it did not provide the resources, staff or planning for it. It promised it but did nothing about it. Since then I have provided the resources and staff and we have advertised the posts. Interviews are being held at present. The money is available and the social services inspectorate will be up and running shortly. I do not know what more the Deputy wants.

Mr. Shatter: As the Minister of State is aware, when Deputy Currie occupied his position steps were taken towards providing legislation for a social services inspectorate. I ask the Minister of State to come clean with the House and to acknowledge that it is no longer part of Government policy to provide a statutory basis for a social services inspectorate. Will he further acknowledge that the reason for dropping that plan is to ensure there is not an inspectorate which might be critical of the Minister of State or his Department in relation to children's issues? The Minister of State wants an inspectorate with an administrative base so that, effectively, whatever it examines will be controlled by him and his Department.

Mr. Fahey: The Deputy's statement is yet another figment of his political imagination. Not as much as two lines were written in the Department of Health and Children about this matter.

Mr. Shatter: Where is it in the Government's legislative programme?

Mr. Cowen: The Deputy asked a question. He should listen to the answer.

Mr. Fahey: Not as much at two lines were written by my predecessor in any file in the Department about legislation for a social services inspectorate. The former Minister of State did an exceptional job.

Mr. Shatter: The Minister of State agrees Deputy Currie did a good job, nonetheless he is critical of him.

Mr. Fahey: He did a good job.

[1523] Mr. Cowen: The Deputy made an assertion which is not true.

Ms Shortall: Does the Minister of State accept my recollection that a commitment was given in the last legislative programme produced by the Government to introduce legislation to establish a social services inspectorate? My point relates to the previous legislative programme in operation before the summer recess. Will the Minister of State further confirm that this commitment has been dropped from the current legislative programme?

Mr. Fahey: I must preface my remarks by stating that I inherited a position where there were ten staff——

Ms Shortall: Answer the question.

Mr. Shatter: The Minister of State has been in office for 16 months.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister of State without interruption.

Mr. Fahey: There is no point asking a question——

Ms Shortall: It is straightforward. Will the Minister of State confirm that the commitment has been dropped?

Mr. Fahey: There is no problem about putting a social services inspectorate on a legislative basis.

Ms Shortall: Will the Minister of State confirm that there was a commitment to do that in the previous legislative programme?

Mr. Fahey: Yes.

Ms Shortall: Will the Minister of State confirm that this commitment has been dropped from the current programme?

Mr. Fahey: The commitment still stands. I took over a child care section with ten staff. A raft of legislation had been promised but the staff did not even have time to consider the priorities because the section was so undermanned. My first task was to set up a new legislative unit to examine several important Bills. It was necessary to secure staff for the unit and the total has been increased from ten to 27. This is a significant increase in addition to the six staff in the social services inspectorate. The unit is dealing with two major Bills——

Ms Shortall: Why was the commitment dropped?

Mr. Fahey: No commitment has been dropped.

Ms Shortall: It was dropped just before the [1524] summer. The Minister was committed to introducing legislation and that commitment is gone from the programme.

Mr. Fahey: The Department wants to hurry through the two Bills relating to adoption. It was decided to establish the social services inspectorate on an administrative basis, but it will be independent. The chief inspector, who is in the process of being appointed, will be an independent person attached to the Department. The social services inspectorate will, in time, be put on a legislative basis. To do otherwise would involve further delay which I am not prepared to accept. There is no backing off or failure to honour a commitment. The Department is moving ahead quickly.

Ms Shortall: There is no commitment any more.

Mr. Fahey: Nothing was done prior to last July.

Ms McManus: Does the Minister accept that after almost 18 months in Government, he is damaging his credibility by still blaming the Opposition? It is time he stood on his record. I commend the Minister of State for accepting that he has responsibility to produce the strategy for children. When this issue was debated previously he did not accept that responsibility. If we are confused it is because the Minister of State is saying that, on the one hand, he will do something that he said previously he would not do and, on the other, he will not do something he promised to do previously.

The Minister of State gave a short reply on the strategy. He has not given any detail as to how he intends to approach the formulation of an integrated strategy. If it is to be serious, will he accept there is a requirement on him not only to deal with legal draftsmen but to create units in his Department and the other relevant Departments which are dedicated to drawing up a strategy which will deal with the current shambles in relation to child care in areas including accommodation, hospital waiting lists and secure units?

Does the Minister of State accept that it requires management to produce a meaningful strategy that will bring about progress in an area which everybody recognises is in chaos? A good management approach from the top is required. The Minister of State is late in reaching this matter and the Government was foolish in terms of how it defined his role in the first place, but he is now stumbling towards an approach to a strategy. What is the Minister of State's approach to a strategy on children because his reply did not outline how he will tackle the major issue in his brief?

Mr. Fahey: I did not blame the Opposition for the position in which I find myself. I pointed out that last July I had to start from scratch in all areas.

[1525] Ms McManus: Here we go again. We have heard this.

Mr. Cowen: The Deputy does not like hearing it.

Ms McManus: Get on with it, Minister. Question Time is almost over.

Mr. Cowen: Democratic Left in Government did nothing.

Ms McManus: Please, Minister, that is weary.

Mr. Cowen: Social reformers?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.

Ms McManus: He is trying to run out of time, a Cheann Comhairle. He will not answer the question.

Mr. Cowen: The Deputy is a great talker.

Ms McManus: Answer the question.

Mr. Fahey: If the Deputy has some manners, I will answer the question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Members should address their remarks through the Chair.

Mr. Fahey: Democratic Left reduced the Estimate for children from £10 million to £5 million in its last year in Government. That caused serious problems for me.

Ms McManus: Does the Minister of State intend to answer the question about the strategy for children?

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies should not interrupt the Minister. I ask the Minister of State to conclude his remarks.

Ms McManus: The Minister was asked a question, but he will not answer it.

Mr. Cowen: The Deputy thinks she is at a Democratic Left Árd-Fheis with 20 or 30 others.

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Minister of State to conclude his remarks.

Mr. Fahey: I will do so if I get a chance. In addition to the reduced Estimate, it was necessary to start from scratch. No legislation was prepared and there were no resources or staff. I have had to come from a long way behind and I am satisfied that I have made good progress.

Mr. S. Ryan: The Minister of State is filibustering. He mentioned that four times already.

[1526] Mr. Cowen: The Deputy is the author of the handbook on that.

Mr. Fahey: We have a strategy.

Ms McManus: What is the strategy?

Ms Shortall: Tell us about it.

Ms McManus: The Minister should, please, tell us; this is new.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.