News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 14th April 2014

Ireland’s long awaited Children First Bill now welcomed


Irish groups express concern over lack of sanctions for those who fail to comply with legislation

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald (picture above left) said the new law aims to make best safeguarding practice the “cultural norm” for anyone working with children.

The publication of the long-awaited Children First Bill was broadly welcomed today but some campaign groups and opposition members voiced concern over the legislation’s lack of sanctions.

The Bill places a statutory obligation on certain professionals and other people working with children to report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency (Tulsa). Medical practitioners, teachers, social workers, gardaí, members of the clergy and child protection officers, among others, will be required to report such concerns.

The legislation also obliges those intending to provide services to children to carry out a risk assessment and prepare a child safeguarding statement within three months of commencing the service.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the new law aims to make best safeguarding practice the “cultural norm” for anyone working with children. “Our focus on who is mandated [to report safety concerns] in the Bill is in accordance with international practice.

I believe it strikes the correct balance in achieving high quality reporting, with high substantiation rates while avoiding overwhelming the child protection system with inappropriate reports, which is a key criticism of the operation of mandatory reporting in other countries,” she said.

However Fianna Fáil said a lack of sanctions for those who fail to report cases amounted to a watering down of the legislation. The heads of the Bill published two years ago included penalties of up to five years in prison for failure to comply with the law but these were absent from the legislation yesterday.

“We now appear to have ended up with a watered down version of the Bill,” said the party’s spokesman on childrenRobert Troy. “While professionals working with children will now be legally obliged to report concerns, it seems there will be no penalties if they don’t”.

That view was echoed by Senator Jillian Van Turnhout and the Children’s Rights Alliance. Ms Van Turnhout also said the Bill didn’t seem to provide the necessary “enforcement powers” to ensure organisations can take action over members or employees who fail to comply with the legislation. “I feel we are still falling through the net,” she said.

Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward, meanwhile, expressed concern over the quality of the proposed child safeguarding statements. She said the system could be strengthened if it was carried out in conjunction with formal inspections from the Child and Family Agency.

The Children First Guidelines were first published in 1999. The legislation published today was recommended in the 2009 Ryan Report Implementation Plan. The Bill forms part of a suite of child protection legislation which already includes the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act.

Reilly must get it right on major public reform


James Reilly and advisor Mark Costigan in a head to head situation. 

If this plan goes awry, great cynicism will manifest at the ballot boxes, 

‘The white paper underpins the Government’s resolve to deliver on the Programme for Government commitment to end the current unaffordable and unfair two-tier system and establish a single-tier health service where access to services is based on need and not on ability to pay.”

Dr James Reilly’s vision of the health service seems to send a shiver down the spines of many paying for health insurance to guarantee access to the private system.

The clash between the idealism of the creation of a utopian health service and the scepticism of the system operating efficiently threatens to derail the plans to introduce Universal Health Insurance.

In the post-recovery mood of the country, the Government is taking a big gamble on UHI, which is causing great uncertainty for the middle classes and will take years to assess its success or failure.

After seven years of higher taxes and cuts in services, there is little appetite for giving the benefit of the doubt to ambitious initiatives – the outcome of which is difficult to ascertain.

The Coalition is promising a “national conversation” – a dreadfully cliched concept, regardless of the topic – about UHI and the future of the health service.

Before the conversation has even begun, the opponents to the reform intent on protecting the status quo are already lining up to bog it down.

The Coalition’s greatest obstacle is not the vested interests blocking the path to the change but the effect their actions are having on those with private health insurance.

Every criticism of UHI, whether based upon fact or perception, adds to the cynicism around the feasibility of the project.

Nobody would object to the promised land of an effective health system with adequate levels of staffing and services delivered promptly – if they thought it would happen.

But false dawns have been seen before and lavish spending during the Celtic Tiger days have not solved the problem.

The UHI template is by no means a waste of time.

A lot of the steps towards UHI make abundant sense, irrespective of whether the ultimate changeover happens.

A National Pricing Office, to determine the actual cost of treatments, makes sense.

A Healthcare Commissioning Agency, to purchase services from public and private hospitals, makes sense.

The move to hospital groups, where hospitals in a geographic region work together to specialise in particular treatments and share the burden, makes sense.

The move to the Money Follows The Patient model, where hospitals are funded based on the numbers of patients treated, rather than just a block grant, makes sense.

A Public Safety Agency and a body to promote health and well-being makes sense.

The Government is not past the point of no return on UHI and all of these changes can happen without taking the final step.

But the Coalition will have to convince those who happily pay to jump the queue at the moment of the merits of the system.

The enormity of the task is not to be dismissed.

Herein lies the difficulty: many of the sceptics are middle income earners who will make their views known at the ballot box.

The Coalition has broken the population into three categories in terms of who will be catered for under UHI.

Those on medical cards will get their entire cost of insurance covered.

Those without medical cards and who currently can’t afford health insurance will be subsidised. The argument being put forward by opponents of UHI is these are the people who will be forced to take out insurance.

The contrary point is UHI will make health insurance affordable for those currently with no cover.

Those currently with health insurance will continue to pay and are being assured they will benefit from free GP care, lower premiums and a better service.

The Government is already losing the argument around convincing this coterie of the advantages of the system.

The poll shows almost half believe the Government is responsible for the recent increases in premiums. A fair point following the changes to tax relief in this year’s Budget.

But Dr Reilly’s national conversation will have to explain that the price of health insurance will continue to spiral if the system continues unchecked.

The broader competition and efficiencies to come under UHI will help to drive down the cost of health insurance.

The argument is hardly helped when the Department of Public Expenditure has put out a figure of €1,600 per person, which has now lodged in the psyche.

The vacuum of detail on the cost of UHI, left by Dr Reilly’s white paper, has been filled by alternative calculations and speculation.

The challenge of implementing UHI goes beyond the nuts and bolts of the radical overhaul of the system to simply bringing the public along with the change.

The second part of the equation will determine if the first part will happen.

Irish children/teens not telling parents about ‘cyber-bullying’

out of fear they will have smartphones taken


Children suffering ‘cyber-bullying’ may not tell their parents because they are afraid their phone, ipad or laptop could be confiscated, an expert declared.

Dr Conor McGuckin said mothers and fathers cannot always presume their child is not being bullied on social media just because they have not been informed.

Children and young teenagers may often choose to suffer in silence rather than tell their parents or teachers.

Parents seeking to help their child deal with cyberbullying need to admit  to their child their own lack of understanding of social media and the internet, he said.

This admission may help a parent to have an open conversation about the problem.  It is important to make the child feel understood, said Dr McGuckin, a world expert on bullying problems.

Dr McGuckin, assistant professor in educational psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, said that, unlike schoolyard bullying,  four out of 10 victims of cyber-bullying respond “instanteously.”

However, rather than reacting immediately to bullying messages, it may be better to “slow down, think about it, and cool off,” he said.

It may be better to switch off the technology, to ignore it, and to seek the advice and support of parents, teachers, and friends, he said.

A parent may find it is better to have an open conversation with a child about a cyber bullying problem while on a short journey by car which would not necessitate direct eye contact,  he said.

Teachers are now obliged to deal with cyberbullying under their school’s anti-bullying policy. Since last Friday, all schools in Ireland must have a policy which specifically addresses dealing with cyber-bullying and homophobia, he said.

Dr McGuckin was scheduled to address a ‘Cyber-Ethics Public Forum’ at Trinity College tonight.

The forum was set up to explore the rapid growth of cyber technologies and the profound influence of the internet on human behaviour.  It was organised as part of the college’s President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative.

He focused on how to help children, adults, and educators ‘cope’ with the both positive and negative issues that new technology brings.

He said: “To understand cyberbullying, we need to understand the fundamental characteristics of traditional bullying. But we also need to understand the separate, and thorny, issues that are related to the law, technology, marketing, and the modern lives of children and young people.




We already know that ocean acidification is not good for marine life. But a new study shows that for certain fish it could be even worse than we thought.

In marine waters with elevated carbon dioxide levels, fish are attracted to the smell of their predators instead of being repelled. In other words, they’re swimming directly towards the danger and their predator. Which, as you might imagine, doesn’t end well for them.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change on Monday and led by Philip Munday from James Cook University in Australia, investigatedseveral species of reef fish living near natural volcanic carbon dioxide seeps in Papua New Guinea. The acidification levels in this area are thought to be comparable to what the rest of the ocean could be like in the next 100 years.

Young fish living in this environment were found to be oblivious to the dangers in their surroundings, and behave more rashly than juveniles of the same species are known to behave in less acidic environments.

The researchers compared the behavior of the fish in this area to those in less acidic areas, and found that fish in the acidic areas spent a large amount of their time in water that was tainted with predator odor. Which is exactly what they are meant to be trying to avoid.

The problem is not with the fish’s sense of smell — rather the change in pH levels in the water induces neurological changes in the fish that prevents them from being able to distinguish between water that contains the predator odor and that which doesn’t.


The study suggests that even fish who have lived their entire lives in acidic conditions are unable to adapt to their environment. As oceans continue to become more and more acidic — around 30 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed by bodies of water — the outlook for reef fish becomes ever more bleak.

Apart from the obvious fish-tragedy implied, there could also be asignificant economic impact. Billions of people around the globe rely on fish as both a food and income source. Yet another brilliant reason why the world needs to be taking carbon dioxide emissions more seriously.


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