Thursday 15 October:
UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL 00.01HRS FRIDAY 16 OCTOBER
“Confusion” and “diluted commitments” are the new agenda formers for Government, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance, in its comprehensive analysis of the Renewed Programme for Government. Published today (16 October), the Alliance’s analysis has found that over 75% of commitments affecting children have disappeared; in 2007, 219 commitments relating to children were written into the Programme for Government 2007-2012, there are now only 49 commitments. The Alliance, a coalition of over 90 NGOs working to secure the rights and needs of children in Ireland, also has real fears that the new measures are not costed, language is opaque and subject to interpretation, and many “new” commitments are merely repackaged. Many commitments have lost their punch, by being expressed in less specific terms or their remit severely narrowed.
Mrs Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Alliance, says: “We are simply confused. Over 75% of the commitments in 2007 affecting children have vanished from the Renewed Programme. We are concerned with how the two documents will interact with one another, and which one will take precedence. Attempts to clarify this with Government and Party officials have failed to provide a satisfactory response. If both documents are to guide the Government in taking decisions, as stated in the preface to the Renewed Programme, then why the need for repetition? Is the purpose of the Renewed Programme to prioritise areas of Government action for the remaining two and a half years of the Government’s term, or to add to the lengthy list of commitments Government has already made?”
Mrs van Turnhout continued: “What is concerning us most is how to interpret those commitments that are absent from the Renewed Programme – the commitments that have vanished. A number of these are critical issues for children and of serious concern to the Alliance, such as commitments to deliver a second tier payment to help children in the poorest families, the introduction of measures to address suicide, and a commitment to focus on early intervention and prevention in disadvantaged communities. Are they the casualties of this process or just hidden?”
The Alliance’s analysis does point to positives in the Renewed Programme, clearly strengthening commitments to children in some key areas. New commitments include delivery on the Government’s Implementation Plan in response to the Ryan Report, producing a new plan to implement the national mental health strategy; enabling the Office of the Ombudsman for Children to fulfil its statutory duty and ensuring that each school in the country has access to a psychologist. Also, for the first time, it includes a recognition of the needs of unaccompanied and aged-out minors; the development of the National Paediatric Hospital; and the implementation of the Traveller Education Strategy.
The Renewed Programme has also introduced new commitments to undo some of the damage inflicted on the education sector in Budget 2009, such as reinstating the grants to schools, resuming implementation of the stalled Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, and recruiting 500 new teachers by 2012 to alleviate problems in schools, with the largest classes.
But overall, the Alliance has found worrying weaknesses in the Renewed Programme. Mrs van Turnhout says: “We have one of the highest rates of alcohol-related harm among young people in Europe, yet only one commitment is listed in the Renewed Programme for Government, ignoring the ten commitments in the original 2007 document. It seems desperately short-sighted. Commitments relating to social welfare payments – payments that protect the most vulnerable of children – have also been diluted and the Government’s silence on the commitment to improve medical card eligibility for parents of children under six years of age is telling”.
The Alliance’s comprehensive analysis is available to download on its web site and has been sent to each TD and senator at the Oireachtas.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Carys Thomas, Communications Director
Children’s Rights Alliance
Tel: (01) 662 9400 / 0877702845
Notes to Editor:
- The Renewed Programme for Government was agreed by the two political parties in the coalition Government on Friday, 9 October 2009. It was approved by Green Party members on Saturday, 10 October 2009; and by the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Tuesday, 13 October 2009. It states that “achievement of the goals set out in both documents, subject to resources, will provide the political basis of Government action” until the end of its term in 2012. (‘Both documents’ refers to the Programme for Government 2007-2012 and the Proposed Renewed Programme for Government, 2009).
- The Alliance submission to the Green Party and Fianna Fáil can be found here: http://www.childrensrights.ie/files/ChildrensRightsAllianceGreenPartyRev... and http://www.childrensrights.ie/files/ChildrensRightsAllianceFiannaFailRev...
- For further analysis of Government commitments to children see the Children’ Rights Alliance Report Card 2009 (January 2009), http://www.childrensrights.ie/files/ReportCard09.pdf