THE Minister for Children Barry Andrews yesterday said a proposed referendum on children’s rights will not be “long-fingered”, amid accusations that the Government is seeking to redraft the agreed wording.
Mr Andrews stressed, however, that any Constitutional amendment was “not a magic wand”.
The minister, speaking before the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, came under fire from Fine Gael children’s spokes- man Charlie Flanagan and Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín O Caoláin over whether he was delaying the naming of the referendum date, or moving away from the consensus achieved by an all-party Oireachtas Committee which published its proposed wording earlier this year.
“I understand that the length of time that this process is taking is causing concern,” he said. “I can assure the committee that I will not put this on the long finger and will make sure that any deliberations that are needed will take place as quickly as possible.”
However, no timeline has been revealed and the minister said “unforeseen circumstances” had arisen with potential ramifications of the proposed wording, including how it could impact on immigration and education issues: “It would be impossible to deport anyone from any family in this country [under current wording].”
But Mr Flanagan said the minister’s responses on the referendum issue were “totally unsatisfactory”, while Mr O Caoláin said he feared the minister wanted to “redraft and not restate” the policy objectives of the referendum.
The committee had originally invited Mr Andrews to the meeting following criticism made of childcare services by Barnardos and the ISPCC at another Committee meeting in July.
Both organisations had questioned whether the HSE was fit for the task of managing child welfare services, while just this week there has been fresh criticism from One In Four over the lack of social workers impinging on the investigation of cases of alleged child sex abuse cases.
Mr Andrews told the committee that 133 of the 200 new social worker posts prioritised for this year had been filled, some by new graduates and others from overseas, while 23 other posts will commence in the coming weeks with another 43 posts accepted, with start dates to be agreed.
“The HSE has assured me that there will be a net increase of 200 social work posts,” he said.
The minister admitted that a figure of 500 adolescents awaiting psychiatric assessment was “worrying,” but said he could not “colonise” other government departments dealing with mental health.
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