The Government should scrap all alcohol advertising of sport events immediately, the special rapporteur on children has said.
Speaking last night before the Oireachtas committee on health and children, Geoffrey Shannon said “the failure on the part of society to comprehensively address the alcohol problem leaves the child protection system to deal with insurmountable consequences”, and so the ban on advertising should be brought in.
In a hard-hitting and lengthy presentation to the committee, Mr Shannon, who is also chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, also said laws should be drafted to limit the disclosure of child therapy notes in abuse cases, and that cyberbullying should be made a specific offence as existing legislation is not strong enough.
“Disclosure of children’s therapy records should never be sought for the purpose of assessing the strength of a case,” he said, adding that at present, the use of confidential records concerning children could have a “chilling effect” on therapy and result in the records being “cannon-fodder in the criminal justice system”.
“Accessing therapy notes should be the exception rather than the norm and should only be requested in those situations wherein it is considered that their production is essential to ensure a fair trial of the accused.”
On the issue of cyber-bullying he said: “It would appear that difficulties exist in prosecuting cyberbullying under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997, and in particular the requirement that the harassment is persistent.”
Advocating legislation that would allow victims to come forward anonymously if needs be, he said the Post Office (Amendment) Act, 1951 could be expanded to include emails and online communication, meaning more chance of prosecutions.
He also said a “whole school approach” to bullying would help, and that section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 — which allows for schools to take steps “reasonably necessary to protect a school’s religious ethos” needed to be scrapped for fear it was stopping teachers from addressing issues such as homophobic bullying.
“Section 37(1) contributes to the invisibility, bullying, and mental health difficulties experienced by LGBT students and as such urgently needs to be removed,” he said.
Mr Shannon also said “the law on guardianship in this country is completely out of kilter with the realities of modern family life” and advocated the extension of automatic guardianship to all fathers including unmarried fathers.
He also said use of the guardian ad litem system which allows for legal representation of the child in court proceedings should be placed on a statutory footing; properly regulated; and possibly extended to private family law proceedings.
He also told the committee that public health nursing, adequate housing, and early mental health referrals to proper services would benefit many families, while the right to aftercare for those leaving care should be put on a legislative footing.
He said an expanded homeless service would also help some of the more vulnerable young people leaving care who are most at risk of becoming homeless, and that research should be conducted on the level of violence perpetrated on children with disabilities.
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