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Three extracts that puzzle… December 4, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Human Rights, Ministers.

Extract 1

The first extract is of the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, on 17 October 2012 on RTÉ Radio Radio 1, following the publication of the report of the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, on the treatment of of young people in St Patrick’s Institution:

Ombudsman for Children: When I went in in 2009 to meet with the young people, we heard over a period of three months their views and their experience much of which is in this report. In fact Judge Reilly indicates that the issues raised were raised by young people with me, and we published that last year. To be perfectly frank people were sneering at the outcome of that report largely–

Interviewer [interrupting]: When you say that people were sneering: who?

Ombudsman for Children: I publicly commented last year at my annual report that I was very disappointed that people at a very senior level in the Department of Justice, right up to the Secretary General, sat in front of a UN committee and told that UN committee that this was about children’s perception and that really dampened down the notion that any of these kinds of things that were happening, or were real, because of the people that were reporting it.


Ombudsman for Children: Last year I was, I suppose, patronised somewhat, and made fun of, if you like, and was made to feel I was being naive in thinking that what the young people were saying was true.

Extract 2

The second extract is of the then Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Sean Aylward, replying to questions from the UN Committee against Torture, in Geneva, 24 May 2011 :

Secretary General, Department of Justice: Ombudsman for Children’s Office: Involvement with St Patrick’s. In the longer paper which you have we refer to a report which was prepared by the independent Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan on St Patrick’s Institution on the 9th of February 2011. That report documents the views of a selection of offenders and its purpose is to highlight rather than verify their perceptions. In doing so, the rpoert identifies a number of discrepancies between the young people’s perception and the actual reality.

Extract 3

The third extract is from the Written answer to two Parliamentary Questions, 11 January 2012.

606 Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the procedure adopted in respect of the recent appointment of Ireland’s representative to the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture; if he is satisfied with the appointment as made, having due regard to appropriate and accepted protocols and convention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40928/11]

612 Stephen Donnelly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality with regard to the recent appointment of new members of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the instruction he gave to the Irish ambassador attending at the Committee of Ministers that voted on new members; if the ambassador was given any instruction to contribute to debate on the Irish candidates; and if so, the instructions; if the ambassador was given any instruction to vote on the Irish candidate; if so, the instruction; and if any representation was made to other voting members of that committee in favour of any of the Irish candidates. [41011/11]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 606 and 612 together.

For the first time in this State, expressions of interest were sought through public advertisement in August from suitably qualified and experienced persons for nomination as Ireland’s representative to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). Advertisements were placed on the websites of my Department and the Public Appointments Service with the criteria for selection having regard to the requirements of the CPT for nomination.

Forty-eight expressions of interest were received. In line with the procedures for nomination to the CPT, three individuals had to be selected as the Irish nominees. The three nominees listed below were chosen in the light of the experience, expertise and characteristics identified by the Council of Europe as being relevant for membership of the CPT.

Dr Mary Rogan, Lecturer Dublin Institute of Technology, Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust;

Mr Seán Aylward, a former Director General of the Irish Prison Service and Secretary General of my Department; and

Mr Donncha O’Connell, Lecturer in Law, National University of Ireland, Galway.

The Council of Europe is satisfied with the selection process used for the nomination and commented favourably on it. I gave instructions that no particular preference should be shown for any of the three candidates. The nominees were not put forward for consideration in any order of preference, and to the best of my knowledge Ireland expressed no preference for any particular candidate and abstained from the voting at the Committee of Minister’s Deputies meeting in Strasbourg on 7 December, 2011 which appointed Ireland’s representative on the CPT. It is a matter for the Council of Europe to decide which nominees should be appointed to the CPT.

My parade June 26, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in back at the Seanad, Education, Gender Issues, Human Rights, Inequality, Ireland, Ministers.

[re-posted from the comments at Wordlbystorm’s suggestion]

I walked in the Dublin parade yesterday, walking for part of it with LGBT Pavee, and part of it with another group I am a member of.

Four unsettled issues I noticed at the parade.

(1) The Grand Marshal this year was Michael Barron, CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services. One of the key issues BeLonG To works on is homophobic bullying. It is six years after the first research report funded by the Department of Education showed there is a major problem in Irish second-level schools. [Quiz: what percentage of teachers reported they witnessed incidents of homophobic bullying in the term before the study occurred? Was it
(a) 79%
(b) 69%
(c) 59%]
And six years on, Minister Ruairí Quinn has announced he is considering (note: only ‘considering’) setting up a working group to come up with a road map. Not one school inspection has examined the issue in that six years.

(2) LGBT Noise and Marriage Equality were there, with a reminder from LGBT Noise that a less celebratory and more political march is to occur in August. (I love the line in one of their placards: “Jesus had 2 dads and he tuned out fine”.)
[I don’t know if it is the settings on my machine or a characteristic of WordPress, but the image below is cropped when I look at it. I have made a link to the source so you can see the full image.]

(3) The three teachers’ unions were there, and Maman Poulet points out that Ruairí Quinn took the opportunity to be photographed with them. She, in turn, uses that opportunity to ask him what he is doing about section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act, which allows lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers to be discriminated against by the overwhelming bulk of Irish schools.

(4) During the week, TENI, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, marked the first anniversary of the decision of the Government to withdraw its Supreme Court appeal in the case taken by Lydia Foy to have her true gender legally recognised. It has been eighteen years — longer than the Birmingham Six spent in jail — since she first asked for that right. Three days later, TENI got news that Minister Joan Burton has received the report of the Gender Recognition Advisory Group. There was some support for TENI. FLAC published a press release, and Katherine Zappone raised the issue and the delay in the Seanad.

Answer to the multiple choice quiz: (a).

Pot Quinn says kettle Burton is black June 6, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Irish Politics, Ministers.

The Sindo reports that Ruairí Quinn has told his colleagues that they are not tackling difficult decisions quickly enough. The report says he had his Labour cabinet colleagues in mind, and Joan Burton in particular. If the report is true, then one of them needs to give him a good old-fashioned clip around the ears. Twice.

Quinn is the only one of the Labour ministers at the cabinet table to have transferred from being the party’s spokesperson in opposition on a Department to being the minister there. Unlike him, all of the others have had to learn the innards and nitty gritty of a new brief. Significant in that is getting their heads around the spending options, and when they do they will find that these are on shifting sands with the State’s finances not coming out of crisis any time soon.

His own ‘big ticket’ action has been to establish the cost-free forum on patronage in the primary sector. On the other commitments in the Programme for Government, it is difficult to find evidence of any action, particularly where they would improve the lives of the most disadvantaged in Ireland:

[1] Commitment: We will improve the quality of the pre-school year by implementing standards and reviewing training options.

[2] Commitment: [T]his Government will invest in a targeted early childhood education programme for disadvantaged children…

[3] Commitment: A priority in education will be to recruit, train and support the highest calibre of teachers

[4] Commitment: We will give greater freedom and autonomy to school principals and boards to raise educational standards by devolving more responsibility locally…

[5] Commitment: We will require schools, with the support of the Inspectorate, to draw up five year development plans for their schools and individual teachers

[6] Commitment: Administrative functions, relating to maintenance, school building projects and coordination of support services currently carried out by principals will be devolved locally…

[6] Commitment: We will review Junior and Leaving Certificate systems and implement reforms necessary to encourage greater innovation and independent learning

[7] Commitment: Professional development for maths and science teachers will be prioritised

[8] Commitment: The system for evaluating schools will be reformed so parents have access to more information when choosing a school for their family

[9] Commitment: A national literacy strategy for children and young people will be developed as a matter of urgency
Action announced: The Department intends to publish shortly a national literacy and numeracy strategy which will provide a continuum of measures designed to improve performance in these critical areas.

[10] Commitment: Pre-service and in-service training in teaching of literacy for all primary and secondary school teachers will be improved

[11] Commitment: The primary priority for investment in ICT in the immediate term will be the integration of ICT in teaching and learning across the curriculum and investing in broadband development to ensure schools have access to fibre-powered broadband

[12] Commitment: Greater use of online platforms will be made to offer a wide range of subjects and lessons online, and to enable schools to ‘share’ teachers via live web casts.

[13] Commitment: This Government will prioritise school building projects in a revised national development plan

[14] Commitment: The devolution of an annual capital budget to schools will be piloted to allow schools to plan for capital projects

[15] Commitment: The Department of Education’s central database of school accommodation will be overhauled

[16] Commitment: New schools will be built to grow with their communities and to provide for more interactive, child-friendly model of education.

[17] Commitment: We will negotiate the transfer of school infrastructure currently owned by 18 religious orders cited in Ryan Report, at no extra cost, to the State.

[18]Commitment: We will examine how to make existing expenditure on educational disadvantage more effective.
Action announced: The decision to remove the Rural Co-ordinator Service from 331 rural DEIS schools was a measure taken by the last Government to secure some €24 million in savings in the 2011-2012 school year. The service will therefore be discontinued with effect from 31 August 2011. I do not intend to revisit the decision of the previous Government to withdraw rural coordinator posts.

[19] Commitment: We will publish a plan for the implementation of the EPSEN Act 2004 to prioritise access for children with special needs to an individual education plan.

[20] Commitment: We will reverse the cut to the number of psychologists in National Educational Psychological Service in Budget 2011
Action announced: To date some 175 psychologists are currently directly employed within my Department’s NEPS service and an additional three are due to take up duties shortly.

[21] Commitment: We will encourage schools to develop anti-bullying policies and in particular, strategies to combat homophobic bullying to support students [This commitment is must be important to the Government: they’ve made it twice in the Programme for Government.]
Action announced: I am currently considering […] the establishment of a working group to help draft a roadmap towards the elimination of homophobic bullying from our schools. [Furthermore, Minister Quinn did not answer the specific question that was asked on this last in April about the number of inspections that would evaluate if the schools are taking adequate steps.

[22] Commitment: We will initiate a time-limited Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector to allow all stakeholders including parents to engage in open debate on change of patronage
Action announced: Started.

[23] Commitment: We will also move towards a more pluralist system of patronage at second level, recognising a wider number of patrons
Action announced: Educate Together is to be recognised as a patron of second-level schools

Ministers and gender reassignment August 24, 2010

Posted by Tomboktu in Gender Issues, Human Rights, Medical Issues, Ministers, Social Policy.

I would guess that only a few people have given any more thought to the proposals about legally recognising a change of gender in Ireland than an instinctive reaction along the lines that it is a good move or that it is a bad move. However, even if you have no interest in the substantive issues — legal, medical, social, or even concerning public finances — that gender reassignment raises, there is one aspect of the consultation document that is simply crazy. That document is short — 999 words — and was published earlier this month by the Gender Recognition Advisory Group, which was set up by the Minister for Social Protection. Although the membership of the Group does not seem to have been published, it is an interdepartmental group, and I am told that it consists entirely of civil servants.

The public consultation document sets out three main sets of issues:

  • (a) it outlines options for a legal process for having a new gender legally registered and recognised,
  • (b) it invites submissions on what level of evidence will be needed before a change of gender will be recognised, and
  • (c) it sets out a few proposals on some specific issues (for example, that a birth certificate in the new gender should be indistinguishable from an original one).
  • On the second item in that list, the Group says simply that

    a level of evidence [will be required] to the effect that the applicant has made, or is making a genuine transition from the original gender to the opposite preferred gender.

    The Group invites submissions as to the evidence that should be required of the person making the application.

    and, elsewhere in the document, that

    [t]he criteria should be capable of being interpreted in a consistent and objective manner.

    (Experienced bureaucrats among the readers of CLR will note that ‘criteria’ is not the same as ‘level of evidence’, but it would be unfair not to recognise that that reference to the criteria must encompass the level of evidence.)

    It appears that the Group has not looked to other jurisdictions to establish any parameters that the level of evidence should meet. Nor does the group indicate that it is deliberately leaving the question open, although that may be the situation. That is not surprising. A group of civil servants is unlikely to have any of the psychiatric, endocrinological, or surgical expertise to be able to deal with that.

    What civil servants do have, in abundance, is expertise in bureaucracy and deferring to ministers, and they appear to have applied that with gusto. Here is what they say:

    The Group’s initial view is that the basic outline of the scheme should be as follows:

    1. The person seeking recognition of his/her changed gender makes an application to the Minister, or a decision making body designated under the Act, seeking to have the new gender recognised.
    2. The applicant submits evidence in support of the application.
    3. The Minister, or the decision making body, examines the application and the evidence and makes a decision to either accept or reject the application.
    4. The Minister or the decision making body, issues a formal statement to the successful applicant recognising the new gender.
    5. There will be an appeal process for unsuccessful applicants.

    The Group invites submissions on the proposed process.

    The most shocking piece of the consultation document, I believe, is the fact that in three of a total of five steps, the Group countenances a role for ‘the Minister’ in making decisions in individual cases. And this thinking appears in two other places in the document when the Group says:

    In making its decision the Minister or official decision making body will require a level of evidence to the effect that the applicant has made, or is making a genuine transition from the original gender to the opposite preferred gender


    The Minister or the decision making body will issue a gender recognition certificate to the successful applicant

    Yes, each of those references is immediately followed with a parenthical ‘or the decision making body’, but what kind of thinking leads anybody to believe that there is any justification for suggesting a minister would be given that kind of role, even if the detailed procedures reduce that to a final sign-off of a decision made elsewhere? I truly hope that the source is not the civil servants and that the references to a minister appear in the document because some minister — junior or Cabinet, pre- or post-reshuffle — insisted on it. And, in that vein, I hope the Group’s true view is reflected in the two options they offer two possibilities under the heading ‘Decision Making Process’:

    The Group invites submissions on the type of decision making process which should be established. Options could include:
    Judicial or Court — model whereby applicants would apply to a designated existing court;
    Statutory Panel — model whereby an expert independent panel would be appointed under the legislation to make the gender recognition decisions.

    I hope that submissions — the deadline is 17 September — support one of those options and make it untenable for the suggestion of a ministerial role to remain on the table.

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