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This is a newsletter from Senator Jillian van Turnhout. 

Email Newsletter - April 2016

Dear <<First Name>>

As my time in Seanad Éireann draws to a close, I want to reflect on a number of the issues I advocated on over my 5 year term. I leave my role heartened that some of these issues are definitively over the line and confident that on many other issues I have been instrumental in laying the foundations and building the bricks for future advocacy when the new Government is formed and the incumbent TDs and Senators take their places in the Houses and on various Oireachtas Committees.

I have learnt many valuable things during my time in the Oireachtas…the power of nudge politics, finding inventive ways of keeping important issues to the fore, the need to work collaboratively across the political spectrum, consensus building for change and accepting graciously that the part you play in effecting change may never be truly known. If you would like to read more about my Seanad insights and experiences you can read my speech from the celebratory lecture marking my tenure, kindly hosted by the Children’s Rights Alliance in The Ark Cultural Centre for Children on Wednesday 13 April. 

I could write a standalone newsletter just listing all the people deserving our thanks. Instead I will take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you collectively that have helped and supported Amy and I over the past five years across a broad range of issues. Your insight and expertise has been essential to the quality of our input and in helping us to convey the reality on the ground. THANK YOU.
 
As part of my final update, here are some of the issues that have kept us busy over the past few months:
 
Corporal Punishment
Oireachtas Children’s Future Health Group
Tax on Sugar Sweetened Drinks
Smoking in Cars with Children
Child Sexual Abuse Material
Transgender Children
UCC Europa Society

What next? I’ve been asked once or twice over the last few weeks ;) In the immediate I plan to take some time off to sleep, catch up on a few box sets, and will then look to finding my next role. I am delighted that Amy has secured an exciting new policy role and I wish her the very best of luck moving forward.
 
If anyone needs to contact me you are most welcome to do so via twitter @JillianvT or by email jillianvanturnhout@gmail.com
 
Best wishes,
 
Jillian
 
Corporal Punishment
 
As of 11 December 2015, a person who administers corporal punishment to a child will no longer be able to rely on the archaic common law defence of “reasonable chastisement,” which dates back to 1860, in the courts.
 
Repealing the defence of reasonable chastisement was one of the first priorities I set when I became a Member of the Seanad back in 2011. I tabled the original amendment to this effect during the passage of the Children First Bill through the Seanad in September 2015. The provision was then added to the Bill at Report Stage through an amendment co-sponsored by myself and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly TD. The Bill concluded its passage through the Dáil on 11 November 2015 and the Children First Act 2015 was signed into law on 19 November 2015.
 
There must never be a defence for violence against children and I am honoured to have championed and secured the effective ban on the physical punishment of children in Ireland. 

Oireachtas Children’s Future Health Group

I have been a passionate advocate for children’s future health throughout my time in the Seanad and as a Member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. I was thus honoured to Chair the new Oireachtas Children’s Future Health Group, which was officially launched on 20 July 2015. The Group’s focus is on childhood obesity and food poverty, particularly for children in disadvantaged communities who are disproportionately affected by both.
 
The situation is grave and an indictment on our current health policies. Children in Ireland are increasingly suffering from two forms of modern malnutrition. While one in four children is overweight or obese, one in five is going to bed hungry. Children under the age of 15 are showing early signs of heart disease and plaque build-up in major arteries to the brain. Despite this, the national response remains inadequate.
 
The Group’s objective is to develop Oireachtas Members’ understanding of the causes of childhood obesity and food poverty and to develop proposals on realistic actions that will reduce obesity and food poverty levels and impact positively on children’s outcomes.
 
It is extremely important that this Group of interested TDs and Senators continues its work under the new Government and positively contributes to the delivery of long overdue health policies to secure our children’s future health.

Tax on Sugar Sweetened Drinks

In advance of Budget 2016, and in my individual capacity, I wrote to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar TD, and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, DR James Reilly TD, to support the imposition of a 20% tax on sugar sweetened drinks in the fight against adult and childhood obesity.

There is considerable support for a sugar tax among health experts such as the policy group on obesity at the Royal College of Physicians, the Irish Heart Foundation, and Healthy Food for All.
 
While I do not believe that a sugar tax alone is the panacea, I do believe it will reduce consumption and generate revenue, which should be ring-fenced for reinvestment into children’s health initiatives like the Children’s Future Health Fund advocated by the Irish Heart Foundation.
 
The growing concern across the political spectrum over the health of Irish children is reflected in the inclusion of a sugar tax in the manifestos of each of the main political parties in advance of Election 2016. I hope this commitment will transfer into a commitment in the Programme for Government and will be brought to fruition.

Smoking in Cars with Children

On New Year’s Day 2016, the Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Act of 2014 came into effect in Ireland. This legislation extends the workplace ban on smoking to all vehicles where children are present.  The impetus for this important legislative change was the Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012, which I initiated with Senator John Crown and Senator Mark Daly. 

Child Sexual Abuse Material

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill completed its passage in the Seanad in January.  The Bill will bring Irish law into line with a number of international legal instruments and acts on the recommendations of different Oireachtas Committees in a number of areas including: protecting children online; child grooming; new rules relating to the disclosure of complainant’s information; and criminalising the purchase of sex.  The Bill also introduces new and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography.  I sought to replace “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material” throughout this Bill.  Whilst I was unsuccessful at this stage I hope my work has laid the foundations for further advocacy in this area.  The Sexual Offences Bill completed Second Stage in the Dáil in February and so remains stalled.   I hope a Government is formed soon and this Bill is restored to the order paper and completes its passage into Law.

Transgender Children

I must confess that prior to the legislative passage of the Gender Recognition Bill between January and July 2015 I hadn’t had a considerable amount of engagement on trans issues.
 
Rather, as a committed children’s rights advocate I have dedicated the last 5 years both in the Seanad and as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children to ensuring that the best interest of the child, the voice of the child and the evolving capacity of the child are front and centre of all policy and legislative work that impacts children’s lives.
 
Furthermore, it was my belief that with the passage of the Children’s Rights Referendum in November 2012, which eventually took effect in April 2015, that this level of children’s rights consideration and scrutiny was now incumbent on all Government Departments and Oireachtas Members.
 
I was therefore very concerned that in the Gender Recognition Bill, which incidentally presented as the first opportunity for the Oireachtas to give effect to the new Constitutional Amendment on Children’s Rights, the voices, opinions and lived realities of trans children remained deafeningly silent throughout the legislative process.
 
I do not know of a single trans young person who was consulted by Government yet I had heard directly from many young people and their families about how significant a mechanism through which their preferred gender could be formally recognised in their childhood would be to them practically but also in terms of their mental and emotional well-being.
 
While the Bill did provide a mechanism for children between 16-18 years to have their preferred gender recognised, I was very concerned that the process set out for doing so, by being able to satisfy a number of “protective” criteria, was so onerous as to render it mute.
 
I was therefore very pleased to hear from the Minister of Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly TD, at Ireland’s review before the UNCRC back in January that two gender recognition certificates had been issued to a 16 and a 17-year old and I believe a third has since been issued.
 
The Minister for Children further stated that the possibility for children under the age of 16 to apply would also be considered.
 
However, back at the legislative debating stage of the Bill, as far as the Department of Social Protection was concerned, children under that age of 16 were definitively off the table.
 
It was my position that it was fundamentally wrong that the Bill did not provide a mechanism for legal recognition, even on an interim basis, of gender for trans children under 16 who seek it, where there is parental consent, support of the child's GP and agreement that this is in the best interests of the child.
 
I tabled a series of amendments to this effect in the Seanad but did not succeed at that time.
 
I have remained very much plugged in to the issue. I was delighted to join an expert panel at the Trinity Philosophical Society Debate Friday 11 March 2016 with Broden Giambrone, chief executive of TENI, Bella Fitzpatrick from ShoutOut, an organisation that conducts workshops in secondary schools dealing with LGBTQ issues, and Felix O'Conner, a representative from Q-Soc in Trinity.
 
I also honoured to launch the very important and timely report of the National Trans Youth Forum “It’s Time To Hear Our Voices”, which documents for the first time in Ireland the thoughts and experiences of young trans people and the issues that are important to them.
 
The findings and recommendations from this report will be invaluable in preparing for the statutory review of the Gender recognition act in 2017.
 
In recognition of my advocacy on behalf of trans children throughout the legislative process I have been invited to sit on TENI’s Gender Recognition Act Review Working Group, which brings together experts and stakeholders to support TENI to undertake an analysis of the Act and how it is operating.
 
I will continue to strive for the voice of the child to be heard, the best interests of the child to be upheld, and to ensure that children are meaningfully included in the review process.

UCC Europa Society


 
I am delighted to have been appointed, in recognition of my work in Europe and in my role as one of the co-founders of the European Youth Forum, Honorary President of the UCC Europa Society for 2016-2017.

 

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