Saturday 24 August 2019

Legal representatives for children 'are paid more than President Higgins'

Josepha Madigan TD Picture: Tom Burke
Josepha Madigan TD Picture: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Legal representatives for children have been paid "more than the president", the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been told.

TDs probing concerns over the cost of the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) system of legal representation for children in State care heard that individuals providing the service were paid between €40,000 and €240,000 among €8m in costs in 2016.

The committee was told those costs - some of which were even higher in previous years - included overheads and office expenses.

Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan said some of the individuals appeared to have been paid more than President Michael D Higgins.

"We really have to ensure that doesn't happen into the future," she said, suggesting a system of set salaries would "save the taxpayer more in the long run". She asked why no one had been monitoring regulation of the GAL system.

Department of Children secretary general Dr Fergal Lynch said nobody was suggesting it was a "satisfactory situation".

Earlier, he told of how the system was in need of "significant reform". He said that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, spent €15.2m on GAL services in 2016.

Tusla has endeavoured to control spending, he added, pointing to negotiated savings in recent years.

But Mr Lynch also said: "Despite its importance to vulnerable children and young people, the service is ad hoc, and lacks an appropriate system of organisation and governance.

"The roles and functions of GALs are not defined, nor are the circumstances in which they should be appointed to individual cases," Mr Lynch said in his opening statement.

He told how Cabinet had this week approved the heads of a bill to reform the system.

The bill includes regulation of fees and monitoring of performance. A single body is to be appointed to oversee the service and the legislation is due to be in place later this year.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells said his party had flagged the issue two years ago.

He branded "exorbitant high fees" as a "gross waste of public money".

He was "glad" Mr Lynch's statement acknowledged the need for the issue to be tackled.

Before she brought the issue to Cabinet, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone spoke of her concern over the costs.

"All children in child care proceedings should have their voice heard and their views represented," she said.

Irish Independent

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