Thursday, 30 June 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
2. Mr. Currie asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform the extent of the co-operation between the family mediation services in the north and south of Ireland; and if he will encourage co-operation in the north-west where the Northern Ireland family mediation service has an office located in Derry.
4. Mr. Currie asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform the plans, if any, he has for the future of the family mediation service; and, in particular, when it will be extended on a national basis.
The doubling of funds allocated to the Family Mediation Service in my Department's Estimates for 1994 will allow for the employment of additional mediators and the opening of a second centre. This centre will be in Limerick. The proposal is to avail of mediators on as wide a geographical basis as possible using the existing Dublin centre and the new Limerick centre as facilitators in the process. These expansion and development plans will be in place very shortly.
The information available to me is that our Family Mediation Service has an excellent relationship with the corresponding service in Northern Ireland and that both services have benefited from regular contacts between them.
Mr. Currie: The Minister referred to a doubling of funds for the Family Mediation Service, but the total amount available for the service is £300,000. Will he agree that having regard to the increasing rate of marital breakdown — it is estimated that five marriages break down every day — that the amount available for this essential service is ludicrous? I welcome the setting up of the new office in Limerick. Will the Minister agree that people have to travel many miles from other large centres of population, such as Cork and Galway, and smaller centres of population to avail of this essential service and it is time something more was done in this regard?
Mr. Taylor: The money provided for the Family Mediation Service this year — £300,000 — is more than double the  £124,000 allocated in 1993. Since it was instituted in 1986, the Family Mediation Service has been confined to one location in Dublin on an experimental basis. That has now been made permanent and a signal expansion is taking place this year, not only by having an additional second permanent centre but also by a means which I hope to introduce, of using private mediators at other locations throughout the country. There are plans in preparation in my Department to do that.
I would point out to Deputy Currie that it not just a question of acquiring premises and pumping in money. The build-up of a mediation service is more complex than that. It requires the availability of a relatively small group of skilled and trained mediators. Many are being trained by the Family Mediation Service and I hope that procedure will extend and continue. It is not a system that can easily be duplicated or tripled and quadrupled. It has to be expanded gradually. I anticipate that, subject to budgetary requirements and the availability of the specialised professional skilled staff coming on-stream from time to time, I will be able to expand this service to the maximum possible extent.
I want to pay tribute to the remarkable work and achievements of the Family Mediation Service in Dublin since its institution in 1986 — it provides a much more extensive service than the one in Northern Ireland referred to by Deputy Currie. The service provided in Northern Ireland, which does excellent work, is limited; it provides a service in respect of children only. It is a voluntary organisation, not State-run as the family mediation service here is. I thank the Deputy for his support and assure the House that it is my hope and intention, subject to budgetary constraints and availability of personnel, to extend the service as possible.
Mr. Currie: I did not praise the mediation service in Northern Ireland. I suggested that co-operation would benefit North and South, particularly in Donegal and other areas adjacent to the  Border. There may be a case for an exchange of personnel in some areas and I ask the Minister to give that some consideration.
On the more general question, many people think that any serious consideration of divorce is farcical without having a proper mediation service in place. These two matters go hand in hand and the Minister ought to be making available as much money as possible to strengthen the mediation services. The fact that the Minister is now suggesting employing private mediators, while welcome as a means of filling the vacuum, underlines how unsatisfactory our service is.
Mr. Taylor: I do not agree that the service is unsatisfactory. It is extremely satisfactory and highly professional. It works very well and is doubling its capacity this year in terms of centres which is a very valuable improvement. In addition I am drawing up plans to use private mediators on contract throughout the country where it is difficult for people to get to one of the centres in Dublin or Limerick. There has been a major expansion since 1986.
Voluntary organisations, apart from the Family Mediation Service, do excellent work in this area. Not all the mediation is confined to the State-run Family Mediation Service which has an important role to play in training professional staff. Without that professional staff, expansion of this service on any basis would not be possible.
I take on board what Deputy Currie said regarding the value of consultation and exchange of views and experience with the service in Northern Ireland and I will be very happy to pass that suggestion on. I understand from the Family Mediation Service that it already has a very good relationship with the corresponding service in the North and that exchange of contracts already take place. I will suggest it should be expanded to the maximum possible extent.
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