Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Wednesday 4 July 2001 (continued)

Ms McWilliams:

It is important that we consider child protection and vetting systems under the motion today rather than under something as daft as Megan's Law. The difficulty is that when the media get their hands on a controversial and emotive issue such as this, they tend, with few exceptions, to approach it in the wrong way.

We do not want to drive these people underground. We want to get them registered and put under surveillance. This is one way of achieving that goal, though there are difficulties.

At present, these are only guidance protocols, and there will be several difficulties associated with them until they are put on a statutory footing. One difficulty is that employers are frightened, especially because the guidance is not statutory. There are implications for employers, and we must reassure them that it is better that we go down this road. The sooner the guidance is on a legislative footing, the better. I am pleased that the legislation will be passed to the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee, where we can go through it line by line.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)

The media should not hijack the issue. Most of the predatory abuse from individuals towards children and vulnerable adults - and it is predatory - is from people known to them. They are very clever people. Every day, during the research I carried out at the start of the 1990s on abuse and domestic violence, I thought that I had heard the worst story and the most incredible ingenuity used by these individuals in targeting children and vulnerable adults.

We are always increasing our knowledge about how individuals abuse children, hence the point about the North/South connections. Those people, who are beginning to be detected or come under surveillance, and those who risk being suspended and who may end up on the PECs register, know to move elsewhere.

Where is that somewhere else on a small island such as this? It will probably be the Republic of Ireland. Unless they have been convicted in Northern Ireland, there is no way that they can be detected. They can move quite freely into organisations - which we now know they target - in order to reach vulnerable adults and children.

I have had a great deal of experience of accompanying individuals through the court system, but I now question whether I would do so again. However, I recommend that we pursue the criminal justice system, although having observed the process and having seen so many cases lost, I know it is very difficult to get a conviction for child abuse. That is why this matter is so important. These are not people with convictions. If they were, they would be on the police register. These are individuals against whom there have been allegations or who have served suspension in their previous employment. That there are only 18 people on the register tells its own story. There is a great deal of alarm about how to use it.

Let me give an example. Yesterday, representatives of an organisation called Lifestart came to see me, although on a different matter. The organisation works with children. It has family visitors who go into homes to advise parents on child development - it is a fantastic scheme. It has found that commencing literacy and numeracy training with children - especially those in disadvantaged and deprived communities - before they start school can bring them a long way in their development. Lifestart wrote to the unit in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to request that their family visitors be vetted and was told that it did not have to do that.

The questions that have been asked in the document 'Making the Right Choice: A Guide to Using the Pre- employment Consultancy Service' are:

"Does the post involve one-to-one access?"

The answer in the case of these family visitors is "Yes".

"Is the post unsupervised or unaccompanied?"


"Is the situation isolated?"

If you were in a family home by yourself the answer would be "Yes".

"Is there recurring contact?"

If the family visitors were building up contact over time for continuity with those families and children, the answer would be "Yes". Despite all of that, Lifestart was told that the vetting service does not apply to it.

What does the organisation do instead? It tells its family visitors that because it has been unable to carry out any vetting, every time a parent leaves the room, they must leave too so that they are not left with a child by themselves in case anything should happen. That is not the way to proceed. It would be much better if organisations such as Lifestart were able to go through the system of vetting all their family visitors, who could then get on with their work in a sensible fashion.

It could be a matter of resources. I was alarmed when I read in 'Making the Right Choice' that if organisations are applying simply to clear themselves, especially where there is an issue concerning disabled children, they should think again, unless they are able to answer all the questions. Then there is this incredible sentence in block type that says that if you have not answered these questions or taken yourself through these questions,

"requests for checks will be returned unanswered ".

That is a prohibitive statement to make in a guidance document. It would be useful if some reasons were given. That is where guidance falls down. It is only guidance; not legislation. However, the numbers speak for themselves, and there are concerns about the number of organisations that cannot complete the vetting process. They are working away while being able to answer those questions. People are going into homes, with one-to-one access that is unsupervised and unaccompanied, where the situation is isolated and where the contact is recurring.

Regardless of being able to answer "yes" to all of the questions, organisations are not able to have their workers vetted. It is a major issue, as is the issue of people moving from place to place once they have been detected.

We must begin an information and awareness exercise. The media have just not got the message. All the causes that are hyped up are about children who have been abused by strangers, which is an extreme but rare form of abuse. Most abuse of children and vulnerable adults comes from people whom they know, and that is why such people go into these organisations. They are clever enough to do that. We need an incredible education process among parents, and this guidance is the first rung on the ladder towards that.

It is to be hoped that we will take the opportunity to start that educational exercise when the legislation comes to the Floor. Until parents, neighbours and the extended family know how to protect children and with whom children are most vulnerable, we will not get it right. All we will be doing is picking up newspapers - and I could name them and shame them because of the hyped-up nonsense they print - and reading about some case that catches our attention for two weeks, while the majority of abuse goes undetected.

In the end, we must accept that we will only ever catch a minority of abusers - I know that from my experience in the courts with those who have come through the system. The majority of abusers will go undetected. However, we can start to prevent further abuse by the minority of abusers whom we have detected. We can move in that direction when the guidance is put on a statutory basis. I commend Patricia Lewsley for tabling the motion.

Mr Beggs:

I register an interest in the debate. I am a voluntary youth worker, a Boys Brigade officer and a parent of three young children. There is a clear need to improve the current vetting system. As others have said, there are a small number of offenders on the register, and there have been several high-profile cases where abusers have moved across boundaries.

How effective are we in liaising with other UK regions, never mind other European countries? How can we deal with offenders who use new aliases? Is our current system robust enough to detect such people? In the education and sporting worlds, non-EU citizens can become involved in training children. This is not an all-Ireland issue; it is an all-children issue. It affects all adults who train children and care for them. It should not be used in a political fashion.

I recall the child protection training that I received as a Boys Brigade officer. It was the first time that responsibility for caring for children was explained to me. Realisation of the legal responsibility can be quite daunting and off-putting to young officers. However, many people choose to give voluntarily and freely of their time to help children.

It is important to ensure that there is an effective system, and that in informing volunteers and professionals about the system you explain that it protects adults as well as children. It is important that people continue to give freely of their time to assist children, because many vulnerable children come from families that are not as well structured as they should be. Such children coming into contact with the voluntary sector can meet adults who are able to show care and a degree of love and support for them. It is important that those societal attitudes continue.

11.30 am

Effective vetting is needed, but the vetting system must also deal with the issues sensitively. A balance must be achieved. The need for the system should be carefully explained to voluntary workers but without discouraging them. The explanation must be given in a way that youth workers understand that vetting is important for their own protection and the protection of children.

The post of children's commissioner should be progressed as soon as possible. Cross-cutting is involved here, and someone has to take the lead. The establishment of a children's commissioner will help Ministers and Departments to concentrate on the issue and ensure that effective measures are put in place as soon as possible.

Ms Lewsley:

I thank the Members who have contributed to the debate. I am sorry that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety cannot be here because of her work commitments.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Minister has sent me a letter, which I will read aloud when you have finished.

Ms Lewsley:

I hope that she will reply to us in writing.

Members have stated that child protection is not the responsibility of any one Department; it is the responsibility of all Departments. I thank the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for his attendance at the start of the debate, given his responsibilities for sporting events and after-school activities.

In reply to Oliver Gibson, I did not suggest that an all-Ireland institution should be set up. My priority was to discuss the PECS register and List 99. The PECS register contains the names of people who have been reported to the Department by their employers because of their behaviour at work, where they have put children or adults with learning disabilities at risk, and the employers have indicated that they would be unsuitable for such work in the future.

People may be reported for all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, violence and drug-related matters. The problem is that PECS cannot provide the information. The Department of Health maintains a similar register for England and Wales. However, at present it is not possible to check that list. I hope that the Minister will take up the issue and that the situation will be resolved in the near future.

There is also List 99, which is a UK-wide list drawn up by the Department for Education and Employment on people who are legally debarred from working in schools. Again, it is not possible to check that list. I hope that this is a temporary situation that will be resolved soon.

The main issue is that there are no equivalent registers in Scotland or the Republic of Ireland, and the Minister should address seriously that loophole. Members have repeatedly mentioned that better communication and co-ordination between organisations is needed. This is not a regional or a national issue; it is an international issue. As Roy Beggs said, it is a children's issue.

Unless there is co-ordination and communication across all countries, terrible paedophiles will continue to prey on vulnerable children.

Parents should be given more information on how to teach their children to react in difficult situations. The Education Committee has discussed the instructions being produced by the Department. The NSPCC has produced information, but it is not being delivered in schools, because it is about teaching children what is right and wrong. The aim is not to make children aware of what is acceptable for adults to do or not do to them; they need to be taught that it is wrong for anyone, whether they know them or not, to do certain things.

I thank everyone involved in the voluntary community sector and non-governmental organisations who work tirelessly in this field - an area that is often underfunded and under tremendous pressure. If it were not for their dedication and commitment to sexual abuse victims, some of the loopholes and gaps that exist would be much wider.

I proposed the motion so that Members would be made more aware of the issue. This is only the beginning; it is hoped that when the legislation comes before the House, many more issues will be addressed.

Eileen Bell is correct in stating that children are our most precious resource; they are our future. If we cannot protect them when they are at their most vulnerable, what kind of future can we hope they will have?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Minister is not present. She has written to me to say that she is in the United States attending to urgent health matters, and she makes her apologies. However, she will study Hansard to read what has been expressed today, and I trust that she will respond in writing to those Members who raised questions.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly calls on the Ministers responsible for the protection of children, in view of the anomalies in the current vetting system, to take the necessary interim steps to improve the position on vetting those suitable to work with children.


Children's Hospice


Mr Paisley Jnr:

I beg to move

That this Assembly takes note of the ongoing dispute surrounding the future of the children's hospice and calls for an early resolution of the issues.

The children's hospice ought to be a focus of public concern because of the tragedy concerning the issues involved and the unncessary nature of the dispute that has blown up over the past months. It would be remiss of the Assembly if, before it rises for the summer recess, it did not comment on the matter, which has been reported on in the newspapers, on radio and television, and has been the subject of investigation.

Members have a responsibility to comment on the matter and to tell those responsible for the children's hospice that it is important that they resolve the issues and focus on the central mission of the children's hospice, which is to deliver a caring service for children who are terminally ill.

Members must be concerned about the wrangling that has taken place, and which has damaged the credibility of the children's hospice. That wrangling has sapped the morale of many who for years have been quietly engaged in supporting the children's hospice, raising funds and delivering a mission statement that will ultimately deliver a service for children with needs.

I hope that the debate will help those people with responsibility to focus their minds on expediting a solution to the crisis that has developed over some time.

There are four key issues. First, there has been a lack of management accountability concerning the children's hospice. That must concern us, because this is a large charity, which impacts on many families. There must be accountability.

Secondly, management issues have taken the place of the mission of the children's hospice.

Thirdly, there has been a lack of transparency in the financial dealings of the children's hospice, especially regarding the appointment and employment of the new chief executive. There were some questions asked about that matter at a members' meeting in April, but no answers have been given yet. There must be financial transparency in order that people can have confidence in a charitable organisation that so many people wish to support. Many people are asking "Why this person?" "What are the terms and conditions?" "Does his appointment fly in the face of what we have come to know as equality legislation in Northern Ireland?"

Fourthly, there has been a total lack of integrity in the council's dealings with its former director, Mr Tom Hill. That goes to the nub of what we are debating. Lack of integrity, regardless of the reason, challenges the credibility of the organisation and its work.

The saga has more twists and turns than a corkscrew. This morning, the 'News Letter' put it quite vividly when it said that the story has more twists than a television soap opera. Soap opera scriptwriters would have some job delivering a saga with so many turns. However, this is not a farce: it is a serious matter, and it has become a tragedy for Northern Ireland. That is why it is important that we debate the issue and encourage those involved to resolve the problems.

At the extraordinary general meeting of hospice members in April, several issues were identified. First, there was the issue of financial transparency, which I briefly touched on in my opening comments. The relationship of donators to the children's hospice was raised, as was the chief executive's financial remuneration.

Many people will have raised their eyebrows when they read in this morning's 'News Letter' that according to what was said at the April meeting, the new chief executive, when appointed as the director of a charity, was earning approximately £6,000 per month. Many people will be astounded at that figure, considering that the appointment does not appear to meet any of the criteria that we have come to expect under equality legislation for the appointment of individuals to such important posts.

I do not want to make this into a personal issue concerning the chief executive, but the matter deserves to be addressed and resolved. The people who have given money to the organisation need to know who is being paid, how much is being paid and why certain amounts are being paid. That is crucial. It would be foolhardy of the Assembly not to know such facts, just as it would be foolhardy for the membership of the children's hospice not to know what is really going on.

Also identified in April was the serious matter that the membership had no confidence in the board and called for it to step down. The vote of no confidence has not been recognised; it has been virtually ignored. When you have a board that treats its membership with contempt, you will have more rancour in the organisation.

11.45 am

Who has permitted the running sore of the employment of the charity director, Mr Tom Hill, to become such a contentious issue? In the 'News Letter' this morning, a spokesperson for the children's hospice said that

"anything which reduces the ability of the organisation to deliver its core services is not in the best interests of those who need them most."

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. The issue of the employment of Mr Tom Hill and the way he has been treated is reducing the credibility and the ability of the organisation. It is essential that those in charge of the hospice face that issue and stop running away. They need to identify the crisis and endeavour to resolve it expeditiously.

There is also the issue of management incompetence. The day after Mr Hill was sacked, I received a telephone call from a distraught constituent who told me that her office had received a fax from the solicitors acting for the chief executive and the council of the children's hospice. The fax detailed a plan to sack an individual, and she wanted to get that document to me. The six- page legal document drawn up by solicitors acting for the council was delivered to me. It outlined a timetable and an efficient method for setting this person up for dismissal. When that was revealed, there was absolutely no apology for that plan of campaign. There has been a failure to recognise that management overstepped the mark.

The document shows that Mr Hill was to be treated in an unfair fashion. He was to be isolated from other directors - how can a director do his job if he is isolated from his colleagues? A firewall was to be established on all personnel matters, in order to restrict the work of this director. How could you work under those circumstances? The document also said that the council should contemplate denying Mr Hill the right to attend council meetings, to which he had to report, and recommended making him unrecognisable as a director of the agency.

A man of integrity lost his job through workings that have a patina of legality, outlining how he should be isolated while ignoring his well-deserved public appreciation and support. When there is that level of incompetence - or, should I say, "scheming", which is worse - people should realise that perhaps the decision taken in April by the membership to call on the board to stand down, to create a clean slate, to allow a fresh start and to focus on the mission of the children's hospice delivering a service for dying children who have real needs was the right one. The membership was right to call for the board to stand down and to allow us to focus on the real issue - the management of terminally ill children.

However, instead of dealing with the type of children's hospice that Northern Ireland needs or welcoming the establishment of a first-class service, the pressure on the public and on public representatives is to discuss, read and hear about the management style of a board and a council. There is a major deficiency in that management style, and that must be addressed.

During the course of the election, the Member for South Antrim, Mr Jim Wilson, rightly called for a public inquiry into the matter. I support that call. In the debate, on the motion put down by Ms Lewsley, the issue of a children's commissioner was raised. If such a commissioner is ever appointed, he or she should have a retrospective look at the matter, because it affects children who are in great need and who have very little time to address that need.

The motion will, I hope, speed up the investigation, because to date every supposed internal check and balance on the accountability of the board - or lack thereof - has failed. An independent inquiry will address that.

The management style should never have been an issue for the public. The delivery of a first-class service - the care of terminally ill youngsters - should be the key issue. That is what saddens most people who have had any dealing with this. They realise that the real issue has been forgotten in the subterfuge and jealous wrangling that have become the public debate on the children's hospice.

The credibility of the children's hospice is on the block today, and those in charge of it have several options. I hope that they will take the first one; that they will adhere to the decision made in April and stand down. Waiting until September or October will only result in a bigger problem. Action is required immediately.

In closing, I pay tribute to Tom Hill for his tireless and thankless efforts to do something tangible for those in greatest need. The tragedy today is the way that his effort has been rewarded - or not. He did not seek recognition, but for him to be jettisoned because of professional or personal jealousy that ultimately challenges the credibility of the children's hospice, is the real tragedy.

So much has been achieved: over £5 million has been raised, a site has been delivered at a peppercorn purchase price by Newtonabbey Borough Council and the largest grant to any UK hospice has been received. The prospect of a state-of-the-art hospice is in front of us. So much more is at stake - the caring service for children in dire need. Yet all those things, which we should really be debating and encouraging, have been lost because of the management failure of the children's hospice. I hope that, in some small way, the Assembly is able to influence those people and encourage them to resolve the problem now and to focus on the real mission of the children's hospice.

Mr J Wilson:

I support the motion. The Northern Ireland Hospice is a major contributor to Northern Ireland's healthcare portfolio. It was founded 18 years ago with little money, two staff and an enormous vision. Today it is a multi-million pound organisation providing in-patient care at Somerton House, specialist nurses working with adults throughout most of Northern Ireland, an at-home service and a Province-wide children's service.

We are, of course, looking forward to the opening of the Northern Ireland children's hospice in September, but it is regrettable that the final stages of that fantastic initiative have been tainted by the management council's treatment of a member of staff directly linked with the project. I remember when Tom Hill came to my parish church. I remember his vision, his passion and, especially, his cry for help.

In recent months, we have all read and listened to media reports of the sorry affair. Shrouded in mystery enforced by the council, the public has been left in a total state of amazement as to what really happened to result in such a mess. There is no doubt that Tom Hill has suffered a great deal from the confused and bizarre handling of his case.

He has made an enormous contribution to the realisation of the vision to create Northern Ireland's first children's hospice. Now, for reasons known only to, perhaps, very few, he is no longer part of that vision. Is it not time for the management council to come clean? Is it not time for the council to consider its position? In any other walk of life, a confidence slump such as has happened here would bring about resignation or sacking.

The hospice is suffering financially as a result of the ongoing dispute. Some supporters are reluctant to contribute until the issues are resolved. That, coupled with the impact of foot-and-mouth disease on a major fund-raiser for the hospice, has had a devastating effect.

We must remember that, while all this is going on, patients are still being cared for. Medical and nursing staff are still providing the best possible care. Families continue to receive support at the most critical time in their lives. Confidence must be restored to enable the staff to get on with their work, for volunteers once again to feel proud to be associated with one of Northern Ireland's great success stories and for fund-raisers and the public to rediscover their enthusiasm and generosity.

This is a very difficult time. It is not a time to identify winners or losers. It must not be a time when patients are at risk of being the losers. No matter what, the patients and their families should always be at the top of the agenda, as should the doctors, the nurses and the caring staff.

The management dispute with Tom Hill is regrettable, but it is to be hoped that the laws of the land will deal with that in a correct and appropriate way. The Member for North Antrim, Mr Paisley Jnr, brought to our attention some disquieting information about what could be described as the "questionable planning" of Tom Hill's departure. I am sure that we will return to that issue.

This whole issue has identified a much bigger problem, which is that the Northern Ireland Hospice has outgrown the system of governance put in place 18 years ago. The day-to-day running of the hospice is under review at the moment, with a report due in October, but the bigger picture needs the same treatment.

Mr Speaker, I heard your explanation of the Minister's absence, but nevertheless I am disappointed that she is not here. Mr Paisley Jnr referred to my recent request for a public inquiry, which the Minister dismissed. At the time I called it a "cop-out", and I believe that the Minister did cop out. I am unhappy that she is not here today, but in her absence I recommend that she commission a team, representing a cross-section of industry, commerce and health, to examine the current articles of association of the hospice, that she appoint an independent chairperson, and that that team be charged with carrying out a thorough review of the overall management of the hospice, the role of the council and - very importantly - its method of selection.

I also recommend that the Minister of Health Social Services and Public Safety review urgently her Department's financial contribution to the Northern Ireland Hospice. Currently, that sits at 17% of its running costs, compared to 30% in England and Wales, 50% in Scotland and, in many cases, 100% in the Republic of Ireland. Every £2 provided by the Department of Health secures over ten pounds' worth of palliative care. Is the Minister not morally obliged to pay the proper price for specialist palliative care services, which have been identified as essential components of the Department's provision responsibilities?

These positive moves would do much to restore confidence in an organisation that has always enjoyed massive support from the public in Northern Ireland. It must continue to receive that support.


It was right to have the debate. It is right that Members should contribute to it. It is right to be concerned about very sick children. It is wrong to have had a very public row about sick children. I support the motion.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I trust that the Minister will read Hansard in respect of the child protection motion that preceded this, and I hope that she will also study what has been said in the Chamber today.

I have received some information regarding Mr Hill's taking his case to an industrial tribunal. While I do not want to curb Members unnecessarily, they must appreciate that if that turns out to be the case, it is conceivable that there could be a sub judice problem. I am just mentioning that. I will not give a ruling on it.

Mrs Courtney:

I support the motion. The Northern Ireland children's hospice will be the first facility for children with terminal diseases and their families and friends. Today, around 50 children are dying from life- limiting illnesses. The children's hospice that will be built in Newtownabbey is based on the Northern Ireland Hospice's reputation for caring professionalism and excellent facilities. In my council area of Derry, the Foyle Hospice is recognised as being part of the fabric of the city, and the advent of the children's hospice in Belfast is seen as extending the service offered both by it and by the Northern Ireland Hospice.

The death of a child is probably the saddest loss that can be experienced. The mission of the children's hospice will be to care for children with life-limiting diseases from all over Northern Ireland. It will provide help, advice and support for their families. Any child under 19 years of age will be eligible for care, and, as with all hospice services, there will be no charge to the family.

It is significant that, following a competition involving 3,500 schoolchildren, the hospice will be named Horizon House. My understanding is that there will be facilities to provide often lengthy respite care for 10 children, and also to provide for shorter admissions. Parents and families can be accommodated in family rooms if they wish, and parents and their children will be encouraged to treat the hospice as a home from home.

Facilities such as this should not have been allowed to become the focus of a public wrangle. The situation must be resolved quickly so that the families of children with terminal illnesses will at least have the consolation of knowing that their lives and those of their children will be made bearable and that pain will be eased, if not eliminated.

I do not intend to take sides, but I agree that the dispute must be resolved quickly. We cannot allow the issue to drift - it is too serious. I support the motion.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

I support the motion and thank my Colleague for bringing it before the House. I deeply regret that it had to be placed on the agenda. No one will want to glory in the fact that such a motion has had to be brought before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The future of the Northern Ireland children's hospice must not be unnecessarily compromised by the continuing turmoil that has surrounded the events of recent months, and every measure must be taken to secure an effective resolution to the current difficulties.

I am a strong supporter of the valuable work that the Northern Ireland Hospice and its excellent staff have done and continue to do.

However, the facts surrounding this case are disturbing. During my time as Member of Parliament for South Antrim, I was inundated with calls from constituents expressing their deep concern about the saga of the children's hospice. The issues detracted from the excellent news of the opening of a hospice to care for the terminally ill.

The public and emotive situation of the Northern Ireland children's hospice is unacceptable, not only to the people of south Antrim, Newtownabbey and the area where the hospice is, but to thousands of people across the Province. Ardent fund-raisers do not come only from the south Antrim area. People across the Province have reached out their hands to the organisation in the past. When it was needed, the public was happy to give its hard-earned money to something that it believed in - something that gave support to many families. The current situation is causing untold distress and uncertainty. A mass petition has been delivered to hospice headquarters at Somerton Road, but confusion still reigns. Surely that is totally unacceptable.

At the annual general meeting in April, 97% of those present supported a vote of no confidence in the hospice management committee. There could not be a clearer indication that all is not well. Many founding families confirm that they would not use the children's service due to this distrust of the hospice council. A further meeting was requested, but no date for that was notified within the 21 days allowed.

Even now, the council remains undecided on whether Tom Hill will be permitted to appeal against his termination as administrative director. What sort of signal does that send out, not only to the local community, but to the community at large? The negativity and controversy flies in the face of the positive work that has brought the project so close to fruition. The realisation of the children's hospice project at the O'Neill Road site will bring much relief to over 900 life-limited children in Northern Ireland, providing an invaluable resource for both children and their families.

The Northern Ireland Hospice has always prided itself on the quality of its patient care and goodwill - I have commended it for that. Unfortunately, the events of past months have darkened the horizon. The emotional distress that has been caused to many families must be dispelled lest the Northern Ireland children's hospice continue to suffer unnecessarily. The sickening saga could be resolved properly and speedily. Those who are involved in the decision-making process would do well to remember why the children's hospice is named Horizon House. An important lesson can be learned from the child whose privilege it was to name the site.

When asked why she had selected the name "Horizon House", Nicole Crawford replied that when the clouds go away, there is a bright horizon. It is a horizon that should bring new hope to the many families in Northern Ireland who will benefit from using the very special service.

The motion allows us to highlight the causes of the controversy. We should bear in mind that a new horizon, and the hope that accompanies it, can be achieved only through honesty, decency and integrity in dealing with the situation. Those qualities have been lacking in dealings with Tom Hill.

An organisation is always bigger than the individual. Mr Hill recognises that those issues are bigger than he. We must dig deep into the heart of a matter that has brought Tom Hill's name to the fore.

I, and those from the South Antrim constituency who know him well, believe him to be a gentleman who has worked with great honesty, integrity and decency on behalf of the Northern Ireland Hospice for many years. He is a person of vision; he is caring and understanding to those families going through critical times and whose children are in most need of love and attention.

Why would any organisation plan to discredit Mr Hill and remove him from his position?


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