Speech by Minister Micheál Martin T.D. at the forum on the statutory registration of complementary and alternative practitioners

May I begin by apologising for the fact that I could not be here to open today´s forum as I had intended. Unfortunately my schedule dictated otherwise but I feel that it is important that I join you all here today for this historic occasion. This is the first time that all of the key players in the field of complementary and alternative therapy have come together, along with officials of my Department to explore the issue of statutory registration.

I have met some of you since I came to office. Some have come to me seeking the immediate introduction of statutory registration for your professions, while others have come to oppose any such development. Today is an important day, one that will allow such debate to begin in a structured manner.

I believe that regulation is essential for health and social care professions. As officials of my Department will have outlined to you earlier, we have recently developed proposals for the regulation of the health and social care professions. This progress came about after many years of effort and debate.

During my time as Minister for Education and Science, I oversaw the development of legislation in relation to the establishment of a Teachers´ Council. Again, this had been an initiative that had been ongoing for almost 30 years and agreement was reached by bringing together the key players in the field. By taking the same approach to the regulation of your professions, I am confident that we can succeed in developing a scheme of registration.

Today´s forum is particularly timely. As many of you will be aware, my Department is drafting a new health strategy. The focus of this strategy is the service user. We must be able to guarantee that the users are receiving a quality service. This guarantee must extend to practitioners in the complementary and alternative therapy field. Protection of the public, by means of legislation and accreditation is of paramount importance.

The issue of self-regulation is one that is being widely debated at the moment. Regulatory schemes, once they are established, must be regularly reviewed to ensure that the aims of the scheme are being achieved.

Statutory registration will bring benefits to the professions involved by ensuring that only those who are fully trained to professional standards are eligible to practice. It will provide a statutory means of dealing with complaints by members of the public or by fellow practitioners and ensure new levels of transparency and accountability.

Difficult decisions will however have to be reached in deciding how we best advance this matter.

  • Which therapies should be covered by legislation?
  • Should all members of professional bodies be automatically registered?
  • What of those practitioners who do not qualify for professional body membership but are in practice?
  • Are all current training providers providing training to the requisite standard?
  • Will we require differing levels of registration?
  • Should Continuing Professions Development be compulsory?
  • If so, how can we ensure equality of access, regardless of personal circumstances and geographical location?

None of these questions can be easily answered, but answers will be required. For this reason, my Department has asked the Institute of Public Administration to facilitate this forum today and to submit a report to me dealing with these and other relevant issues. The report will form the basis for deciding on how we best to move forward.

From my previous experience, I am fully aware of the difficulties that regulation brings for professions. Bringing together a number of professions under common legislation brings added complications. Let me assure you that neither myself nor my officials have any wish to see legislation introduced that would result in diminished autonomy for your professions in areas of key importance. Any registration system must be designed to ensure independence in areas of professionalism such as introduction of baseline qualifications for registration, setting of codes of ethics and conduct and continuing professional development. Any proposal must also allow for a mutually supportive system of registration across professions.

It is these areas that will require agreement within the professions where there is more than one professional representative body. These bodies will be required to come together to form a registration board to regulation that profession and set standards in relation to these and other areas. While my Department will support the process in whatever way it can, these decisions must ultimately be made by these professional bodies. This will involve the professional bodies coming together to work in partnership.

The registration boards, sub-committees and statutory committees will similarly be manned by members of the professions, supported as appropriate by representatives of the health and education sectors and consumer representatives. The onus and responsibility will be on these structures to balance the rights and responsibilities of the practitioner and the public.

Developing proposals on which there is agreement between the professions and with my Department, translating these proposals into a Bill and ensuring its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas will be a time-consuming process. I will ensure that all that can be done will be done to ensure that this process succeeds but I need your co-operation to ensure this result.

I know that you have had a very useful debate since lunchtime on some of the key issues, and I am conscious that there maybe some further issues to discuss before the day ends. It only remains for me to thank you all for attending today and to thank the IPA for all of the work that they have put into organising today’s event.

I hope that today provides a firm foundation from which we can all move forward.

Thank you.