A chance to show respect for children, says Lonergan
The upcoming children’s referendum offers the State an opportunity to tell children they are at the core of Irish society, the former governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan, said last night.
“It is a great opportunity for us once and for all to say to young people and to say to the world we respect children. We regard children as our core responsibility and our core asset . . . and we are going to place them there as equals to everyone else and say, ‘you are special’.
“I think that’s a very significant thing to put into the Constitution,” added Mr Lonergan, who was speaking as the guest lecturer at the annual Children in Hospital Ireland lecture in the Royal College of Surgeons last night.
“For me it’s all about a message to people. We have changed, we have moved on. We see now in many ways the failures that we’ve been guilty of in the past and we are, all of us, guilty in our own tiny little way of what happened or what didn’t happen for children.”
Mr Lonergan said that during more than 40 years in the prison service, had proper supports and interventions been in place at an early stage, those in prison would not have ended up there.
“Many were there because of early neglect,” Mr Lonergan said. He pointed to dyslexia, which he said was common among the prison population, as an example of where early intervention was crucial in changing outcomes.
“That’s one tiny example of neglect and the consequences of that. And then miraculously once it’s identified the enormous difference that makes: there’s a new life, there’s a new beginning, life is now different. Those early interventions are absolutely crucial,” he said.
“While child suffers, that child is being damaged and harmed and is losing out and you cannot make up years that have been misused or neglected. No matter what happens those early years are gone now, the opportunity is gone and the child brings it to their grave.”
“It is very much society’s responsibility so the referendum is very, very significant in sending out that message . . . but it is only the beginning . . . [if there is a Yes vote in Saturday’s referendum] the real work will start on Monday when we will now be called to back up our philosophy, to back it up with action.”
Mr Lonergan also pointed to housing policy which he said was at the core of how we develop as a society and how fair and integrated it is.
“The little child is perfect. It’s the culture that comes in, the influence, the destructive stuff. That’s why we need to provide more positive and more motivating and more stimulating environments. We can’t continue building ghettos,” he said.
“Our segregation of people is another huge issue. We build these public housing and we isolate the one particular social class of people: the poor, lowest socioeconomic groups into those areas with no amenities, no facilities and no mixture of people . . . a community is a social mix of people of all equals.”