Watchdog Elliott played key role in Catholic Church child safety reform

The church got more than it bargained for in the tenacious chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children

“One Catholic bishop is said to have complained: ‘Ian Elliott just doesn’t understand us.” Photograph Brenda Fitzsimons

“One Catholic bishop is said to have complained: ‘Ian Elliott just doesn’t understand us.” Photograph Brenda Fitzsimons


So it’s goodbye to Ian Elliott. Some in the Catholic Church in Ireland clearly have felt it has been less than good to know him. Then maybe it’s just the beginning of a longer farewell involving the chief executive of the church’s child protection “watchdog-with-a-helluva- bite” and the authorities in Maynooth.

He may yet be employed on a consultancy basis as the review process in the church’s 162 institutions goes on.

It is doubtful whether the Catholic Church on this island has ever owed as much to a Presbyterian where restoring its credibility is concerned. Yesterday’s “gratifying” reports on current child protection practices in six dioceses and one religious congregation would hardly have been possible without his doggedness. He has played a hugely significant role in making Catholic parishes in Ireland today among the safest places for children.

With hindsight it would appear that when church authorities headhunted him in 2007 to be chief executive of the new National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, to give it its full name, they had not bargained on what they got.

His track record in Northern Ireland, whether with the NSPCC or the DHSS, would have offered plenty of evidence. And in Maynooth he was not for turning. One Catholic bishop is said to have complained that “Ian Elliott just doesn’t understand us.” Mr Elliott was not alone.

His determination became clear in December 2008 when his report on “inadequate and in some respects dangerous” child protection practices in Cloyne diocese was published. It led to the resignation of Bishop John Magee and the extension of the Murphy Commission’s remit to include Cloyne diocese.

In March 2010 he spoke publicly of the “hostility” he experienced from bishops and others “who create difficulties” as he attempted to implement uniform child protection guidelines in the church.

In November 2011 Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty stood down prior to publication of the NBSC report.

Last year Mr Elliott was cleared of an accusation by Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Traenor that he had been spinning against church leadership in off-the-record briefings with journalists. It followed an internal inquiry by former Supreme Court judge Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness. The bishop apologised.

Yesterday’s reports were further proof that, where child protection is concerned, the Catholic Church in Ireland has finally “got it”. There could be no finer tribute to Mr Elliott.

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