Child victims of homicide can be named publicly from Friday onwards, following legislation signed into law last week.
A total bar on naming children who have been the subject of court cases came into effect last October following a Court of Appeal ruling which imposed a strict reading of the section of the Children Act, 2001 relating to child anonymity.
Until then, it was widely accepted the Act allowed child victims of homicide to be named publicly, while strictly prohibiting the naming of living children who are witnesses, defendants or complainants in court cases.
The Court of Appeal ruled that Section 252 of the Act applied to both living and dead children.
This resulted in parents of murdered children not being able to talk about their children publicly without fear of breaking the law. It also meant child victims of high-profile murders or alleged murders suddenly could not be named in the media.
Andrew McGinley, the father of Conor, Darragh and Carla, who were killed in January, was one of those prevented from naming his children publicly.
The ruling also meant Keane Mulready Woods, a 17-year-old boy who was allegedly murdered and dismembered at the start of 2020 in Co Louth, could no longer be named in court proceedings concerning his case.
To date, one person has been charged and several people arrested in connection with the death.
The ruling also affected high-profile historical cases, meaning underage victims such as 14-year-old Ana Kriégel, who was murdered by two schoolboys in 2018, also could not be named.
The court’s ruling prompted significant criticism from victim advocates who said it silenced families of murdered children.
In response, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee quickly took up a Bill introduced in the Seanad by Independent Senator Michael McDowell and supported in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan, to amend the Children Act.
The Children (Amendment) Act 2021 passed with cross-party support and was signed into law last week by President Michael D Higgins.
It became active at midnight. As well as allowing the naming of deceased children in future cases, it also applies retroactively.
The Court of Appeal's judgment surprised many people but, according to barrister Dara Hayes it was a reasonable reading of the law as it stood at the time.
The judges interpreted the word “child” in the legislation as applying to both living and dead children, he said.
However, the original law’s intended purpose was to “give protection to living children as they got on with their lives”, he said.
Mr Hayes said the new law is essentially a return to the status quo. It makes clear that the restriction on naming children who are parties to court cases does not apply if the child is dead.
However, restrictions will continue to apply in cases where naming a dead child might indirectly identify a living child who is party to a case, eg in the case of siblings where one is murdered and the other is a witness.
The new law makes sense and retains protections for living children, Mr Hayes said. “It’s a more sensible application of the law.”
The change has also been welcomed by the campaigning and advice group Advocates for Victims of Homicide (Advic).
“The ruling had caused trauma for some of our members,” said an Advic spokesman. He called for politicians to take care when drafting laws in future to be wary of the potential for “unintended consequences.”
He also warned that despite the ruling, some parents will not want to talk about their deceased children publicly and will wish for their privacy to be respected.