Why is Tusla head Gordon Jeyes at odds with the judiciary?

Chief executive of Child and Family Agency says child-protection cases inconsistent

In an interview in The Irish Times on Monday, Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, said the scrutiny brought to child protection cases in Dublin was "suffocating" and complained of inconsistency in courts across the country.

“I know of particular courts where the day has yet to dawn when the judge would actually read the social worker’s submission . . . before offering a view,” he said. “In other courts the judge will say ‘never apply for a full order here, you’ll never get it’.”

Jeyes also said the burden of proof required, “on the balance of probabilities”, had “slipped” and the balance was now “beyond reasonable doubt”. He said the system had become too adversarial, and there should be a more inquisitorial process.

He also said social workers hadn’t been “treated with the respect that is their due” in court. He complained about prescriptive orders by judges that stipulate the agency must meet a specific need identified, but not provided to a child. And he was not happy about having to pay for court-appointed guardians.


Since becoming president of the District Court in 2012, Judge Rosemary Horgan has striven to improve and standardise child protection proceedings across the country. And such cases in the Dublin District Family Court are approached by all judges with compassion, scrupulousness and balance.

Judges there regularly see cases in which services for children in care, deemed necessary by all involved, are not provided. Reasons include waiting lists, funds and a shortage of beds. When judges make court orders to provide these services, it is usually a last resort.

While Mr Jeyes does not want the judiciary telling him how to spend tight funds, judges want to ensure children get what they need.

Though judges in Ireland do not respond publicly to criticism, in a written judgment (in a child-protection case) a Dublin judge covered much of the ground.

Judge Marie Quirke said proceedings are conducted "in as informal a manner as possible" and "are in essence an inquiry". She said the burden of proof was on the agency and "the standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities".

She said: “The court has an overriding duty to the welfare of the child and is obliged to act as independent arbiter.”

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist