Bill moved in Seanad to allow child homicide victims be named

Enabling parents of murdered children to tell their story publicly moves step closer

Legislation to allow identification of children who are murder victims has been introduced in the Seanad after a Court of Appeal ruling that a dead child cannot be identified when someone is charged with the killing.

The Cabinet last week approved a proposal by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to support the Children (Amendment) Bill drafted by Independent Senator Michael McDowell. Similar legislation was published last week by Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan.

Ms McEntee said “the profound negative impact the ruling is having on grieving parents who are unable to remember their deceased child’s name or legacy is very clear”.

Like Senators and many others “I want to give power back to those parents so that they can remember their children or their family members in the way they want to”.


Under the Children’s Act it is an offence to publish anything that could lead to the identification of a child who has been the victim of a crime. In October last year the Court of Appeal ruled that those restrictions also apply if the child is deceased or has already turned 18.

The Court rejected an application by The Irish Times and several other media outlets to allow them identify a woman who killed her three-year-old child. She was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity following a short trial last year.

Before the trial began, two High Court judges ordered that the victim should not be identified and this meant the woman could not be named.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions had requested the order, arguing that section 252 of the 2001 Children Act 2001 makes it an offence to publish anything that could identify a child who is an alleged victim of an offence, including a deceased child.

Introducing the Bill Mr McDowell said “it is a huge injustice to the parents of a child killed in a homicide” that the media could not report that their child was the subject of a case “when the public will probably in most cases be well aware of the identity of the person convicted”.

He said that was a “major reduction in the rights of apparent free speech and the rights of parents to tell their story in public and to express their tragic loss in many cases and their feelings about what has happened to their child that the law should have this clearly unintended effect”.

Unforeseen consequence

Mr McDowell noted that the legislation was in place 20 years and the fact that nobody previously saw it having this effect “is a signal warning to us all of parsing and analysing legislation and not rushing it through without careful consideration of what precisely we are doing”.

The Minister said she would introduce a number of amendments including ensuring the legislation is retrospective. This would take in cases affected since the ruling including the death of a teenager in the past two weeks.

“We need to make sure that this legislation will apply to those families,” said Ms McEntee.

She also referred to victims of sexual abuse as children who are going through the courts as adults and who wish to name themselves, but cannot do so. “We need to address that where it is their wish to waive their right to anonymity.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan said the Court of Appeal decision had brought a lot of hurt to families of children who could not be named and it had created an “absurd situation”.

She said the Bill respects the requirement to balance protecting the public and protecting the victim.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times