Seanad passes Bill lifting restrictions on naming children who die by violence

Legislation to address legal loophole should come into effect by May 3rd, says Minister

 Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Children (Amendment) Bill would now go to President Michael D Higgins for consideration and signature and should come into effect by May 3rd at the latest. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Children (Amendment) Bill would now go to President Michael D Higgins for consideration and signature and should come into effect by May 3rd at the latest. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Restrictions on reporting the identity of children killed by homicide have been removed following the passage of amending legislation in the Seanad.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Children (Amendment) Bill would now go to President Michael D Higgins for consideration and signature and should come into effect by May 3rd at the latest.

The restrictions prevented grieving parents from speaking publicly about the child in cases where they died through murder or manslaughter.

The amending legislation will allow child victims to be named in broadcasts and publications after a loophole, in place for more than 20 years, was identified last October in a Court of Appeal judgment.

The court ruled that section 252 of the Children Act preventing child victims of crime being identified, should also apply when the child is deceased.

Ms McEntee had pledged to amend the law and there was cross-party support to use a draft Bill introduced in the Seanad by Independent Senator Michael McDowell and supported in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan as a basis for closing the loophole.

The Minister said on Monday she was aware of the “profound impact the Court of Appeal ruling” and the “deep hurt felt by families around the restrictions on reporting the identities of deceased children who have been the victims of criminal acts”.

She said the legislation will remove the restrictions on reporting the identities of deceased children with respect to past and future cases, while retaining the protection for living children.

The Minister said many Oireachtas members “have been contacted over recent months by parents who wanted to publicly remember their children but were prevented from doing so”.

“Every parent should be able to speak about their children publicly, to secure their child’s legacy”.

When he introduced the legislation Mr McDowell said “it is a huge injustice to the parents of a child who is killed in a homicide that media cannot carry coverage of the fact it is 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”.

Passage of the legislation was delayed to concerns where a child might be a witness to the murder of another child, for instance a sibling. Mr McDowell and Mr O’Callaghan were concerned that the law might prohibit the identification of a deceased child on the basis that a child witness might be identified.

Mr McDowell acknowledged that the legislative process had worked “slowly perhaps but very carefully”.

He said this was because “we were dealing with one unintended consequence of legislation from 20 years ago, while being careful to ensure that we did not produce further unintended consequences in a rush to rebalance the situation”.