Respect for rights of children must be key policy driver - ombudsman

 

MERRIMAN SUMMER SCHOOL:PUBLIC POLICY and services for children must be underpinned by a respect for their rights, Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan told the summer school yesterday.

A first step for children to be considered full citizens would be an amendment to the Constitution, she said.

“It is important that we get the message right in the primary legal document in the State. In the experience of my office, the absence of clearer protection for children’s rights in the Constitution has had an adverse effect on children across a wide range of areas.”

Ms Logan said the Ryan report had direct contemporary relevance. “The bulk of the commission’s recommendations relate to how our current child protection and care structures can and should be improved,” she said.

“The Ryan report did not, therefore, close the chapter on the State’s failings in caring for vulnerable children. It explained where we have come from and how the legacy of those institutions has yet to be fully addressed.”

The report had recorded the brave attempts made by some children to tell others about what was happening and the deafening silence from those who should have helped them.

“Complete indifference to the voice of the child was one of the hallmarks of the exploitative, abusive and toxic environment which characterised the institutions examined by the Ryan report. Public policy could not or would not consider listening to what children had to say.”

There was still a continuity between the care system of today and the one described in the report, she said. In the provision of aftercare services, there was no statutory obligation on the State to young people once they turned 18.

“This means that children who may have been in the care of the State for years are quite abruptly deprived of a right to essential support. While some children in this situation may receive support beyond their 18th birthday this practice is not consistent and it is not a statutory entitlement.”

On the subject of North-South relations, professor of politics at Queen’s University Paul Bew told the school that Northern Ireland and the Republic have entered into an unpredictable period in politics where traditional party alignments would now be questioned.

Prof Bew highlighted the recent comments of Minister of State at the Department of Finance Martin Mansergh that in the new economic environment in the Republic there was a less compelling case for a united Ireland.

There was no longer a need for two “Civil War” parties, Prof Bew said. A member of the House of Lords and an adviser to the former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble, he said that Fianna Fáil, in particular, was facing a critical moment.