Doubt about child protection watchdog ‘damaging’: Martin

Archbishop reacts to former NBSC chief Ian Elliott’s talk of legal action

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: said the NBSC was an extremely important instrument for the church in Ireland. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: said the NBSC was an extremely important instrument for the church in Ireland. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.


The National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) “is an extremely important instrument for the church in Ireland and any doubts that begin to emerge about its credibility and total integrity would be very, very damaging”, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said.

This was particularly so where its reviews or audits were concerned, he told The Irish Times .

The archbishop was commenting following the disclosure on Saturday that Ian Elliott, who retired as chief executive of the NBSC last June, had challenged findings of a child protection audit in Down and Connor diocese and was considering a legal action against its bishop.

Mr Elliott said its findings “do not reflect the findings from the fieldwork” he had conducted last May and he was “deeply concerned at attempts by the diocese to attribute that review [audit]” to him.

Down and Connor includes Antrim, most of Down and part of Derry county. It is one of two Catholic dioceses wholly within Northern Ireland, the other being Dromore.

Major crisis
It is believed likely this crisis, probably the biggest in the almost seven-year history of the NBSC, will be discussed by the Catholic bishops at their spring meeting in Maynooth, which begins today.

Archbishop Martin said yesterday: “I don’t know anything about audits in other dioceses. I don’t know the facts in the particular context.” However, as the Dublin archdiocese has just undergone an audit itself, he was aware of “the huge amount of work involved”.

The only people who know what is involved in such audits were “the diocese, the board [NBSC], and the people who conducted it”. He believed the NBSC “should have mechanisms to see who is right and wrong” in such situations.

“There should be a process there” which could address such situations “in a transparent way and which would not be lawyer-led”, he said.

Were there to be “a lack of confidence in the review process, everyone would suffer, particularly child protection. People in parishes would become very disillusioned and might not continue to work or be willing to work” in the child protection area, he said.

Where the current NBSC team were concerned, he noted that “they had been picked by Ian Elliot. I have trust and confidence in them.” But “this constant chipping away at the board is not good for anyone”.

‘Man of integrity’
“Any dealings I had with Ian Elliott were very, very correct. At times, discussions were robust, especially in the early stages of the board. Occasionally, when problems arose, we found ways of dealing with them. I also know Bishop Noel Treanor, and he is a man of integrity.”

The Archbishop added “if the audit process is harmed, the entire [child protection] effort will simply be wasted and that is in no one’s interest”.

He said Health Service Executive audits were ongoing but “the State-run system is not as robust [as that run by the NBSC]”.

Where the dispute between Mr Elliott and Bishop Treanor was concerned, he said, “I don’t know who could act as mediator. It is a matter for the board. But I do hope it can be resolved quickly and in an amicable way, and not put in jeopardy what has been done.”

Speaking to The Irish Times last week, Mr Elliott said his going public on the dispute with Bishop Treanor was motivated “solely by a concern for safeguarding children. I don’t want to do it but I believe I have to.”

Announcing his retirement last April, he described his six years with the NBSC as “a really remarkable journey, with its highs and lows, obstacles to overcome”.