UCC lecturer named new special rapporteur on child protection

Conor O’Mahony highlights review of Child Care Act as central to his three-year term

Dr Conor O’Mahony holds a PhD from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has lectured in UCC since 2005.

Dr Conor O’Mahony holds a PhD from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has lectured in UCC since 2005.

 

Dr Conor O’Mahony, a senior law lecturer from University College Cork, has been appointed as the special rapporteur on child protection.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone appointed Dr O’Mahony to the role for a three-year term.

The Minister welcomed the law expert to the post saying: “Conor has a distinguished career in the area of child law, children’s rights and constitutional law and I look forward to working with him during his term.”

Dr O’Mahony holds a PhD from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has lectured in UCC since 2005. He is also the director of the Child Law Clinic at UCC, where he has supported litigation concerning children and advocated for law reform in the area of child law.

Dr O’Mahony said that while there were a number of issues he would be “particularly focused on”, he doesn’t have a list of priorities because “when it comes to child protection, it’s all important”.

“I suppose there would be a couple of things that are really looming large in the child protection world in Ireland right now and one of the big ones would be the review of the Child Care Act,” Dr O’Mahony said. “That’s obviously the central piece of legislation in the area of child protection in Ireland and governing the powers of the State and the duty of the State to intervene to protect children who are at risk of abuse and neglect.”

He added: “It’s absolutely critical that we get that right; that we keep the aspects of the Act that are good and are working well and that we address the parts that are not.”

Dr O’Mahony said that, within that Act, he would be looking to ensure children were heard in child protection proceedings, that the rights of children and their families were safeguarded when children were placed in voluntary care placements. He said he would also examine the legal framework surrounding the investigation of retrospective allegations of abuse.

“The legal framework governing the investigation allegations really isn’t fit for purpose at the moment,” the UCC professor said. “We’re looking at dealing with that in a way that’s more effective and that gives proper powers and proper safeguards in situations where you have an adult making allegations about abuse that perhaps happened decades ago.”

Social media

Dr O’Mahony also highlighted issues around regulating social media or legislating for online safety in terms of child protection in Ireland.

“It’s a very large and significant part of children’s lives at the moment but it is a space where there is a delicate balance to be struck,” he said. “It’s tempting sometimes to feel that there are clear legal solutions available to the problems that are presented by the mass use of social media and communications technology. There are limits to what the law can achieve in that sphere due to jurisdictional challenges, due to enforcement challenges and various other issues,” he added.

The special rapporteur on child protection reviews and reports on specific national and international legal developments for the protection of children, as well as reporting on the impact specific litigation or legislation can have on children.

The rapporteur will then compile an annual report on these matters and present them to the government for approval.

Ms Zappone also praised the work of the outgoing special rapporteur, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, who has held the post since 2007.

“I would like to sincerely thank Dr Shannon for his dedication and commitment to the work in this area,” Ms Zappone said. “The child welfare and protection matters raised in his reports are relevant to a broad span of departments and statutory agencies.”

“I consider that his reports have provided important input into the development and review of child protection policy and legislation and have provided an objective and independent expert view of the child protection system in Ireland,” she added.