Irish Medical Organisation

Ms Emily Logan

The Doolin Memorial Lecture

Children’s Rights – The Public Policy Challenge

Summary of address by Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children
Addressing the Irish Medical Organisation

Over the past decade the rights, the welfare and the protection of children have frequently been the most pressing public policy issues under discussion in our society. All too often, these discussions have centred on the most distressing of stories and harrowing of circumstances.

We – all of us – have heard of responsibilities that were neglected and of authority that was misused, and abused. And we – all of us – have heard about the children and young people who suffered as a result, and of the pain that they have carried with them into adulthood as a result.

We’ve heard about:

  • Institutional maltreatment
  • The failures of the State
  • Clerical abuse
  • Missing children
  • Abuse in schools and residential centres
  • Serious legal gaps regarding the care and protection of children
  • The failures of the authorities to follow up on complaints and to investigate child welfare concerns
  • Vaccine trials without consent

These are just some of the issues that have come to the fore – with force – in the last ten years. Investigations and reports have followed, most recently the Murphy report into the abuse of children within the Dublin Archdiocese.
The findings of this report – and of the Ryan Report that preceded it – are shocking. The report is so disturbing that it is hard to adequately express our collective horror – and collective shame – that so little care was taken to protect some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
The degradation of children chronicled in these reports was total. Even more than the appalling material conditions, this was accomplished by the assault on the self-worth of the children. They were very deliberately made to feel worthless. Whatever meagre comforts or maimed charity they received were to be regarded as gifts. For many of them this was compounded by systematic physical, emotional and sexual abuse which represented the final erosion of dignity and annihilation of their most basic human rights.

It was no coincidence that the vast majority of children who suffered in this way came from marginalised backgrounds. It is self evident that it is easier to violate the human rights of people who are not socially powerful, those that are either unaware of what they are entitled to or have simply internalised low expectations of what their lot in life should be. Indeed, one of the core characteristics of human rights is that they act as a defensive wall against the arbitrary exercise of power by those who have it over those who don’t. A society that is fully committed to promoting and protecting human rights is one which establishes systems of accountability and redress which prevent anyone from exercising power in this way.

But what also comes through – loud and clear – from these reports is the placing of institutional loyalty above interests of the children. Those who were charged with the responsibility of protecting children did the opposite – they protected their abusers, and they shielded them from scrutiny, from investigation and from prosecution.

Of course, whilst Ireland is a different country today in many respects from that which is portrayed in the Ryan and Murphy reports, their findings have a direct relevance to today, and to how children and young people are protected and have their rights recognised and vindicated. These reports contain recommendations in respect of how our current child protection and care structures should be improved. Ryan and Murphy have not closed the book on the story of the abuse of children in Ireland, but instead – I hope – have begun a new chapter in the evolution of children’s rights and welfare in our State.

It is in the context of this emerging new era of children’s rights that the Ombudsman for Children will outline the role of her Office in promoting the rights and welfare of children.

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