Any apology 'could lead to a wave of costly claims'
Published 29/10/2010 | 05:00
SEVERAL government departments strongly opposed the planned wording of the children's rights referendum over fears that it would "open the floodgates" to litigation by neglected children who claim they were failed by the State.
The legal obstacles to the referendum came as child law experts warned the "unreserved and unequivocal" apology by the Heath Service Executive (HSE) to the children at the centre of the Roscommon 'House of Horrors' abuse case could spark a multi-million euro compensation claim.
The Irish Independent has learned that the Departments of Justice and Education raised a series of concerns about the proposed children's referendum and feared that the express provision of socio economic rights for children could lead to multi-million euro payouts.
An explicit provision that the State has a positive duty to protect children from harm, and the potential litigation such provisions could spark, has emerged as a major stumbling block for the Government, which has failed to set a date for the long-awaited poll because of concerns over the wording and their consequences if ratified by the public.
Legal experts last night said the nature of the HSE apology in the Roscommon abuse case could lead to compensation claims for negligence by the HSE for failing to protect them from the consistent neglect of their parents.
Several precedents have already been set in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which could be applied here, according to experts.
They include cases taken against public authorities in Britain over their failure to protect at risk children.
The litany of failures, acknowledged by the HSE, has left the State "wide open" to legal challenges by the children, four of whom are still in care.
The 107-page report into the HSE's handling of the Roscommon case found that there was a "prevailing belief" that the legal threshold of proof, required by a district court in neglect cases, was very high and very difficult to meet.
The inquiry team, led by Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy at children's charity Barnardos, said it believed this misunderstanding prevented an earlier application being made to the district court for a supervision or care order of the young family.