Analysis

Friday 11 July 2014

David Quinn: Where is the media frenzy when the State fails children?

Published 15/07/2011|05:00

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HOW many people in Ireland know that the clerical abuse scandals peaked in the 1970s and 1980s? How many know that of the several hundred allegations received by the church in the last two years, almost none relate to incidents that happened in the last 10 years?

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How many know that a large section of public opinion grossly overestimates the number of child abusers in the priesthood, as a Royal College of Surgeons survey some years ago ascertained?

How many know that Catholic priests are no more likely to abuse children than comparable groups, which is what ' Newsweek' magazine discovered when it contacted US insurance companies to determine whether they charged a higher risk premium for Catholic priests than for other clergy?

How many know that the Cloyne Report itself acknowledges that the church's child-protection guidelines are better than the State's guidelines? It says that compared with the church's guidelines, the State's are "less precise and more difficult to implement".

It would be safe to bet that only a small proportion of the public could correctly answer the above questions.

The reason for this is that our media have no interest in making the answers known so instead we have a public that believes the phenomenon of child abuse is a particularly and peculiarly Catholic one.

The Irish church has rightly been excoriated over its child-protection failings.

The Vatican is also in the firing line. It is in the firing line because it has never made the Irish church's child-protection policy a part of church, or canon law, thereby making it mandatory, and because it has opposed mandatory reporting of child abuse allegations.

But in these two regards, the State's failures are identical to the Vatican's. The Irish State's child-protection policy, Children First, is only now being given a statutory footing and only now is the State adopting a mandatory reporting policy.

So if the Vatican deserves to be in the firing line, so does the State. But it is not in the firing line to anything like the same extent. Why not?

In fact, the State's failings in the field of child protection are manifold but they have never resulted in anything like the coverage, and therefore in anything like the degree of public outrage, given to the church's failings.

For example, a few years ago the government released a three-volume report dealing with the implementation of Children First.

Of those surveyed for it, only 16pc said the Children First guidelines were working well. Only 27pc said that the guidelines in respect of the handling of abuse allegations received by the State were being properly adhered to.

Most incredibly of all, when asked whether the HSE and the gardai were "acting in accordance with the Children First guidelines", only 13pc said 'Yes'.

This is why child-protection expert Geoffrey Shannon told RTE's 'Morning Ireland' yesterday that the failure to properly implement Children First has been abject, and it is why he accused the HSE of adopting an "a la carte approach" to the guidelines.

Similarly, the new director for child and family services in the country, Gordon Jeyes, said recently that Ireland doesn't have "a proper child-protection system".

But while there has been huge pressure on the church to get its house in order, nothing like the same pressure has been put on the State, even though the State's failure to properly abide by its own guidelines has been abysmal.

Shannon is currently presiding over an investigation into the deaths of 200 children in the last 10 years who were in the care of the State, or who were known to the State's care services.

These deaths, from violence, suicide, drug overdose, from possibly preventable diseases, have received nothing like the publicity the church scandals have received, even though they are still happening.

Shannon's report is due out some time in the autumn. When it comes out, will there be a press conference presided over by government ministers as there was with the Cloyne Report?

Will RTE broadcast the press conference live? Will its programmes feature one inveterate critic of the HSE after another? Will the first 20 minutes of its news at both 6.01 and 9pm deal with the report as was the case on Wednesday when the Cloyne Report was published?

Will there be a 'Prime Time' special? Will RTE commission several emotionally charged, two-part documentaries cataloguing the circumstances in which some of the 200 children died?

Will HSE employees who abjectly failed to protect children have to resign, or at least be named, as has rightly happened in the case of the church? Will the RTE board ask the station why it gives so much coverage to the church's child-protection failings and so little to the State's failings by comparison?

The answer to all these questions is no, because the unpalatable truth is that the only child-protection failures deemed worthy of saturation coverage are the failures of the church.

Irish Independent

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