Emer O'Kelly: Toothless Bill cannot protect children from harm and neglect
The constitutional and religious right have stymied all progress on behalf of children
What is being described as the "long-awaited Children First Bill" was published last week. Its provisions were first propounded as "guidelines" as far back as 1999; except that the guidelines were a lot stricter and more comprehensive than the law will now require. "Certain professionals" – ie, medical practitioners, teachers, social workers, gardai, clergy, and child protection officers – will all now be required by law to report suspected abuse of children to the proper authorities: ie, the gardai. In the opinion of Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, the new laws will "aim to make best safeguarding practice the 'cultural norm' for anyone working with children".
The Children's Rights Alliance and children's activist Senator Jillian van Turnhout have both criticised the Bill as inadequate, pointing out that there are to be no legal sanctions against those who fail or refuse to obey the law on reporting suspected abuse.
And the Roman Catholic Church is already defiantly indicating its refusal to obey, citing the "seal of the confessional". Once again, the church proves that it has learned nothing, and intends to learn nothing: children's pain matters not at all, and the law of the land will be treated with contempt where it clashes with the arcane intricacies of canon law. And we can whistle for our sanctions against its clergy.