independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

EU court: State has to protect vulnerable citizens

The European Court of Human Rights

IT has been a week of mixed fortunes on the issue of child protection, a week where the past has collided with the future. The official launch of the new Child and Family Agency, combining the child protection, family support and educational welfare arms of the State, was overshadowed by European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in the Louise O'Keeffe case.

It was also eclipsed by claims by Brendan Comiskey, the former Bishop of Ferns, that an "extraordinary amount" of revelations concerning child abuse in the wider Irish society are yet to be exposed.

Ms O'Keeffe, who was sexually abused in a national school in the 1970s by a lay teacher, fought and lost a lengthy Supreme Court battle to make the State vicariously responsible for the abuse which occurred in the Catholic-controlled school.

But the ECHR ruled that the State, which has delegated management of our primary schools to Catholic church patrons – 89pc of national schools are Catholic-maintained – had failed to put in place any effective state control against the risks of such abuse occurring.

This ruling has potentially significant implications for any situation where the Government delegates a key state function to private providers, including schools under the patronage of bishops as well as Catholic-maintained hospitals, nursing homes and other care settings.

The message from Strasbourg is clear: the State cannot be absolved of responsibility to regulate and protect vulnerable citizens.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has vowed to tighten up our child protection laws in the wake of the O'Keeffe ruling.

Placing the Children First guidelines on a statutory footing is a worthy start, but any new legal structures must be adequately resourced in order for them to be effective.

The Irish State has struggled to rid itself of the evil of sexual violence.

The landmark 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report revealed that a staggering one in five women and one in six men reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood, giving credence to Comiskey's claims.

At the very least, a SAVI-style study should be completed every few years to better inform policy about sexual violence and who bears responsibility for it.

IT'S CLEAR: SOME 'STRATEGIC DEFAULTERS' JUST CAN'T PAY

CLOSE to 100,000 residential mortgages are three months or more in arrears, with a third of those two years or more behind in repayments. New research has, however, debunked the widely held belief that unemployment is the key factor behind this disastrous situation. A study has found that 75 per cent of those in arrears are actually in jobs, but the vast majority of them have seen a substantial fall in their income because of the recession.

Until now it has been assumed that most of those falling behind in their mortgage payments had lost their jobs in the recession or were now in negative equity.

"Given that unemployment is typically assumed to be a key driver of mortgage payment distress this figure is somewhat surprising," says Yvonne McCarthy, who carried out the research.

It also revives the whole issue of 'can't pay/won't pay' and would appear to suggest that far from a 'strategic default' by some homeowners, many simply can't keep up their payments because they simply don't have the money.

Low-income workers in particular may have been encouraged to take out mortgages in the boom. Now, with falling wages, lack of overtime and increased taxes they have to make a stark choice between the mortgage and ordinary living expenses.

It's interesting the working paper also found that those working in the private sector are more likely to be in arrears than those in the public sector.

Irish Independent

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