Gardai who work with children not taken seriously in force - Logan
CHILD protection is not considered "hard edge" investigation work within the gardai - and those involved are known as "cardigan guards", the Ombudsman for Children has said.
Emily Logan said this was illustrated in the high-profile Roma controversy last year, when two children were taken into state care.
The case involving the Roma community in Ireland attracted widespread international attention, and raised a number of key issues about the role of the gardai and child protection.
Earlier this year, Ms Logan conducted an extensive inquiry into the matter.
"During the course of that investigation I met a number of guards who individually are responsible for child protection," she told the Irish Independent.
"I was very impressed by those guards and their commitment. But what I felt was that the role is not particularly recognised or valued within an Garda Siochana. It's not hard edge criminal garda work, but it really is critical."
She said there are "in-house nicknames" for certain groups of officers within the force. "People who work in child protection are known as 'cardigan guards' because they don't wear uniforms. And the guards who work in community policing are known as 'chocolate guards' because they give out chocolates to kids on the street.
"It's not considered the tough, gangland and hard-hitting criminal end of policing."
She said there are around 700 occasions annually when Gardai exercise the power to remove a child, deemed to be at immediate risk, away from their family.
"But it doesn't appear in any of the police commissioner's annual reports - dating back to the setting up of the child protection units within An Garda Siochana in 2006.
"But I think it's important that the public know about it and that it is accounted for.
"It should also be independently audited to make sure that we understand how it is being used and make sure it gives confidence to the public.
"It is very clear that child protection is not recognised or valued enough in terms of the contribution the guards can play," she added. "I got a very good sense from talking to a number of gardai that particular work isn't as valued as I think it should be.
"We place great value on the Child and Family Agency and their contribution to child protection - why should that not be the same for gardai."
In a statement last night, a garda spokesman said: "An Garda Siochana plays a critical role alongside the Child and Family Agency, the HSE and other agencies in the child protection sector in keeping children safe and (in) protecting the welfare of the child in accordance with relevant statutory provisions and obligations."
He said that the interim Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, had issued a lengthy response following the publication of the Logan Report in July, which is available on the force's website.
Ms Logan was presenting her final annual report, ahead of stepping down from the role after a decade to become the new Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
She also said relevant authorities, such as the Department of Education and the Child and Family Agency, need to make "greater efforts" to inform parents of disabled children of their entitlements.
"People who work in child protection are known as 'cardigan guards' because they don't wear uniforms'