Sunday 25 August 2019

Editorial: 'Children were let down before - they can't be again'

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins


Our appetite for drama has been somewhat dulled by overblown controversies that raise the temperature for a while, but public interest cools and attention switches somewhere else. However, RTÉ's crèche revelations ought to force the nation to the pause button.

Yes the images were upsetting and have rightly prompted a Garda investigation, but the most shocking thing of all is that RTÉ did a similar exposé back in 2013 rightly sending national indignation into overdrive.

At the time parents were just as outraged and repulsed. It was a ground-breaking exposé which also provoked a wave of revulsion across the country.

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Back then FF's spokesman for children Robert Troy reacted, saying: "As with so many issues, the Minister for Children talks a good game but the pace of delivery is appallingly slow."

Fast forward to today and what has changed? So much for all that.

Six years later we are faced with further disturbing revelations, searing images of small children being treated appallingly.

Clearly there are still glaring deficiencies in the system. But then again troubling issues have an unsettling habit of coming back to haunt until something is done about them.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone made all the appropriate - and no doubt sincere - responses when confronted by these traumatic scenes.

The question is, why did it take a TV programme to bring them to her attention?

We have been over all of this ground before.

But small children too little to be able to understand let alone articulate the hurt and discomfort they feel when they are mistreated by grown-ups, deserve better.

There can only be a gold-standard for the care of children. Most parents today work and therefore their reliance and trust on crèches is total.

Therefore any breach strikes to the very heart of a family. Currently it is possible to close down a food outlet overnight if laws are not complied with, yet the same cannot be done with a crèche with which we may trust our infants.

We are told that the actual regulation of the area is tight, and there is sufficient law.

Given the gravity of the scenes depicted there are clearly urgent enforcement issues which need to be addressed.

Currently the most a crèche owner can be fined is €5,000. This is a pittance in a context where parents are paying some of the highest childcare costs in Europe.

It must also be kept in mind the overwhelming majority of crèches are well run with well-trained and caring staff and they offer a valuable, conscientious service.

If anything, this is all the more reason to crackdown on those who flagrantly flout the law. Are not our children supposed to learn from us? Society should not learn difficult lessons at their expense.

The Government has pledged vociferously to reform and address the problems raised.

We heard such commitments before but to our shame it was not enough; and those too small to have a voice suffered for it.

Irish Independent

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