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A good day

• The Government has had a good day. Legislation was published to make it an offence to withhold information about the sexual abuse of children. At a time when austerity and cynicism about austerity rebounds, we should take care not to miss a significant development when it occurs.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald is the first minister in that role to actually do what they said they would to protect children. She should be congratulated.

The timing, sadly, couldn't be better. Let me explain. One of the many consequences of poverty is that the experience of the vulnerable becomes more and more invisible.

In the past 20 years, we struggled to come to terms with the abuse inflicted on children since the foundation of the State. It is a great shame that we only seem to be able to discuss abuse of children in retrospect. It will be unforgivable if this generation doesn't apply the lessons of the past, as we face into a prolonged period of national poverty.

The Government is setting up a new agency, the Child and Family Support Agency, to focus solely on the needs of children. New legislation on reporting abuse and for placing the children-first guidelines on a statutory footing is also in train. These moves will not reap immediate political benefit, and may never do.

Neither will the determination that this minister has shown reap her or her Government any distinguishable benefit. But this is the fundamental point of good child-protection practice; it isn't about, to use that terrible term, 'optics', but rather substance.

There isn't much to be proud of with regard to our public administration. But when we have something to be proud of, we should protect and nourish it.

We are only just embarking on reform of our child-protection system, but the omens are most definitely good. We should acknowledge and celebrate the start.

Declan Doyle
Lisdowney, Kilkenny

Irish Independent