Expert links alcohol abuse with child deaths

One of the country’s leading child experts has called for an “un-ambivalent” political response to Ireland’s alcohol problem.

Geoffrey Shannon said failure to tackle alcohol abuse at an early stage was a common feature in many of the files on the deaths of 196 children in state care between 2000 and 2010.

Mr Shannon, the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, is co-author of the Independent Child Death Review, which exposed the horrific domestic situations children were left in.

Because of the failure by society to tackle alcohol abuse, the child protection system was dealing with insurmountable consequences, he warned.

“Alcohol is a key risk indicator and, if it goes unchecked, the consequences for children can be quite profound,” said Mr Shannon.

Speaking at a seminar in Dublin on children’s EU rights in Ireland, Mr Shannon said the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive was “quite light” on the issue of a prohibition of advertising of unhealthy food and alcohol.

“There needs to be a clear statement, not only in this jurisdiction, but also internationally, on the need to put the best interests of children ahead of vested interests,” he said.

He also referred to plans by Justice Minister Alan Shatter to introduce legislation on surrogacy.

“At the moment there are a number of children in a legal limbo. This is an area that not only needs to be regulated at a domestic level, but at an international level as well.”

He said there were increased obligations on the State to hear the voice of the child, following the passing of the Children’s Referendum and Article 24 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was binding on Irish law.

“As the person who chaired the child death report, I found that one of the striking features was the sheer invisibility of children within the child protection system. What we need to do now is learn the lessons of the past.”

He also pointed out that because 13% of all marriages were international, the question of court jurisdiction is becoming a significant question for a number of parents and children.

“We also see a situation of ‘forum-shopping’, where parents try to maximise their interests by travelling to jurisdictions they feel might look more favourably on their case. This can have profound implications for child protection.

“We must ensure a regulated approach in order that children’s best are best served across the EU.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance, which hosted the seminar, has published a guide on Children’s Rights in Ireland with the support of the European Commission in Ireland and the Department of the Taoiseach under the Communicating Europe initiative.

Mr Shannon said the jargon-free guide was an outstanding booklet that even a child could read to find out how EU law affects them.


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