The Ombudsman for Children has urged the United Nations to put pressure on Ireland to step up its efforts to help the most vulnerable and protect children, even in any economic crisis sparked by Covid-19.
In its submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR) for the fourth periodic examination of Ireland, the Office of the Ombudsman said "the crisis caused by Covid-19 has amplified existing inequalities experienced by particular groups of children in Ireland".
It said the State needs to be able to demonstrate in its report to the Committee in 2021 what child rights-based measures it is taking to ensure that children’s rights are being fulfilled to the maximum extent of the State’s available resources.
The submission makes special reference to children belonging to ethnic minorities, including Traveller and Roma children, children with disabilities, and children experiencing homelessness.
The submission also refers to ways in which Ireland has not acted upon recommendations made in the last such UN report in 2016, stating: "Ireland’s legal framework concerning children and their rights remains deficient, including in key areas such as housing, mental health and disability."
Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon said any country, such as Ireland, which has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is obliged to deliver on its commitments to children - something he said Ireland had "failed miserably to do" in the last economic crash.
The submissions are just the start of a process that will not conclude until the start of 2022, but Dr Muldoon said an Irish delegation having to sit in front of the UN to respond to questions placed "huge pressure" on the State to deliver for children.
As for some of the groups mentioned in the submission, he said: "From my point of view, I believe in the last 10 years Traveller and Roma children have gone backwards [in terms of their rights] - maybe the only cohort that has."
The submission to the UN outlines "concerns that existing processes for allocating, monitoring and assessing resources for children are not sufficiently aligned with a child rights approach".
"For example, official monthly reports on homelessness still do not offer a sufficiently comprehensive, disaggregated profile of children experiencing homelessness," it said.
"Regularly gathered, comprehensive data on the scope and different forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children is not yet available."
As for the Constitutional provision to ensure the best interests of the child are taken into consideration, it said "important gaps remain", as well as concerns over "shortfalls in inter-agency coordination, inadequate resource allocation and geographical disparities in access to services".
It also tells the UN that Tusla should have greater resources to better respond to referrals and better supports for children who are at risk of or experiencing domestic violence.
It comes as Barnardos said a worrying picture was emerging post-lockdown of families being referred to services suffering a combination of the ‘toxic three’ - mental health issues, domestic violence, and addiction issues. A snapshot of almost 1,250 open cases over one week in September shows that nearly two-thirds of families (61%) are experiencing at least one of these issues.