Ireland needs a “mindset change” to put children at the centre of policy to stop the continuing scandals of child homelessness, child poverty and inadequate healthcare.
That is the warning from the Children's Ombudsman as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child begins.
Ireland is also failing to meet its obligations around migrant children's rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) said.
The comments come as Irish government representatives appear before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday to hear the findings of a review carried out on Ireland’s performance in implementing the UNCRC — a major international human rights treaty that sets out the specific rights of children.
As part of Ireland’s role in adopting the UNCRC, it is required to submit regular progress reports and have its performance assessed. Questions on child homelessness, child poverty, waiting lists, and children arriving in Ireland seeking international protection are expected.
It has been six years since the State appeared before the committee. Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon said that Ireland has made some progress since the last UN committee but not enough.
“Our government needs to mainstream children’s rights into their thinking, you do that through legislation,” Dr Muldoon said. “You legislate so that every [government] department considers children’s rights."
Housing and disability legislation would benefit from child-centred approaches, he added.
“Hopefully, the State is willing to be ambitious and push itself for children. Because ultimately it’s costing the State every single time we don’t do it right. These children are affected in so many ways, their families are effected, productivity is effected."
Brian Killoran, Chief Executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said that migrant children’s rights have been “detrimentally impacted in many ways” by Irish inaction on the UNCRC. It is vital that the committee’s recommendations are acted upon “with urgency” to put the correct policies in place to protect children in Ireland.
Mr Killoran said: “Among our key concerns is the lack of civil legal aid for unaccompanied refugee children applying for family reunification with their parents, as these applications are central to their long-term well-being and integration in Ireland.
“Over five years ago, recommendations were made by the committee that Ireland needed to adopt a comprehensive legal framework that was in accordance with international human rights standards to address the needs of migrant children, and we are concerned at the lack of progress that has been made since.
"Ireland’s current immigration legal framework is patchwork and fragmented, and as a result, triggers a variety of issues for migrants and their families.
"Unfortunately, there has been limited progress by the State since these recommendations were made, and with the increased number of migrants entering the country last year – there is more need than ever before for a robust legal framework to protect these vulnerable minors."