No country for small children

The Children’s Ombudsman, Emily Logan, has expressed serious concerns about the mishandling by State agencies of the case of an 11-year-old girl who was subjected to repeated rape, sometimes at knife-point.

When the victim’s mother, in the wake of the first complaint, asked that her daughter be examined by a female doctor, this led to a stand-off with the HSE centring on the HSE’s judgement that the mother was “difficult”.

Seven years after the victim’s initial report to the gardaí, and only then because of the direct intervention of the Children’s Ombudsman, a deeply-traumatised child has received only one session of therapeutic care from the HSE.

This story came to light, at least in part, because of four years’ worth of dogged work from the RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes. Only this week, Boucher-Hayes has highlighted another distressing case, one which shows jarring similarities. In this case, another “difficult” mother found herself on the wrong side of the HSE and, against her will, a vulnerable child was reunited with the father she claimed had raped her.

We had a referendum here, not a year ago, enshrining in our Constitution the rights of children. In fact, one of Ireland’s defining shibboleths is about “cherishing all of the children”. It’s hard though, sometimes, not to worry that rather than cherishing them, perhaps we Irish don’t even like children. Ireland, certainly from the evidence of the last century, is no country for small children.

Every year, over 3,000 children report that they have suffered sexual abuse, but large numbers of these children never access therapeutic services. It is not clear just how many of these are the victims, like the two girls mentioned here, of HSE incompetence and/or indifference. What is clear, however, is that some very vulnerable children, who have already been brutally mistreated and who are in desperate need of help, are being failed by the HSE, adding bitter insult to horrific injury.

It seems unlikely that the cases mentioned here are the only ones. Will anyone be fired for neglecting these children? Will anyone take responsibility for ensuring victims are not ignored?

No, of course not. This is Ireland, and nobody in a position of authority ever pays for their mistakes. They never have and they never will, whatever auld guff we spout about cherishing children.

Donal O’Keeffe


Co Cork

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