WHEN, in 1980, the late Lord Denning made his infamous “an appalling vista” remark, about the integrity of the convictions of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, his great concern, later confirmed, was that a trusted, essential arm of the state — Britain’s Midlands Police — had lied to secure those dishonest convictions.
The police, like the judiciary in which Denning served, were, and are, bulwarks of any country’s establishment. To do their work, both depend on the moral authority given by a trusting public. That authority all but collapsed in Britain in cases involving Irish defendants, when Denning’s fears were realised.
In this society, where we have had to face shaming, foundations-shaking report after report, confirming that this was a very dangerous country for far too many isolated and vulnerable children, we face our own “appalling vista”.
The possibility, one that seems to be growing stronger by the day, that hundreds, if not thousands, of children may be trapped in an abusive environment, because we have not provided adequate funding to child-protection services, is hardly covered by the “appalling vista” phrase. If those fears are confirmed, it would be a failure of unprecedented proportions. It would show that we have, despite all the chest-beating and tears, despite the support groups and the passionate vows of ‘never again’, repeated the sins of neglect exposed by the Ferns, the Murphy, and the Ryan reports and the many other chilling documents of reckoning. Can this be possible?
If this is confirmed, there would be one major difference. We could not lay the blame at the feet of semi-autonomous churches, charged by the State with looking after our abandoned and dependent children. We could not hide behind the soutanes or scapulars, the cowls or cassocks, which once offered such convenient cover to a public happy to feign ignorance when those abuse scandals came to light. If those fears — epitomised by the terrible ordeal inflicted on the girl known as ‘Grace’, who was returned time after time to an abusive foster-care setting — are realised, it would be an entirely secular outrage of our own making.
The possibility that an “appalling vista” scandal is bubbling away just under the veneer of this society is made all the more likely by the fact that almost 1,000 high-priority child-protection cases had not been assigned to social workers — who are already swamped with an impossible workload — at the end of last year. The Irish Association of Social Workers has warned that more social workers — especially experienced ones — and more resources are needed to improve, or even make tolerable, the services that can be the only lifeline available to abused children. The charity Barnardos echoed that warning, saying severe neglect or abuse will continue, unless there is an increase in resources dedicated to prevention and early intervention.
It is easy, and temping, to point to the shameful pantomime in Leinster House as the source of this dysfunction. But that would, as we all really know, be wrong. These services are struggling because, as the OECD confirmed again this week, we want a Rolls Royce for the price of a banger.
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