Decisive intervention required immediately

EVEN in a society forced to come to terms with, or at least confront, the active evil represented by aggressive and protected paedophiles Seán Fortune and Brendan Smyth — both Catholic priests, both deceased — the idea that a vulnerable, mute child should have been left in a foster home for more than 13 years after that home became the focus of sexual abuse allegations has the capacity to shame and outrage.

Or at least it should.

Whether this latest set of harrowing allegations leads to real, decisive action, the kind that ensures that anyone involved in our child protection process knows that not doing their job properly, that turning a blind eye, would at least cost them their job, remains to be seen. It is clear though, that an assertive step change is required if we are to give real meaning to the idea of child protection in this society — a society with, like it or not, an appalling record in this area.

Reports, inquiries, apologies — given or otherwise — ministerial angst, or managerial contrition hardly cut the mustard. The allegations are so very serious that the usual, and very often justified, claims about a shortage of resources would only add to the outrage building around this controversy. Conclusions, with significant consequences, are required — and sooner rather than later.

The case at the centre of the unfolding scandal, in public terms at least, involves a woman who, as a child, was placed in a care home in the south east in 1989 when she 11 years old. She remained there until 2009 and was — allegedly — subjected to severe abuse. That this could happen despite the 1995 intervention of a former resident of the home who warned that sexual abuse was a regular occurrence in the home beggars belief. It is also another in a long line of shocking instances of regulatory authorities — the HSE in this instance and possibly the gardaí too — failing in their obligations to the weakest and most vulnerable.

This scandal forces us to ask what it is about this society and our laissez-faire attitude to confronting hideous abuse and betrayal. Are we really that indifferent to the plight of strangers? Can the next victim, and there will always be one, rely on the State to come to their rescue when some brave whistle-blower warns that they are in terrible jeopardy? And if not, why not?

Speaking about the scandal yesterday, Minister of State Kathleen Lynch said she believes an independent inquiry may be required to establish the facts. Her sincerity cannot be questioned, but coming as it does in a week when our system of inquiry was once again shown to be something pretty close to pointless (the toothless banking inquiry report) this hardly seems the best option. Something more effective, that can initiate consequences, is required.

This case, on the face of it, represents monumental failure, a failure that would be exacerbated if we fail to move the goal posts in a way that makes those responsible for protecting children face real consequences if they again knowingly ignore alarm bells like the one that rang so very loudly in this case.


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