22 May 2003 Edition

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No more stalling on Ombudsman for Children

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin on Wednesday, representatives of the Children's Rights Alliance and its member organisations called on the government to keep its promises to children by creating the Office of Ombudsman of Children. Seven years after it was first promised and more than a year since it was passed into law, the Office of Ombudsman for Children has still not been established and the post remains unadvertised and vacant.

Longtime campaigner for the rights of homeless youth Fr Peter McVerry said: "Children urgently need an independent champion who can stand up for their rights and hold statutory bodies and public officials accountable when they fail to meet their responsibilities to children. The Act to establish the Ombudsman for Children has been passed and funds have been included in the Budget, but now we learn that the Minister for Finance continues to withhold expenditure approval. Minister McCreevy must now stop stalling and permit the Office to be established."

ISPCC Chief Executive Paul Gilligan warned that the Irish child protection system is still in need of radical reform and development. "The Children First Guidelines launched in 1999 have not been fully implemented, the lack of Garda vetting those seeking to work with children represents a major child protection risk and the 'out of hours' service for children at risk remains totally inadequate," he said. "The Ombudsman for Children will have a major role to play in ensuring that the inadequacies of the child protection system are corrected. In the absence of the Ombudsman, it is likely that these systemic deficiencies will persist and continue to add to Irish society's inability to adequately protect children."

The government's official line is that work to create the Office is "ongoing" and that something will be done (without explaining exactly what) by April 2004 - two years after the Act was passed, four years after it was promised in the National Children's Strategy and eight years after the initial government commitment to its establishment.

"These delays directly affect the most vulnerable children in our society," said Raymond Dooley, Chief Executive of the Children's Rights Alliance. "Children in care, children with special health and educational needs, children with disabilities and children living in poverty have been left without a strong, independent champion to promote their interests. Their stories fill the newspapers. 'No social workers for children, inspection finds', 'Children going to school hungry' and 'Abused children waiting months for clinic check' read the headlines. Their needs have been neglected and their rights ignored. The need for an Ombudsman for Children has never been greater than it is today."

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