Govt 'cautious' about enacting mandatory reporting legislation

Thursday 14 January 2016 23.56
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly is being questioned by a UN panel in Geneva today
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly is being questioned by a UN panel in Geneva today

The Government has not implemented recent mandatory reporting legislation because it is concerned it will have to respond to a massive increase in inappropriate allegations of child abuse, a United Nations Committee has heard.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly told hearings in Geneva that authorities in some other jurisdictions were overwhelmed when laws similar to last November's Children First Act were applied too broadly.

Mr Reilly told the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the substantiation rate for complaints did not increase in those countries notwithstanding the huge increase in the volume of reports. 

An official from his department Liz Canavan told the UN panel the Government was trying to ensure there is "a very careful, planned and full implementation of all its provisions."

Ms Canavan said they want to ensure that those categories of the population who are obliged by the new law to report concerns about abuse are "supported well to make good and informative reports to the Child and Family Agency".

Mr Reilly said the only provision of the Children First Act enacted to date is the one removing the defence of reasonable chastisement from cases of alleged corporal punishment of children.

Earlier, the Government told the UN committee there are nearly 6,000 child protection cases awaiting assignment to social workers in Ireland.

Today's hearings by the UN panel are the first involving Ireland in a decade and will form the basis for a report on Ireland's record in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In a pre-hearing submission, the Children's Rights Alliance highlighted the significant backlog of child protection cases which have not been assigned to social workers.

In its published response the Government confirmed there were 5,900 pending child protection cases.

However, it said all of them have been assessed and triaged and that, where necessary, temporary social work staff have been employed immediately to cover vacancies.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission highlighted the plight of children in direct provision centres, endorsing the view that it is a system of state-sanctioned poverty involving a significant risk of sexual abuse.

The Commission also recommended legal reforms to ensure that no child should be given preferential access to a publicly funded school on the basis of religion and to require schools to provide information in relation to religion in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner that avoids indoctrination.

IHREC Chief Commissioner Emily Logan said the Government's appearance before the UN committee may accelerate action on domestic issues.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Logan said that pressure needs to be put on Irish politicians to ensure they make human rights and children protection a priority.

"I suppose the fact that you have a minister sitting at the table in the form of a cabinet minister strengthens that position,” she said.

"It also requires a demand from the public of our politicians to ensure that they place human rights and child protection at the heart of the progress that is being discussed today."

Keywords: james reilly