Former president Mary McAleese has criticised the Vatican for replacing its commitment to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the universal church with an undertaking to enforce it exclusively in Vatican City State.

Mrs McAleese, who is completing a doctorate in Catholic church law at a university in Rome, recalled the Holy See's 1995 statement to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the Vatican City State was a childless workplace for church administrators where implementation of the convention did not arise.

That church report dwelt on how the treaty was being implemented in the universal church.

She then described how the Vatican told the monitoring committee's second review, which concluded in 2014 and which was dominated by questions about clerical child sexual abuse, that it was only obliged to implement the convention within Vatican City, a tiny city state which at that stage was home to a handful of children.

The Holy See argued that the most it could be expected to do outside the Vatican was to encourage people of goodwill to support the convention.

The former president asked why the Holy See is unwilling to implement the treaty within its own universal laws and teaching for the benefit of all its 300 million child members, given its willingness to act as a persuader for governments to implement the convention.

Speaking to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, she also accused senior Catholic officials of misleading the United Nations about the church's teaching on both corporal punishment and illegitimacy.

She said church representatives misled the UN committee four years ago when they stated that "on the international level, the Holy See does not promote corporal punishment" or use the term illegitimate.