News / Blog

Beatification of John Paul II

May 3, 2011

I am surprised, though perhaps I shouldn’t be, at the relative indifference most people have shown to the beatification of John Paul II in Romeon Sunday.  The event has been completely eclipsed by the huge interest in the royal wedding and by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.  This reflects an enormous change in Irish society, when even a decade ago the beatification would probably have been a matter of huge public engagement.

It is an internal matter for the Catholic Church to decide on issues of sainthood, but the beatification of John Paul II has caused great distress to survivors of clerical abuse.  John Paul II presided over an enormous institutional cover-up of criminal activities during his reign, and personally intervened to protect people who were complicit in facilitating paedophile priests as in the case of Cardinal Law.  The fast-track beatification must call into question if Church has really accepted responsibility for the sexual abuse of hundreds of thousands of children worldwide, or if it believes it can just carry on as if nothing has happened. If so, the lack of interest shown by Irish people in the events in Rome may well be an indication that the Catholic Church has irretrievably damaged itself.

Maeve Lewis


 

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Categories: General.

Placing responsibility for sexual abuse

April 28, 2011

A few years ago my home was burgled in the middle of the night.  The burglars broke in my front door and grabbed my handbag which had been left in the hall.  The investigating Garda remarked that I had been silly to leave my bag in full view of anybody looking in the letterbox.  Despite my traumatised state I had enough sense to be outraged that I was in some way being made culpable for the crime.  But for victims of sexual crime, this is all too often what they feel.

Reading Jacky Jones’ opinion piece in the Irish Times health supplement has made me think about the way we place responsibility for avoiding violence and sexual abuse on the potential victim.  It is not a new idea – the old Reclaim the Night marches in the 1990s were about exactly that – taking back the right to walk freely at night for all those women who were afraid to go out unaccompanied and lived under a self-imposed curfew.  And of course many still do. 

Keeping children safe from sexual abuse is even more problematic, given that so many are abused within their own families, the place they should be safest.  We do need to equip children to tell a trusted adult if they have been abused or hurt, but Jacky is right: we also have to find a way to make the perpetrators take responsibility for their actions.  At One in Four we run a treatment programme for sex offenders, and a major objective is to help offenders understand the harm they have caused, with a view to reducing the risk to other children.  One offender who completed the programme said:“I understand that I am completely to blame and I may never forgive myself.  I can never take back what I did but I believe I will never sexually abuse again”.  If only we could provide this treatment to the thousands of offenders out there who continue to destroy lives with impunity.

Maeve Lewis

 

 


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Categories: Prevention.

Garda Vetting & working with children

April 4, 2011

I am absolutely stunned to read that there are fifty thousand applications waiting for vetting by the Gardai.  Fifty thousand! That is more people on the waiting list than there are teachers in Ireland.  If it were not so serious, it would be laughable.  This means that there is a queue of child care workers, teachers, creche staff, community workers, social workers, school janitors and bus drivers who will probably have retired before they are deemed safe to be around children.  How can this be allowed to happen?

What will it take to have this service properly funded and resourced?  Will we have to experience a tragedy on the scale of the Soham murders of Jessica and Holly?  And what about the thousands of children who will be at risk from sexual predators as they go to school, take part in sports, are left in the care of babysitters?  Fewer than 5% of sex offenders are ever convicted for their crimes.  That leaves a lot of anonymous sex offenders in our communities.  At the very least, they should be prevented from working with children.

Maeve Lewis

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Categories: Prevention.

State Child Protection, new agency to be developed

March 28, 2011

We’ve just heard that Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, has announced her intention to remove child protection functions from the HSE and to give this responsibility to a new agency.  This may be very good news indeed for Irish children, if at last we develop a world-class service.  Or this could mean more of the same shamefully deficient services if we simply import the same staff and the same culture into the new agency.

It is not poor policy that has endangered and damaged the lives of countless children in this State.  It is a system that is under-resourced, poorly managed and inconsistent in its application of policy and procedures that is at fault. 

Last year we referred about 240 child protection concerns to the HSE.  These were credible complaints about still living sex offenders. Because the alleged abuse had happened in the past we estimate that 10% or so of these allegations were investigated.  That means that at least 200 potentially active offenders are at liberty to blight even more children’s lives. 

The new agency has an enormous task ahead, and will need passionate political commitment and strong financial support if it is to succeed.  But the price of failure is even higher. 

Maeve Lewis

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Categories: Prevention.

Children’s Rights & the new HSE National Director of Children

March 23, 2011

I was at a meeting of NGOs this morning with Gordon Jeyes, the new HSE National Director of Children and Family Services.  Gordon is Scottish and has huge experience in the UK in various areas of children’s welfare and safeguarding.  Our experience of engaging with HSE child protection services is so poor that I went to the meeting with very low expectations.  What a pleasant surprise then to meet a man who clearly understands what needs to be done, who has a map of how to do it and also seems to have the energy and bottle to follow through.  I wish him well.

One thing that really struck me was his assertion that child protection is a communal responsibility, and cannot be left to the HSE alone.  After the Ryan, Murphy and Roscommon Reports we all expressed shock and wrung our hands, but I have heard almost no acknowledgement that in fact people knew what was going on and found ways to ignore it.  Until that culture of the “unknown known” changes then children will never be safe. 

Maeve Lewis

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Categories: Prevention.

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