The forgotten disappeared

The Irish media has extensively covered the Madeleine McCann case, yet there has been no mention of 79 children currently missing in Ireland
By Emma Browne


In the aftermath of Madeleine McCann's disappearance, her story received blanket coverage around Europe. There were websites set up dedicated to finding her, email appeals sent all over the world, and her parents travelled Europe and parts of Africa appealing for information. Six months on, the story still attracts daily headlines in the British tabloids, and the Irish media are not far behind.

The situation could not be more different for 79 children currently on the Irish missing children's list. There have been no television appeals for information on these children, and no coverage in the media.

Most of them were 16 or 17 when they went missing but the youngest was just three, a year younger than Madeleine McCann.

These children get less coverage because they do not have parents to publicise their case. Their parents are the State, from whose care they went missing. A total of 328 children have disappeared from State care over the past five years from hostels in Dublin. Only 39 of them have been found. This year alone, 27 children went missing.

There are 21 girls and 58 boys missing from State care, according to the Garda Síochána's missing children's website.

All of them came into the State as unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Most of them are accommodated in the Eastern HSE region, with a small number in the Cork area. Separated children seeking asylum account for the majority of missing children in Ireland. At present there are 185 separated children seeking asylum in the care of the State in the Eastern region.

A major problem with the care provided to these children is that they are placed in inadequate accommodation with a lack of supervision.  

Irish children in State care are placed in residential care with 24-hour supervision from childcare workers. Every year the facilities are inspected by the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI), an independent statutory body. Separated children seeking asylum are placed in private hostel accommodation that is not inspected by the SSI, not staffed by childcare workers, and has no supervision at night.

Director of Advocacy at Barnardos, Norah Gibbons, says that if a child goes missing in these hostels during the night “it can be hours before we know the children are missing. There have been improvements but we would ask that all these children are treated like Irish children in state care”.

There are clear problems with supervision in some hostels, as evidenced by the number of children going missing from them. Out of the 21 females and 58 males currently on the missing list, 14 of the females went missing from a north Dublin hostel, while 26 of the males went missing from a south Dublin hostel. Village reported last year that none of the hostels used to accommodate separated children seeking asylum comply with the standards from the HSE's registration and inspection system. Despite this, the HSE continues to use these hostels.

In the coming weeks the HSE is to finish upgrading the hostel service in the Eastern region for separated children under 16 years old. The hostels will have 24-hour supervision, and childcare workers. The HSE is hoping these hostels will come under the SSI inspection soon. But there is no timeframe in place to do this for the rest of the hostels, of which there are six in Dublin.

Many of these children run away before they become adults, to avoid the adult refugee system. But there is serious evidence to suggest that many others are ending up in the trafficking system, or as sex labourers.