Frances Fitzgerald: Minister for what exactly?

Minister for Children needs to roll up her sleeves and fight for the needs of children, writes Evin Daly.

In a country of four and a half million there are few resources available for abused or Irish children in need. So said the Minister for Children today.

The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, managed to squeeze herself into the limelight yet again by attending the publishing of One in Four’s Annual Report. Why it was Fitzgerald who attended, as opposed to the Minister for Health or Justice, remains a mystery.

Minister Fitzgerald, in addition to getting a large photograph in the paper, added her two cents to the event – a two cents which amounted to little. She made no commitments, announced no new programmes, made no offer of funding and vaguely made mention of what we already know: much is needed for children and there is nothing available for them.

There is good news. There are more reports on the way. Fitzgerald announced that she is expecting “to receive several child protection reports in the coming weeks,” and went on to say regarding the provision of resources for abused children: “This is not going to be dealt with overnight, but that should not stop us doing the right thing for children.” How long will it take, Minister? It's been 15 years already.

In a country of 4.5 million people, why is it so hard to implement steps in protecting our children? Our little country has made a mess out of something that could have been so easily borrowed and adapted from systems in other countries. Instead we have attempted (and failed) to reinvent the wheel. While children continue to be sidelined, funding materialised magically for clerical abuse reports and the paying of clerical legal bills. And not chump change either - hundreds of millions of euros. This clearly demonstrates our screwed-up priorities.

Despite clear and obvious indications to the contrary, the Minister gave the boiler-plate speech about how child protection “was a priority for Government.” She went on to talk as if tackling child abuse was a newly found mission: “The demand is greater this year in relation to child protection,” she said. “We will have to examine very carefully the resources that are needed in this area. This is not going to be dealt with overnight, but that should not stop us doing the right thing for children.” Translation:  “We're not sure what to do so we're doing nothing.” How long can we continue to listen to the same old nonsense?

Fitzgerald went on take the cheap shot of blaming past inaction for present inaction. “I would have thought that after ten years of the Celtic Tiger that our child protection services would have been in a better place than they are at the moment but the goal now is to ensure they are,” she said. “Ensure that they are…” what? In a better place? What, one must ask, does that mean? Diverting blame for her legislative impotence to a prior administration is as transparent as it is predictable. What she is saying of course is that this government, just like the last, has little or no real commitment to child protection. All in all Fitzgerald’s verbal contribution to the One in Four event amounted to meaningless piffle.
The creation of the Ministry of Children does not fix the problem of child abuse or child welfare. It's a shiny ball to divert attention away from continued inaction. Fitzgerald is parroting what has been said repeatedly over the past ten years and is clearly demonstrating that she has no ability to allocate resources to protect children. With no resources or funding what's the point of the position? Fitzgerald's appointment was premature - the purpose of the new office was not thought through, its goals were not defined, and its authority is illusory.

A word of advice to Minister Fitzgerald. Take a look at the Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly. He gets out and about, not courting the media in the hope of becoming the next Taoiseach, but getting involved in solving the problems of the health services. He's a man of action. My advice to you is to get out and be seen among the children that need your help. Roll up your sleeves, see what has to be done for yourself and formulate a plan. Seek and use the counsel of the few experts in Ireland who know what needs to be done. Then go to the media and demand that the Government fund your plans and support the implementation of corrective action immediately. Roar and fight for the needs of children. Respect is earned by actions not words.

Evin Daly is the CEO of One Child International Inc., a nonprofit child advocacy group. One Child distributes millions of copies of free child protection and abuse prevention literature world-wide.

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