Horrific abuse but children remain voiceless

Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay last night launched a scathing attack on the government over the children's rights referendum. By Alison Spillane.

Speaking at a public forum in Liberty Hall theatre, Mr Finlay (pictured) referenced the Ryan report, the Ferns report and the Roscommon child abuse case saying what all the victims had in common was the fact that "nobody ever listened to them, they had no voice".

Mr Finlay reiterated this point in an interview with Politico last week (see below) and added, "The only way we can change that, in my view, is by starting with the Constitution and by working through our laws and systems".

Last night, he gave three main reasons as to why, in his opinion, the government had not accepted the current wording of the children's rights referendum.

He said the Dept of Finance rejected it because "rights are expensive"; the Dept of Justice felt it would interfere with immigration policy and "make it harder to deport children"; whilst the Dept of Education view was, he said, "if children have to be heard, they're going to be very expensive to expel from school".

Both Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times and UCD's Diarmaid Ferriter made reference to the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil where the welfare of children was made the first priority of the State:

"It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland."

The two speakers observed how the State had failed utterly in this regard. In Enough is Enough, O'Toole writes, "The Programme's belief that the welfare of children would be the first concern of Irish governments was grotesquely mocked in the hellish industrial school system in which 170,000 children were incarcerated."

Prof Ferriter said that the mobilisation of young people was "crucial" in the context of where we are. He commended the students of Ireland on the protest against cuts which took place on 3 November.

He stressed that we need people in government who are both ambitious for Ireland and committed to public service. He added that choice was fundamental to any concept of a new Republic, and the inclusion of both women and young people in politics was inherent to this.

The need for gender quotas in Irish politics was reinforced by many of the speakers. Mary Murphy said, "Gender equality needs to be at the heart of any plan for recovery" whilst Prof Ferriter highlighted the fact that, since 1918, women have won only 219 out of 4,452 Dáil seats.

Last week Politico interviewed Fergus Finlay at the Claiming Our Future event in the RDS.