No country for small children

In the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole cites as an example of misgovernment the mishandling by State agencies of the case of an 11 year old girl who was subjected to repeated rape, sometimes at knife-point. When the victim’s mother, in the wake of the first complaint, asked that her daughter be examined by a female doctor, this led to a stand-off with the HSE centring on the HSE’s judgement that the mother was “difficult“.

Seven years after the victim’s initial report to the Gardaí, and only then because of the direct intervention of the Children’s Ombudsman, Emily Logan, a deeply-traumatised child has received only one session of therapeutic care from the HSE. And, it seems, that’s all she’ll get.

This story came to light after four years’ worth of dogged work from the RTÉ journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes. Only this week, Boucher-Hayes has highlighted another distressing case, one which shows jarring similarities. In this case, another “difficult” mother found herself on the wrong side of the HSE and, against her will, a vulnerable child was reunited with the father she claimed had raped her.

We had a referendum here, not a year ago, enshrining in our Constitution the rights of children. In fact, one of Ireland’s defining shibboleths is about “cherishing all of the children“. It’s hard though, sometimes, not to worry that rather than cherishing them, perhaps we Irish don’t even like children. Ireland, certainly from the evidence of the last century, is no country for small children.

Every year, over 3000 children report that they have suffered sexual abuse but large  numbers of these children never access therapeutic  services. It is not clear just how many of these are the victims, like the two girls mentioned here, of HSE incompetence and/or indifference. What is clear, however, is that some very vulnerable children, who have already been brutally mistreated and who are in desperate need of help, are being failed by the HSE, adding bitter insult to horrific injury.

It seems unlikely that the cases mentioned here are the only ones. It also seems unthinkable that nothing will be done about this and nobody will be held responsible. But, then, we all know Fintan O’Toole is right: “No one will be disciplined. No one is answerable.”

Because this is Ireland, and nobody in a position of authority ever pays for their mistakes. They never have and they never will, whatever auld guff we spout about cherishing children.

Donal O’Keeffe.

P.S. If you feel angry or upset about this, please do something about it.

Keep this story in the public consciousness. Write a letter to the newspaper:, and 

 Here are the contact details of every TD. Pick up the phone and put the parish pump to good use, for a change. In my experience, a phone-call is worth a hundred emails.

 While you’re at it, the Taoiseach’s office is 01 6194000. He has already spoken about “Maggie” in the Dáil and if he gets enough calls he’ll hear about them.


P.P.S. The journalist Carol Hunt has written a brilliant piece on this for the Sunday Independent: We continue to excuse the abuser and vilify the abused and the Irish Examiner has published a letter from me here.

3 thoughts on “No country for small children

  1. Great piece Donal – very stark and very angry. It’s good to see someone getting angry. You mention over 3,000 children reporting abuse to the HSE – that figure is rising all the time (closer to 4,000 in 2012 AFAIK), yet let’s not forget that many, many children are not even in a position to report incidents of abuse, because, like “Emma”, the abuse is being perpetrated in their own homes, by the very people who are meant to be keeping them safe. Many don’t report abuse until years later. I feel that same sense of despair that you do that no-one is answerable for failing these children – who were brave enough to speak out in the first place.

    • Thanks Anne-Marie. I know anger on its own is no solution, but it’s hard to stay calm when the HSE’s advice to “Emma’s” mother is, essentially, “Stop defaming your poor husband. Of course he’s not abusing them. You’re not a well woman and if you don’t let him have them, we’ll take them from you”. The labelling of parents who are at their wits’ end for their kids as “difficult” speaks to a particularly bloody-minded approach to vulnerable people who need compassion and help.

      The work that you and your colleagues in the Rape Crisis Network are doing is vitally important and you should be commended for today’s report.

  2. Pingback: What Happens? | John Hurley

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