Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Reappointment of the Ombudsman for Children: Motion
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for accommodating me. Since its establishment in 2004, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children has played a pivotal role in promoting and further enhancing the welfare and rights of children in Ireland. I commend the current ombudsman, Dr. Niall Muldoon, on the work he has overseen over the past six years. I often speak to people - obviously, all of us are in the same situation as part of our work - and I frequently hear complimentary and positive feedback about the office and the work it does. Dr. Muldoon leads an office that is open, approachable and transparent, and I take this opportunity to commend him on the leadership he has shown in the role. It says something about the office he runs that everybody seems to be in agreement here today, which is great.
The importance of independence from the Government and from any external pressure is so important to the essential function of the ombudsman's work. Dr. Muldoon's background in clinical psychology and child protection makes him highly qualified to ensure that children are properly respected and listened to. There have been several important pieces of work from the ombudsman's office. The most recent report, Unmet Needs, published in October of last year, examined the challenges faced by children who require an assessment of their needs. The findings of the report were stark and raised serious concerns about the ongoing violations on the part of this Government of the rights of children with disabilities. The report made a series of recommendations. The ombudsman appeared before the committee on children recently and was scathing of the Government's record in addressing lengthy delays faced by children and their families, extensive delays despite the legal requirement to begin an assessment of needs within three months of receiving an application.
This report shows that the ombudsman's office has been a strong advocate for children with disabilities and their families and that it aggressively pursues the rights of children, which is exactly what we need the Office of the Ombudsman for Children to do. The focus of its work must be to ensure that the Government and Government agencies take a child-centred and rights-based approach when dealing with the welfare of children. Going forward, it is import that the ombudsman continues to highlight the rights of children: their right to education, to live in a safe home, to healthcare, to food and nutrition, to practise their religions or cultures and speak their own languages, and to be empowered to be the best versions of themselves.
The most recent work on life in lockdown for children living in direct provision during the Covid-19 pandemic shows the importance of the independence of the office. There is little doubt that direct provision poses many challenges for children normally, not to mention during a pandemic. It is so important that children in Ireland are given every opportunity to enjoy safe, fulfilling and happy lives. This is particularly significant as we reflect collectively on recent weeks, in particular everything to do with the mother and baby institutions. It is evident to all that we have a fairly shameful track record when it comes to defending the rights of children in this country. The work of the ombudsman must robustly challenge the Government of the day and hold Ministers and Departments to account, and the ombudsman's office must not be simply a talking shop. It needs to examine and expose wrongdoing when it feels that children's rights have been violated. It is so important that children's rights are promoted and protected in the actions and decisions of Government bodies, including hospitals, schools and child protection services, that the service is easy for children and their families to use, and that it provides an impartial and safe environment in which children and their families can raise concerns.
I appeal to the Minister and other Government representatives to listen to the work of the ombudsman and his office as they have been doing excellent work. I wish them every success with it in the future.