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Ombudsman expresses 'grave concern' over potential abolition of Department of Children

The Children’s Ombudsman has written a letter to the three party leaders involved in government formation talks.

Dr Niall Muldoon
Dr Niall Muldoon
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

THE OMBUDSMAN FOR Children has written to party leaders in government formation talks to express “grave concern” over the potential abolition of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA). 

A proposal to merge the Department of Children with the Department of Education is currently being considered amid the government formation talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. 

Scrapping the standalone role of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would make way for a new role, Minister of Higher Education.

In recent days, a number of children’s organisations and campaigners have criticised the proposal, as has outgoing Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone.

Today, the Children’s Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon has confirmed that he outlined his concerns in a letter on 8 May and that he sent a second letter earlier this week. 

In his letters to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, the Ombudsman argued that the abolition of the DCYA would be inconsistent with the State’s recognition of the important of vindicating children’s rights, which he said is clearly illustrated by the inclusion of Article 42A in the Constitution. 

Dr Muldoon outlined that the abolition of the DCYA would result in reduced visibility of children at what he said is a time when the Ombudsman for Children’s Office continues to receive serious complaints from children and young people in Ireland. 

He said it is clear that a focus on children’s rights, welfare and wellbeing needs to be sustained. 

Dr Muldoon outlined that the establishment of the DCYA in 2011 and of the Minister for Chidlren as a senior ministerial role occurred against the backdrop of reports that illustrated the State’s “shameful treatment” of children over many decades. 

The Ombudsman also outlined it does not appear that a rigorous risk assessment or children rights impact assessment had taken place to evaluate the potential impact of the loss of the Department and whether the voice of children and young people had been listened to in relation to the decision. 

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In his letter to the three leaders, Dr Muldoon said: “In light of these observations, and at a time when we need a new social contract that has human rights, equality and social justice at its core, I strongly encourage you to support retention of the DCYA, as well as the roll of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs as a senior ministerial role and member of the Cabinet. 

“I have no doubt that abolition of the DCYA would have a damaging effect on children’s rights and welfare and I have grave concerns as to what this could mean for children, in particular those who are most vulnerable.” 

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office is an independent statutory body, which was established in 2004 under the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002. 

Under the 2003 Act, the Ombudsman has two core statutory functions: 

  • To promote the rights and welfare of children up to the age of 18 years
  • To examine and investigate complaints made by or on behalf of children about the administrative actions, or inactions, of public bodies that have had, or may have had, an adverse effect on a child. 

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