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Ireland still has no missing children's hotline - because nobody's prepared to run it

The 116000 number has been reserved for a national hotline, like those in Europe – but nobody has applied to run it.

Image: Leonid Mamchenkov via Flickr

IRELAND IS STILL without a nationwide hotline to handle reports of missing children or potential sightings – because nobody has applied to operate it, communications minister Pat Rabbitte has said.

The 116000 hotline number – which already operates in over a dozen European countries using the standardised number – has been reserved for an Irish hotline for four years.

Despite that, though, the national telecoms regulator ComReg says it has yet to receive a single application from any entity looking to run the service, despite invites for applications being issued as long ago as early 2007.

A call for applications has been posted on the ComReg website for all of that time – and ads have been placed in national newspapers seeking applications from interested parties – but to no avail.

The service, as outlined by ComReg, would be intended to operate 24 hours a day and would accept calls reporting missing children, offer guidance to those responsible for the missing child, and accept sightings or tips of any missing juvenile.

Other similar services advertised by ComReg since that time have been taken up far more quickly.

One set of invitations for a child helpline, which was advertised six months later, prompted an application from Childline which was awarded the service just four months later. That service, accessible at 116111, has been in operation since March 2009.

Outdated website

Another emotional support service for adults, advertised at the same time as the children’s service, was awarded to the Samaritans in just three months and is expected to begin operations shortly on the phone number 116123.

In the absence of a missing children’s helpline, the only specialised nationwide resource for missing children is the MissingKids website. Launched in 2004, the website currently lists 130 missing children in Ireland – but is otherwise outdated and still carries a welcome message from former Garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy who retired six months ago.

In fact, the website has fallen into such disuse that at the time of publications, the website could not be accessed at its www.missingkids.ie address – instead requiring visitors to go to an unpublicised ie.missingkids.com address instead.

Labour TD Anne Ferris, who tabled one of the parliamentary questions which prompted Rabbitte’s disclosure, said the absence of any applicants should prompt the government to take more affirmative action.

“If there are no companies or bodies looking to accept the offer, the Departments of Justice, Health and Children should all work together to ensure that a service is offered, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, said the minister was “currently in discussion with other relevant government departments on the matter of the phone line.”

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Gavan Reilly

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