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Kids In Care

Ireland failing to protect unaccompanied migrant children, EU report states

Civil liberties group calls for government probe to find 62 unaccompanied children missing from State care as highlighted by Noteworthy investigation.


IRELAND IS PERSISTENTLY failing in its protection of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, a report by a European civil liberties group has found.

Liberties Rule of Law Report identified “widespread” human rights violations and “concerning trends” regarding the rights of children, especially those seeking international protection.

It named Ireland as one of four EU countries that have failed to “ensure respect for the rights of unaccompanied minors” and raises concerns over “inadequate” mental health provision for children.

Compiled with 37 rights groups in 19 countries, the report also highlighted the findings of a recent Noteworthy investigation that revealed 62 separated children have disappeared from State care since 2017.

Liberties said it raised “serious questions” regarding trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children in Ireland.

In one of a number of recommendations, the Berlin-based group called on the government to conduct an investigation “into the status” of those minors reported as missing from Tusla care.

We put this to the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Tusla, with both departments describing the international protection process as “complex”.

Noteworthy, the crowdfunded community-led investigative platform from The Journal, supports independent and impactful public interest journalism.

Concerns on youth mental health services

The EU concerns come just months after Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said, following our investigation, that the Garda operation focusing on missing children is being reviewed.

In December, the Noteworthy team found that of the dozens of separated migrant minors who have vanished from Tusla accommodation since 2017, 44 are no longer being searched for by the child welfare agency – because they reached their 18th birthday while missing.

Our investigation uncovered that, in many cases, no public appeals for the missing children were made by An Garda Síochána.

On top of calling for a government led investigation, Liberties has a urged ministers to ratify the Optional Protocol (OPCAT) and amend the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill.

This would ensure that direct provision centres and other congregated settings are subject to independent human rights focused inspections, the group said.

The group said despite “repeated pressing concerns” on youth mental health services, the Draft Heads of Bill to amend the Mental Health Act, 2001 has not progressed to priority publication. 

The report recommends this is progressed “as a matter of urgency”.

Roderic O'Gorman wearing a dark jacket, light shirt and red tie. In December, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the Garda operation focusing on missing children is being reviewed. Leah Farrell / © Leah Farrell / © / ©

Tusla shares State’s concerns

Responding to the issues raised in the report, a spokesperson for Tusla told Noteworthy it “is acutely aware of and shares the State’s concerns” regarding the increased risk of child and human trafficking or exploitation of vulnerable young people.

“As part of our recent stakeholder engagement to inform a coordinated approach to improving the state’s response to SCSIP (Separated Children Seeking International Protection), we engaged specifically in a round table meeting with key partners in relation to the risk of SCSIP missing from care, and the actions we can take to respond and further mitigate risks,” the spokesperson said.

“Tusla also liaises regularly with colleagues in Northern Ireland in relation to the ongoing risks of SCSIP going missing, to ensure we share relevant information and data, and share learning across the island.”

The spokesperson said Tusla “remains committed” to playing its part in the State’s response to those seeking international protection and continues to “proactively engage with all stakeholders in the sector” including young people that have accessed the service to “learn how we can further improve our response in this area”.

A DoJ spokesperson said the “complex nature” of the International Protection Act 2015 requires in-depth training and the International Protection Office works closely with the UNHCR in developing and delivering this training to its staff and panel members.

“The International Protection Office has a comprehensive training programme in place for all caseworkers and panel members involved in interviewing applicants and considering international protection applications,” the DoJ added.

“Part of this training covers specific claims from vulnerable applicants including children.”

Criticism over public access to courts

The national country report for Ireland was coordinated by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), with eight other Irish organisations.

On top of asylum and mental health related issues, the law violation report also raises concerns about the public’s access to courts and delays in implementing recommendations of the Independent Review Group on the Offences Against the State Act.

It goes on to criticise the structures of the yet-to-be-established Office of the Independent Examiner of Security Legislation, the Policing and Community Safety Authority and the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

Commenting on the report’s findings, ICCL Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said that while the government has made strides to improve the rule of Irish law “the reality is mixed”.

“Legislation reforming the justice system is often chronically delayed and sometimes fails to meet the highest standard possible,” he said.

The government must match talk with action to ensure the rule of law is fully respected in Ireland.

Overall, Liberties found that the rule of law declined across the EU in 2023 as governments continue to weaken legal and democratic checks and balances.

In particular, there was a strong uptick in restrictions on peaceful protests which it said “often selectively applied to pro-Palestine and climate protests”. 

The use of surveillance technology at protests persisted and civil society organisations and human rights defenders were still subject to attacks in almost all countries observed, Liberties said.

Balazs Denes, executive director of the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), said if left unaddressed, the violations could “evolve into systemic issues”.

“The growing far right, building on these abuses, will very quickly dismantle European democracy if the European Commission does not use the tools at its disposal, including infringement proceedings or conditional freezing of EU funds, in a much more assertive way,” Denes said.

“There is no need to wait until a captive state like Hungary’s emerges with an irremovable anti-democratic regime.”  

Design for KIDS IN CARE project - Four children facing forwards in silhouette with houses in the background

By Patricia Devlin of Noteworthy

Noteworthy is the crowdfunded investigative journalism platform from The Journal. This article was funded in its entirety by our investigative fund.

What’s next? We want to investigate if children are being left in the hands of sexual abusers. Find out how you can help us >>