Tuesday, April 24, 2007


An Mhaighdean ag caoineadh a MacOne would be considerable less than human not to be deeply distressed by the tragic events that occurred in Monageer, Co Wexford, over the weekend. The events are so distressing that it’s hard to see how anyone will ever be able to mention Monageer again without people thinking of the harrowing deaths of the Dunne family. However, some of the coverage of the event has been considerably less than intelligent, and this is also beginning to distress your regular correspondent.

For instance – this morning, Ms Orla Barry, presenter of a show called “Life” on Newstalk 106, castigated the Garda response on Friday night. Ms Barry feels that the calling of a priest to provide pastoral care was an outrage, and the correct response would be for the Gardaí to “do something.” By the time I had switched over to Lyric FM, Ms Barry had not yet identified just what that something was – to take the misfortunate Mr Dunne down to the barracks, handcuff him to the radiator and beat him with truncheons until he told them where he’d buried Shergar, perhaps? Is that what Ms Barry thinks the Gardaí should have done?

An Spailpín Fánach gets the sickening feeling that we, the nation, are going to have to spend the coming week listening to liberal Ireland examining its conscience, but never going so far as to join the dots, or being logically consistent, or, in Ms Barry’s capturing of the zeitgeist, “doing something.”

Should the Gardaí have unlimited powers of seizure and arrest? Should we go from nanny state to police state? As it currently stands, the papers are reporting that the children could have been removed under Section 12 of the Childcare Act 1991, which allows the Gardaí to enter a house, without a warrant, and remove a child to the care of the local Health Board in circumstances of “immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child.”

Immediate and serious risk to the health and welfare of a child. I was walking into town down Amiens Street, Dublin 1, on Saturday evening, and I was asked for a light by a junkie who was in the company of a little girl, aged two or two and a half. Your man was middling shook – was there an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of that child? Should I have alerted the Gardaí on Saturday?

One of the more distressing sights in daily life in the city is seeing junkies with children. Junkies can’t look after themselves, generally. The thought of children being in their care is frightening. Does this constitute immediate and serious risk?

Section 13 of the 1991 Child Care Act allows for a justice of the District Court to issue an emergency care order to place a child at risk in the care of the local Health Board for a period of eight days. Section 13 of the 1991 Child Care Act doesn’t say what happens on the ninth day – is it the case that everything is automatically ok then? Is the child then returned from whence it came?

An Spailpín talks to teachers in Dublin a lot. I have heard stories about children in “normal” schools, parochial schools, that would curl your hair. The fact is that the State will not step in to the running of a family unit except in circumstances of the most profound and distressing horror, and then, as it was yesterday in Wexford, it may be too late.

Let’s try some joined up thinking. Suppose we, the people, thought that the State should act, and should step in where children are in danger, on the basis that we cannot put a price on our children’s future. This means that the local Health Boards (which no longer exist, of course) will have to look after these children for longer than the eight days specified in Section 13 of the 1991 Child Care Act. The only way to do that will be to build orphanages.

Hands up everyone who thinks the coming election can be won on a platform of raising taxes to build more orphanages?

Even if the State were to build orphanages, you then have the issue of staffing them. Orphanages are not easy to run. You need a ratio of about 3:1 in staff to children, and that’s not even counting teachers, doctors, counsellors and the rest. That is no small undertaking. And what do we have currently?

Well, we have a state where we can’t keep hospitals clean, something Florence Nightingale was able to manage in Crimea in the 19th Century. We have a State that can’t provide water to Galway, the third biggest city in the State, and it looks like the people of Portarlington will have to stock up on the bottles of Ballygowan now as well. And what’s the main issue in the election so far? The political establishment is bursting itself to be the first to abolish stamp duty for first time house buyers, a source of €2.7 billion of revenue to the State last year. Revenue that will be necessary to clean the hospitals, provide clean drinking water, build and staff the orphanages – fripperies like that. And necessary to pay the hospital consultants, of course, who last week condemned an offer of €200k pa as “Mickey Mouse money.”

As a nation we specialise in examining our consciences in hard cases, like this tragedy in Monageer, but when it comes to the bigger picture, to act, to try and prevent this happening again, we fail miserably. It’s not something that we do well. If journalists like Orla Barry want to do something about children at risk, then let her join the dots and look at the big picture. If she just wants to take a cheap shot at the guards or the priest who went to the house, wouldn’t we all be better off if she’d just shut up and go away?

God have mercy on the Dunne family. I hope they find the peace they never found here. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh an teaghlach bocht brónach.

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