Peter McCarron on the National Board for Safeguarding Children
Cloyne Report and the Independence of The National Board for Safeguarding Children.
Cardinal Sean Brady when commenting on the Cloyne Report yesterday was at pains to point out that “One positive aspect to come out of Judge Murphy’s Report is the confirmation that the Church-established structures of review and accountability have been proven to work effectively.”
He was referring to the work of The National Board for Safeguarding Children, who were responsible for bringing out into the open the appalling realities of what was going on with regard to lack of Child Protection in Cloyne.
When the Bishops and the Religious Orders set up The National Board, it was made clear at the time that it was to be independent.
Their mandate said, “Once constituted, the Board will be in a unique position in terms of offering INDEPENDENT advice and monitoring of Church practice in the area of safeguarding children.”
This gave me great hope that now there was a body, which had been given freedom by the Church, to work on behalf of the Church but was independent of it and I admired the Bishops and Church leaders for their courage and insightfulness in setting it up.
However I am now concerned, that there are worrying signs developing that this independence is being tampered with and the progress of the National Boards work is being slowed down by the Church leaders.
I list three concerns two of which are pointed out by Andrew Madden in his Press Release yesterday:
1 The National Board tells us that their primary objective for 2010 was to conduct a review of each Diocese in the country, to ensure that the Church’s current child safeguarding policies and practices were appropriate.
However the National Board’s Annual Report 2010 published recently says that this process was stopped, after a review of only 3 Diocese had taken place, because the Bishops would not co-operate, citing data protection concern.
This was despite the fact that The National Board was confident that it was fully compliant with regard to Data Protection.
It says in its 2010 Annual Report “In reality the National Board has an approved and top-rate data protection policy, to which it fully adheres in all its operations. It is confident that it fully complies with data protection legislation as it exists in both jurisdictions on the Island”
In addition The Data Protection Commissioner has confirmed that there is no data protection concern that hinders the Bishops form co-operating with the National Board’s review.”
After this worrying delay I am glad to see from the National Boards July 2011 News Letter that, “It is planned to complete all of the diocese by next year, after which the religious and missionary societies will be processed.”
2 It now seems clear that when The National Board has completed its audit of each Diocese it can no longer make public its findings as it did in Cloyne but must first submit them to the relevant Bishop first.
This is surly another worrying development.
The recently published National Board 2010 Report tells us, “ The National Board will NOT COMMENT PUBLICLY on what it has found in the Review of each individual Church authority nor any recommendations in practice or procedures it deems necessary. The introduction of any information into the public domain is possible ONLY with the consent of the head of that authority.”
This is surely unsatisfactory and would seem to be tipping the scales favour the reputation of the Bishop rather than in the direction of child protection.
As Andrew Madden points out, “Imagine HIQA being similarly constrained by the HSE.”
3 I noticed a recent Irish Times report said that a Communications / Public Relations Company issued a recent statement on behalf of the National Board.
I am uneasy about this development.
We hear so much about “spin doctors” and the like who can dress up the truth and make it seem what it is not.
I am uneasy that the use of such companies by the National Board could result in people feeling they are not getting the full picture, the full truth.
Is it not much better to just simply “say it as it is”?
Why can’t the National Board continued to speak directly and leave out the “middle man”?
If The National Board is to remain effective and indeed to be of real service to the Church that set it up and finances it, surly it is essential that its independence from Church leaders be upheld and protected.
In the final analyses would it not be the Bishops themselves who would ultimately benefit most from this because they would be seen as possibly sacrificing their own reputation in favour of the protection of children.
Peter Mc Carron Priest Dublin
14 July 2011