SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN

26 April 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The release yesterday of the review of child protection practices in place in the Clogher Diocese of the Catholic Church brought welcome analytical focus to both the present and the past approaches adopted in this regard.

The findings of the reviewers from the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland are generally commending of the current structures in operation in the diocese, where 41 out of 48 criteria are deemed fully met, and the remainder met partially, an outcome which we imagine would be in the higher range of performance nationally with regard to safeguarding best practice.

This is a source of strong reassurance for all those with an interest in the protection and welfare of young people during their interaction with various spheres of diocesan activity.

Aspects of the practice which historically pertained in the diocese with regard to the handling of complaints of clerical abuse come in for some criticism in this report – some of the past responses to abuse concerns are described as being “often unsatisfactory”, with “opportunities for preventative interventions…. consistently missed.”

The positive aspects of this review are welcome; its critical dimensions are concerning.

The situation disclosed is perhaps common to similar reports produced in the ongoing audit being conducted by the Catholic Church in Ireland into the management of child protection and the address of allegation of sexual abuse by priests and religious: often grievous past mistakes are being acknowledged and atoned for as steps are being taken to create an environment which will hopefully prevent their repetition.

The pathway to the current heightened awareness of the need to safeguard young people and other vulnerable members of society from sexual predation has been, for Irish society in general as well as the Catholic Church, an extremely painful one.

The social and cultural environment in which much of the dreadful catalogue of clerical abusive which has come to light in recent years occurred was very different to that of today – its presumptions and attitudes served to cloak the abuse itself in silence and often facilitated its perpetrators not merely in escaping the consequences of their actions but in perpetuating their offending behaviour.

How a blind eye was turned to so much suffering is a shameful thing – the changes that are currently underway, in church and in society, to protect the vulnerable, give redress to the victims and bring the guilty to account are recognition of that uncomfortable fact as well as positive evidence of change.

In this ongoing process of reform, the survivors of clerical abuse must never be forgotten.
No matter how sweeping the changes in safeguarding practices or how secure the modern structures are made, a line can never be drawn that separates what the church is doing today to honour the covenant of protecting the young from the trauma still being experienced by those who suffered when that covenant was broken in the past.

In the review document released yesterday, and at the press conference accompanying its publication, much sincerity of concern was evidenced for those who, as one media interrogator pointed out, still walk each day in the shadow of what, by being designated ‘historical’ instances of abuse, can sometimes be made to seem crimes of limited contemporary consequence.

While policies of confidentiality limited the detail that emerged in the press conference exchanges regarding the payment of compensation to victims of clerical abuse in the diocese and the numbers availing of the counselling and therapeutic healing assistance the diocese offers, it was clear that in both these vital areas of redress a process of meaningful engagement has begun to be entered into by the church authorities.

It is premature to pronounce on how satisfactory this engagement will prove to be – that verdict can only be authoritatively delivered by the survivors themselves and their advocates, and will no doubt come in time.

In the meantime it is clear that within the diocesan structures itself there is a deep commitment from both religious and laity to ensure that standards of best practice in the delivery of safeguards for young people within the church are achieved and maintained.

The evidence presented of the extent of voluntary commitment to this work was particularly striking, as was the comment of the co-ordinator of safeguarding services in the diocese Mr Pat Drury, who said of the volunteer workers: “They see their church is wounded, and they want to do something about it.”

RELIEF FOR BALLYBAY
The news that all 122 jobs at the Silvercrest meat plant in Ballybay will be secure following the proposed sale of the company by the ABP Group to Kepak is very welcome news for the town and the Mid-Monaghan area generally.

Although the change of ownership of the factory – which in January found itself the epicentre of the burgeoning horsemeat scandal – has yet to be formally approved by the Competition Authority, it is reasonable to anticipate that the shadow hanging over employment there has been dispelled.

The good faith of ABP, who kept the Silvercrest employees on the payroll while production at the firm was suspended, and the commitment of Kepak, who have announced their intention to restore the Ballybay operation to full production as soon as practicable, must be acknowledged, as the consequences of any diminution of the employment provided for the Ballybay area would have been extremely damaging.

This news and the effective ‘clean bill of health’ given to the Irish and British beef industries by the latest European Commission testing results, invites the closing of what has been a traumatic chapter in the recent history of this sector of production.

However, important questions were raised in the course of the controversy which raged following the discovery of equine DNA in meat products which remain to be answered to complete satisfaction.

While the crisis in one sense validated the effectiveness of the food safety monitoring procedures in operation in this country, it raised concerns about traceability across the European production sector that remain to be fully allayed.

We have been assured that more stringent regulations in this regard will, belatedly, be enacted at EU level – but not for some time to come.

This is clearly unsatisfactory, leaving the door open for a recurrence of the problem which threatened to inflict lasting harm on a vital sector of the Irish economy, and which has left behind an aftershock of consumer suspicion that producers and retailers alike are still having to contend with.

Should Ireland not be concluding its presidential tenure in Europe by insisting that a firm regulatory key is turned in this particular door immediately to prevent any damaging recurrence?

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