Call for Ombudsman for Children to make a public statement on issues relating to children raised in the Dáil by Deputy Bernard Durkan

Last month Ireland’s leading advocacy group for mothers of children in state care, the Alliance of Birthmothers Campaigning for Justice (ABC) wrote to the OCO (Ombudsman for Children’s Office) calling for an investigation into the matters raised by Deputy Bernard Durkan in the Dáil on several occasions since last September.

The OCO replied recently to ABC stating it’s role is limited under the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 and has no power to carry out an investigation under Section 7 of the Act.

ABC responded to the OCO today, 4 May 2023 “conveying once again its deepest dissatisfaction that the OCO is choosing to do nothing about the ongoing plight of the child victims who are the subject of Deputy Bernard Durkan’s  exposé in the Dáil.”

The OCO wrote: “we are limited in what action we can take based on the provisions contained in the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, as amended (the Act). Even if we did have capacity to deal with every issue that comes to us (which unfortunately we don’t), we cannot take action in relation to concerns or complaints that are not covered by the provisions of the Act.”

ABC in response to this statement has requested that the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Muldoon “make a public statement merely acknowledging that it has been brought to his attention that a problem exists.”

The correspondence to the OCO says: “ABC reminds you once again that this involves custody of children being granted to alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse and mothers denied all access to their children, in some cases for several years.

Has the OCO considered for one moment the long-term effects on children as a result of being denied access to loving, caring mothers?”

ABC point out that “Deputy Durkan’s exposé is supported by the report by the National Women’s Council (NWC) launched Wednesday 3 May 2023 by Minister for Justice, Simon Harris.

𝐴 𝑅𝑒𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡 𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐼𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐶𝑟𝑖𝑚𝑖𝑛𝑎𝑙 𝐽𝑢𝑠𝑡𝑖𝑐𝑒, 𝑃𝑟𝑖𝑣𝑎𝑡𝑒 𝐹𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑦 𝐿𝑎𝑤 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑃𝑢𝑏𝑙𝑖𝑐 𝐿𝑎𝑤 𝐶ℎ𝑖𝑙𝑑 𝐶𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑃𝑟𝑜𝑐𝑒𝑠𝑠𝑒𝑠 𝑖𝑛 𝑅𝑒𝑙𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑡𝑜 𝐷𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑖𝑐 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑆𝑒𝑥𝑢𝑎𝑙 𝑉𝑖𝑜𝑙𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒 prepared for the National Women’s Council and the Department of Justice by Nuala Egan & Ellen O’Malley Dunlop says recourse to the “parental alienation” model appears to be increasingly popular in courts in Ireland.

“The term ‘parental alienation’ is understood to refer to any situation in which a parent is perceived as engaging in strategies to exclude the other parent from a relationship with their child, particularly in high-conflict separation situations, regardless of whether or not the child actually rejects the other parent. At its core is the assertion that allegations of domestic and/or sexual violence are often simply a means by which a parent making the allegations seeks to restrict an innocent parent’s access to and custody of their child; in essence that such allegations are false,” the report says.

It explains how expert assessors engaged by courts in private law applications to determine the welfare of the child or to discern the child’s views are resorting to this pseudoscience “thereby impacting upon the decisions of courts who, in many cases, place considerable reliance upon the views of experts.”

The report says: “A very real concern on the part of our interviewees, however, is that this concept can be both invoked and accepted in the courtroom without any valid forensic basis.

A concern was also expressed about the lack of objectivity and/or a bias towards the concept on the part of some of the expert assessors engaged in the private family law processes, leading to a tendency on the part of such assessors to conclude that parental alienation arises in a disproportionately large number of cases.”

ABC go on to inform the OCO that “Deputy Durkan has raised the issue of Parental Alienation on a number of occasions since September,  most recently during the Courts Bill 2023: Second Stage debate on 19th April when he stated: “One thing that has come to my attention in recent times with an increasing number of incidents is in the family law courts, where there is a new regime applicable that is called parental alienation. It has caused unbelievable distress to young mothers who are being separated forcibly from their children. Their children are detained by An Garda Síochána on foot of an order of the court, which is covered by the in camera rule.”

Deputy Durkan continued: “I wish to point out is that there are serious cases where the rights of children have been overlooked, for want of a better description. Tusla has been asked to get involved but that agency cannot do so because it comes under the remit of the Department of Justice and the courts. It cannot, therefore, get involved in these cases. There are cases where serious allegations of child abuse have been made, some of which have been investigated by a member or members of An Garda Síochána. These have been frustrated and have run into the ground at a later stage. There remains, therefore, a serious question in this regard which needs to be examined urgently.”

Today, 4 May, Deputy Durkan raised the matter again, telling the Tanaiste, Micheál Martin: “The heartless and serious persecution of women in the family law courts continues unabated in the State with cases dragging out for years at different courts and at different levels. It appears to continue regardless of what anybody thinks. There appears to be no way of doing anything about it by anybody. I have raised this previously. The Ceann Comhairle has thankfully and correctly facilitated me in raising the matter for consideration. Everybody has expressed concern but the concern now is there is a contention that will go away and eventually it will be smothered, that we will have some distraction and it will go on into next year or the year after. This is not good enough. There is a situation now whereby some women and their children have been deprived of meeting each other, only talking by telephone, with an accused person overseeing the telephone calls. This can go on for more than one year. This abuse cannot continue. It is authorised abuse by the State of individuals.”

ABC concluded its request to the OCO by stating:

“The Alliance of Birthmothers Campaigning for Justice is hopeful that the OCO will consider the plight of the unfortunate children who are victims of this ongoing grave miscarriage of Justice and respond to our request for Dr Muldoon to make a public statement on the matters raised in the Dáil by Deputy Durkan that’s now supported by a report by Nuala Egan SC and Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, Irish representative on the Council of Europe’s Grevio committee published this week.

Dare we dream that Dr Muldoon might call for an amendment of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 to grant him the power to investigate the plight of scores of children currently abused by the Irish justice system?”