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Ombudsman for Children Appointment: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 867 No. 2

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy James Reilly: Information on James Reilly Zoom on James Reilly]   The Ombudsman for Children's office was established under the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 to promote and safeguard the rights and welfare of children. The Ombudsman for Children is independent of the Government and is accountable to the Oireachtas. The office is in place to provide an additional protection for children and, in this context, it is crucial that the Ombudsman for Children has the ability to advocate independently for children. The key functions of the role are to promote and safeguard the rights and welfare of children, to examine and investigate complaints about services provided to children, to provide advice regarding children's rights and to conduct research on relevant issues.

  The remit of the Ombudsman for Children has been significantly expanded and largely aligned with the remit of the Ombudsman with effect from May 2013 as a result of the changes enacted in the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012. The responsibility for the Ombudsman for Children's office transferred to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs from the Minister for Health with effect from 3 June 2011. The role of the Minister is limited primarily to governance matters, particularly staffing and finance, given the Ombudsman for Children's statutory independence.

  The process which resulted in Dr. Muldoon's selection began in August 2014 with meetings between officials in my Department and colleagues in the Public Appointments Service. In September 2014, I announced that the Public Appointments Service would engage in an independent process to find a suitable replacement to fill this important role. The PAS is recognised as a centre of excellence for public service recruitment and selection across a range of posts from entry level to professional, technical and senior executive positions. The recruitment process was conducted in accordance with the codes of practice of the Commission for Public Service Appointments, and the PAS ensured that the process adhered to the principles of fairness, quality and recruitment on merit.

  The PAS advertised the position on the 31 October 2014 on its website publicjobs.ie. The job was promoted through international channels in order to give the widest scope for potential applicants in comparable jurisdictions. Applications for the post were received from a wide range of candidates, both inside and outside the State, with a diverse range of backgrounds. I was pleased and encouraged at the interest in this important role. Ninety-seven eligible applicants were considered by a selection board for shortlisting. Twelve candidates were shortlisted for preliminary interview on 16 and 17 December. Five of these candidates were then selected for a final interview and assessment, which took place on 28 January 2015. Dr. Niall Muldoon was the successful candidate to emerge from this rigorous process.

  A unique element of this recruitment process was the involvement of children at all stages. There were two consultation workshops with children and young people on 20 and 21 October 2014 to provide input into the final personal specification and the advertisement for the post. I had the pleasure of attending both of these consultations, the first with a younger group aged eight to 12 years and the second with an older group aged 13 to 17 years. At these consultations, a panel of children was selected to become involved in a roleplay assessment as part of the final selection process. The final assessment included a roleplay session for each candidate with 11 children based on topics developed by the children themselves. The final interview included a presentation. Two children were involved with the interview board in assessing the presentation, but the children were not involved in assessing the other competencies that were examined by the adult members of the final interview board. It is safe to say that the voice of children was heard loudly during this process.

  Dr. Muldoon is currently director of investigations at the Ombudsman for Children's office. He has been in this role for two and a half years and oversees the handling of almost 1,600 complaints per year made by, or on behalf of, children and young people about public bodies such as the HSE, schools and voluntary hospitals. He ensures that a culture of independence, impartiality and, most importantly, child-centredness underpins the work at all times. Prior to joining the Ombudsman for Children's office, Dr. Muldoon spent five years as national clinical director of CARI, Children at Risk in Ireland, a children's charity, based in Dublin, Limerick and Cork, providing therapy and support to children and families affected by sexual abuse. He is a registered clinical and counselling psychologist who has worked in the area of child protection for almost 20 years. He spent ten years working in the Granada Institute providing therapy, risk assessments and support to adults who had sexually offended against children and those who had been abused as children. He was regularly called upon to provide expert testimony in the courts. He also has extensive experience of lecturing up to doctoral level in both TCD and UCD.

  Clearly, his experience shows that he has the range of professional and academic experience that makes him suitable for the position. The rigorous assessment and selection process conducted by the PAS concluded that he was the best candidate for the job. I would like to take this opportunity to wish him every success in this important and vital role.

  I am happy to recommend the adoption of this resolution to the House.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy Fianna Fáil welcomes the appointment of Dr. Niall Muldoon as the new Ombudsman for Children. He brings a wealth of experience and insight to the role from his work in the area of child protection for almost 20 years. His extensive knowledge and expertise makes him an ideal candidate to safeguard the rights and welfare of children.

The Office of Ombudsman for Children, which has just marked its tenth anniversary this year, has become an intrinsic part of Ireland's social and public affairs in ensuring that the voices of children are heard. We would like to pay tribute to Dr. Muldoon on his work with the office to date and wish him well in his new role. We hope he will build on the great work that has been carried out during the ten years since the office was established.

I also take this opportunity to thank the outgoing ombudsman, Ms Emily Logan, who has provided the State and its citizens with an invaluable service since the establishment of the office. She has been at the forefront in establishing the office as a fearless defender of the rights of the vulnerable and the voice of children in our society. I wish her every success in her new role as chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Her independence and vision will be an enormous asset to the new human rights body.

The ombudsman's office was set up in the context of a national children's strategy launched in 2000, which at the time was internationally welcomed as a model of good practice for the provision of supports and services for children. That strategy marked a transformation in acknowledging the rights and the voice of children and in ensuring their concerns are central in political and administrative decisions. As set out at the time, its three main goals were to provide for an Ireland where children are respected as young citizens with a valued contribution to make and a voice of their own, where all children are cherished and supported by family and the wider society, and where they enjoy a fulfilling childhood and realise their potential.

Ireland, like other countries, established the ombudsman in the context of its international obligations as a signatory of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, there are not many countries that have domesticated the convention in the way Ireland has done, and for this both Ms Logan and Dr. Muldoon should be applauded.

The policy challenge is to realise the implications of the national children's strategy and our obligations under the UN convention, as well as the recent constitutional amendment, in practice. The role of an ombudsman is crucial in this regard: highlighting inequalities, advising the Government on how rights can be strengthened and, most importantly, handling complaints from people who believe that the rights of a child have not been met by State bodies.

The office has had a tremendously positive influence on Irish political and administrative systems and has been to the front in promoting cultural change in the way we think about public services, putting children to the fore in all decisions. It has acted as an empowering resource for children and families when dealing with authorities. Over the past ten years public knowledge of the office complaints procedure has grown and, with it, the number of complaints lodged and investigated. From 100 complaints in its first year, there have since been 10,000 complaints in the past ten years.

While the ombudsman has had an active and transformational effect on public services, the reality is that the Government is not doing enough to act on some of the ombudsman's recommendations and, more generally, to implement the Children First agenda.


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