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Abstract

Inquiries have played an important role in telling the stories of children abused and neglected in Ireland in situations of family abuse, clerical abuse and institutional abuse. The inquiries – associated with the name of the chairperson (Ryan) or by their geographical remit (Dublin, Ferns, Cloyne, Kilkenny and Roscommon) – serve to vindicate the rights of the children affected and to identify the failure of the authorities to protect children from harm. They also make numerous recommendations as to how children’s treatment can be improved. Although each inquiry had varying terms of reference, scope and status, together they address a wide range of issues of both specific and general significance to the issue of child protection. Focus is clearly placed on how child protection practice can be improved but many of the inquiries also comment on the legal framework and make recommendations for the reform of various aspects of child protection law and policy. This paper argues that the legal implications of these inquiries can be reduced to three overarching issues: the legislative provision for the mandatory reporting of child abuse; the need for robust and effective inspection mechanisms to ensure the protection of children, and the issue of constitutional law reform. The analysis shows that these measures are neither straightforward nor a panacea to the intractable problem of providing effective protection to children from abuse. However, taken with the other recommendations identified in the child abuse reports, they represent the beginning of a lasting legacy for the victims of abuse so tragically failed by their families, by the state and by society at large.

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