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Ombudsman seeks removal from domestic violence strategy

The Ombudsman for Children has written to the Minister for Justice asking that his office be removed from the new strategy combatting domestic and gender based violence because funding it was promised to fulfil the role has not been delivered.

Dr Niall Muldoon “reluctantly” wrote to Minister Helen McEntee last October over what his office said was “the failure of the Department to follow through on the promised resources”.

The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman also claimed that it had not received a response regarding its October letter from the Department and was currently unaware of whether or how the role originally envisaged for it in helping to deliver the government’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ strategy would be provided.

In a statement, the OCO said it was approached by the Department of Justice in 2021 to provide independent children’s rights advice on the DSGBV strategy and to the new agency.

“They also requested that the OCO undertakes an independent monitoring role on the implementation of actions in relation to children,” an OCO spokesperson said.

“The OCO welcomed the visibility of children in this Strategy and agreed to take on this important role with the understanding that additional resources would be required for the OCO.”

The Government strategy, first published last year, outlined the role for the OCO in providing independent advice and expertise on its implementation from a child rights perspective, as well as selecting key actions in the strategy aimed directly at children, as well as a number from which children can be expected to substantially benefit.

It was also charged with monitoring the progress and development of the strategy over time, including ensuring children’s right to have their views both heard and considered in the design, implementation and assessment of services and interventions aimed at them.

But according to the OCO: “Despite strenuous efforts by the OCO and indeed, by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, over the course of two budget cycles the required resources have not been forthcoming from the Department of Justice.”

After exhausting all avenues, in October 2023 the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon reluctantly wrote to the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee asking that the OCO be removed from the DSGBV Action Plan due to the failure of the Department to follow through on the promised resources.

“The OCO has not received a response since October and is not aware of plans to ensure independent oversight of the actions in the strategy in relation to children.”

In response the Department of Justice suggested any additional funding would have to be provided by the Department of Children.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: “Zero Tolerance is an all of Government Plan and it is the responsibility of each Department or Body to prioritise the implementation of those actions which have been agreed to, either from within existing resources or through the annual estimates process.”

“The annual estimates process is led by the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform. The Ombudsman for Children is under the aegis of the Department of Children, Equality, Diversity, Integration and Youth and as such, is funded through that Department’s Vote.”

The spokesperson also said there OCO was mistaken in relation to no response being issued following Dr Muldoon’s letter last October.

“There must be a misunderstanding but I can confirm that a response did issue to Dr Muldoon,” the spokesperson said.

The Department of Children has also been contacted for comment.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said the fact the new strategy had referred to children in the context of domestic violence had been “a first step in the right direction” and that anything which jeopardised that was “a worry at this stage”.

Ms Ward said: “A novel approach was adopted that the Ombudsman for Children was approached to monitor implementation of the strategy.

“It is concerning now that the OCO has had to step away due to lack resources and I am concerned that those actions in the strategy may not be implemented as a result.”

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