Address by Bishop Brendan Leahy to Child Safeguarding Conference in Limerick

11 Jan 2018

Failure to recognise and respond appropriately to the complex issues of abuse compounds the profound harm done to the lives of young and vulnerable persons, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said a Child Safeguarding Conference in the city today.

Speaking at a conference, ‘Building Collaboration in Safeguarding’, involving 100 representatives of organisations across Limerick in Mary Immaculate College today, Bishop Leahy said that ‘safeguarding’ is not just about children but people of all ages and abilities who are vulnerable to predators.  The Conference was organised by the Diocese of Limerick in association with An Garda Síochána, Tusla and the HSE.  Attendees included those from statutory, voluntary and educational sectors, as well as various faith organisations.

Said Bishop Leahy:  “In recent weeks, millions have joined the social media conversation using the hashtag #MeToo, or its equivalent, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – women and men denouncing harmful sexual experiences.  Many are revealing for the first time, via social media, their own stories.  While the majority of those sharing #MeToo stories are adult women, a large number of the shared stories reveal sexual abuse that began when they were still minors.

“People of my generation began our adult lives with almost no awareness of the pervasiveness and impact of abuse in our society and in all societies.  As a consequence, failure to recognise and respond appropriately to the complex issues which abuse presents, has at times compounded the profound and harmful impact on the lives of many young and vulnerable persons.

“At one point in trying to tackle the issues, we began speaking about child protection. Today we speak instead of Safeguarding because Safeguarding is a concept that reaches beyond protection, responding not only to problems which have occurred but incorporates the prevention of harm and the promotion of welfare.  Safeguarding also extends beyond children to include people of all ages and abilities who may have vulnerabilities which exposes them to a risk of abuse.”

Bishop Leahy, however, said that while much work has been done he also warned that we cannot relent with regard to safeguarding measures in any way.

“We are, in Limerick Diocese, in a stronger place than we were. We have a range of services in place and very active training programmes. The greatest danger for us is that we might relax and believe that the worst is in some way behind us.  To take this view would be a profound error which would compound the historical failures.

“Sometimes however, it seems as if all of us, all of society, can want to simplify this issue and move on.  To stay with an awareness of the pervasiveness of abuse and those dark parts of our human nature and the tendency to exploit weakness and vulnerability, may be almost too much.”

Bishop Leahy said that from his own meetings with victims, he was critically aware of the impact of abuse on them and their families.  “This can impact on all dimensions of their lives and there are no quick or simple solutions to what are sometimes their lifelong struggles.  I am also very conscious of the strain on people working in voluntary organisations as they struggle with what at times seem to be enormous limitations on resources.

“I am personally very aware and appreciative of the professionalism and commitment of people in the statutory sector who are the first to acknowledge the difficulties which they struggle with every day.  I believe the presentations from each of the key Statutory Agencies which form the core of this conference will serve to illustrate their commitment to developing new and innovative practices and will provide all of us in the other sectors an opportunity to reflect on our collective challenges as a community.

“The focus today is on informing us and allowing us to reflect on statutory perspectives.  It is my hope that today’s Conference in this community is just a beginning moment and that we may have many such moments in the future. Indeed, as we are here at Mary Immaculate College, I hope this conference might trigger ideas and initiatives that feed into the Teaching Education programmes in the College to the benefit of future generations of teachers.

“Above all, I look forward to the stimulating and respectful discussions as to how we as a Limerick community may together promote welfare and protect the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Addressed by senior representatives of organisations with an involvement in safeguarding in the Limerick area, including Chief Superintendent David Sheahan, who spoke about the level of interagency collaboration that is taking place, quoting extracts from the NBSCCCI audit of Limerick Diocese that acknowledged the unique engagement between Limerick Diocese, an Garda Siochana and HSE/ TUSLA.  


Other speakers included Ger Brophy, Area Manager Tusla and Donal Hurley and Paschal Moynihan from the HSE, the conference also heard presentations from Ms. Maggie McNally, Principal Social Worker HSE, and Ms. Karen Buckley, Principal Social Worker Tusla.  They outlined recent developments in the Protective Services Unit at Henry Street Garda Station and the Vulnerable Persons Service within the HSE.  Tusla also outlined the newly implemented provisions of the ‘Children First’ Legislation and the issue of Mandatory Reporting.

Mr. Bernard Gloster, Chief Officer of the HSE chaired an Open Forum which looked at ways in which agencies, in Limerick, might work together in building greater collaboration in safeguarding children and vulnerable people.