The parents said ‘we want help’ the state responded ‘we want your children’

The parents said ‘we want help’ the state responded ‘we want your children’

By Hermann Kelly, reporter





Hermann Kelly is a journalist and commentator. He has (Summer 2007) contributed news articles to The Sunday Times and The Daily Mail as well as regular opinion columns to The Mail on Sunday and The Irish Examiner newspapers. In early 2007 he appeared on the RTE 1 Television talk show, 'Seoige and O'Shea' as well as the RTE Radio 1 programme- 'Liveline' to talk about his newspaper articles. Kelly was a reporter for The Irish Catholic, a paper which he edited between June 2004 and January 2005.

Major articles by journalist Hermann Kelly have also been printed in The Sunday Business Post and Magill Magazine.

This article was previously published in The
Irish Examiner on March 9, 2007.
It is published here with the kind consent of the author.




What is the difference between a Rottweiler and a social worker?


Sometimes you get your children back from a Rottweiler.


Quite a good joke, but Pat and Mary O’Hara from Kells in Co Meath weren’t laughing last year when they asked the local health board for help in their endeavours to care for and educate their five children. Four of their boys are autistic, while the eldest, Fionn, suffers from dyslexia. The O’Haras both gave up work to look after the kids full-time, but go nowhere in their quest for more help from the State. As a last-ditch effort, they approached the media to go public on their lack of support.


What was the considered response of the HSE?

Basically, when the parents said ‘we want your help’, the State said ‘we want your children’.


Just 48 hours after going to the media, the HSE moved to take the children from the parents and into the ‘care’ of the State through an interim court order. A van load of gardai led by social workers, banged on the front door of their family home.


Explaining their difficult situation, Mary O’Hara remarked in passing, “we can’t cope”.

The HSE saw an opening and the O’Hara children were taken away, some to a B&B in Drogheda and others to an institution in Navan. A week later, the family were able to make a court hearing in Trim where the HSE application for a care order was thrown out by the judge after an eight-hour battle.


Imagine the thoughts and emotions of these two parents and the upset to the children. Every parent’s nightmare taking place in an Irish town. And it could happen again, but with an even worse outcome.


The Government recently proposed to change the constitution by inserting some, as yet undefined, clause about children’s rights. It sounds reasonable and well-intentioned – but wait. What rights are we talking about here? Are children going to be allowed to vote in elections? No. Well, perhaps they’ll have a right to a guaranteed place in a college arts course? No.


From what has been shown by Government actions in recent years, you can be assured the only ones to gain more rights from this referendum will be the institutions and employees of the State. It is they who will be given rights to decide on behalf of the children.


And the people who’ll be losing their rights will be the parents who brought their children into this world, who care for and look after them. People like the O’Haras. 


Nine years ago this month, the parents of a 14-year-old girl, who was raped and pregnant, were prevented by the Eastern Health Board from having any contact with their daughter after this State body had taken her into its ‘care’. In what became know as the ‘C’ case, the then attorney general, Michael McDowell, representing the health board, sought permission from the court to take the girl to Britain for an abortion, going directly against the wishes of her parents. The end result was that a developing child was aborted in Britain and the father, who had been frustrated in his right to protect his own daughter, later committed suicide. Virtually every major organ of the State collaborated to deny the rights of the girl’s parents to protect their vulnerable child. The State always knows better than parents? I don’t think so.


I believe this debate is unlikely to become one of those liberal versus conservative melees that occasionally break out in Ireland. This is because children are best off in the care of their natural and married parents in a stable household; and if the welfare of the child is made paramount over all other rights, then it could mean (as an unforeseen consequence) that divorce and adoption by homosexual couples would be outlawed.

Surely, this is the logical outcome and practical consequence of this laudable axiom. Somehow I don’t think the Government and courts will look on it like that.


However, this debate will really be about the rights of the parents in contest with the State over who has care of the children.


Launching his campaign on Friday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern spoke as if the rights of children were not already protected under the constitution. He was wrong. Innumerable studies have shown children are safest and happiest in the care of their natural and married parents in a stable household.


The constitution recognises this fact, and Article 41.1 protects the family where the child is most secure.


It states: “The State recognises the family as the natural, primary and fundamental unit group of society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.”


This right and duty of the family to provide for the good and security of the children within it is, however, qualified in rare instances where the welfare of the child requires the State to intervene and help the parents in their duties.


Article 42.5 allows that: “In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State, as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.”


Article 42.5 already assures constitutional protection to vulnerable children, so why change it? Is change necessary? It certainly hasn’t been shown that this is the case.

Can the law be improved to protect children better? Recent trials relating to the statutory rape of minors have shown the legislation can surely be improved. I believe this is what the political parties should concentrate on at present.


Last month, the Taoiseach floated a kite that we needed a referendum on the St Andrews Agreement, and it came to nought. Then he announced this new referendum idea out of the blue last Friday. The constitution recognises the rights of citizens and provides the stable framework for the functioning of the State. It should not be kicked around as a toe-rag for electoral gain just a few months before a general election.


My esteemed fellow columnist, Fergus Finlay, wrote here on Tuesday: “There’s no reason to delay this referendum, and no reason to agonise for months about what we should be putting in the constitution.”


Well, we’ll have to differ on this one. Let’s wait and see what comes out, and then carefully weigh up what is presented. Let’s ensure the rights of parents to care for their children are not over-ridden by the desire of the State to control all it can. Ask whether this referendum is really necessary and just who is benefiting from the changes that are suggested. Then decide.




Hermann Kelly's new book 'Kathy's Real Story' will be published in September 2007 by Prefect Press, Ireland. cost €14.99 / £9.99 see

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Journalist Hermann Kelly for the first time tells the real action behind controversial bestseller, 'Kathy's Story / Don’t Ever Tell' by Kathy O’Beirne and show conclusively that truth is stranger than her fiction. In this rollicking read, Kelly uncovers the link between the state scheme of compensation and harrowing cases of false allegation against totally innocent people.

Kathy's Real Story is a compelling and heartbreaking read which begins with shame and ends with the triumph of an Irish family over false allegations of abuse. This book is the ultimate anti-dote against 'miserable literature' and a hammer blow to those who have hurt people by making false allegations.






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