Why All The Secrecy?

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Irish journalist Sinéad O’Shea

Separated children are asylum-seeking children, aged under 18, who arrive in Ireland without their parents or legal care giver.

It’s understood some are trafficked while others are sent to Ireland by their families.

Since 1999, more than 6,000 separated children have arrived in Ireland.

Between 1999 and 2010, separated children were sent to live in largely unsupervised mixed youth hostels across the country with, sometimes, up to 150 children living in each hostel. Some of the hostels would have seen ten children share a room. Once they turned 18, they were transferred to the direct provision system.

According to the most recent figures, 513 separated children went missing from State care between 2000 and 2010, with 440 of these children still unaccounted for.

In 2005, Ireland’s first Children’s Ombudsman, Emily Logan visited a privately-run hostel for separated children and was disturbed at how easily strangers could enter the hostel. At the time of her visit, the Irish Refugee Council was claiming one separated child a week was disappearing from HSE care.

Recalling her visit, Ms Logan told the Sunday Business Post in 2008:

“You could actually get into the hostel and up to the landing upstairs without anybody stopping you.”

In December 2010, following considerable criticism, the last hostel for unaccompanied minors was closed down and Crosscare took over as the provider of care for separated children.

Further to this, in October of last year, Irish journalist Sinéad O’Shea did a three-part series on ‘separated children’ for RTÉ’s Drivetime, called Irish Style – Still Hurting the Vulnerable.

Her series, which was funded by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund, looked at several issues concerning separated children – specifically, the disappearance of hundreds of separated children, how children were ‘reunified’ with adults whom care workers assessed insufficiently; the provision of care for pregnant separated children and the provision of abortion for separated children.

Ms O’Shea spoke to one 17-year-old who was raped multiple times before becoming pregnant and wasn’t allowed travel to the UK for an abortion.

Ms O’Shea also looked at the HSE’s poor level of statistics and information about separated children in Ireland, and she explained how it was strangely difficult to find people to speak on the record about the provision of abortion for separated children.

A former HSE social worker, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to Ms O’Shea about what it was like to work in the hostel system:

“On a given day, you could have had ten referrals, so you could have had 10 young people arriving in, some of them would be going into care, some of them would be reunited with family, so then you had to like trace the family. So, they would say, ‘My mum or dad was in the country’. Those reunifications were very stressful and people were very uncomfortable doing them because they were under so much pressure that you didn’t have time to do a thorough assessment and then you were sending this child to the care of this person but then the alternative was to send this child to a hostel.”

Before Crosscare came into effect, most separated girls who became pregnant were sent to a mother and baby unit near Tallaght.

Speaking about the conditions of the mother and baby unit, Crosscare’s social care manager Gordon Hill told Ms O’Shea comparing the provision of care for Irish girls in State care who were pregnant with that of separated girls who were pregnant was like comparing “chalk and cheese”.

Sarah*, from Ghana, arrived in Ireland as a separated child. As of last October she was living in Mosney as an asylum seeker.

She told Ms O’Shea:

“I came to Ireland when I was 17. My mum and uncle arranged for me to come here…They hired an agent, he was not a good man. On the way, he took me to Togo and raped me. He then brought me to Ireland, gave me an address and money for my taxi. I was put in a hostel. There were about 160 people there.”

Ms O’Shea said Sarah, while still a resident of the hostel, was later raped outside of the hostel multiple times and became pregnant. Ms O’Shea said Sarah claimed she had asked a social worker if she could have an abortion.

Sarah said:

Two other girls in my hostel were having an abortion. She said I didn’t have the right documentation to go to the UK. When I was four months’ pregnant, I took a lot of pills and had a miscarriage. I’m not sure what happened. At the time it was the biggest disaster of my life. When I came out of Holles Street, I met a social worker for two and a half hours. He gave me some leaflet, I went back to school. When I turned 18, I went into Direct Provision, it was a few years later, I am now in Mosney, still have waiting status. I have a child and a partner now but the situation is not always good. I am fearful. I don’t know what is going to happen. Recently I made contact with the Rape Crisis Centre and I’m taking anti-depressants, I am not feeling hopeful for the future.”

Ms O’Shea later tracked down the two girls from the hostel who had abortions. They had them in 2003.

As regards separated children who were brought to the UK for terminations, Ms O’Shea said she first became aware that this happened when she spoke with someone who once worked with Dublin VEC. This person who spoke with Ms O’Shea said they’d heard of two or three terminations taking place and that they had helped with the organisation of one of these.

Ms O’Shea said:

They said there had been efforts made to keep this information quiet but they were still surprised that it wasn’t more public as so many people had been involved, including representatives of the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the HSE.”

Ms O’Shea explained how, a month after the Department of Health stated that it didn’t keep records of how many children in care had been brought aboard for abortions, then Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald – in response to a Dail question last summer – said the HSE informed her six minors in State care had travelled abroad for abortions on suicide grounds since 1992.

This number relates to all children in State care – including Irish children and separated minors.

However, Ms O’Shea spoke to one psychiatrist about his involvement with the HSE in the certification of children in care to go abroad for terminations and he recalled dealing with five or six cases in one year alone. Several weeks after her initial interview with this psychiatrist, he contacted Ms O’Shea and said he would be risking his career if he spoke publically about the process.

The psychiatrist said:

“I first became involved in this, around 2005/2006. I’m not sure of the dates I’ll have to double check. Somebody from the Irish and Family Planning Association contacted me and asked if I could perform psychiatric checks on underage girls who were being brought abroad by the HSE for terminations. I didn’t fully understand why my opinion was being solicited but apparently the HSE thought it was necessary. It was my view that these girls should be allowed go abroad and have terminations if they so wished. I didn’t see why they should be subject to any rigorous questioning. I simply asked them if they wanted to go and if they felt this was the right decision. Each time, they said yes. I dealt with about five or six cases over a year-long period though, again, I’d have to check that for you. After that time, the arrangement came to an end.”

During her research, Ms O’Shea requested an interview with the IFPA but they asked her to send them questions, which they subsequently answered, via email. Ms O’Shea asked the IFPA how many cases it dealt with but they replied, ‘In line with good medical practices, client details are held for seven years. [We] have no records of any unaccompanied minor using our counselling services in the past seven years.’

Ms O’Shea also spoke with Mary Kenny, the senior manager for unaccompanied minors services at the HSE, asking her if she knew how many pregnancies had taken place amongst separated children.

Ms Kenny told Ms O’Shea that she did not know how many pregnancies had taken place amongst separated children, as the figures were not recorded. However she also told Ms O’Shea that at one mother and baby unit for pregnant separated children, between 2007 and 2010, there had been roughly 60 pregnant minors.

Asked about the number of terminations, Ms Kenny told Ms O’Shea that “the numbers are so low that to state them would make these children easily identifiable”, and she reiterated the figure – six – that was given in response to the Dail question, mentioned above.

But – as Ms O’Shea points out in her series – there were the two girls in Sarah’s hostel who had the terminations in 2003; she spoke with a social worker who worked on one case between 2001 and 2003; she spoke with a former VEC worker who worked on a case; there was the psychiatrist who worked on five or six cases over a year-long period in 2005/2006; there was the case of Miss C in 1997; and Ms O’Shea found newspaper reports discussing the case of an Irish child in care in 2003; a case in 2005, 2006 and then two likely other cases – bringing the figure to 15 or 16.

During her series, Ms O’Shea claimed that, even though there may have been some doubling up in cases, the figure six still does not ring true.

Previously: Hiding History

*Not her real name.

Listen to Ms O’Shea’s three radio segments here

Sinéad O’Shea

53 thoughts on “Why All The Secrecy?

  1. Llareggub

    There is the duplicity and the hypocrisy and we should be outraged, of course we should, but this floored me! –

    “I came to Ireland when I was 17. My mum and uncle arranged for me to come here…They hired an agent, he was not a good man. On the way, he took me to Togo and raped me. He then brought me to Ireland, gave me an address and money for my taxi. I was put in a hostel. There were about 160 people there.”

    That’s just insane. Who does that to their own daughter?

  2. Jock

    Most of these are not kids at all but adults in their 20s. They arrive with no documentation claiming to be 16.
    Jock calling it again.

      1. Jock

        How could there possibly be publicly available data on foreigners pretending to be minors if they come here with zero documentation? Think about it.

        I know the scam and I know the reality so please spare me the social justice campaigns.

          1. Jock

            How do you know big foot doesn’t exist? I want a link now that conclusively proves that otherwise you will have to accept he does exist.

            That’s the sort of logic you are following.

          2. smoothlikemurphys

            You said that “Most of these are not kids at all but adults in their 20s”

            You’re being asked to back up that pretty categorical statement. Unless there’s proof such as data or citations, it’s your opinion. You stated your opinion as fact, and you’re being called out on it – this is how the grown-ups play.

        1. Always Wright

          C’mere though, listen to me till you hear what I’m going to tell you. I know this for a fact, a fact lads. I was talking to a fella, you might know him, he’s a cousin of that girl I was telling you about, remember I said she was going to buy a used Peugeot 405 but the dealer talked her into ordering a brand new Nissan Juke and now she… but anyway anyway anyway… this fella whose cousin has a Nissan Juke told me, told me himself, that these coloured people coming into Ireland are only here on a scam!
          Imagine! What they do is, right, they walk away from their home, friends, family, heritage, the lot. They take the scenic route to Ireland in boats and shipping containers, it’s all organised by these travel agents called ‘traffickers’ who do all the work because the coloured lads are too lazy and stupid to do it themselves. Sure half of them can’t even read.
          They land here then with nothing to their name at all because they’re too lazy to bother with luggage. They just act stupid and keep their heads down until some dogooder finds them a suite in a hotel or something. Sure remember when we used to only dream of trying out the waterslide in Mosney? These lads are there on a permanent holiday! Down the waterslides as many times as they want!
          And because black people all look the same we can’t tell what age they are! There are girls going around the place twice the size of me saying “Oh, sure amn’t I only 14, you’ll have to give me everything I want.” If somebody says “Prove it, show me your passport,” then the girls just claim to have women’s troubles, like rape and headaches and things.
          They’re not clever, but they’re cunning in a sly sort of way, and it’s terrible hard to get the truth out of them. They don’t have to work or save for a house or anything, treated like royalty away from whatever mess they’re on the run from in the Sahara or the Serengeti or whatever. They’re onto a good thing and they know it.

    1. I C.

      @jock,

      Sure that makes everything alright then, we are a great country for special olympics hosting and the chernobyl children but we can’t show compassion for people actually in the country.

    2. LeScull

      Assuming there is truth in your opinion,which you haven’t backed up at all then
      how does that make the lack of record keeping since arrival ok?
      how does that make housing people 10 to a room in hostels ok?
      how does it make repeated rapes and assaults ok?
      how does it make the systematic failure of several state funded agencies ok?

    3. well

      Deny , Delay , Disrupt , Discredit.

      That’s what the prolife side have now reduced themselves to.
      You claim these people are lying about their age.
      You claim that girl was lying about her rape.

    4. Nigel

      Glad you glossed over the whole rape and abortion and overcrowding and lack of care and supervision and missing children to hone in on the urban myth aspect of this.

  3. Tannoy

    I note that this incredibly important work was funded directly. It’s times like this I wish we had a public service broadcaster so that they … oh right.

    1. rotide

      Sinead obviously put a LOT of work into this and you congratulate bodger? When broadsheet do a trailer park for Interstellar will you post “Brilliant work again Bodger (And Christopher)”

    1. Jock

      You guys are hilarious. Completely dismiss the obvious becausr it doesn’t fit in with your blinkered liberal mind.

      They go missing because they are not kids in care. They are adult economic migrants trafficked here to work illegally. Airlines are constantly finding toilets blocked with torn passports.

      1. Clampers Outside!

        Nobody is dismissing anything Jock except you.

        You dismiss these minors as completely autonomous adults making choices to come to Ireland and purposefully disappearing to work illegally.
        Of course some will be a bit older, but you conveniently box them all off so that you needn’t concern yourself with them, “pffft, rabble”.

        You’re a bit of a tool Jock, a large inflatable duck sized tool.

      2. fmong

        “Airlines are constantly finding toilets blocked with torn passports.”

        ahahahahahaha!!!

        Tollers keep on trollin’

        1. Jock

          Remember a that hand wringing about that ‘distressed’ child on oconnell Street? I was the only person here to correctly call that one.

      3. Llareggub

        Ah get that man a pint! The mystery of blocked aeroplane toilets solved after all these decades. Good man Jock.

  4. chicken

    This is really disturbing, I really have a number of issues to understand this:
    – these kids are just abandoned to the system in hostels and no one is taking care of them – sorry but even at 16 they should not be left to fend for themselves.
    – 440 minors have effectively disappeared in a 10 year period – WHAT???? that is 40 minors a year this is unbelievable – the HSE has a lot to answer for.
    – the fact some of these girls were brought to England for abortions (well at least they were not abandoned by the state to fend for themselves and their babies but the fact that they needed to at all is shocking!
    – how can the HSE not prioritise these children and their welfare. I understand that there is not enough social workers in Ireland but this is really a disgrace!!

    1. Medium Sized C

      And meaning absolutely no offence, you probably don’t understand that there aren’t enough Social Workers.
      There are not enough of lots of professions and services.

      And there isn’t money to pay for them.

      Its not right, but when we don’t have the will or resources to take care of Irish kids in care, how are we gonna spend on illegal immigrants?

      1. Llareggub

        For fear of offending I desisted from saying this. If the Barnardos’ statistics are anything to go by there are lots of Irish children going without. Ireland cannot cope.

        1. Ms Piggy

          Ireland could cope very well if it chose to. This is a rich country which chooses to give tax breaks to the horse-racing industry etc etc and not to spend money on special needs assistants, free healthcare for children or, indeed, desperate young asylum seekers. The key word here is ‘chooses’. This is what we prefer as a society, it seems.

  5. Nigel

    ‘I didn’t see why they should be subject to any rigorous questioning’

    Some glimmer of humanity in all this.

  6. David Roe

    I remember the the 2008 article, and being amazed at how little controversy and comment it generated. It was also clear that the numbers counted as ‘separated’ are a minimum figure. Where children are trafficked into the state and are met by an agent at the airport/ferry, they are unlikely to be counted. Unless they come to the attention of Gardai or social services later, they can effectively vanish.

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