Watchdog funding cuts will ‘hurt Church credibility’

Board being ‘starved’ of money – claim

Michael Kelly and Cathal Barry

Alarm has been expressed that Church leaders are undermining the independent watchdog which monitors handling of abuse allegations.

Prominent Catholic lawyer Baroness Nuala O’Loan told The Irish Catholic that any diminution of the role and independence of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) “would be very detrimental, not just for the reputation of the Church, but far more importantly to children and vulnerable people”. She warned that public confidence in the Church depends on continued support for theboard.

The former safeguarding chief executive Ian Elliott, who retired last year, warned that “to starve the National Board of the support that it requires, is running the risk of a lapse back to poor risk management or possibly worse.

“I see no justification for it other than a desire to limit the role of the Board by covert means,” Mr Elliott said. However, a Church spokesman rejected this and insisted that the hierarchy is fully committed to the board.

Mr Elliott says the watchdog’s budget has been cut year-on-year for the-last four years. “From a staffing perspective, it has less resources than some dioceses,” Mr Elliott said.

Baroness O’Loan told The Irish Catholic “we really cannot afford to allow the Church to slip back after getting it right” on child safeguarding. “It did work and we saw how it worked,” she insisted.

Baroness O’Loan said she could see no reason for the cuts to the watchdog. “I would hope that it wouldn’t be that they wanted to regain control. That will not do. If the board is no longer independent, people can’t have faith in its work.

“The National Board has to have the capacity to do what it needs to do and it needs independence”.

She warned that independence is “the key to the success of the board and it is the key to the protection of children in Ireland. There remain questions about individual congregations which are unanswered because the abuse audits [into Church handling of allegations] are not complete.

Any change to the board’s independence or cuts in funding “will diminish the confidence Catholics have in the hierarchy,” Mrs O’Loan warned.

However, a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office insisted that the Church was fully committed. “This includes our wholehearted support for the work of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, the implementation of the Board’s Standards and Guidance Document at a local level, and the ongoing audit and review process of all dioceses and congregations.”

A spokesman for the National Board told The Irish Catholic that in addition to the recently-appointed CEO Teresa Devlin, there is a full-time training manager, two full time administraion officers and a part-time director of professional standards based in the National Office for Safeguarding in Maynooth.