The Office of the Ombudsman for Children spent over seven hundred thousand euros on “Office Administration”, and a further quarter million euros on “Seminars and Publications” in 2017 and 2018, despite having only 20 employees, writes David Mullins:

The Office of the Ombudsman for Children (OCO) does valuable, necessary work.

Indeed, the Ombudsman, Niall Muldoon, and his team have been consistently critical of organisations like The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, over breaches of data privacy and poor protections for children in foster care.

Dr Muldoon is also on record describing as “absolutely despicable” the length of time it took to set up the country’s first multi-agency centre for sexually abused children-a service which had been requested since 2008.

Only recently, in January, OCO published its Report, “Molly Two Years On”. This Report outlined the significant progress made to improve supports and services available to children with moderate to profound disabilities in the care of the state.

This was a follow up to OCO’s 2018 investigation about a child with a disability who was in foster care.

“Molly was born with Down Syndrome and severe autism. She was abandoned by her biological parents at birth. She is now 16 and has grown up with her foster family after being placed there soon after she was born. Molly is dependent on her foster carers for feeding, toileting, bathing, and dressing. When Molly’s foster carer came to us we found that neither the HSE nor Tusla saw Molly as a child in care and also a child with a disability. There was a lack of co-ordination which meant that services and supports provided by both organisations were insufficient.”

That said, there are aspects of OCO’s work which many people have significant difficulties with. One of these is its support for the removal of legal ‘barriers’ for children under the age of 16 who wish to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate.

OCO has also described the requirement to seek medical approval for children under the age of 16 as an “arduous” and “inappropriate requirement.”

What OCO does not seem have a problem with however is cash flow and state funding.

In fact, we know from the Financial Report that was recently laid before the Dáil that it spent four million, five hundred and fifty five thousand on staff, seminars, office administration etc during 2017 and 2018.

The breakdown shows that it spent €721,460 of this on ‘Office Administration’ over those two years.

This seems to be an unusually high amount for an organisation with only 20 employees in 2018 and 15 in 2017.

It also spent €260,144 on ‘Seminars and Publications’ in 2018 and a further €305,185 in the same category during 2017.

Again, you have to wonder how the enormous sums of money are justified and how they manage to accrue especially given that the Office of the Ombudsman is not a particularly sprawling organisation.

Did it really need to spend fifty-five thousand on PR during 2017 and 2018 for example?

There may be perfectly reasonable answers to these questions. The fact remains however that when most people read or see this level of public funding questions really should arise as to their legitimacy or necessity.