The disturbing case of the NGOs and the children’s ombudsman

Full credit to Mark Tighe, soon leaving the Sunday Times, for unearthing this extremely unflattering tale about the children’s ombudsman. Go read the full thing, if you can:

Niall Muldoon, the children’s ombudsman, has admitted to colleagues that an anonymous critique of a newspaper article he wrote calling for more access to medical treatment for transgender children was a “strong and credible argument” against his position.

In April 2021 Muldoon wrote an opinion piece in a Sunday newspaper stating that “gender-affirming care for trans young people must be a priority”. The article was criticised by people opposed to children receiving puberty blockers and other medical interventions before they become adults….

….Responding to criticism by the psychotherapist that his article was almost identical to one previously published by the then chief executive of the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (Teni), Muldoon said he was happy to acknowledge his article was “done in collaboration with Teni and BelongTo”, a LGBT youth charity.

The part in bold is key, but we’ll come back to it in a moment. First, a layman’s explainer for what happened: The children’s ombudsman published an article essentially arguing that the best policy for dealing with children experiencing gender dysphoria was “gender affirming care”. Gender affirming care, for those not familiar with the jargon, is when you unquestioningly accept a child’s self-diagnosis that they were born in the wrong body, and begin a process of “transitioning” their gender without any efforts to discuss with the child whether they are totally certain of their condition, or whether they might – to use the vernacular – be “going through a phase”.

Gender affirming care, said the children’s ombudsman, should be the state policy.

Now, the children’s ombudsman’s words carry weight. His office is supposed to be an independent entity, free from the pressure of lobby groups, which does nothing more than look at the evidence dispassionately and recommend the best policies for the state to deal with children.

But in this case, that’s not what happened, is it?

In actual fact, as the ombudsman himself admits, his article on recommending gender affirming care for children was “done in collaboration with TENI and BelongTo”. Those are two activist groups with a strong and partisan position on the best way to treat trans-identifying children. They are two of the groups, for example, pushing for a ban on “conversion therapy” which would include a ban on any efforts to explore alternative treatments for children with gender dysphoria.

In other words, they have skin in the game.

What we learn from Mark Tighe is that when the children’s ombudsman received pushback from outside groups, including one brave psychotherapist, he was shocked, and considered that the argument against his own position was “strong and credible”.

But by that point, of course, his position was already public, and already being used by activist groups to bolster their own case. And now we see how the circle works:

The activist groups helped the ombudsman write his piece. They put words in his mouth. Once those words were spoken from his mouth, they then cited them as evidence that their own position was the mainstream, sensible position. The ombudsman, in other words, became a vehicle for radical activist groups to endorse their own position.

This is not what an ombudsman is for. The fact that this was allowed to happen by his office is little less than a dereliction of duty.

And it shows, rather compellingly, how these activist groups – both of whom in this case are funded by the taxpayer – have their claws deeply dug into the institutions of the state. The children’s ombudsman is supposed to work for children. In this case, the evidence makes pretty clear, he was actually working for two NGOs.

The other problem here is that Mark Tighe’s excellent journalism is the first the public is hearing about the ombudsman’s recognition that there are two sides to this story. We know from his piece that the ombudsman privately recognises that there is a strong and compelling case against his own position. So surely it is his job, then, to convey that strong and compelling case to the public, and to policymakers? He has yet to do so.

It is very, very hard to have confidence in public institutions to act fairly, and fearlessly, in the public interest when you read stories like this. As I have written on literally hundreds of occasions now, Ireland has a major NGO problem. These groups are not just activist lobbying organisations – they are, as this story demonstrates, actively pulling the strings of the organisations that they are supposed to be lobbying. In a country which valued good policymaking and open debate, this would be a major scandal. But this is Ireland, so a few eyebrows will be raised, and nothing more than that.

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