Portrush Prebyterian heads Catholic Child Protection Board

THE Catholic Church in Ireland is now working to safeguard children under the direction of a Portrush man, The Coleraine Times can exclusively reveal.

The independent chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children is Ian Elliott, a well-known member of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church and a former director of the NSPCC.

In a move which Ian himself admits “raised a few eyebrows”, his appointment in 2007 was the first time that the Catholic Church in Ireland had ever appointed a non-Catholic to such a senior position.

Speaking to The Coleraine Times from his base in St Patrick’s College in Maynooth last night, Mr Elliott said that his role as Chief Executive is threefold – to produce advice and guidance on best practice, to develop best practice and to audit and monitor the use of that best practice.

And, despite the recent findings of the Dublin report among others, Mr Elliott says the Catholic Church in Ireland has made greater progress in the past two years than in the previous two decades in safeguarding children from abusive clerics.

Ian and his team face the mammoth task of providing guidance and advice to an all-Ireland body which has 4.2 million parishioners in 1, 366 parishes and 26 dioceses.

“My role is high profile since the Church has been the subject of a lot of criticism following four government enquiries in the Republic of Ireland,” he explained

“I have been heavily involved in the process of providing guidance and trying to set in place good practice to ensure that the Church responds correctly if such situations ever occur again.

“I believe my work with the government in Northern Ireland has been very useful,” said Ian who was seconded from the NSPCC to the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Services as Child Protection Advisor before taking up his post in Maynooth.

So could the Portrush man eventally be involved in an enquiry into child abuse in the Catholic Church north of the border?

“No decision has been taken on that yet,” he said.

“There was a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly last month following a question from the SDLP’s Carmel Hanna on foot of the Ryan Report into abuse in institutions run by the Catholic Church.

“There may be a scoping exercise to consider whether anything further is needed and we will of course be assisting with that.”

Speaking recently to a conference of social workers in Cork, Ian said: “If you protect the child, you will also protect the Church. However, if you focus on protecting the Church and abandon the child, you will cause major harm to the Church.

“This simple but vitally important piece of learning can be drawn directly from any objective review of the recent history of the problem of clerical abuse within the Catholic Church in Ireland.

“The child should always come first.”