IT was a watershed in Irish society, marking a moment when, as a nation, we began to come to terms with a problem that had up to then been swept under the carpet.

It is 10 years ago this week since the McGuinness report on the Kilkenny incest investigation was published, the first of its kind in Ireland, commissioned after the most high-profile child abuse case ever to have come before the courts at that time.

The Kilkenny incest case was the first time many Irish people became aware of the nature and problem of child abuse and neglect in Ireland.

Following the conviction in February 1993 of the Kilkenny man, for sexually and physically abusing his daughter over a 16year period, such was the public outcry than then health minister Brendan Howlin ordered an independent investigation, headed by the future judge, Catherine McGuinness, a prominent senior counsel at the time.

Within three months, McGuinness and her team of experts had returned with a comprehensive report on the case, and how the authorities had dealt with it.

It was the first time a spotlight was placed on how Irish authorities handled the problem of child abuse, and it highlighted inherent failures in the system.

It examined how the woman, named as Mary in the report, was treated in hospital for various physical injuries as a child and teenager, gave birth in 1982 as an unmarried mother, and whose difficulties brought her to the attention of various health and education authorities, yet nobody suspected that she may have been a victim of abuse until 1991.

The report made a number of recommendations to ensure cases like that in Kilkenny could never go unnoticed again. These included the implementation of 1991 childcare legislation, new child protection guidelines for dealing with suspected abuse cases, improved family support services, and cooperation between various agencies, including gardaí and health boards.

Since the Kilkenny report, the issue of child abuse and protection has moved to the forefront, with some of the greatest public scandals of the past decade centring around the issue.

They include the Fr Brendan Smyth case, the swimming abuse case, the McColgan family's abuse by their father, the Kelly Fitzgerald case ? all followed within a few years of the Kilkenny report, and all highlighted failures on the part of voluntary and statutory organisations in identifying and handling abuse cases. Further cases in recent years, from the scandals of Ferns and Dublin dioceses, to historical abuse and neglect in Irish industrial schools, have further illustrated the poor record of child protection in the past.

In the past decade, the state has woken up to the issue of child abuse and the protection of vulnerable children, spending hundreds of millions introducing new child protection measures, However, whether the problems in the Irish child protection system, identified in the Kilkenny report, have been addressed, remains to be seen.

Dr Helen Buckley, senior research fellow at the Children's Research Centre at TCD, believes that, for the most part, the recommendations have been followed. "It's actually better than you might think, " she said. She believes there has been "considerable progress" in terms of identifying and addressing children at risk. "A lot has been done." While there are problems, Buckley believes that the child protection system has become much more sophisticated since the Kilkenny report, with all of its practical recommendations in force.

For instance, since 1999, all state agencies dealing with children have operated under the Children First Guidelines, which set down specific procedures on dealing with suspected abuse cases or children at risk, while the Social Services Inspectorate has been instrumental in improving the level of care provided at residential institutions.

Buckley believes the problems in the current childcare and protection system stem from "patchy implementation" where various agencies have been unable to cooperate properly on cases, rather than absolute systematic failures.

However, Ray Dooley of the Children's Rights Alliance believes that there are still serious deficiencies in the current child protection system, which were identified by the Kilkenny report, and points to crises such as the death in care of Kim O'Donovan and various problems with the operation of specialist children's residential centres as an indication of this.

One of the most significant recommendations in the report to underpin child protection was a constitutional amendment recognising the rights of children, according to Dooley.

"The nearest thing there has been to this is the ombudsman for children, but the legislation for this office has been in place for a year, and nothing has been done, for funding reasons." Dooley believes that while there have been significant legislation changes and new guideline initiatives, many of these have not been implemented.

"The vast bulk of the Children's Act (2001), which is a great piece of legislation and could make Ireland a model internationally, hasn't been implemented. We have the child first guidelines, but one of the most significant problems is that there is very little awareness of these on the ground. In many health boards, there is no formal training for staff on child protection, as was recommended in the Kilkenny report." Dooley believes there are even greater problems facing the voluntary sector, which is unable to have prospective staff vetted because of a lack of garda resources.

For Dooley, one of the most damning facts of limited progress since 1993 is that the government is still using a 1908 children's act "based on 19th century thinking", which it utilised to build a detention facility for 1415-year-olds in the wake of the death of two gardaí last year in a joyriding incident.

The government has been warned the facility is in total breach of human rights. "It's completely inappropriate. Everyone agrees you don't put children in prisons."