“There are voices out in the drive”.
“Probably someone going to the cathedral”.
“No, they’re children’s voices”.
Opening the front door, a cluster of children holding hurls stood looking up at the top of the narrow black iron gate that is the only access to the two acre back garden. A boy was squeezing his way through the narrow space between the top of the gate and the wall in which the gate is set.
“What are you doing?”
“Mister, our sliotar came over the wall into your garden”.
“Well, don’t be climbing over the gate again, someone could fall and get hurt. Ring the doorbell and I’ll open the gate”.
An hour later, the bell rang. There had been another mishit.
I took down the key and walked to open the gate.
“Mister, do you play in that garden? It’s huge”.
“Well, I only moved in last night”.
It was on the tip of the tongue to say that they might as well stay and play on the vast expanse of grass, for hurling is a game that needs space, when a thought arose.
What would people say? A strange man lures children into his garden to play? Hardly an auspicious arrival in a place.
But what if the parents who lived on the other side of the high stone walls that enclose the garden were satisfied that this was a safe place for their children to be? Even the the obstacles would pile up; the insurers would not be happy about liabilities that might arise if someone was injured in the garden during the unsupervised swinging of lengths of ash; the solicitors would not be happy about the creation of a possible precedent regarding the use of the garden.
An innocent suggestion that it might be better that the garden be used for children to play sport could have been a straying into a legal minefield.
Is this the sort of world that we want? ‘Child protection’ that means that opportunities for children become fewer and fewer and leaves them playing on the street because there is nowhere else to go was surely no-one’s intention, was it? The disappearance of youth activities leaves children more prey to those who look for casual encounters.
And the insurers and the solicitors, they would argue, justifiably, that they are only seeking to safeguard against possible claims, but the logic of the process of protecting against possible litigation seems to be leading to a point where everything is closed down.
There is that question that has become a cliché but still remains valid, “What would Jesus do?” Would Jesus lock up a two acre garden, leaving children out on the street? Perhaps the more pertinent question would be to ask whether Jesus would have had a two acre garden at the centre of a town in the first place? None of which really helps the children looking for a lost sliotar.