Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Other Questions.

Garda Vetting Procedures.

3:00 pm

Photo of Olwyn EnrightOlwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Question 8: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the resources available to the central vetting unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21327/05]

Photo of Olwyn EnrightOlwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Question 43: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress being made regarding the expansion of vetting services in all relevant sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21328/05]

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 43 together.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the Garda central vetting unit comprises a Garda inspector, two Garda sergeants, a staff officer, eight clerical officers and three temporarily assigned clerical officers. The unit carries out criminal record vetting in respect of, among other things, prospective full-time employees of the Health Service Executive and certain agencies funded by the executive, as well as prospective child care workers on the equal opportunities child care schemes funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The unit deals with approximately 100,000 vetting applications per annum.

The phased extension of the vetting arrangements to relevant sectors and groups involving substantial, unsupervised access to children and vulnerable adults is about to take place. A working group has been established to examine the practical issues relating to the extension of the vetting arrangements. The group's final report, which was submitted in March 2004, has been published in electronic form on the Department's website.

On the basis of the report, I announced that the vetting unit would be given additional staff resources to enable the Garda's vetting services to be extended. The process of increasing the unit's original staffing complement of 13 to 30 has begun. My announcement implemented one of the working group's key recommendations. Other practical recommendations are being implemented by an implementation group chaired by the Garda Síochána and comprising representatives of the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, Education and Science and Finance and the Office of the Attorney General. The chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Mr. Paul Gilligan, is also a member of the implementation group.

The extension of the Garda central vetting unit's services will commence later this year as soon as the necessary practical arrangements are in place. These arrangements include those pertaining to the decentralisation of the unit to Thurles, County Tipperary, as part of the Government's decentralisation programme. The unit will be given new and modern office accommodation that is tailor-made for its needs. The phased expansion of vetting services will commence when the unit has been established in its decentralised location. Public announcements in this regard will be made in due course.

Irrespective of whatever additional arrangements that might be introduced in the future, vetting checks are not the only way to ensure the suitability of applicants for certain posts. There will continue to be a particular onus of care on employers to maintain good employment practice during the recruitment stage and in ensuring adequate supervision arrangements thereafter.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Are there any plans to extend the scope of the Garda vetting unit to cater for people who work in schools as teachers' ancillary staff, those who work in youth clubs and youth facilities and individuals who work for sporting organisations? If so, can the Minister of State indicate the timescale for that extension? The Minister of State might also give us a comparison with vetting practice in the UK. If someone there is found unsuitable to work with children, is such advice passed on to the Irish authorities? If that advice comes regarding someone who has applied to work in a setting not covered in Ireland, can that kind of information be used here and what happens in that regard?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Regarding the Deputy's core question, the new vetting unit in Thurles will be made available to everyone who has substantial unsupervised access to children. That includes a great range of persons in the education sector. It also encompasses many of the voluntary bodies. It has been decided in principle in the Department that there will be no charge to volunteer groups for vetting they seek. We are considering a modest charge for other applications because the Department has found that some employers are inclined to submit far too many applications with regard to the number of posts being filled, and that is a substantial burden on the vetting unit. Many of the positions are of course State positions so it will be a matter of transfer between different State authorities.

The report also looked at the wider issues raised by Deputy Stanton and work on them is ongoing in the Department. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I are giving consideration to the introduction of legislation in this area in accordance with the recommendations of the report of the working group on Garda vetting, but it is not possible to give timeframes. The priority is to get the unit up and running in Thurles as quickly as possible.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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What about notification from the UK?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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That arises under the wider legislative issues but clearly the vetting we will do in Thurles, and which is already being done, is based on the Garda information base and not on the databases of other jurisdictions. However, there are arrangements in operation for the exchange of information with the United Kingdom on that database. I do not have the precise details.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I trust the Minister of State accepts this is an important issue, as we have had a number of paedophile refugees from the UK. We could certainly do with a warning system to ensure the Garda is notified. I am keen to have an assurance from the Minister of State that the system will be fully in place as soon as possible.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I would prefer if the Deputy tabled a separate question on that issue because I have not got the information at this point.