Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Brian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is unable to be in the House.
In her contribution the Senator highlighted the importance of the Garda Inspectorate. When the Garda Síochána Bill was taken in his House - I was here from 2002-07 - one of the points made on the sections concerning the independence of the inspectorate was the necessity to report, on a regular basis, on issues of public concern. The inspectorate is not only independent but also carries with it the weight of international expertise, which was badly needed in terms of the formation of policy in this area. It is important that the report is in the public domain, but more importantly that the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda are following its recommendations.
The Minister is grateful to the Garda Inspectorate for its analysis and recommendations, which are focused on improving the investigation of child sexual abuse and better protecting children. While the inspectorate identified deficiencies at the time of its inspection in 2010, it also acknowledges the Garda Síochána is addressing the issue of child sexual abuse as a top priority and that progress has been made in recent years.
On behalf of the Minister, I can assure the House, and Senator Clune in particular, that the development of an effective response to the serious issues detailed in the report is well under way and reflected in the measures set out in the comprehensive response document which the Minister published along with the inspectorate report last week. The Minister acknowledges the inspectorate report is balanced and comprehensive in terms of the situation under review at the time.
That said, it is important to note that while the inspection was under way, An Garda Síochána issued a comprehensive policy on the investigation of sexual crime, crimes against children and child welfare arising from its review of Garda work practices and methodologies for the investigation of such cases. This had the effect that many of the inspectorate's recommendations had already been incorporated into Garda practice as it had changed in the intervening period.
The inspectorate report identified a number of deficiencies. In particular, it identified a problem with under-recording of this type of offence. However, the report also points out that when this issue was brought to the attention of the Garda authorities during the inspection, swift action was taken to comprehensively deal with the issue of under-recording. The Garda Commissioner has recently reiterated that a new system has now been put in place to ensure proper recording of such cases.
The Minister also notes that the inspectorate report placed a considerable emphasis on effective interagency working in the area of child protection. In this regard, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, has published revised Children First guidelines, the implementation of which is being overseen by an interdepartmental group including representatives of relevant Government Departments, the HSE and An Garda Síochána.
In addition, the Garda Commissioner has established a strategic committee within An Garda Síochána, chaired by the assistant commissioner in charge of national support services, to liaise with the HSE's national director of children and family services. Furthermore, a sexual crime management unit has been established within An Garda Síochána and a countrywide network of interview suites has been put in place for use when interviewing children under 14 years of age against whom a sexual and-or violent offence is alleged to have been committed. The interview process is a joint Garda-HSE exercise. Gardaí and social workers have undergone joint training, organised by the Garda authorities, in the specialised interviewing skills necessary for interviewing such victims.
Work is already under way on a number of key legislative measures within the Department of Justice and Equality to support child protection. For example, work is proceeding on key legislative measures such as the criminal justice (withholding information on crimes against children and vulnerable adults) Bill and the national vetting bureau Bill. Furthermore, the Government has given approval to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to put the Children First guidance on a statutory basis.
The Minister and the Government want to acknowledge the good progress that is being made in strengthening co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the HSE as the principal bodies for child protection matters in Ireland. The Government is determined, as a priority, that an effective collaborative response to child sexual abuse is in place, as part of an overall transformation and strengthening of the State's child welfare and protection systems.