Thursday, 6 October 2016
Garda Vetting of Personnel
The statement is self-explanatory. Since the roll-out of the new Garda vetting forms, there has been a disconnect between the legislation and the reality on the ground. A serious problem has arisen. Michael Ryan, the principal of a school in Waterford, has raised a valid query. At present, he wants to take on some temporary staff. He would have the same issue if he wanted to take on a new teacher to work in the school. He and the school board of management can be held personally liable under the new legislation if they do not get the Garda vetting in order. For someone looking to work on a temporary basis, it is taking five or six weeks to get Garda vetting for that particular school. If a teacher was already working in a school and had Garda vetting certificate, that would not apply to Mr. Ryan's school. Under the new legislation, a principal such as Mr. Ryan has to apply to the Garda to get a certificate pertaining to his school. There seems to be a real disconnect.
The same applies to social clubs and other bodies. For argument’s sake, if the Minister of State wanted to be a coach with a GAA club, the club would need to apply and get the certificate back from the Garda. If he then wanted to coach the soccer team or work with the scouts, those bodies need to apply individually which is duplication in paperwork. There has to be a simpler system.
I know for new teachers starting now there is an electronic certificate. If the Garda approves a person for one body, it should apply to all. We need a more streamlined system to make this work. There is considerably more onus under the new legislation with the possibility of imprisonment, fines and everything else. People are taking it very seriously. While I welcome the legislation in principle, and it is good legislation, it might have been imposed slightly too quickly without having done some of the ground work behind it. Perhaps the certificate that applies to the new teachers should be given to existing teachers, so that they could move more freely between schools. It is a serious problem and we should address it.
I am here representing the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality today. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides an opportunity for me to inform the House that there is currently no particular or undue delay in the Garda employment vetting process. There has been a very significant improvement in the timeframe for processing vetting applications over recent months.
The Garda authorities, which operate the National Vetting Bureau, inform the Tánaiste that, at present, in the order of 80% of vetting applications are processed by the vetting bureau within five working days. The current processing times represent a dramatic improvement in turnaround times, which have fallen from an average of 14 weeks in mid-2013. This improvement has come about as a result of unprecedented investment by the Government and the Garda authorities in providing this service, including an increase of more than 80% in staffing levels in the past couple of years and the roll-out earlier this year of an e-vetting system.In April this year, the Tánaiste commenced the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016, and in tandem with that An Garda Síochána launched the e-vetting system.
E-vetting facilitates the on-line processing of application and this has significantly streamlined the process and contributed to a sustained reduction in processing times for applications. A key feature of the e-vetting system is that the individual applicant can track the progress of his or her vetting application on-line and can, therefore, see when his or her application has been processed and returned to the relevant registered organisation.
The Tánaiste has been informed that at present 85% of organisations registered for vetting are operating the e-vetting system. The Garda authorities are working to encourage all other organisations to do so. The Senator may be able to help in that regard by letting people know about that. For vetting applications that continue to be submitted in the old paper format, the average turnaround time is around four weeks from the receipt of the application by the vetting bureau and this represents a minimum timeframe given the administrative input required. The Senator is correct about the paperwork involved. The e-vetting system is a lot faster.
In some individual cases, it can take longer to process an application where, for example, additional inquiries are necessary or where errors have been made in the application. It is important to note that delays can also occur in other aspects of the application process which are outside of the control of the Garda authorities, for example, in the submission or return of applications by the registered organisations.
In summary, the overwhelming majority of vetting applications are processed within five working days and that is not at all unreasonable in the circumstances. Delays can arise, mainly in aspects of the process that are outside of the control of the Garda vetting bureau.
I also heard what the Senator had to say with respect to certificates. A joint committee examined this issue a number of years ago and the advice was that was not advisable given the serious nature of what is involved, namely, children and vulnerable adults. The system is working pretty well. I again thank the Senator for raising this important matter. It is to be hoped that the new system will meet the concerns he has raised.
I appreciate the response from the Minister of State and what he said makes a lot of sense. He referred to the new e-certification but I may not have understood him. Is it correct that if one receives a new e-certificate, it will be valid for different bodies or does one still have to apply individually for every body of which one wants to be a member, employed by or whatever else?
The Tánaiste would emphasise that the purpose of Garda employment vetting is to seek to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. The vetting process demands rigorous procedures to safeguard its integrity and maintain the highest levels of confidence in among from the public and organisations availing of the service. The answer to the question is that the vetting has to be done on an individual basis.
Any vetting process will take a certain minimum amount of time to complete and, given the importance of this service, the Tánaiste does not consider that a processing time of five days is at all unreasonable. E-vetting has significantly contributed to improving the vetting service and the Government and Garda authorities are committed to sustaining that level of service in the future. Most organisations have signed up to e-vetting and there are great benefits for them and vetting applicants.
As previously indicated, individuals can track their applications on the system. The Garda Vetting Bureau works with registered organisations on an ongoing basis to maintain quality and standards in respect of the process. The Garda authorities continue to work with other registered organisations to bring them on board. There have been significant improvements and many resources have been put into the system. The report we have received from the Garda authorities shows that the system is working. I thank the Senator for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important matter today.