Unflagged vetting due for employers of those in contact with children

Move follows end-year deadline when all in such a position must have completed vetting

Brendan O’Dea of the National Teaching Council said about 16,000 teachers working in the system  still had to have vetting applications processed. File photograph: Getty Images

Brendan O’Dea of the National Teaching Council said about 16,000 teachers working in the system still had to have vetting applications processed. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Garda enforcement officers are to begin unannounced vetting checks from January on organisations that employ people in contact with children.

The move will follow a deadline at the end of December by which time everyone in such a position, regardless of how long they have occupied it, must have completed the vetting process.

Both the number of those being vetted and the pace at which their applications are processed have increased substantially in the first half of 2017, gardaí said in an update on the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act introduced in April, 2016.

Last year the NVB processed 318,000 vetting applications to help employers identify whether previous histories, including criminal convictions, might be relevant to job applications.

Flag no issues

In the first half of 2017, the number vetted had already reached 241,467. Gardaí, who process the applications but do not make decisions or comment on an individual’s suitability for any given role, say about 80 per cent of forms are clean, or flag no issues.

Of the other 20 per cent, a very small number turn up significantly relevant information. The numbers of convictions recorded that involve offences against children are not collated by the NVB but individual cases are forwarded to potential employers.

Currently, gardaí are investigating two cases where an applicant has either supplied false information or doctored an application.

At a briefing on Thursday, the NVB appealed in particular for individuals who were working in organisations before the commencement of legislation to complete retrospective vetting applications by the deadline at the end of December.

For instance, Brendan O’Dea of the National Teaching Council said about 16,000 teachers working in the system had still to be processed.

In total, about 100,000 retrospective applications are anticipated by the end of the year.

Supt Sarah Meyler, the officer in charge of the NVB, said previous issues of delays to application processing times had now “completely disappeared”.

“This may look like a level of bureaucracy...but it’s about protecting children,” she said.

“Everybody doesn’t get vetting. The Vetting Act is about focusing on those areas where there is regular access to children and vulnerable persons and providing the protections there. That’s what we do.”

Supt Meyler said she was “vigilant but not overly concerned” about the prospect of smaller organisations side-stepping their statutory responsibility to vet employees, and said there was generally a high level of compliance.

‘Too focused on vetting’

“We do find organisations, while they are aware of the requirements of the Act, sometimes they are almost too focused on vetting; we do find a little bit of over-vetting in some contexts,” she said, noting members of boards of management as an example of roles that have no contact with children.

Even still, the process of checks and enforcement is nascent and a full picture of the system will take time to emerge, despite the generally high compliance rate.

An unspecified number of enforcement officers will conduct unannounced audits and inspections of organisations from January, after which time it will be an offence for either or both the individual and organisation to have avoided vetting. Typical processing times are now less than five days.

From January, the most serious penalties for failing to have undergone vetting will include indictment charges carrying a fine of up to €10,000 and a maximum of five years’ imprisonment.