Dáil debates Bill to give parents information about sex offenders
Legislation is similar to Sarah’s Law in Britain where information is given in 7% of cases
Independent TD Denis Naughten said this morning the Child Sex Offenders (Information and Monitoring) Bill followed Sarah’s Law in the UK, named after Sarah Payne (8) who was abducted and murdered in 2000 by a sex offender. Photograph: Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
A Bill to allow gardaí provide “relevant and appropriate” information on sex offenders to parents, schools and clubs responsible for children and vulnerable adults has been introduced in the Dáil.
Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Denis Naughten said this morning that the Child Sex Offenders (Information and Monitoring) Bill followed Sarah’s Law in the UK, named after Sarah Payne (8) who was abducted and murdered in 2000 by a sex offender.
The legislation establishes the Information on Child Sex Offenders Scheme (ICSO), allowing parents, parents and those in authority in schools and clubs to inquire whether a person coming in contact with a child or vulnerable adult had been convicted of a sexual offence.
He noted a review of Sarah’s law showed about half of all requests did not involve a stranger, but a relative, neighbour or someone known to the parents.
Disclosures under Sarah’s Law in the UK about sex offenders were made in about 7 per cent of cases, directly impacting on 60 children, the TD said.
Mr Naughten said the Bill included a careful balancing of rights between those of parents to protect and safeguard their children and those of the offender.
Mr Naughten said the Government had repeatedly promised it would introduce similar legislation.
“The reality is we need to make this issue a priority.”
Minister of State Brian Hayes said that while the focus was on “stranger danger” it was “important that we do not neglect or ignore that the real danger of sexual abuse lies for many children in someone they know”.
He said the great majority of cases involved people in close proximity to the child, especially family members.
Mr Hayes, responding for Minister for Justice Alan Shatter who is attending a Cabinet meeting on the budget, said Mr Naughten was “rightly putting pressure on the Government to resolve the issue”.
Mr Shatter believed that a parent who has a legitimate concern about an individual in contact with their children should be in a position to raise that concern with the local gardaí.
“We would hope that parents would feel free to do so and if there is a serious and imminent threat to their children...(the Minister) is confident gardaí would take appropriate action.”
The Government will not oppose the Bill at second stage. “However its focus is limited and there are a number of drafting difficulties.”
Mr Hayes reiterated that the Minister would introduce legislation to address all the issues raised in the Bill.
Fianna Fail spokesman on children Robert Troy said “the Government needs to take strong legislative measures to protect vulnerable children and families from sexual predators”.
He noted the Government’s plan to introduce its own Bill. “It remains to be seen how similar Minister Shatter’s proposals will be.”
Sinn Féin’s Sandra McLellan said sexual violence was the most pervasive crime in Irish society.
“Yet it remains under-reported, under-investigated, under-prosecuted. Conviction rates are low and criminal sentences rarely reflect the devastating impact of crime on its victims.”
She added that “policy makers and policing services consistently fail to give this crime the focus or resources it deserves”.
Independent TD Finian McGrath highlighted at risk vulnerable adults, those with an intellectual disability. He noted statistics from the Rape Crisis Networks, that 5 per cent of 192 children aged four to 17 attending their centres, had a disability and the majority of them, an intellectual disability.
Adults with intellectual disabilities were being taught to be more independent and that also made them more vulnerable. He wanted to see “the broader community act as a kind of supervising parent or watchdog of people with intellectual disabilities” and to “keep an eye out for them”.