Garda clearance Bill goes before Dáil

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

GARDA VETTING of people working with children or vulnerable adults will be enshrined in law under legislation introduced in the Dáil yesterday.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said vetting procedures have to date operated on the basis of a voluntary code, but 300,000 vetting applications are processed every year.

The primary aim of the Bill is to regulate and control the manner in which records of criminal convictions and information including “soft information” can be stored and disclosed by An Garda Síochána and other agencies for child protection.

Soft information is information other than a court conviction and may include inquiries which did not result in a prosecution but in a real concern that an individual posed a threat. It also includes HSE investigations of child abuse or neglect or fitness-to-practise inquiries.

The Minister said he was “seeking to ensure that information such as vague rumours, or innuendo or false allegations cannot form any part of the vetting process. I am also seeking to provide for the constitutional right of all citizens to protect their good name, as provided in article 40.3.2 of the Constitution”.

Processing times to vet applications had decreased from 14 to three weeks but increased again because temporary staff contracts ended. Fifteen clerical officers from the Department of Agriculture are being redeployed to work in the unit and the Minister said he was in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure to ensure adequate staffing for the bureau’s expanded role.

The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill will also make it a crime not to comply with the legislation. Outlining the details of the legislation Mr Shatter said that before soft information can be released the subject of such information must be given a copy.

Under the Bill an independent appeals officer will be appointed to assess and decide appeals against the disclosure of such information.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins said the Bill had failed to include childminders or nannies who mind children in their own homes and this was a “missed opportunity” for child protection, leaving an estimated 75,000 children in an unregulated area. Sinn Féin spokesman Pádraig MacLochlainn said the legislation was long overdue. He said the right to one’s good name was a cornerstone of any truly human rights-based justice policy.