Child rights group says it has names of Irish paedophiles

 

A cross-border children's rights organisation, Focus on Children, said yesterday that it was in possession of the names and addresses of a number of Irish paedophiles currently using the Internet to prey on children.

The organisation claims to know the names and addresses, and in some cases the place of work, of more than 4,000 of paedophiles across Europe.

Paedophiles use the Internet to exchange information on potential child victims and set up child-friendly sites, through which they attempt to lure children into abuse.

Mr Sean Lawless, the director of Focus on Children, said that the setting up of bogus sites to entice children into abusive situations was "extremely worrying". The sites, which appear harmless, encourage children to disclose personal details, which can then be used to locate them.

A report by the organisation, due to be published later this year, suggests that the island of Ireland is second only to the Netherlands for the proportion of Internet users who visit sites containing paedophilia or child pornography.

Focus on Children recently met representatives of the Garda Siochana, the RUC and Europol to pass on information compiled from a year-long research project conducted for the charity by a group of five post-graduate students at a Dublin university who devised software which identifies online paedophiles.

In March, members of the FBI plan to travel to Dublin to receive a briefing from the charity on the research project.

According to Mr Lawless, the research represents the "most thorough" examination ever undertaken on the use of the Internet by paedophiles. Funding for the project was received from the European Commission and from a number of businesses throughout Ireland.

The Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, is said to be considering the setting up of a special operational unit to police paedophile activity on the Internet. The gardai and the RUC may become jointly involved in the policing of cyberspace. However, a spokesman at the Department of Justice said yesterday that plans were at a preliminary stage and it was unclear what form any co-operation would take.

Mr Lawless is keen to encourage co-operation between the two police forces. "Ireland at the minute is a soft touch for paedophiles. There has not been any co-operation between the two jurisdictions. We think children's rights should be one of the first areas of cross-Border co-operation."

According to the charity, one site designed by an Irish paedophile to entice children into providing personal information is a web page about the film Titanic. The team was lead to investigate an Irish connection, which proved correct. The web page encouraged children to send their details to the star of the film, Leonardo Di Caprio.

The investigation by Focus on Children suggests that between 15,000 and 20,000 paedophiles use the Internet worldwide, but Mr Lawless warned that this was only a fraction of the true number. There are believed to be several hundred paedophiles regularly using the Internet to access child pornography in Ireland, both north and south of the Border.

Investigations by gardai led to the arrest and later charging of a foreign national before Christmas in Dublin city. The man, who is still in custody, was arrested under the 1998 Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, which gives the gardai wide-ranging powers to tackle the problem of Internet paedophilia.

The man was arrested when another man he was staying with became suspicious of his behaviour. A Garda source admitted to being "amazed" at material downloaded from the Internet by the paedophile and subsequently confiscated.

Paedophiles trade pictures of children online. They can also access pornographic literature and stories composed by paedophiles.