Clubs face shutdown if guidelines not followed


ANY SPORTS club, society or voluntary organisation that works with children faces being shut down if it fails to implement official guidelines on how to handle child-protection concerns.

It is one of a number of measures contained in two new pieces of legislation published yesterday that are likely to have far-reaching implications for how the State, voluntary groups and wider society respond to children at risk.

Details of both Bills were published by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.

Under the Children First Bill, all organisations where children attend without their parents – such as schools, sports clubs or religious groups – will face a legal requirement to ensure they provide a safe environment for children.

Each organisation will be required to have a “designated officer” who will have responsibility to ensure staff and volunteers are vetted and trained in recognising signs of abuse and neglect.

These officers, as well as certain professionals such as nurses, doctors, social workers and counsellors, will have a legal obligation to report suspicions and allegations of abuse to the Health Service Executive.

If a designated officer fails to report concerns without a reasonable excuse, they may face a jail term of up to five years.

If an organisation fails to implement Children First guidelines, they face being served with a “prohibition notice” to stop the carrying on of any activity.

They could also lose State funding and, ultimately, face being shut down.

Ms Fitzgerald said the legislation would help ensure there were no exceptions or exemptions for failing to act on child abuse or neglect concerns.

“Child protection is everyone’s responsibility,” she said. “Everyone’s – every club, society, organisation, religious organisation, educational establishment and medical facility that works with children.”

While some social workers had expressed concern that services could be overwhelmed by abuse or neglect reports, Ms Fitzgerald said new resources and reforms meant the system would cope.

“We need to foster a culture where every individual in this State feels themselves personally responsible for creating and maintaining a society where children are protected.”

Separate legislation published yesterday by Mr Shatter will make it a criminal offence for a person to fail to disclose information to the Garda that would assist in prosecuting a person who commits a serious offence against a child or vulnerable adult. Any person who withholds information faces a minimum jail term of five years.

“It is not acceptable that there can be a cloak of secrecy surrounding such offences against children or other vulnerable people in society,” Mr Shatter said.

The prospect of prosecution for failing to report suspected abuse is extended to all members of the public and not just those working with children.

The legislation contains defences for parents and others where a victim of an offence requests that the details not be passed on to authorities.

Mr Shatter said these defences sought to protect victims, as well as providing a defence for those who legitimately acted in the best interest of a child or vulnerable adult.

“This Bill should not deter victims of serious offences from seeking the help and assistance they need in addressing the harm and damage caused to them.”

The Minister said the main aim of the Bill was to close a loophole in our current law.

The Offences Against the State (Amendment Act) 1998 provides for an offence of withholding information in relation to serious offences, but specifically excludes sexual offences.