GAA defends record on child protection measures

Organisation has vetted 135,000 people since 2008, says national children’s officer

Former journalist Tom Humphries, who was jailed for grooming a girl from when she was 14 before sexually abusing her, was an underage camogie coach who got his victim’s number through a third party. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Former journalist Tom Humphries, who was jailed for grooming a girl from when she was 14 before sexually abusing her, was an underage camogie coach who got his victim’s number through a third party. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Procedures to safeguard young people in the GAA are “much better today than they were last year or even 10 years ago and will be better again next year,” the organisation’s national children’s officer has said.

Gearóid Ó Maoilmhichíl was speaking after Tom Humphries was jailed for 2½ years for grooming a girl from when she was 14 years old before sexually abusing her.

The sports journalist was a volunteer underage camogie coach, however, he did not coach the victim. She was a camogie player whom he first contacted by text in 2008, after obtaining her number through a third party.

Mr Ó Maoilmhichíl noted the importance of vetting people involved with working with children. He is responsible for the GAA’s “mandatory code for best practice” in working with young people.

“We were the first sports organisation to introduce vetting in Ireland. We did that in 2008 and since that through the GAA we have vetted about 135,000 people,” he said.

Concerns

All GAA clubs have a designated person who is responsible for dealing with any concerns relating to possible abuse . He said their code has become obligatory and is not just good practice. “ That means that anyone working with children in the GAA must abide by the code.”

Any sports coach in Ireland who currently wants to train children must be vetted, attend the three-hour safeguarding session and have a coach qualification.

The code was written in 2010 but “adopted as a joint code by ladies football and the camogie association in 2014,” he said.

The code says that all coaches and volunteers are carefully recruited and selected in accordance with the GAA guidelines and relevant legislative requirements and that they accept responsibility for ensuring the wellbeing of children.

The same good practice levels are maintained across all strands of the GAA and Mr Ó Maoilmhichíl said that he believes the GAA has become a safer place for children.

He said the GAA had just completed its first national child welfare audit. “ We had 1,370 participating and out of all of these clubs we discovered that only seven don’t have a current children’s officer. It shows the that the message is getting through. These are indicators of how the good practice has begun to filter down.”

This December, another tranche of child protection laws will apply even greater rigour to how sports clubs, and society in general, safeguard vulnerable young people. It will pull sports clubs, like other organisations, further into the child protection fold.

Safeguarding

The remaining measures of the Children First 2015 Act are what Prof Geoffrey Shannon, special rapporteur on child protection, calls the final part of the “triumvirate of legislation”.

The new legislation means that for the first time “mandated persons”, including child safety officers in sports clubs, will have to report on “concerns of harm” to children.

They will also have to complete a child safeguarding statement, essentially a risk assessment of the circumstances in which children are placed, which must be updated every two years and made available to inspection by Tusla. Its satisfactory production can be directly linked to State funding.

“You are never going to eliminate risk but you can mitigate against risk,” Prof Shannon said.

“It’s not going to prevent all instances of child abuse but it creates a culture in an organisation . . . to create a premium on child protection.”

“We are bringing a large number of organisations into the child protection monitoring network,” said Prof Shannon.

“Nothing predicts like the past and unless we learn lessons from the past we are destined to repeat them.”