Gardaí to ensure vulnerable protected with vetting checks

The number of vetting applications received by an Garda has risen significantly in recent years

 Deputy Commissioner John Twomey and Supt Niall Featherstone, Chief Bureau Officer at the Garda National Vetting Bureau speaking on Tuesday.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Deputy Commissioner John Twomey and Supt Niall Featherstone, Chief Bureau Officer at the Garda National Vetting Bureau speaking on Tuesday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Regular checks are set to be carried out by a special Garda unit on organisations working with children and vulnerable people to ensure all staff are fully vetted and to promote best practice when caring for those in need, An Garda Síochána has said.

Community, voluntary and statutory organisations which do not vet their staff, and are in breach of the National Vetting Bureau Acts 2012 to 2016, risk prosecution, the deputy commissioner for policing and security John Twomey added, ahead of the first ever Garda National Vetting Conference.

The number of vetting applications received by an Garda has risen substantially in recent years, up from 390,000 applications in 2016 to 520,000 in 2018.

A new compliance unit has been established by the Garda National Vetting bureau, which will conduct “regular checks” on organisations to ensure they are compliant with vetting legislation, Mr Twomey said on Tuesday morning.

The new unit was set up last December, led by Superintendent Niall Featherstone, and has already begun conducting inspections. The unit will return to assess organisations again after a month, to monitor progress addressing any identified vetting issues.

“The Act is still relatively new, so we are still conscious of that, there is a bedding in process required,” Mr Featherstone said.

‘First line of defence’

Roles that typically require vetting include teachers, healthcare staff, foster carers, and volunteers with sporting and youth organisations.

However, vetting was only the “first line of defence” for organisations, Mr Twomey said. The vetting process will pick up past criminal prosecutions, including pending cases against an individual.

“It’s the first line, there is an obligation on all organisations to keep children and vulnerable people safe, and vetting is one of the tools with which they do that. For sure it’s the start of the process as opposed to the end of the process,” he said.

There were no figures on the estimated number of people required to be vetted who were not, Mr Featherstone said.

He said “when this beds down within another two to three years, it’ll be six years since the Act has come in, that probably would be a good time” to carry out research into vetting gaps.

In around 3 per cent of cases, 15,600 in total last year, the Garda vetting unit identified applicants with previous convictions, Mr Featherstone said.

One common criticism of the vetting process is individuals may have to undergo vetting several times, if it is required by multiple organisations they are involved in.

Vetting could not be carried out under a centralised system, as criteria between what type of prior convictions may be acceptable, if any, “differs greatly” across organisations, Mr Featherstone said.

Vetting was also “only a snapshot in time,” and as such an individual would be required to undergo vetting when joining one organisation, even if they had passed the process previously - to catch any convictions picked up in the meantime, he said.

Last year, 85 per cent of applications were processed within five working days on an Garda’s online system, down from previous waiting times of six weeks.

In some cases the process can take longer, as officers have to make further checks into applications, Mr Featherstone said.

“They wouldn’t be turned around as quickly, some cases it could be specified information such as information about an allegation of harm that a person may have done against another person,” he said.

When organisations repeatedly fail to meet standards investigations will take place and prosecutions may be recommended.

“We would all like to work to a situation where such action would not be necessary and today’s conference is in part to help organisations ensure they are meeting the required standard,” Mr Twomey said.

Penalties include fines of up to €10,000, and five years imprisonment, but “that would be very much a last resort”, Mr Twomey said.