Ireland is one of only three European countries, along with Azerbaijan and Armenia, yet to ratify an international agreement to prevent the sexual abuse of children.
The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention after the place it was signed, has been ratified by 44 European countries since it was finalised in 2007.
It was the first international treaty to address child abuse within the home or family. The convention requires signatories to undertake a wide range of measures to protect children, including criminalising child prostitution and pornography, monitoring abusers and screening those who work with children.
With Norway and the UK enacting the convention last year, Ireland became one of only three European countries, and the only EU member, yet to ratify it despite being one of the first signatories when it was drafted 12 years ago.
Five years ago the special rapporteur on the protection of children, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, urged the government to ratify the convention "without reservation".
The Department of Justice said Ireland was not yet in a position to ratify the Lanzarote Convention because a consultation process with government agencies involved in child care was still ongoing.
It said it was consulting with “stakeholders” such as the Department of Children, the Garda and the HSE to ensure it met all the provisions of the agreement.
"Some stakeholder work is still required to ensure that Ireland is fully compliant in all areas of the convention," a spokesman told The Irish Times.
“When this is completed, and the Office of the Attorney General has been consulted, final steps towards formal ratification will be taken.”
The department said it expected to finalise ratification “in the coming months”.
It is understood the Government is still waiting on assessments from agencies on whether their services are in line with the wide-ranging provisions of the convention on protecting children and vetting those working with children.
One of the main obstacles to ratification was the strength of Ireland’s laws in relation to online sexual exploitation of children.
The department said the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 ensured the State’s compliance with the criminal law aspects of the convention.The legislation outlawed online sexual grooming of children and strengthened existing laws relating to child pornography.
Once it has signed the convention Ireland will be subject to monitoring by the Lanzarote Committee, which will assess how well it has implemented its child-protection measures. The committee will also facilitate the collection and sharing of information of child abuse between states.