Garda vetting for people applying to work with children or vulnerable people will be completed within days rather than weeks under a new “e-vetting” system which went live on Friday.
The online system, which has been in development for two years, was formally launched following the commencement of new legislation on mandatory vetting this week.
Assistant Garda Commissioner Jack Nolan said the legislation would reduce risk in society, both for individuals and for organisations working with them.
He said that when the Garda Central Vetting Unit was established in 2005, there were about 1,500 vetting applications per year. Last year, there were more than 350,000, or 30,000 per month.
The new system was a “very welcome development” and would bring benefits of speed, accuracy, automatic validation of applications, and metrics to allow organisations monitor their vetting process.
It was also An Garda Síochána’s first interactive, public-facing website.
“There’s a huge element of security attached to it to ensure that people’s and applicants’ personal details are carefully and securely maintained,” he said.
Individuals will input their details into the system and the completed form will be submitted to the organisation to which they are applying, and then to the national vetting unit. Every applicant will be assigned a unique tracking number.
Supt Sarah Meyler of the National Vetting Bureau said the process did not make any decisions on the suitability of applicants. It was for the organisations concerned to decide how convictions, for example, impacted on someone's suitability.
Kieran Downey of the Garda IT section said the system provided a template and would "render" applications for organisations. While it would integrate with the Garda's Pulse computer system, it would not hold information about individuals' criminal convictions or any so-called "soft" intelligence obtained during the application process.
Following the allocation of extra resources in 2013, the vetting unit has effectively reduced its turnaround times from 19 weeks to its current turnaround time of within four weeks. Supt Meyler said it was hoped that vetting applications using the new system would be completed within four to five days and possibly even shorter in the case of 85 per cent of applications.
The central vetting unit has expanded from a staff of 90 to a staff of 180 working out of five units in Thurles, Enniscorthy, Waterford, Ennis and Tipperary town.
Following the commencement of the National Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 to 2016 on the April 29th 2016, (referred to as the Act) the central vetting unit will change its name to the National Vetting Bureau.
Twelve organisations worked together with An Garda Síochána on the pilot e-vetting project.
Representatives from organisations including the Teaching Council, Special Olympics, Swim Ireland, the National Youth Council, the Local Government Management Agency and the GAA were present at the launch in Dublin on Friday.
Gearóid Ó Maoilmhichíl, national children's officer with the GAA, said it was a "myth" that vetting had been foisted on organisations.
“We have asked for it,” he said.
The GAA’s vetting numbers surpassed 100,000 in Ireland in recent weeks, he said.
The new system brought the State into line with practice in the North and in other EU countries. But the organisation would continue its practice of checking references and making phone calls, even with the introduction of the vetting system.
“Vetting for all of us is a cornerstone of any child welfare strategy and is essential to our best practice when recruiting people who work with children or vulnerable persons,” he said.