Sex offenders should lose ‘right to be forgotten’, Dáil told

Naughten highlights UK case where offender changed name five times over 30 years

A key weakness in new legislation dealing with sex offenders is its failure to close off loopholes allowing them to erase past offences either online or by changing their name, the Dáil has heard.

Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten said sex offenders can have their offences forgotten effectively. That this can be done using the Google right to be forgotten or changing their name through deed poll and this could allow them circumvent the sex offenders' register.

Mr Naughten said “for the sake of victims who have to live with the consequences of these perpetrators and any potential future victims, those convicted of sexual offences should lose the right to be forgotten, permanently.”

Speaking during debate on the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill Mr Naughten said the Bill will close off a number of dangerous loopholes that allowed Ireland to become a safe haven for convicted sex offenders.

A long-time campaigner for an effective sex offenders register, he said the legislation had been promised in 2009. But the then minister had warned that without reforms similar to those in the UK the State could become a safe haven.

“Sadly, I believe, over the past 13 years, that has happened.”

The new Bill will allow The Garda to release information on sex offenders in certain circumstances. Gardaí will also be allowed to apply for electronic monitoring of an offender to help ensure compliance with a post-release supervision order.

Offenders will have to notify a change of address within three, rather than seven, days and they will be prohibited specifically from working with children or vulnerable adults.

Gardaí will also have the power to take fingerprints, photographs and palm prints to confirm the identity of a sex offender.

Speaking about offenders’ rights the Roscommon-Galway TD said the only test Google seemed to apply to a request to be forgotten online and to have court reports erased, was the length of time since the material went online.

Sex-offenders register

This did not take into account the public interest need to have such information permanently accessible about sex offenders, he said.

The legislation does not prevent a sex offender changing their name in order to attempt to circumvent monitoring under the sex offender’s register. Mr Naughten said there were widespread reports of abuse of the UK’s modernised register.

Outlining one case in the UK he said a man called Terry Price “had committed a string of sexual offences over three decades and had changed his name five times, to try to avoid detection, including one instance where he was allowed to change his name while in prison”.

He said he had been involved in arguments about the rights of offenders but he said “I believe that it is now time to change this balance in favour of victims and ensure that their stories are not brushed under the electronic carpet by giving sex offenders the right to be forgotten”.

Minister of State for Justice James Browne said Mr Naughten "has been very strong on this issue for a very long time and has pursued it with determination.".

He had listened to him and his comments would be taken into account when the Bill is dealt with at committee stage.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times