Taoiseach: Garda vetting should be looked at for agencies, volunteers in homeless services

Social Democrats raise concerns in wake of allegations against founder of charity

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said it is time for Garda vetting to be considered for all agencies and volunteers involved in homelessness services.

“There are a lot of accommodation providers and we have to be alert to new groups appearing overnight and that’s an ongoing issue,” he said, adding that it was a very important issue.

He was responding in the Dáil to Social Democrats housing spokesman Cian O’Callaghan who said there should be vetting and a national quality standards framework for all services and emergency accommodation for homeless people “and not just some providers as is currently the case”.

Mr O’Callaghan added that “all services and accommodation for people experiencing homelessness must be inspected regularly to ensure compliance with the standards”.

The Dublin Bay North TD raised the issue as he highlighted the controversy about the charity Inner City Helping Homeless, where he said a number of young people who were homeless and sought help from the charity “were subjected to serious sexual assault”.

This follows the death by suicide of the charity's founder Anthony Flynn who was under investigation in relation to two alleged sexual assaults. Two other individuals subsequently raised new allegations of sexual assault.

The statutory agency the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) has called for the charity to be wound down and said there needed to be tighter regulation and oversight in the establishment of charities.

Mr O’Callaghan said the controversy “highlights how crucial it is that everyone working with vulnerable people on our streets and in emergency accommodation be Garda vetted.

Vetting system review

Acknowledging the issue as very important Mr Martin said the issues around the charity needed to be examined.

“I do understand that legal processes are ongoing in relation to the future of the organisation.

“They operated outside the scope of mainstream homeless services provided by local authorities, who are subject to minimum standards and that’s an important point.

“There are a lot of accommodation providers and we have to be alert to new groups appearing overnight and that’s an ongoing issue.

“They did receive statutory funding from the local authority for their homeless services and I think that issue will be raised with the charity regulator.

“The issue you raised around the Garda vetting, I think the time has come to examine that issue.”

Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery-Kearney said later that a review of the Garda vetting system would help to further protect vulnerable people.

She said recent events showed that “anyone can set up a charity or charitable outreach, involving contact with people whom many of us would consider as having specific vulnerabilities.

“There is no requirement for those people, who might be very well intentioned, to prove their bona fides, or be verified by any oversight body. The consequence is that vulnerable people may be open to abuse or exploitation.”

Consideration should be given to widening the definition of a vulnerable person under current legislation, she said adding that the types of activities provided for under the National Vetting Bureau Act need to be reviewed.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

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