The number of cases of suspected child sexual abuse referred to the Garda by Tusla, the child and family agency, has increased significantly in recent years, new figures show.
Last year, social workers referred 912 cases of suspected child sex abuse to the Garda to investigate, a 75 per cent increase on the 522 referrals made in 2016.
Tusla referred 532 cases of suspected sexual abuse to the Garda in 2017, which increased to 741 in 2018, and to 912 in 2019.
Where social workers suspect a child has been subjected to physical or sexual abuse, or wilful neglect, they are required to refer the case to the Garda.
In recent years, the number of reports of alleged abuse or neglect Tusla receives has also steadily increased, following the introduction of mandatory reporting laws in late 2017.
The State agency received 3,042 reports of alleged sexual abuse in 2016, which rose to 3,548 in 2018, and to 3,909 last year. These reports include alleged abuse of children, and adults disclosing alleged abuse that took place when they were minors.
The figures were obtained by Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan in response to a parliamentary question.
Mr O'Callaghan said while the number of reports made to Tusla had increased by 29 per cent over the four years, its referrals of suspected abuse to the Garda had gone up by 75 per cent. "This raises a serious question as to why there has been such a sharp increase of referrals from Tusla to An Garda Síochána, " he said.
He said neither Minister for Justice Helen McEntee nor the Garda had responded to requests for figures on how many of the referrals had been investigated, or how many prosecutions had arisen from the cases.
There was also a lack of information from Tusla on how many of the abuse allegations it had determined to be founded or unfounded, he said. “It is vitally important that this information is made available,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
A Tusla spokeswoman said overall increases in reports of alleged abuse it received had contributed to the rise in referrals to the Garda.
“The introduction of mandatory reporting, and the strong emphasis before that on the need to report child protection concerns, has led to an increasingly strong culture of reporting, which contributes in part to increasing numbers of reports to An Garda Síochána,” she said.
“Obligations under various legislation and protocols has also resulted in increased reporting to An Garda Síochána. All of this is underscored by an increasing attention and awareness for statutory agencies to share critical information regarding the protection of children,” she said.
Earlier this year it emerged Tusla's service in Co Kerry had been significantly under-reporting suspected abuse to gardaí.
The issue was uncovered by Tusla’s internal audit process, and a subsequent review identified 365 cases of suspected abuse or neglect which social workers should have referred to the Garda, but had failed to do so.
The cases included 161 reports of alleged child abuse which had been left “unaddressed” by social workers in the Kerry area.