Garda reform and rights of children

 

Sir, – The Children’s Rights Alliance welcomes the emphasis placed in the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland on human rights as the foundation and purpose of policing.

Overall the report makes radical recommendations for the structures, management and oversight of the Garda. It is essential in these reforms that the rights and interests of children are centre stage.

Gardaí interact with children and young people in many ways, including by intervening to protect them, investigating and prosecuting crimes and through youth diversion programmes. The report recommends that a human rights strategy should be implemented by An Garda Síochána and a human rights unit established. The rights of children must be key to both.

Separately there is an emphasis in this report on community safety and crime prevention and a recognition that many adults that commit crimes have committed offences as children. Diverting children from crime in the first place is the best way to prevent them from getting into trouble with the law. The report of the commission calls for better positioning and funding of the Garda Youth Diversion Programme as a key preventative measure are positive and if implemented could result in young people having better futures and in safer communities.

A core theme in the report is the work that An Garda Síochána does with other agencies to keep communities safe. The report calls for the establishment of multidisciplinary teams as a better way to serve children coming into contact with the Garda.

The proposed establishment of such teams comprising police, mental health, substance abuse, child services and other social workers engaged within their local communities will result in better outcomes for children. It is nearly a decade since these were first recommended so their establishment is now a critical priority.

The report of the commission also calls for better information sharing between agencies, in particular, there is a clear need for Tusla – the Child and Family Agency and the Garda to share information with each other but the commission notes that “even where memoranda of understanding exist concerning cooperation” there is a reluctance to share information. A relationship of trust must be fostered between the Garda and other agencies, including Tusla, in the best interests of children. This commitment echoes a recommendation by Prof Geoffrey Shannon in his audit of An Garda Síochána earlier this year that better information systems be put in place.

Cadet and in-service training is a key feature of the report on the Commission of Policing. It is critical that any proposed new training supports the Garda to communicate sensitively and in an age-appropriate way. Gardaí must also be trained in making decisions in the best interests of the child.

Lastly, children are at risk in the online world. We note the recognition of the challenges posed by cybercrime given that online criminal activity often targets children and young people.

We welcome the commission’s recommendation to substantially and urgently increase the capacity and expertise of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau to keep children safe online.

The Children’s Rights Alliance calls for the report to be resourced sufficiently so that the positive recommendations contained within it can be actioned to the

TANYA WARD,

Children’s Rights Alliance,

Red Cow Lane,

Smithfield,

Dublin 7.