Sir, - Kathy Sheridan's excellent column of September 12th shines an urgently needed spotlight on the murky problem of the Central Vetting Unit clearance process, something of deep concern to anyone involved in childcare.

Unfortunately, in her introductory comparison between Special Olympics athletes and seriously ill children attending Barretstown, Ms Sheridan states that a child attending Barretstown "has to take his chances". This unfortunately implies that some supervisors at Barretstown may not be properly vetted, and this is not the case.

All supervisors at Barretstown must have current police checks. Many of our supervisors come from countries outside Ireland, where these checks are routinely and efficiently available. However, the intractable and unfathomable Garda clearance process within Ireland means that securing Irish volunteers is more difficult and complicated than attracting volunteers from any other country. Irish citizens seeking to work at Barretstown must supply their own Garda clearances (under the Freedom of Information Act) before they are employed.

However, this is difficult or sometimes impossible within the required time. Therefore, we often lose the opportunity to recruit potentially excellent volunteers.

Nevertheless, all volunteers and staff at Barretstown (whether working directly with children or not) must be police-checked, now and always - even if this means recruiting a disproportionate number of people from outside our own country.

Barretstown is safe. It is physically safe, with a full-time medical staff and fully equipped medical centre, state-of-the-art safety equipment and all activities being carefully supervised by specially-trained staff; it's emotionally safe, with a nurturing and empowering culture of acceptance, warmth and friendship.

We have in place all necessary childcare policies and procedures, and intensive interviewing, training and evaluation of everyone who works for us, whether paid or volunteer. And, I must reiterate, police checking of these individuals is a vital part of security at Barretstown. As Ms Sheridan quite rightly points out, it is not "the Holy Grail", but it is a vital element of our comprehensive safety process.

We welcome Ms Sheridan's dedicated - and largely thankless - efforts to highlight the seriousness of this issue, and the need for immediate reform of the CVU clearance process. - Yours, etc.,


Progamme Director,

Barretstown Gang,

Ballymore Eustace,

Co Kildare.