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National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012: Second Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 774 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle] One case involved a trainee nurse who was being vetted by the HSE prior to taking up work experience as part of her training. She had already been vetted by her local GAA club one month previously but as that was not acceptable to the HSE she had to undergo a further vetting procedure. One can envisage a situation in which somebody who gets a job which requires vetting, decides to volunteer in a local GAA club and then finds part-time employment in a local crèche would be required to undergo vetting three times in a short period when once would be more than adequate. The Bill should provide for this and amendments should be brought on Committee Stage or else the Minister should at least take account of the issue when he is finalising the legislation.

The Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has recommended that vetting should be portable. That is vitally important and would overcome the scenarios I have outlined. If a period is defined for the time a vetting will last and re-vetting is also provided for, vetting should be portable. I imagine the Minister envisages a period of something like two years. If an individual has been vetted and happens to change jobs within the two year period, the vetting should accompany him or her. That would significantly reduce the administrative burden on the 300,000 vettings that take place every year.

Section 11 of the Bill provides for a register of vetted people to be compiled and held by the bureau. It might be useful for organisations to designate a person who can access the register to find out details about an individual who is about to volunteer or take up employment with the organisation. The designated person could, for example, enter the individual's PPS number in the register and confirm whether he or she has been vetted within a relevant period. That would short circuit the need to go through the vetting process again.

Section 19 provides that the vetting bureau shall be informed of concerns. I presume that if concerns are raised about people with valid vetting they will rescind or have an impact on valid vetting. In respect of the organisations listed in Schedule 2 as being required to provide this information to the bureau, the Courts Service should also be listed. The Garda will be involved in pursuing convictions but the courts should be required to notify the bureau when somebody has been convicted of an offence. That should form part of the reporting procedures.

Deputy Halligan referred to the provision for re-vetting under section 20. This is not envisaged to come into effect for the foreseeable future due to staffing constraints. That is not acceptable. Re-vetting should form an integral part of the Bill. It should not be subject to employment embargoes or resource constraints. Earlier today the Taoiseach announced that wording for a children's rights referendum is to be published and we are putting Children First on a legislative basis. Surely a re-vetting procedure should be implemented as part of that overall package. The Minister should ensure that resources are made available to the vetting bureau so it can carry out its work as soon as this legislation is passed.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important Bill, which deals specifically with children and vulnerable persons. It is important that we remind ourselves about the purpose of this legislation.

I also welcome the broader debate that is taking place on the protection of children. There has been a lot of talk about protecting the rights of children but we need to make this a reality by ending the suffering and nightmares for the children who are being damaged as I speak tonight. I hope the upcoming referendum will also deal with these issues. I welcome that the referendum will be held on a Saturday. From what I am hearing, there is considerable potential to safeguard the rights of children and I hope I will be able strongly to support the campaign.

Our goal is to rescue children from crisis situations, crisis families and institutions that have provided clear examples of bad professional practice. When we speak about crisis families, we refer to young children living in dysfunctional and often violent environments involving drugs, alcohol or issues that cause nightmares for them. In this debate on the proposed vetting bureau we are speaking about the institutions, voluntary organisations and sports groups in which these people often operate. As part of the provision of a safe environment, we should not kid ourselves that paedophiles and sex abusers will go away. They will come up with new ways to abuse and work their ways into families, homes, voluntary organisations, sports clubs, swimming clubs and youth clubs. That is the sad reality of the matter. This Bill will be even better at dealing with that reality with a couple of strong amendments. These people have worked their way around obstacles in the past and they will do so again in the future. This is why the vetting process is urgent.

We must also train our children to react to bad situations. It is not easy because often those who are abused are vulnerable children who come from weak, crisis ridden or dysfunctional environments. They are unable to react in the same way as a child who is raised in a nice, warm family environment. If one speaks to survivors and victims, one will discover that when they were abused as young children they were a little different from the other children in their group or classroom. They were targeted by child sex abusers. Our primary schools provide excellent programmes on these issues but we have to be vigilant from an early stage. Any group or organisation that opposes this kind of training for young children should not be taken seriously when it claims to speak for the rights of children. I urge that more training and education be provided on this issue.

We must also focus on the most vulnerable. I refer to children with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities. They are often the ones we never hear about. They were often abused 40 years ago and their stories were never told because their intellectual disabilities were so severe that they were not able to articulate what happened to them. These are the hidden voices and properly vetted staff could play a positive role in ensuring their safety.

Prevention has to be at the core of the strategy, and this is why the legislation is important. The child is often lost once the damage is done and as an adult ends up in crazy situations involving alcohol and mental health issues. This legislation is about prevention because if the right people work with children in schools and youth clubs, they will do a lot of work.

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