Mandatory Garda vetting laws to come into effect

Frances Fitzgerald will sign the order at the end of the month. Checks to begin within weeks after three years of consultation.

Mandatory checks on adults working with children are finally going to come into effect at the end of this month. And a new electronic vetting system is being prepared to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of applications expected can be processed overnight by gardaí, rather than the current waiting period of three to four weeks. The legislation for mandatory vetting for adults working with children and vulnerable adults was passed three years ago to reduce the risk of sexual abuse. But detailed preparation work had to be carried out with voluntary groups, employers and Gardaí. A Department of Justice spokeswoman confirmed that the legislation will finally come into effect by the end of this month, when the necessary order is signed by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

The news is set to be welcomed by children’s rights groups, which have been campaigning for mandatory vetting. It will apply to large numbers of people who have regular contact with children, including childcare workers, sports coaches, school employees, carers in residential institutions, religious leaders and hospital staff. Tricia Nolan, manager of the South Dublin County Volunteer Centre, said the new mandatory vetting system would apply only to adults with ongoing access to children. “We know that it is when someone builds a relationship that abuse can happen, rather than that ‘stranger danger’ thing, which is really rare,” she said. Nolan said there will be exemptions from vetting for people who occasionally work with children and vulnerable adults, such as parents who would go on a bus for the day to help supervise a children’s outing to the zoo. The aim is to ensure that vetting does not become a barrier to volunteering.

The Garda Central Vetting Unit in Thurles in Tipperary will check to see if a person has a clear record. Convictions for sexual offences, murders and assaults will always be disclosed to the organisation the person is working with. But convictions for motor offences and minor public offences such as disorderly conduct and public drunkenness will not be disclosed, unless they occurred within the last seven years. Gardaí will have the power to pass on “soft information” about instances where a person was investigated for alleged sexual abuse, but only after considering a number of factors such as the risk to children, and the reliability of the information. Nolan has been part of the pilot group which is bringing in the new electronic vetting system. She said it would allow people to fill in their details securely online and have it sent electronically to the Garda Vetting Unit. “It’s a really good system. People can’t leave out their addresses,” she said. Under the current paper-based vetting system, many vetting applications have been delayed by people forgetting to include addresses where they worked for a certain period in their life. The Garda Vetting Unit already deals with more than 300,000 vetting applications every year. A Garda spokesman said it was confident that they will meet the requirements when mandatory vetting comes in at the end of this month.