GARDAÍ will use a new American-style “Amber Alert” system when handling missing children cases, it was announced yesterday, as new figures show that gardaí received almost 8,000 missing person reports last year.
The move comes following recommendations on the handling of missing persons cases, particularly those cases involving children, and will open the possibility of broadcast media, text and email being used swiftly to spread information on missing children.
The Report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate on Missing Persons Review and Recommendations, which was published yesterday, will come into force and will mean new reporting structures within the HSE for children who go missing from care. The HSE has come in for consistent criticism from child support groups and opposition parties for failing to ensure that children in its care — particularly minors seeking asylum — do not go missing.
New figures from the Gardaí received 7,980 missing person reports last year, just 12 fewer than in 2007, and 63 people reported as missing last year have still not been found.
One of the key recommendations given the green light yesterday by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern is for an Amber Alert system, similar to that which began in the United States in 1996. Under that system, broadcasters teamed up with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children.
Amber stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and the system is used where it is believed that: a child has been kidnapped; is at imminent risk of serious injury or death; there is sufficient information to describe the child; the circumstances of the disappearance are such that an alert can useful.
New protocols with the HSE are expected to be signed off in the coming weeks, while other measures include enhanced technology to improve the quality of missing persons’ records and closer cooperation with other stakeholders including the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The Garda Missing Persons Bureau is also to receive additional staff, while in each Garda district in which a HSE children’s care home is situated, a designated sergeant will be appointed who will liaise with the care home and coordinate enquiries with the Garda Missing Persons Bureau.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy welcomed the inspectorate’s report, while Mr Ahern said: “This will be a challenging task and it will require the support of a whole range of governmental agencies, NGOs, the media, as well as the support of the public.”
Fine Gael Immigration spokesman Denis Naughten said: “Last year 22 separated migrant children went missing from the State’s care, six in the month of December alone, the vast majority are still unaccounted for and yet the Garda website shows just six children are missing in total, with only two of these having disappeared in December. And because these children have no family in Ireland it looks like nobody seems to care.”
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