Legal bid to warn partners of sex offenders

GARDAÍ monitoring paedophiles and other sex offenders will be able to warn potential victims, including partners, under legislation being drafted.

Where gardaí or probation officers become aware that an offender is living with a new partner, or has access to children, they will notify the person. The system may also allow people to contact police, as in the North, and ask if a partner who is due to move in with them is a sex offender.

The move, which has been welcomed by rape survivor groups, is part of a raft of measures on sex offenders being progressed by the Department of Justice. Other measures include:

* Giving victims of sex offenders a say in bail applications, pre-release risk assessments, and management of offenders in the community.

* Telling victims about “significant developments” regarding their attacker in prison, including release date.

* Extra powers for Garda to supervise sex offenders in the community.

* A “Circles of Support and Accountability” system to help reintegrate released sex offenders into a community.

The measures follow consultation with up to 90 victims’ groups, legal agencies, government departments, offender treatment groups and medical experts.

A discussion document on the management of sex offenders by the department said the “universal view” was against a Megan’s law-type provision allowing the public access to the identity and location of sex offenders.

It said the department intended to bring in “legislative provisions” to allow gardaí to make the identity of a sex offender known to those with a legitimate interest, including potential future victims such as partners.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, a department spokeswoman said: “Details of the proposal and the timing of the legislation are not available at this stage.”

Cliona Saidlear of Rape Crisis Network Ireland welcomed the move: “What we know about sex offenders, in particular paedophiles, is that they target a woman with young children, start a relationship with that woman or befriend them to gain access to her children.

“Or there are situations where an offender moves into town and starts as a sports coach. This will allow gardaí to warn people.”

The department said it would update the laws on bail to include the “concerns of victims” and victims will also be able to make their views known to officials carrying out risk assessments on prisoners before release.

“There are situations where victims are threatened and terrorised, so it doesn’t make sense not to give them a voice,” said Ms Saidlear.

The department said the Probation Service was commissioning a feasibility study on how best to introduce a Circles of Support and Accountability structure.

* Rape Crisis 24-hour national helpline 1800 778888


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