Anger over child work staff vetting delay

GARDA background checks are still not being carried out on workers in schools, community groups or the childcare sector, almost a year after the Government announced an expanded vetting service.

A review of procedures was set up in late 2002, after the murders of 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, England.

After the conviction of Ian Huntley, it emerged the school caretaker had previously been accused of sexually and indecently assaulting schoolgirls.

Minister for Children Brian Lenihan announced the expansion of the Garda Central Vetting Unit (CVU) last September. The increase in staffing from 13 to 30 would allow the unit expand its scope to all those who work with children and vulnerable adults.

But extra personnel have not been recruited because the unit is being moved from garda headquarters in Dublin to Thurles, Co Tipperary. The Department of Justice said phased expansion of CVU services will begin later this year.

But, with schools due to reopen later this month, the National Parents Council (Primary) is disappointed with the delays.

Chief executive Fionnuala Kilfeather said: “This is a sign of the priority, or lack of it, being given to the very important issue of child protection.”

“There should be no room for complacency on this matter and waiting for office space or anything else should not be an issue,” she said.

While the delays have angered parents, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) is satisfied the vetting unit will expand its brief later this year.

But chief executive, Paul Gilligan, said it also needs to be considered if ‘soft information’ can be processed. This involves situations where a person might not have been prosecuted, but may have faced allegations or have been suspended or dismissed from previous employment.

The vetting unit processes around 100,000 requests a year but is restricted to checking for convictions against prospective full-time employees of the Health Service Executive (HSE), agencies it funds, and workers on childcare schemes funded by the Department of Justice.

It is an offence for anybody on the sex offenders register to apply for a job working with children; the process has already identified a number of people unsuitable to work with children seeking employment in the health services.

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