Andrews: All clergy should volunteer for vetting

ALL clergy working with children should volunteer for Garda vetting in the wake of the clerical sex abuse scandal in Cloyne, Minister for Children Barry Andrews has said.

Mr Andrews also said he would encourage all priests in Cloyne to put themselves forward for “soft vetting”, including background checks on allegations or concerns raised about them in the past.

It has emerged that the Government is facing constitutional difficulties in drawing up laws compelling those working with children to undergo soft vetting, which were promised in light of the Cloyne scandal.

In January, Mr Andrews said a bill allowing for the exchange of soft allegations would be published in the first six months of this year. His office, along with the Departments of Health and Justice, are working on the laws, but a spokesperson said “the legislation is extremely complex and potentially has constitutional implications”.

It is expected to be passed in the Dáil in the second half of this year.

The Diocese of Cloyne said legal difficulties surrounding the use of soft evidence was the reason it did not co-operate with major parts of an audit into child protection practices in the Church published by the Health Service Executive last month.

Last October, Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan called on all priests in that diocese to sign up to voluntary vetting. So far, 70% of priests in the diocese have submitted forms to the Garda.

Mr Andrews said he would encourage priests in other areas to follow this example: “If somebody volunteers to have themselves vetted, there’s no difficulty with that and it’s good practice. I would absolutely welcome anyone who is prepared to be voluntarily vetted in respect of soft information. In respect of hard info, there is a duty to be vetted in the first place.”

He added: “The issue of vetting is a very complex one now and we are working very hard on information in that regard, in particular in the collection and exchange of information between different groups and what is described as soft information.”

Mr Andrews also indicated that a referendum on child protection measures will not take place before this summer or at the time of the local and European elections on June 5 because of the complexity in drawing up the constitutional amendment. An Oireachtas committee looking at the issues has until April to produce proposals.

“The normal thing is to set up a referendum commission, if we are to go down that road, so we certainly wouldn’t be ready for June,” said Mr Andrews. “There is a very strong debate going on now in that committee about whether existing constitutional provisions are adequate, if not whether the proposed wording in the Government bill is adequate and, if not, what would be adequate. So that debate is complex.”

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