College staff face Garda checks under bill terms

THOUSANDS of staff in universities will have to undergo Garda vetting under the current terms of a draft bill because of the small number of students under the age of 18 attending colleges.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality yesterday heard representations from 12 separate groups on the proposed National Vetting Bureau Bill 2011, highlighting concerns over potential loopholes.

Among the groups addressing the committee was the Irish Universities Association, who said the bill as it stands would require all staff at universities and Institute of Technologies to be vetted because of students aged under 18 in third level, and because of the level of “pastoral care” and assistance provided to students which necessitates one-on-one contact between staff and students.

Anne Fitzgerald, of the association, said this could mean 20,000 staff needing to be vetted, in addition to 100,000 students in the university sector alone, due to the huge number of students volunteering.

She said the issue needed to be “ventilated and discussed” as it would mean an increased workload for the Garda National Vetting Unit and for university staff.

The committee also heard other concerns raised by different groups, including:

* Self-employed solo artists are often left unable to carry out workshops and residencies at schools because vetting is not available to individuals.

* Some groups working in the arts questioned if they could sustain the time and cost impact of the bill were it to become law.

* The Teaching Council voiced concerns that it does not directly employ teachers and could be outside the scope of the bill despite registering teachers.

The assistant director of Create Ireland, Arthur Duignan, said there were numerous cases where artists lost out on means of making a living because vetting was not open to individuals.

He used as an example a situation where an artist may receive a bursary from a local authority to carry out a workshop, thereby requiring the help of a local club to provide a location.

Mr Duignan said, typically, neither the local authority or school, not the club, would facilitate the vetting process, but since it is not open to individuals, the performer would have to withdraw.

Anna Boner of Poetry Ireland said many writers and artists “have very erratic or unpredictable work patterns” and there was no guarantee that they would always be supervised in a setting where they might be working with children.

Mr Duignan also said that given the possible financial and time resource cost of managing the vetting process “it is going to make it very difficult for us to continue”.

“It is an issue — I am not sure if it is sustainable in the longer term,” he added.

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