Law would end vetting of school caretakers and drivers

Caretakers, cooks, administrators, and bus drivers who work in organisations with school-going children will not have to be vetted under proposed legislation.

Barnardos director of advocacy Norah Gibbons expressed serious concern that the legislation had moved from vetting all prospective employees. Only in pre-school settings will roles such as cooks or bus drivers have to be vetted.

“This move is a significant departure from the current system whereby all personnel in listed sectors are covered, and falls far short of best practice,” said Ms Gibbons. “A comprehensive vetting system must include vetting of all staff, paid and unpaid.” She pointed to the murder of 10-year-old Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, who were kidnapped and killed by school caretaker Ian Huntley in Britain in 2002. Despite accusations of rape, indecent assault on an 11-year-old, and a string of relationships with schoolgirls, Huntley was still able to get a job as a school caretaker.

Vetting is carried out by the Garda Central Vetting Unit, which deals with about 8,000 vetting applications. The new legislation will set up a National Vetting Bureau.

Another clause in the legislation is also causing concern. It states people assisting on an “occasional, ad hoc or voluntary basis” in sports, community groups or other groups involving children or vulnerable adults, but who do not have “regular or ongoing contact” with them, do not need vetting.

According to Ms Gibbons, a groomer only needs “ad hoc or occasional access” to try and initiate a relationship. “In Barnardos alone, this would mean that up to 75% of our volunteers would not need to be vetted despite being in proximity to children and building a relationship with them. The potential risk to children is unacceptable.”

She said there was a presumption that if a person had worked with a certain group they were “safe” and of good standing, but this would not be the case in the future.

“A person could use the fact that they have worked with one organisation to get into another, and it is presumed they are safe because of the association. The new legislation is taking a very narrow view.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance said it was concerned that the bill limited the use of “soft information” to instances where the post would involve ongoing and substantial contact with children or vulnerable adults.

“Soft” information means the release of details about a person which was never verified, for example, if someone is identified as a suspect in a reported incident of abuse, or dismissed from work due to misconduct or inappropriate behaviour towards a child.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said soft information used under the new legislation must give rise to a “bona fide concern” that an individual may cause or attempt to cause harm to a child or vulnerable adult.

The bill is due for discussion in the Dáil in the coming months.

Picture:Barnardos director of advocacy, Norah Gibbons

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