Delay to powers to monitor sexual offenders

Planned powers to enable gardai more closely monitor paedophiles in the community will now not be in place before the next general election.

The powers, which have been promised since 2008, are included as part of an early draft of a wide-ranging piece of legislation, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill.

However, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has now conceded the full details and text of that bill will not be published until sometime later this year. Publication is only the start of what can be a lengthy debate and amendment process before a bill is signed into law.

Independent TD Denis Naughten, who sought a progress report on the bill from the minister, said it was vital the Government act faster as the current law on sex offender registration and monitoring had potentially dangerous loopholes.

“[Former justice minister] Dermot Ahern announced the necessary changes to this law back in 2008 so we are in our seventh year waiting for it and every year that we wait we are exposing children to unacceptable risk,” he warned.

A key weakness in the current law is that a sex offender leaving prison does not have to sign on to the sex offenders register for seven days, leaving them free to move around with little or no supervision for that period.

More worrying is that sex offenders from the North, Britain, or further afield who are unlikely to be known to gardai can also avail of this free period and visit Ireland without any restriction or monitoring.

In 2012, Mr Naughten published his own bill, the Child Sex Offenders (Information and Monitoring) Bill, to close this loophole and also to allow parents and guardians to be informed if anybody coming into contact with their child or vulnerable adult has been convicted of a sexual offence or otherwise poses a danger.

His bill was widely accepted and was progressing through the various debate stages but was halted after the Government announced it was going to draw up its own legislation.

The Government’s Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill will include Mr Naughten’s measures along with reform of the laws on prostitution, incest, online grooming for sexual exploitation, harassment, and so-called Romeo and Juliet cases involving underage sex between consenting teens.

“I was very happy to see comprehensive legislation and Alan Shatter [the previous justice minister] told me the only reason they weren’t going ahead with my bill was because the Government’s own legislation was so imminent,” said Mr Naughten.

“If you are going to be realistic, it will be the end of the year before we actually see the text of the law itself and the new year before it comes before the Dáil.

“Then it has to go through committee stage and debate so it won’t be passed before the general election. We are going to be another two and a half years waiting for this and that will depend on the new government running with it.

“My law, the Child Sex Offenders (Information and Monitoring) Bill 2012, is already in the system, accepted by Government, and could be fast-tracked and be enforced by gardaí before the summer. It should be acted on immediately and the rest of the Government’s bill can follow when it’s ready.”

Ms Fitzgerald said: “As the deputy will appreciate, this is a complex piece of legislation which addresses a number of sensitive issues.”

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