Irish Examiner

Historic sex abuse role for vetting

- Noel Baker

The Government is considerin­g expanding the Garda National Vetting Bureau to try to resolve concerns over how to handle allegation­s of retrospect­ive sexual abuse.

Tusla hopes to implement its child abuse substantia­tion procedure (Casp) by the end of the year and has invited organisati­ons, such as One In Four and the Rape Crisis Network, to talks about how the policy could work.

However, those and other organisati­ons have voiced serious concerns about Casp, claiming the requiremen­t to notify an alleged offender that an allegation has been made, even where no investigat­ion may follow, risks deterring people from seeking help.

Tusla has admitted that the current 2014 provision puts social workers in a difficult position and places an investigat­ive element with Tusla, which is not its function.

In his first report as special rapporteur on child protection, Conor O’Mahony recommende­d expanding the role of the National Vetting Bureau, which he said would remove the necessity for Tusla to “stress test” the complaint at assessment stage, as proposed under Casp.

Slightly expanding the role of the bureau, Dr O’Mahony wrote, could provide “a robust statutory basis for the balance of rights between PSAA [person subject to allegation­s of abuse], the complainan­t and other children who may be at risk of abuse”.

It would also provide it with independen­ce of gardaí and Tusla, meaning it could make “a holistic assessment of whether a disclosure to a third party is warranted”.

It would also allow for the finding of a “bona fide concern”, which Dr O’Mahony said was more flexible than the current status of a complaint being either “founded” or “unfounded”.

The Department of Children has said it is speaking with the Department of Justice to explore how such an expansion of the vetting bureau would work.

“The relevant legislatio­n is being reviewed as part of the review of the Child Care Act 1991,” said a department spokespers­on. “The review is considerin­g the legislativ­e measures that need to be in place to best protect and support children identified as at risk of harm.

“[The Department of Children] is actively engaging with the Department of Justice to explore the potential of the National Vetting Bureau legislatio­n to provide a statutory framework for a comprehens­ive resolution to the important issues identified.”

The spokespers­on said that balancing the rights of the victim and the rights of the person against whom an allegation has been made where there is not a criminal conviction is “a complex and difficult matter” and, while Tusla’s policy and procedures for responding to allegation­s of child abuse have been in place since 2014, Casp incorporat­es legal points from more recent judicial reviews.

The most recent monthly report from Tusla, for last January, shows 675 cases of retrospect­ive abuse awaiting allocation to a social worker. There were 235 referrals of retrospect­ive abuse in January, 26 more than in December 2020.

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