27 July 2011
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, T.D., today published the Scheme of the National Vetting Bureau Bill 2011 to place the vetting of persons working with children or vulnerable adults on a statutory basis (Scheme of Bill attached).
In September 2008 the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children recommended that legislation be introduced to regulate and control the manner in which records of criminal convictions and information including "soft information" can be stored and disclosed by the Garda Síochána and other agencies for the purpose of child protection.
This Bill provides the necessary legislation. The Bill seeks to provide an appropriate balance between the need to disclose such information in the public interest, and in the interest of protecting children or vulnerable adults, while also providing appropriate safeguards to recognise the rights of persons who are the subject of such disclosures. The Bill also provides a statutory framework for vetting procedures provided by the Gardaí arising from a range of other enactments. These include taxi regulation, regulation of the security industry and public sector appointments. The Bill will render it a criminal offence to employ a person in a position for which a vetting disclosure is required without first obtaining such disclosure or, having obtained such disclosure, to employ such person where there are reasonable grounds for believing that such person may prove a risk to children or vulnerable adults.
In announcing the proposed legislation, Minister Shatter said "The Kelly Fitzgerald Report, The Ferns Report, the Dublin Archdiocese Report, the Ryan Report and the Cloyne Report have clearly shown the need to strengthen our procedures to protect children and vulnerable adults.
"The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children in September 2008 asked the previous Government to publish the required legislation but it failed to do so. The Scheme of the Bill published today is being furnished to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in accordance with the new approach to legislation adopted by the Government to enable the Committee make observations on the Bill by the end of September.
"In the meantime, I will be working with the Office of the Attorney General to develop the Bills content. It is intended that the Bill in final form will be published by the end of October to be debated in the Dáil in the next session.
"Publication today of the Scheme of the Bill is a significant step towards providing essential legislative safeguards to protect children or vulnerable adults. I acknowledge the contribution of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in its preparation. It is my intention to have this legislation enacted as a matter of urgency in the next parliamentary session, with the co-operation of both Houses of the Oireachtas."
Note for Editors:
The National Vetting Bureau Bill 2011 has two main purposes:
1) To provide a statutory framework for the existing vetting procedures, using criminal records information, in regard to:
(a) persons applying for public sector jobs,
(b) persons seeking employment working with children and vulnerable adults.
There is already a statutory basis for vetting of persons under various Acts. However these acts do not set out the procedures to be followed in the vetting process.
2) To provide a statutory framework to define "soft" or "relevant" information, and to set out procedures to allow this relevant information be used, in addition to records of prosecutions or criminal convictions, in vetting persons applying for employment working with children or vulnerable adults. "Soft" information will not be disclosed in regard to general public service employment – It will only be used in regard to:
i) employment which involves working with or being in regular contact with children or vulnerable adults.
ii) Garda Síochána and State security appointments.
Key Provisions of the Draft Scheme
The following are key provisions of the proposed legislation:
· A policy decision has been made not to create a new statutory agency to do the work of vetting, but to use the structure of the existing Garda Vetting Office, (the "Bureau") as this is a significantly less costly option.
· Decisions on whether or not to employ a person are made by the employer, not by the Vetting Bureau.
· The consent of the person seeking employment will be obtained prior to vetting.
· The Vetting Bureau’s role is primarily to disclose verified, accurate information to enable employers make informed decisions, in order to protect the public interest.
· The draft scheme proposes that the Minister may make regulations providing for re-vetting of persons on a periodic basis of not less than every 5 years.
· The definition of "soft" or "relevant" information in the scheme is carefully defined to apply to information arising from a formal investigation, either by the Gardaí or another specified body which has responsibility for conducting such investigations, where that investigation found bona fide evidence that a person is likely to cause harm to a child or vulnerable adult.
· Before any "soft" information is disclosed, the person to whom the record refers must be afforded the opportunity to challenge the information in question. The scheme provides for an independent appeals mechanism if the person concerned is not satisfied with the decision of the Vetting Bureau. The scheme also provides that all information held under the Act will be subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Acts.
· The disclosure of "soft" information in the vetting process is restricted to employment which involves regular or ongoing unsupervised contact with children or vulnerable adults, or appointments to positions in State security.
· The scheme proposes that minor road traffic offences, fines on the spot etc. will not be disclosed with regard to vetting applications. The Spent Convictions Bill will further address the issue of discounting minor offences.
· The legislation prescribes the applicable criminal offences relating to:
(a) the falsifying or altering of a vetting disclosure;
(b) the making of false statements to facilitate another person obtain a vetting disclosure;
(c) permitting a third party to use another’s vetting disclosure
(d) employing a person without first obtaining a required vetting disclosure or doing so having obtained such disclosure, where there are reasonable grounds for believing the person may pose a risk to children and vulnerable adults.
· Certain persons are excluded for application of the Bill. These include:
(a) family members caring for a child or vulnerable adult;
(b) persons minding a child or vulnerable adult in their family home at the request of a parent or guardian
(c) persons who do not have regular or ongoing unsupervised contact with children or vulnerable adults who assist on an occasional ad-hoc voluntary basis in a community group, club or organisation.