I am responding on behalf of Minister Shatter who regrets he is unable to be here.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. I should say at the outset that since his appointment the Minister has given priority to doing all he can to ensure that the vetting process operates efficiently and that applications are dealt with as quickly as possible.

We should not be under any illusion about the scale of what is involved.

The Garda Central Vetting Unit provides employment vetting for approximately 20,000 organisations in Ireland, registered with the Unit for this purpose, which employ personnel to work in a full-time, part time, voluntary or student capacity with children and / or vulnerable adults. The Unit processed approximately 328,000 vetting applications on behalf of these organisations in 2012.

There are 94 personnel assigned to the Garda Central Vetting Unit.

The current average processing time for applications is approximately 12 weeks from date of receipt. However, seasonal fluctuations and the necessity to seek additional information on particular applications can result in this processing time being exceeded on occasion.

All organisations registered for Garda Vetting are aware of the processing time-frames for the receipt of Garda vetting and have been advised to factor this into their recruitment and selection process.

In order to observe equity and fairness in respect of all applicants for Garda Vetting, standard procedures are such that applications are processed in chronological order, from the date of receipt at the Central Vetting Unit.

A vetting disclosure is made in response to a written request and with the permission of the person who is the subject of that request. Garda vetting disclosures are issued to specified organisations registered with the Vetting Unit for that purpose in respect of a particular post or employment.

The disclosure is made to the requesting, registered organisation of the position at the time when it is issued.

Each time a new vetting application is received, a full vetting check is conducted to ensure that the most recent data available is taken into account. The non-transferability and contemporaneous nature of the certificate protects against the risk of fraud or forgery and is a guarantee of the integrity of the vetting service. It also affords the registered organisation the facility to assess suitability based on the most up to date information available on the applicant.

It is worth emphasising, at this point, that the primary purpose of the vetting process is the protection of children and vulnerable adults and this must remain the case.

The Minister has been pursuing all options to ensure that adequate resources are available to the Vetting Unit. I think Deputies will welcome the fact that following discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, sanction was granted for an additional 25 staff to be re-deployed from the Department of Agriculture to the Garda Central Vetting Unit in the near future. This should clearly have a positive effect on matters.

The Minister has asked me to assure the House that it will remain a priority to ensure that vetting applications will be dealt with as quickly as possible.