The need for the Minister Justice and Equality to divert necessary resources in order to address the delays associated with Garda Vetting applications and to look at the possibility of streamlining the process so that multiple applications can be avoided in any one year.
Senator Lorraine Higgins
On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is unavoidably detained elsewhere, I wish to thank Senator Higgins for raising this particular issue. It is a very important matter and it is right that the vetting process should be discussed in this House.
It is the intention of the Minster to ensure that the best possible vetting service is provided in this country and by extension to ensure that the maximum protection possible is provided to the most vulnerable people in our society.
The vetting services in this country are provided by the Garda Síochána through the Garda Central Vetting Unit. The Unit provides employment vetting – not Garda clearance - for a number of organisations in Ireland, registered with the Unit, which employ personnel to work in a full-time, part time, voluntary or student capacity with children and / or vulnerable adults. The service provided is continually being extended, on a phased-basis, to such organisations. At present approximately 20,000 organisations are registered with the Central Vetting Unit and the Unit processed approximately 328,000 vetting applications on behalf of these organisations in 2012.
The Garda Commissioner has informed the Minister that there are currently 1 Superintendent, 2 Sergeants and approximately 113 civilian personnel assigned to the Garda Central Vetting Unit. This civilian complement includes 23 staff recently transferred from Department of Agriculture who are undergoing the required training course. A further 15 staff will commence their training later this month.
The current average processing time for applications is approximately 12 weeks from date of receipt. There are, of course, seasonal fluctuations in average processing times and the processing time can also be affected where further inquiries have to be made, normally in respect of court outcomes and / or suspected offender details.
All organisations registered for Garda Vetting are aware of the processing timeframes 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 processing procedures are such that applications are processed in chronological order, from the date of receipt at the Central Vetting Unit.
Clearly, the protection of children and vulnerable adults is the primary objective of the Garda Central Vetting Unit and this must remain the case. The Minister remains in contact with the Garda Commissioner as to how best this service can continue to be delivered and improved upon while at all times protecting the integrity of the system
The methodology currently utilised both in the training of appropriate personnel in Registered Organisations and the actual processing of applications for Garda Vetting provides a direct working relationship between the Garda Central Vetting Unit and each organisation seeking Garda Vetting disclosures in respect of prospective employees. In doing so the security, integrity, confidentiality and accountability of the overall Garda Vetting process are protected. This process also provides each registered organisation with Garda Vetting disclosures which are up-to-date at the time of their assessment. Critically, this also minimises the risk of false, forged or fraudulent Garda Vetting disclosures being presented to employers by prospective employees.
Standard policy in place with registered organisations for Garda Vetting is that the vetting subject gives written permission, on a Garda Vetting application form, for An Garda Síochána to disclose details of all prosecutions, successful or not, pending or completed and / or convictions, recorded in the State or elsewhere in respect of them to the registered organisation.
All available resources at the Garda Central Vetting Unit are fully deployed on an ongoing basis to provide for Garda Vetting services, to meet the demands of Registered Organisations.
The Minister fully agrees with the objective that processing times should be kept to a minimum, while maintaining the overall integrity of the vetting system. In that regard, the Department of Justice and Equality are examining the scope for the redeployment of additional personnel from within the public service to the Central vetting unit.
In relation to streamlining the process, the Minister, as pointed out earlier, remains in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner as to how best the service can continue to be delivered and improved upon, while at all times protecting the integrity of the process. Clearly, the protection of children and vulnerable adults is the primary objective of the Garda Central Vetting Unit and this must remain the case. In that context, it is essential that registered organisations have confidence in the system, a confidence which can only be underpinned by rigorous checking processes and access to the latest available accurate information on prospective personnel, who after all, are seeking to work with the most vulnerable members of our society.
Indeed, in this regard the possibility of introducing an e-vetting system has been assessed and the Garda authorities are now in the process of developing a system which will enable vetting applications to be submitted electronically through a secure web service. In addition the system will facilitate the checking and monitoring of applications. The relevant work is being pursued on a priority basis and it will be completed as quickly as possible.
I can, on behalf of the Minister, re-assure the Senator and the House that it is his intention to ensure that the most efficient and effective vetting service is provided by the Garda Central Vetting Unit while at the same time providing the maximum protection possible to the most vulnerable people in our society.