Press Release

Statement by Minister for Children Brian Lenihan TD

The Minister for Children Brian Lenihan today (19th August, 2002) extended his sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

The Minister states that “I share the public concern about the need for constant vigilance and awareness of the need to protect our children”.

The Minister outlined this afternoon the improved procedures which have been put in place to offer greater protection to children. Children First – the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children were published in September, 1999. These guidelines are national and over-arching applying to all individuals and agencies dealing with children. They support and guide health professionals, teachers, members of the Garda Siochana and the many people in sporting, cultural, community and voluntary organisations who are in regular contact with children.

The Guidelines emphasise the importance of good practice in recruiting individuals who are to work with children. Information and Advice Officers have been employed by the health boards to work with voluntary organisations in implementing the National Guidelines.

In November, 1994 and September, 1995 directions were issued by the Department of Health and Children on the recruitment of staff to any area of the health services where they would have substantial access to children and vulnerable individuals. The directions highlight the need for Garda clearance and verified references to be obtained. The Minister went on to say “there is a particular onus of care on employers to maintain good employment practice, both during the recruitment stage and also when it comes to ensuring adequate supervision arrangements post recruitment”.

In response to concerns regarding clearance of applicants for positions with organisations with responsibility for children, a Central Vetting Unit was established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in Garda Headquarters in January, 2002. This Unit currently provides checks on prospective full-time health sector employees who would have substantial access to children and vulnerable adults. To date, the Unit has dealt with in the region of 40,000 vetting and data protection requests.

Discussions between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda authorities are ongoing in relation to the phased extension of the existing clearance system in respect of child-related employments. In particular, the issues of providing clearances for persons working with children through voluntary and community groups and for persons from abroad seeking employment which will bring them into contact with children and vulnerable adults are being pursued.

The Minister concluded by saying that “we must build on the steps which have been taken already and improve the protective measures in place. The Health Boards in conjunction with my Department keep the national Guidelines, and procedures generally, under review so as to ensure that we offer the highest standards of protection to children.”