It has been reported in the media that the gardaí have been told to stop vetting applicants for jobs in schools and youth and sporting organisations as it breaches the spirit of the data protection legislation. It is further reported that the gardaí have received advice from the office of the Data Protection Com missioner that the practice of employers getting information where people apply for jobs, approaches being objectionable in principle; the exception is in health board appointments and appointments in the security area.
I am concerned for young people involved in youth and sports bodies, who may now be without one of the vital procedures which protect them from potential abusers. The Director of the National Youth Council of Ireland has expressed his serious concern about the latest development, as has the secretariat of secondary schools. The INTO is reported as saying it is disappointed that even this minimum protection has been withdrawn. I cannot understand the reasoning behind the Data Protection Commissioner's statement in his annual report that character references should be sufficient evidence for a potential employer. Having gone through the shock and trauma of the recent episodes in Irish swimming and with the knowledge that the abuse of children here is far more prevalent than we thought, I am concerned the important protection provided by the gardaí is now being removed.
When I was Minister for Sport I appointed a group chaired by Dr. Breda McLeavy to draft a code of ethics and good practice for children in sport in Ireland. That committee produced a comprehensive and effective report in June 1996 which was widely welcomed and has become the benchmark for similar codes throughout Europe. That code of practice, which was produced after a lengthy and broadly based consultative process, is being seriously undermined by the latest developments.
Sport and youth activities have a very special place in the lives of Irish people, and this would not be the case were it not for the extraordinary commitment and dedication of so many people, particularly those voluntary workers who have devoted themselves to sport, the community and young people down the years. Children, young people and their families should have every confidence that they will be treated with respect and understanding when they take part in sport and youth activities.
The code of practice provides administrators, coaches and players with guidelines and standards to be used in dealing with young people in sport; these are as much for the protection of adult volunteers as for the young people. I believe now the parents of young people will have less confidence in the systems that exist to protect them. I ask the Minister to carry out an immediate review of the position in order to strengthen the hands of those who are there to protect the well being of our children. I see nothing wrong with applicants for jobs in these sensitive areas being asked to provide references and any details that are required. The onus should be on them to provide the evidence that they are above board and are bona fide applicants. That would be a way around the difficulty in this area. I look forward to the Minister's response.