Written Answers. - Child Protection Measures.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

226 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the arrangements his Department has in place for ensuring criminal record checks and background checks for people working with children in the education sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3925/03]

Employment of school staff is primarily a matter for the boards of management of schools who have a statutory responsibility in this regard. School authorities have a duty of care to their pupils and normal practice is to insist on letters of reference from previous employers before offering a position. However, the schemes governing bus escorts and supervision and substitution arrangements for post-primary schools both require appointees to be vetted by the Garda Síochána. The procedure involves the proposed appointee signing a form of consent to his-her proposed appointment being sent for Garda clearance. In addition, under the Sex Offenders Act 2001, it is an offence for a person who has previously been convicted of a sexual offence to apply for a position that involves access to children. My Department's own guidelines for dealing with allegations and suspicions of child abuse have also recently been revised in consultation with the education partners and copies have been issued to all primary schools and in-service training has been provided to primary school teachers to support these.

My Department is also consulting with the education partners and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform seeking their observations on the issue of Garda clearance for teachers. As large numbers of appointments are made every year, significant Garda resource issues arise. Screening procedures other than Garda vetting, such as references, will be explored in the discussions with the education partners. In addition, the child protection joint working group, composed of officials from the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Education Northern Ireland, has recommended the establishment of a confidential mechanism across the United Kingdom and Ireland for the reciprocal identification of people who are considered to be unsuitable to work with children and young people. I intend to bring proposals to Government in the near future with a view to establishing a cross-governmental working group to finalise proposals for legislation on this.