I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 206 together.
The Sex Offenders Act which commenced on 27 September 2001 sets out the obligations on persons convicted of a range of sexual offences against both children and adults. Section 3 of the Act provides that each of the offences referred to in the Schedule to the Act shall, subject to subsections (2) and (3), be a sexual offence for the purposes of the Act. The list in the Schedule is comprehensive, with the emphasis on those offences which are most applicable to the protection of children against sexual abuse. Section 7 provides how the notification requirements set out in the Act will apply to all persons convicted of a qualifying sexual offence.
A convicted sex offender must notify his/her name(s), date of birth and current home address to the Garda Síochána within seven days of the conviction for the sexual offence concerned or, where the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, from the date of full release from prison. Thereafter, the offender must notify the Gardaí of any change of name or address within seven days of that change. Notification of any address where the offender spends either as much as seven days or two or more periods amounting to seven days in any twelve month period must also be given to the Gardaí.
If the offender intends to leave the State for a period of seven days or more s/he must inform the Gardaí of this fact and the address at which s/he intends to stay and also notify the Gardaí of his/her return. If s/he did not intend to stay away for more than seven days but did, s/he must inform the Gardaí within a further seven days. The provisions of the Act extend to any sex offenders entering this jurisdiction from abroad who have an obligation to register in their own countries or who have been convicted abroad of an offence comparable to one covered by the Act.
Part 4 of the Act provides that it is an offence for convicted sex offenders to apply for, or to accept, work or to offer services, a necessary and regular part of which consists mainly of unsupervised access to, or contact with, children or mentally impaired persons, without informing the employer or organisation of his/her conviction for a qualifying sexual offence. It is an offence to fail to comply with the notification requirements. The penalty is imprisonment for up to 12 months or a fine of €1,900 or both. The courts can also sentence an offender who has been found guilty of an offence under the schedule of offences in the Act to a period of statutory supervision under the Probation and Welfare Service on their release from prison.
Before an offender is released from prison, the Prison Service must inform him/her that they are subject to the notification requirement of the Act. Ten days before the date of release, the Prison Service must inform the Garda Síochána that s/he is being released. The Garda Síochána has in place a system for the monitoring of persons subject to these requirements. The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit monitor and manage the notification provisions. The information on persons who are subject to the requirements of the Sex Offenders Act, 2001 is maintained at a central location.
There are nominated Garda Inspectors in each Garda Division who are notified by the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit when a sex offender, who is subject to the requirements of the Act, is resident in their Division. These inspectors are responsible as police officers for the monitoring of such offenders. In this respect, the Garda Síochána liaise with other relevant State agencies.
On 27 November, 2006 I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on information sharing arrangements between Ireland and the UK relating to sex offenders.
The MOU was negotiated between my Department and the Home Office, with input from the Northern Ireland Office. It relates to information about persons travelling between Ireland and the UK and who are subject to sex offender notification requirements in their own jurisdiction. This covers sex offenders travelling between any of the legal jurisdictions in these islands. The rationale for the Memorandum is that such information will be shared between police forces for the purposes of protecting the public from the risks presented by sex offenders — whether paedophile or otherwise — and investigating serious sexual offences. The transmission of any information necessary to achieve these purposes is covered.
As a result of the MOU, the exchange of such information between the Garda Síochána and British police forces, which of course has already been taking place for some time, is now being put on a formal footing. As the MOU provides, its use and effectiveness will be kept under review, and I am confident that full use will be made of its potential by the police forces of all our jurisdictions.
A Registered Sex Offender Advisory Group has been established consisting of representatives of An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Northern Ireland Office. As part of its work, this Group evaluates the potential for sharing information, examining the registration criteria in both jurisdictions for sex offenders and identifying areas for further co-operation. In exceptional circumstances, such as where the Garda authorities are aware of an immediate or serious threat from a particular individual subject to the reporting requirements of the Act, they may decide to disclose the name of that individual to persons on a strict need to know basis.
The provisions of the Act are kept under constant review by my Department with a view to ensuring the Act is operating in an efficient and effective manner. It is my intention that the Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill, which is currently being drafted, will contain provision to strengthen the monitoring of registered sex offenders.