National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 11, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(h) the periodic review of data so that it is not stored for an excessive length of time in light of the purpose for which it was gathered according to regulations set out by the Minister.".

This refers to the use of soft, that is non-conviction related, information. We accept that the storing of information is necessary to protect children and vulnerable persons. We have concerns, however, about the storing of data in the long term. There is also a crossover issue of spent convictions, and so on. I hope the Minister can engage with this proposal.

Unfortunately, I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment. I understand the Deputy's seeking to ensure information stored in the database established under section 6 is not stored unnecessarily. He suggests I establish regulations that would provide for the periodic review of such data. As I mentioned during the debate on Committee Stage, the Data Protection Acts apply to all data stored by the bureau, including criminal records data and the specified information database. The vetting unit is registered with the Data Protection Commissioner in accordance with the Data Protection Acts and its procedures for storing and processing data are subject to the oversight of the commissioner in accordance with those Acts. The Data Protection Commissioner has also been consulted on the provisions contained in the Bill and has not raised any issue of concern.

For a Minister to set out the manner in which the storage of data would be reviewed and to do so separately from the established procedures would potentially undermine the credibility of our data protection legislation. I am anxious to ensure that I do not do that. I have no concerns as to the application of those Acts to the information held and managed by the bureau. I believe this is properly a matter for the Data Protection Commissioner to monitor appropriately.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 2 arises from committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, and 8 and 9 are related. Amendment No. 3 is an alternative to amendment No. 2, amendment No. 5 is alternative to amendment No. 4 and amendment No. 9 is an alternative to amendment No. 8. Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, and 8 and 9 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 13, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"(i) his or her nationality (if known);".

During the debate on Committee Stage, Deputy Mac Lochlainn proposed amendments to sections 9, 11 and 13, which deal with the registration of liaison persons, the register of vetted persons and the applications for vetting disclosure. Under each section, certain information is required, such as name, address, etc. Deputy Mac Lochlainn proposed including the person's nationality in the list of information to be provided. I agreed with the Deputy that such information should be included where possible and to introduce the appropriate amendments on Report Stage. Deputy Mac Lochlainn has tabled similar amendments, although they differ slightly in as far as the amendments I have proposed provide for the situations where nationality may not be known. I hope the Deputy will acknowledge that we have adequately covered the matter and I am grateful to him for raising the issue on Committee Stage. It is a useful amendment to the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 14, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(i) his or her nationality (if known);”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 7.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 15, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:

"(4) In the case of the—

(a) employment of, or

(b) entering into a contract for services with,

an examiner (within the meaning of the Education Act 1998) for the purposes of the performance by him or her on a temporary basis of functions in respect of the conduct of examinations to which Part VIII of the Education Act 1998 applies, the obligations placed on a relevant organisation pursuant to subsection (1) shall be regarded as being satisfied where such examiner is a teacher who is registered on the Register of Teachers established and maintained by the Teaching Council.".

This amendment has been introduced at the request of the Department of Education and Skills and ensures the Bill will not negatively and unnecessarily impact on the operation of the annual leaving and junior certificate examinations. There is a binding requirement to have teachers who act as superintendents and examiners in place in all examination centres at the appointed time for each examination. The State Examinations Commission employs directly approximately 8,000 persons on a short-term basis for the purpose of supervising these examinations. Some are employed with as little as a few hours' notice on the day of examinations to cover local contingencies. Most of those employed directly by the commission are teachers employed in schools and registered with the Teaching Council.

The amendment will ensure the State Examinations Commission will not be required to seek a vetting disclosure in respect of teachers registered with the Teaching Council. Should any other persons be employed to perform exam supervision, the commission will be required to seek vetting disclosure in respect of those persons. It is imperative there should be no unnecessary disruption to the operation of the State examinations. Persons working as teachers and registered with the Teaching Council should not require vetting for the purpose of short-term, temporary employment supervising examinations. In addition to ensuring the continued smooth operation of examinations, this amendment will also remove the unnecessary burden on the vetting bureau of an additional 8,000 requests for vetting annually, which could result in an annualised basis of the continuous vetting of exactly the same people.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 17, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(i) his or her nationality (if known);".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 25, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"23.—(1) As soon as may be, but not later than 6 months after the end of each year, the Bureau shall, through the Garda Commissioner, present to the Minister a report of the activities of the Bureau in the immediately preceding year, and the Minister shall, as soon as may be after receiving such report, cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), if, but for this subsection, the first report under that subsection would relate to a period of less than 6 months, the report shall relate to that period and to the year immediately following that period and shall be made as soon as may be, but not later than 6 months, after the end of that year.".

Again this arises from a discussion we had on Committee Stage. During that debate I stated I would bring forward an amendment that would require the Garda vetting bureau to present a report each year on the activities of the bureau. This amendment introduces the necessary provision and requires the Garda Commissioner to present that report to the Minister for Justice and Equality, who will lay the report before each House of the Oireachtas. This will provide a regular oversight to the Houses of the Oireachtas and to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality of the manner in which the bureau is working.

This approach is to be favoured over reports simply being subsumed within the annual Garda report. It is important we have an annual overview as to how the bureau is working, whether it is adequately staffed and resourced, if delays are arising and, in the context of the bureau and the chief bureau officer in charge, if any legal anomaly or difficulty has been identified that must be addressed by the terms of legislation. This provision will ensure the necessary information is available annually, thus allowing for an important degree of transparency to the work being undertaken by the bureau. It will also ensure any emerging difficulties are readily identified and made known to Members of the Oireachtas. This provision will have the equal benefit of ensuring any difficulties the Minister should address are clearly detailed and available to Members of the Houses and corrective action to be taken, even in the context of existing legislation, is highlighted.

This is an important provision. We are all conscious this legislation has an important role to play and will impact on many people who are seeking paid employment or willing to engage as voluntary workers with children or adults with special needs. It is particularly useful we have a separate report that focuses on the work done by the bureau and that will ensure whoever is head of the bureau has the freedom to articulate any concerns that might exist in the context of the work being undertaken, the capacity of the bureau to deal with vetting within adequate timeframes and any other issue that might arise on the workings of the legislation.

I welcome this amendment. One of the issues we discussed on Committee Stage related to the concerns around foreign nationals. A full check can be made on a Irish citizen so I would like the Minister to monitor that situation on an ongoing basis. We can avail of the opportunity offered by the amendment to do so. The Minister had indicated that it was only in exceptional circumstances that a situation might arise where we would not be able to access a police check on a foreign national in his or her home country. Through this process we can monitor that over time.

It is an issue, although not one that will impact on the majority of people who may be subject to vetting, but we have circumstances in which foreign nationals in this country seek employment with vulnerable adults or children and it is important that information, where possible, can be obtained in a vetting process. There are certain arrangements within the EU for the exchange of information in certain circumstances. I hope that across the EU we may become more co-ordinated in the future and more proficient in these areas.

We cannot, depending on where an individual is from, always be certain information can be accessed or be readily available. Nevertheless it is an issue of which I am conscious. There is a limit to what we can do within our legislation. We cannot compel authorities of other countries to respond to queries that arise, but on occasion information can be obtained that is important in the area of crime investigation by the Garda Síochána. This is in the area of vetting. It is slightly different because it involves both convictions and soft information, but in so far as we can access information, this area can be further developed. It is an issue to keep in mind and consider again in the future in the context of events happening in the European Union to co-ordinate the availability of information.

I thank the Deputies opposite and also Deputy Niall Collins's predecessor as his party's justice spokesperson, Deputy Calleary, for the constructive and helpful contributions made during the debate on the Bill as we went through its various Stages. Helpful contributions were made not just by the Deputies present, but also by others in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality when we published the heads of the Bill, which influenced how we developed it. On a Bill of this nature it is important that we take on board any constructive amendments proposed and that we give consideration to issues raised. I know we cannot always take on board everything Deputies propose but I hope they feel they have been treated fairly and reasonably in the context of issues raised all the way through from the meeting of the Oireachtas joint committee to today's debate. I thank the Deputies for their very helpful and constructive contributions which have facilitated us completing this stage of the enactment of the legislation.

I agree with what the Minister said. I ask him and his officials to keep under review the issue of childminders we raised on Committee Stage. I do not want to reopen the debate and I accept it is the Minister's democratic right not to accept the amendment we tabled at the time. However, some 50,000 children are being minded by approximately 19,000 childminders and only 1% of those will be subject to vetting. As it is a large body, I ask the Minister to keep it under review and if necessary we can come back and revisit it.