I welcome the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children that assesses the situation in Ireland following her visit last year and makes a number of recommendations.
Regarding matters falling with the remit of this Department, I am committed to the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, which is one of the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur. My Department will shortly make a submission to the Attorney-General and once the Attorney-General’s Office has confirmed that all the requirements of the Protocol have been met, I will seek a Government decision on the ratification at the earliest opportunity.
I am also committed to implementing relevant legislation and policies, as highlighted by the Special Rapporteur. I would like to note that The Children First Act 2015, which I fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures, including raising awareness of child abuse and neglect, providing for reporting and management of child protection concerns and improving child protection arrangements in organisations providing services to children. In addition to that, the Children First National Guidance contains full details in relation to reporting a reasonable concern and making mandated reports. I would like to add that Tusla has committed to implement a strategic multi-annual work force plan to meet the short and medium term needs of the organisation and address the comments in the report regarding the shortage of social workers.
Joint working between Tusla and An Garda Síochána forms an integral part of responding to the issue of sexual violence against children and achieving a joined-up approach. A number of joint working initiatives are underway to enhance co-operation and a Children First Joint Working Protocol for An Garda Síochána/Tusla- Child and Family Agency Liaison has been published to reflect the provisions in the Act. The Protocol covers respective responsibilities in key areas including notification of suspected abuse between both agencies, confidentiality and information sharing and liaison structures. In addition, an inter-agency data sharing agreement is currently being finalised and expected to be launched during 2019.
The Minister for Justice and Equality has also overseen the establishment of Divisional Protective Services Units (DSPUs), which are a major commitment in An Garda Síochána Modernisation and Renewal Programme. They will deliver a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of specialised crime types, including sexual crimes, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic abuse. Ten DSPUs are currently up and running, with the remaining 19 to be established on a phased basis by the end of this year. Furthermore, the review into protections for vulnerable witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, initiated by my Ministerial colleague, is considering the issue of access to specialist training for An Garda Síochána, members of the judiciary and legal professionals dealing with sexual offences.
The report also calls for the implementation of the ‘one house’ model. I would like to reiterate my commitment to the establishment of these multi-disciplinary centres that will bring together forensic, child protection, health, therapeutic and policing services in a child centred way to support children and the families of children, who have suffered sexual abuse. The first pilot centre will open in Galway in 2019 and it is expected that centres in other locations will follow.
I am also taking measures to progress the Special Rapporteur’s other recommendation in relation to the comprehensive examination of certain anomalies related to historical adoptions. Following the discovery of cases of illegal birth registrations in the Saint Patrick's Guild records, I initiated a targeted review of adoption records to determine if similar evidence of illegal registration can be identified from the records of other former adoption agencies and other relevant bodies. Given the volume of potentially relevant records, a targeted review of records currently in state custody is being conducted in the first instance. The findings of this review will assist me in reaching a decision about what, if any, subsequent action might be deemed necessary to identify more fully the scale of illegal birth registrations.