All Deputies will be aware that matters of policy and procedure within An Garda Síochána are matters for the Garda Commissioner. I do not have a role in the implementation of practice and procedures. I can inform Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, however, that I am advised by the Garda Commissioner that An Garda Síochána has a specific policy regarding section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. The relevant directive from the Garda's policy on the investigation of sexual crime, crimes against children and child welfare states:
When members encounter incidents where the removal of a child to safety must be considered, pursuant to section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended), two central tenets of the Act of 1991 should be borne in mind:
That it is generally in the best interests of a child to be brought up in her or his own family, and
That the welfare of the child is the first and paramount consideration.
A balance must be achieved between those two issues when deciding whether or not to remove a child [to a place that might be regarded as a place of greater] safety.
Section 12 of the Act gives authority to An Garda Síochána to invoke its provisions where a member has reasonable grounds for believing that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of the child. For example, Tusla personnel may form an opinion, usually as a result of an interaction with a family, that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child or children. In such circumstances, Tusla may request a member of An Garda Síochána to invoke section 12 of the 1991 Act.
While an individual garda may base his or her decision on the information provided by Tusla and its personnel, it is the garda removing the child to safety who must be satisfied that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health and-or welfare of the child concerned. I acknowledge the serious nature of this authority and An Garda Síochána works diligently at all times to adhere to the principles of the Act to protect the safety and welfare of all children.