Garda vetting in Ireland is governed by the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 which fall under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality.
The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 provide a legislative basis for the mandatory vetting of persons who wish to undertake certain work or activities relating to children or vulnerable persons or to provide certain services to children or vulnerable persons. Garda vetting is conducted in respect of any person who is carrying out work or activity, a necessary and regular part of which consists mainly of the person having access to, or contact with, children or vulnerable persons.
Under the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 and the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) (Registration of School Age Services) Regulations 2018, registered owners/ board members and/ or managers of early years and school age services are required to submit Garda vetting disclosures to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) when making an application for registration. My Department has been advised by the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate that the National Vetting Bureau has confirmed that there is no provision in the relevant legislation to conduct vetting in respect of such persons where that person is not engaged in relevant work or activities as defined in the legislation. Where such persons clearly state on their application for vetting that they have regular access to children as part of their duties, the National Vetting Bureau will process such applications.
Engagement is ongoing between officials from my Department, Tusla and officials from the Department of Justice and Equality in relation to this matter. Tusla has put in place a number of interim measures in response to this issue. For example, they have issued a notice to all early learning and care and school age services advising that such persons, who have not been processed for vetting by the National Vetting Bureau but have regular access to and contact with children, should submit a new vetting application expressly clarifying that they have such contact with children. Furthermore, they have notified all services that such persons, who have access to and contact with children and who have been refused vetting, should not be allowed to carry out their duties when children are present.
Garda vetting is just one of the tools designed to protect children. The Children First Act 2015 promotes the protection of children from abuse and neglect, by setting out what persons and organisations need to do to keep children safe, and how to deal with concerns that a child may have been, is being, or is at risk of being abused or neglected. For example, all persons running a registered early learning and care service and those employed in them as childcare staff are mandated persons under the Act. Providers of relevant services to children must also undertake a comprehensive risk assessment of their services and prepare a Child Safeguarding Statement, which is a written statement that specifies the service being provided and the principles and procedures to be observed in order to ensure, as far as practicable, that a child availing of the service is safe from harm.
A Children First Inter-Departmental Implementation Group (CFIDIG) with membership from all Government Departments, the Health Service Executive, An Garda Síochána and Tusla, provides a forum for members to raise child welfare and protection issues of general concern or with a cross-departmental or cross-sectoral dimension.
The National Early Years Children First Committee, established by my Department in 2013, is currently rolling out the 2019/20 Child Protection Plan. 62 Children First trainers are in place and are working to deliver training to early years childcare services on their requirements under the Children First legislation. To date more than 15,000 early learning and care workers have received training.
Furthermore, my Department provides funding to both Early Childhood Ireland and Barnardos on the agreement that they act as an “authorised signatory’ to process Garda vetting applications on behalf of the sector.