Denis Naughten raised the matter with the Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern TD on the floor of the Dáil last week where he highlighted the fact that services at the Elphin Centre may have to be restricted if immediate action is not taken to address delays in obtaining garda clearance.
If the staff are not in place within the coming weeks, then centre will have to reduce services which may include the loss of the drop-in facility, cooked lunches and meals on wheels service.
Those affected will also include several elderly people who began to use the centre when the Plunkett Home facility in Boyle, run by the Health Service Executive, was forced to close last March.
Responding to Denis Naughten the Justice Minister said that he will take up the issue of the delay in processing the applications of the with the Garda vetting unit.
Dail transcript attached
14th October 2010
Adjournment Debate:Garda Vetting of Personnel
Deputy Denis Naughten – the issue of Garda clearance for FÁS community employment participants working with elderly health care services
Deputy Denis Naughten: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for accepting this matter on the Adjournment and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for being present to take it.
A serious issue if not immediately resolved will result in Elphin Day Care Centre, County Roscommon, having to close its day-care service for the elderly. The centre depends on four members of staff provided through the FÁS community employment scheme. There has been a significant turnover in staff over the past two years as they have either successfully obtained regular employment arising from their time at the centre, come to the end of their eligibility for a community employment scheme placement or have availed of maternity leave.
Persons offered work at the centre are not permitted by FÁS to take up their placements until their vetting process has been completed. Notwithstanding the absolute necessity of having a proper Garda clearance process and the need to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of that process, it seems incredible that the widely recognised delays in the system have still not been resolved by FÁS and the Garda Síochána. In the past, the centre struggled when the employment of new staff was delayed by six months because of the length of time taken to process Garda clearance. This has even happened with individuals who have always lived in the local community. Last November, the centre interviewed a young person who had never lived elsewhere but had to wait until May 2010 for her clearance. In another case, an individual already had Garda clearance from previous employment but it took a considerable time for the clearance to issue this time.
The management of the day care centre held interviews for three new members of staff on 12 June 2010 but is still waiting to hear from the Garda if the candidates have been given the required clearance. Two of these candidates will fill vacancies that the centre has struggled to cover over several months while the third will fill a maternity leave vacancy arising in the next two weeks. The centre, run by a voluntary committee, cannot afford to pay three staff on an ongoing basis. If these three staff are not in place in the next few weeks, the centre will have to reduce services available or close the day-care facility. This would result in the loss of the drop-in facility, cooked lunches and meals on wheels. Those affected will also include several elderly people who began to use the centre when the Plunkett Home facility in Boyle, run by the Health Service Executive, was forced to close last March due to government cutbacks.
While this is a significant issue facing the people of Elphin, it is replicated across the country. Such vital services are replacing State-run services or filling a vacuum due to the lack of State-run services for older people. Community and voluntary services, such as the Elphin one, are struggling to fill vacancies because of the delays in the vetting process, however. They should not be forced into possible closure due to the delays in processing Garda clearance requests. While I want the Minister to expedite this specific case, I hope he will ensure it will not be replicated elsewhere.
Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I fully appreciate the reasons why Deputy Naughten has raised this issue. He will be aware of the current pressures on the Garda vetting service due to the large increase in recent times in the number of applications for vetting.
The Garda central vetting unit provides employment-vetting to organisations which are registered for this purpose and which employ or engage persons, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, for posts where they would have substantial, unsupervised access to children or to vulnerable adults. This includes persons engaged by FÁS on community employment schemes.
As a large number of organisations are registered for vetting purposes, the vetting unit endeavours to provide vetting as expeditiously as possible.
However, there are particular factors which affect the timeframe for replying to each application which I will mention in my reply.
The vetting procedure commences with a written request for vetting from a registered organisation, such as FÁS, made with the consent of the person in question. The Garda vetting unit is thus authorised to release criminal history information in respect of the person concerned to the registered organisation. It is important that I emphasise, however, that Garda vetting is only one element of the overall recruitment process. There will always be a range of other factors which a recruiting body or organisation should take into account when coming to a decision on a person’s suitability.
There has been a marked increase in the last number of years in the demand for vetting services. This is the most important factor which affects the response time to a vetting request. There are also seasonal variations in the number of applications submitted. In response to this increased demand, the Garda vetting unit has undergone a very significant expansion. This expansion has enabled it to growth to the point where it dealt with almost 250,000 applications last year, an increase from a level of 137,000 in 2006. The Garda authorities anticipate a approximate total of 325,000 applications will be made this year
The expansion of the Garda vetting service continues apace by way of a phased roll-out to other organisations in the child and vulnerable adult care sectors. The House will understand why this target group is, and must remain, the clear priority from a policy point of view. The Garda vetting unit treats all vetting applications with equal thoroughness given the necessity to protect those groups.
There are approximately 18,000 organisations in receipt of vetting services from the Garda vetting unit, covering a wide range of health, educational, sporting and recreational sectors in Ireland. The demand for vetting is growing constantly. The Garda authorities deserve credit for achieving the expansion to date in the vetting service to bring it to its current levels.
There are, however, significant pressures facing the delivery of the service in the current conditions and my Department and the Garda authorities are working together to seek to address these. The partnership approach that the Garda authorities have adopted with the various organisations availing of the service will also help to ensure that vetting requirements can be addressed.
The average processing time for vetting applications fluctuates during the year due to seasonal demands when the volume of applications received from certain sectors can increase greatly. In any individual case additional time may be required to process a vetting application where clarification or further information is required or where other inquiries need to be made, for example when the person in question has lived and worked abroad.
The Garda authorities indicate that the average processing time for valid vetting applications received at the vetting unit may vary from four to five weeks in periods of lower demand to up to 12 weeks at times when demand is particularly high, as is the case at the current time. The Garda vetting unit has advised the registered organisations of the processing timeframe and of the necessity to take this into account in their recruitment and selection processes. There will always be a reasonably significant time period required to process a vetting application, given the nature of the checks which are needed and the importance of ensuring the process is carried out thoroughly. However, the Garda makes every effort to reduce this to the minimum possible.
With the expansion of the vetting service, significant additional resources have been deployed to the vetting unit. There are currently 88 personnel assigned to the vetting unit, including six gardaí and 82 civilian personnel and ten additional temporary personnel who were recruited in recent months in order to deal with the high volume of applications. The number of staff was 13 before the process of development of the unit which began in 2005.
Nevertheless, I and the Garda authorities are determined that as effective a vetting system as possible is provided. In that context, the overall staffing arrangements at the vetting unit are kept under constant review in the light of the increasing demands being made upon the Garda vetting service by the registered organisations. I will raise the cases to which the Deputy referred with the Garda vetting unit.