Twelve months ago, this week, the Government accepted a new law, proposed by Denis Naughten TD, which would to allow information on sex offenders to be made available to the parents of children and vulnerable adults who may be at risk.
The Government plan, that legal provision to provide parents with information on high risk offenders in their community, was to be incorporated into the Department of Justice legislation on sex offenders (Criminal Justice (Sexual Offenders) Bill) which was due to be published “within weeks”.
However, 12 months on, and we are as far away as ever, in having these proposals become law and this is despite the fact that Minister Brian Hayes, speaking on behalf of the Justice Minister last October stated “I can give the House an absolute commitment that the heads of the sexual offences Bill will be published before the end of the month following their acceptance by the Government”
Commenting on the delay, Denis Naughten said “reform of the law on sex offenders has been in planning for the last 5 years, and failure to revise these laws are putting children at unnecessary risk”
“Reforming the law in this area would be a significant step forward in protecting children by providing parents – for the first time in Irish law – with the right to access relevant information from the Gardaí regarding a high risk sex offender who is living in their community. In addition, it would also close off significant loopholes in the abuse of the sex offenders register.”
Explaining why he drafted the Child Sex Offenders (Information and Monitoring) Bill 2012, Denis Naughten said: “Garda intelligence has a meaningful role to play in protecting our children, but at present a large body of such intelligence and other important information concerning individuals sits passively on the Garda information systems. It is my hope to see that information put to work in the interests of child protection.”
The proposal would see the establishment of system which would enable parents to enquire whether persons coming into contact with their child or vulnerable adult have been convicted of a sexual offence or otherwise pose a serious danger. It provides for a similar entitlement for persons in authority in schools and clubs.
The system is modelled on Sarah’s Law which operates in the UK through the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme. Sarah’s Law is so named after 8 year old Sarah Payne who was abducted and murdered in the UK in 2000 by a sex offender.
However, according to Denis Naughten there are key differences between the two schemes: “This Bill, while taking a similar approach to Sarah’s Law, restricts the right to make requests for disclosure to parents and guardians of a child or vulnerable adult who can show reason for the request for disclosure.”
Video of Minister Hayes’ comments: http://media.heanet.ie/
Extract from Dáil debate:
Friday, 11 October 2013
Minister Brian Hayes, speaking on behalf of the Justice Minister stated:
I can give the House an absolute commitment that the heads of the sexual offences Bill will be published before the end of the month following their acceptance by the Government. This is the intention of the Minister for Justice and Equality who told Deputy Naughten in their discussions earlier this week that once the scheme is accepted by Government, the heads will be published.
I presume it would then be a matter for the relevant committee to sit down with Deputy Naughten and the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to tease through all the heads to ensure we take the right approach.
There is no foot-dragging on the part of the Government. There is a firm commitment that this issue will be dealt with given that we had publication following consultation nearly four years ago. That is the commitment I can give the House from the Minister, Deputy Shatter. This is a priority issue as far as we are concerned and we will work with Deputy Naughten to ensure we produce the modern updated legislation in this area that is required, especially provisions dealing with sex offence orders which are important after a convicted offender has left prison.
These are very sad issues and legislation is one response. There is a bigger responsibility on society, including schools, theHSE and communities, to ensure we are fully aware of the dangers – thankfully in a minority of cases – to our children. Deputy Naughten raising this so publicly, through the publication of his Bill, has helped us all concentrate our minds to reflect on the matter and ensure we get the best possible outcome.