14 March 2006

New school screen lets abusers through net

Irish Independent

Garda investigations will be excluded from key vetting data

Katherine Donnelly and John Walshe
14 March 2006

CHILD abusers who escape conviction can slip through the net of new vetting procedures for all school workers.

Tighter monitoring is being introduced for new employees from the next school year.

Eventually it will cover all existing 50,000 teachers and up to 30,000 other staff.

But the vetting will simply be a statement in which convictions are outlined.

It will not include 'soft information' such as allegations of abuse made against particular teachers or other education staff.

And it will exclude Garda investigations which do not result in prosecution but where there are well founded suspicions of abuse.

This is in spite of the fact that the Attorney General's office had earlier advised that vetting should involve "the disclosure of criminal conviction information and a statement of prosecutions, successful or unsuccessful, pending or completed".

The department apparently now believes that legislation would be needed to allow this kind of information to be included in the vetting details sent to school management boards.

The department says vetting should not take the place of proper recruitment procedures such as checking references and accounting for unexplained gaps in employment. "Vetting is an important safeguard which should be used as an addition to proper recruitment procedures," it said yesterday.

Fine Gael education spokesperson Olwyn Enright expressed concern about gaps in the system.

She said that English school caretaker Ian Huntley, convicted of the murder of two pupils in his school, had no previous convictions .

But even the limited convictions check won't apply to school staff working with 100,000 children in the vocational education sector.

Red tape is preventing the VECs from using the Central Garda Vetting Unit (CGVU) to screen new employees for criminal convictions. The Garda unit is telling VECs applying for a check that it will only deal with applications from the Department of Education.

And the department, in turn, is telling the VECs it will only process applications for staff on its payroll, which does not include VEC staff.

VECs differ from others in the education sector in that they employ their own staff, while staff in primary and other second-level schools are on the department's payroll.

Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA), said: "This has to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We can't wait around and look at a loophole where VECs are being frustrated.

"I am concerned that what appears to be red tape is preventing our members from using the system."

The IVEA represents the country's 33 VECs.

The problem besetting the VECs has emerged as vetting is extended to cover teachers and others who have unsupervised access to children and vulnerable adults.

The VECs have been encountering difficulties with applications on behalf of Special Needs Assistants. They were among the first in education to be covered by the vetting procedures.

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