Dáil Éireann - Volume 467 - 27 June, 1996

Adjournment Debate. - Register of Convicted Paedophiles.

Mr. O'Dea: The physical and psychological impact on victims of child sexual abuse in both the short and long-term can be, and usually is, devastating. All [1964] available evidence suggests that paedophiles continue to search out new victims. Where a small number of sex offences against children may genuinely be committed in an impulsive way, in the overwhelming majority of cases the offender has manipulated people and circumstances so as to set up the opportunity to offend. For example, sex offenders tend to join youth clubs and other organisations with the intention of coming into contact with vulnerable young children.

The risk of convicted paedophiles reoffending is great and persists over many years, often for life. The Government recently admitted that, on average, a person convicted of a sexual offence against a child as a teenager will go on to commit an average of a further 380 such offences in his lifetime. Accordingly, it is imperative that the Garda is aware at all times of changes of addresses by paedophiles and that this information is constantly kept updated. If the Garda was armed with such information, it would not only help it identify suspects once a crime has been committed but it could also help it to prevent such crimes. It would also act as a deterrent to potential re-offenders. There is, therefore, a compelling need to keep the activities and whereabouts of convicted paedophiles under constant review. At present a paedophile who is released from prison having served a sentence can roam around the country virtually at will seeking out new victims.

The activities of paedophiles can be monitored as follows. The Garda should retain at national level a separate register of those convicted of child sexual abuse. A separate local register should also be available in each Garda district. Paedophiles should be compelled by law to notify the Garda of any change of address. The relevant legislation should provide that failure to do this would be an offence carrying a mandatory term of imprisonment. In addition, the requirement to notify changes of address should be made retrospective, if this is constitutionally permissible. Unless there is some element of retrospection, [1965] it could be some time before those who need to use the records could be confident that the addresses were up to date. In short, there might be no benefit for many years and that would clearly be undesirable.

If the Government took these simple suggestions on board, it would mean that the Garda would know at all times precisely where convicted paedophiles were and would be able to monitor their activities. Such an innovation would protect potential victims from paedophiles. Surely that is the least that they and their families are entitled to expect.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): The issue of tackling the tragedy of child sex abuse is being given urgent priority by this Government. Part of this process includes the consideration of how best to protect children from convicted paedophiles. The Government has published a discussion document on mandatory reporting of child abuse and a number of interested parties have made submissions which are currently being considered by the Minister of State at the Department of Health with special responsibility for children.

In addition, arrangements have been agreed between the Department of Health and child care organisations where prospective employers are provided by the Garda Síochána with a statement of criminal convictions, if any, recorded in respect of an applicant for a post which involves substantial access to children. Such statements are provided with the full knowledge and consent of the applicant and on the understanding that they are made available for the confidential information of the prospective employer only.

Among the child care posts covered by these arrangements are posts in children's residential care centres. Directions issued by the Minister for Health also require the employing authorities in those centres to undertake checks into the applicant's character, qualifications, work experience and general suitability. I assure the Deputy that his [1966] specific proposals in this Adjournment debate will be brought to the attention of the Minister of State with special responsibility for children.