According to the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church (NBSC), the Government is understood to be looking at introducing similar vetting procedures as exist in the North, but stressed that there were serious deficiencies in child support services that need to be addressed.

In publishing its new guidelines and standards for protecting children from abuse within the Church, NBSC chairman Aidan Canavan and chief executive Ian Elliott said the Church will now undergo a "methodical review" of existing child safeguarding measures in each diocese by the NBSC. Mr Canavan said he was satisfied that the Church would provide complete access to data and personnel.

"The Church is taking a giant step forward," he said.

The board has received three complaints of alleged poor practice on the part of a diocese or religious congregation since its inception, but Mr Elliott said he was satisfied that all had been dealt with and recommendations had been acted on.

On the controversy in the Cloyne diocese, however, the NBSC report stated: "Serious deficits were identified in relation to practice, which were communicated to the diocese."

The handling of the reporting of the alleged abuse in the diocese prompted calls for the Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee, to consider his position, but the NBSC said it had no comment to make regarding the bishop’s status.

Mr Canavan said: "We made recommendations to the bishop, there was some reluctance initially, to accept the validity of our report — we got over that situation.

"We are satisfied that at the moment we are working very closely with their cooperation to ensure that the highest standards are maintained in Cloyne and throughout the Church."

A total of 56 allegations of abuse were notified to the board in 2008 across the 26 dioceses and all were reported to the statutory authorities.

Some 21 allegations involved clergy now deceased and the NBSC’s first annual report stated that some of the allegations "were little more than suspicion and anonymous innuendo", including one case where a caller did not identify the alleged abuser nor the alleged victim.

According to Mr Canavan, another case involved a priest putting his hand on a child’s shoulder at a sports match.

In the 15 cases in which serious abuse is alleged — four of which are being investigated by gardaí, the remainder by the HSE — the alleged perpetrators are in a "managed monitoring situation". None of the new complaints relate to Cloyne, it is understood.

Other areas highlighted by Mr Elliott and Mr Canavan included problems with "restricted and limited" vetting procedures, the lack of services for women offenders and young people at risk of offending, the lack of 24/7 social services facility, and the fact that laws applied in sentencing the woman in the recent Roscommon incest case dated from 1908, a situation described as "ridiculous" by Ian Elliott.

"We believe from what we know of inter-government talks that there is a desire to equalise the approach [to vetting]," he said.