Sunday, November 29, 2009

HSE’s ongoing audit attacked as ‘futile exercise’

ONE IN FOUR executive director Maeve Lewis has described the HSE’s ongoing audit of Catholic Archdioceses’ handling of child protection cases as a "futile exercise" as the Ryan and Murphy reports have both shown the Church is incapable of self monitoring.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews has said the Catholic Church is now fully compliant with statutory obligations to notify the HSE about all child protection complaints.

Speaking following the publication of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation report, he said he was "heartened" by the return of detailed replies to the HSE in July by the bishop in each diocese.

Ms Lewis dismissed the HSE audit as a "numerate exercise" and said that if the HSE really wanted to ensure that child protection complaints were being followed up and passed on to civil authorities, they should talk to the relevant victims too.

"I would also have grave concerns at the moment about how bishops are handling priests against whom there are substantial allegations but no prosecution. I know of at least one case where such a priest is supposed to be out of ministry and not in contact with children but still continues to be in situations where he can pose a danger to children," she said.

Childcare managers within the HSE are meeting individual bishops to clarify any issues that may arise from this latest questionnaire. A similar audit process has also started among the 140 religious orders that operate throughout the country.

Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Mr Andrews admitted that "shortcomings" remain in the State’s supervision of convicted sex offenders. Judge Yvonne Murphy’s report had pointed to this saying that while the Church can be criticised in this regard, the State’s monitoring of sex offenders was "limited or non-existent".

Mr Andrews pointed to improvements that had been made in child protection, including the "very comprehensive vetting" by gardaí of all persons working with children and that he intends shortly "to give a legislative basis to the exchange of soft information", or information short of an actual conviction, between state agencies. Heads of a bill will be before government shortly. It’s believed in the new legislation that state agencies will be able to develop patterns of suspicions by the exchange of such information.

"There is also a statutory protection for persons reporting child abuse and also there is an offence in the 2006 Criminal Justice Act. If you are in a position of authority and you fail to protect a child you know is either vulnerable to sexual abuse or serious harm, then you are guilty of an offence of reckless endangerment that is carries a maximum sentence of 10 years," he said.

Mr Andrews also said yesterday that he doesn’t agree with mandatory reporting, pointing to a flood of "unsubstantiated notifications" in other jurisdictions that turned out to be untrue.

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