11 October 2007 Edition
Cross border co-operation needed on protecting children from sex offenders
The West Belfast MLA was speaking to a Sinn Féin motion on the issue in the Assembly on Tuesday.
“Last week the NSPCC highlighted different arrangements across the EU for holding and disclosing criminal record information, managing and tracking sex offenders and in vetting and barring arrangements. It documented how a French national, convicted of a series of murders and sexual assaults, was able gain employment in a school in Belgium where he continued to murder and commit sexual assaults. This highlights the need for common EU standards in relation to convictions, sharing of information and vetting.
“In relation to sex offender management both Ireland and Britain have enacted legislation to ensure convicted sex offenders have notification requirements with the authorities in terms of where they are. There are similarities in both pieces of legislation relating to notification periods and requirements placed on offenders with convictions outside the state. There has also been progress on information sharing in relation to sex offenders.
“As a result of structured co-operation we have seen much more cross border working between probation and police on sex offender management. This is to be welcomed.
“However while agencies in the North risk manage all sex offenders in a structured way that is not the case in the 26 counties. Arrangements in the North have developed with new risk assessment techniques, new powers under the Sexual Offences Act and likely new legislation to place the MASRAM arrangements on a statutory footing later this year. These developments have not been paralleled in the 26 counties.
“Arrangements here differ starkly from those in the South where only recently, criminal record checking became a requirement for a range of posts. There is no equivalent disqualification lists to the ‘Disqualified from Working with Children’ List or the ‘Unsuitable Persons’ List and no live time monitoring of the workforce.
“Without common legislation and policy development on a North-South basis unsuitable individuals will be able, to exploit the border.
“It is also widely accepted that we have two differing child protection systems. Last year Bairbre de Brún was instrumental in bringing about a North-South seminar organised by the DHSSPS in Belfast and the Department of Children in the South and attended by respective ministers. There was no shortage of energy and enthusiasm about the need to work together to develop our systems, legislation and policy if we are to fully protect children.
“I know that the Minister for Health has already looked at this topic and has had helpful recent meetings with his counterpart in the Irish government. This agenda encompasses a range of government departments North and South. Sinn Féin proposes:
• That this issue is placed by OFMDFM as an agenda item for a sectoral meeting of the North South Ministerial Council as a matter of urgency;
• Ministers in Health and Education publish with their counterparts in Dublin a discussion document setting out current levels of co-operation around sex offender management, vetting and barring and child protection and where policy and legislation could be developed;
• The Minister for Health in conjunction with his colleague in the Department of Children establishes a North-South child protection forum to look at specific child protection operation and policy issues.
• The Minister ensures that the issue of sex offender management is tabled for discussion at the BIC for further endorsement on action at an EU level.
The Sinn Féin motion was passed by the Assembly.