Children’s protection ‘compromised’

The absence of laws to allow the sharing of “soft information” on paedophiles is severely hampering child protection, the country’s top children’s watchdog has warned.

Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, said his fourth report is a damning indictment of failed care for youngsters across state agencies.

He also called for tough new laws to criminalise grooming of children and people who pay for sex.

Mr Shannon hit out at the lack of access to soft information on potential abusers between the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the gardai.

“Arguably, statutory agencies such as the HSE are not adhering to their duties and regrettably the law is not assisting them to do so,” he said. “The failure to regulate the exchange of soft information severely compromises the protection of children in the state.”

Mr Shannon said two-pronged HSE and garda child sex abuse investigations are in danger of deepening the victim’s trauma and reducing the chance of a conviction as children are interviewed by two agencies. The report looked at four key areas – homelessness, criminality, mental health and prostitution.

He called for the creation of a long-awaited out-of-hours social services, the extension of youth homeless facilities to over-18s and an end to the use of Garda stations to house children in danger or homeless overnight.

Mr Shannon said actions proposed four years ago to protect children from prostitution, trafficking and exploitation have not been implemented. He said the people buying sex should be targeted for vice crime.

“In the last year, various advocacy groups have articulated their concerns on the trafficking and exploitation of children in Ireland. This remains an area of considerable concern,” he said.

Children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald said the Children First guidelines – which would govern anyone caring for a child – have been prioritised. She added: “I am determined now to redress past failings in relation to child protection. I will work in close consultation with Mr Shannon on the issues he has raised.”