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'We have a duty to keep personal info private': Tusla denies withholding child abuse details from gardaí

The agency has acknowledged that it is concerned about requirements it has to inform suspects about complaints made to gardaí.

Image: Shutterstock/Geinz Angelina

THE CHILD AND family agency Tusla has denied withholding vital information for criminal investigations from gardaí, following allegations made by a whistleblower.

Last week The Irish Mirror, citing a whistleblower, reported gardaí are sometimes forced to obtain search warrants or take court cases against the agency to gain full access to child abuse files as those provided are often heavily redacted.

The agency responded to the allegations citing data protection legislation and GDPR which it said restricted the information it could share without the consent of the person involved.

However Data Protection Commission spokesperson Graham Doyle said the GDPR does “not prohibit the necessary sharing of data in circumstances such as protecting the vital interests of a child or where it is necessary for reasons of substantial public interest”.

Responding to a query from TheJournal.ie on Doyle’s statement on the matter, Tusla declined to comment.

However the agency’s director of transformation and policy Cormac Quinlan said the recent coverage suggests Tusla is withholding important information for criminal investigations and that is “simply not the case”.

“Tusla is working in accordance with child care law, criminal law and laws around data protection,” he said.

For example, if material is part of court proceedings, which in the case of child care is ‘in camera’, then Tusla cannot provide this information to anyone, including an Garda Síochána without express permission of the court.

Quinlan said Tusla also has a “duty of care” to keep the personal sensitive information of the children and families it works with private and not to disclose it to third parties without their permission.

This is why files need to be redacted, he explained, so only “relevant information” to the criminal investigation is shared.

It’s understandable that a child, young person, or family won’t want their sensitive personal information shared without knowing about it and consenting to it – I don’t think any of us would.

He said the agency would never hold on to information that could impede a criminal investigation, or that might delay the immediate protection of a child.

“The overall goal of the agency is to protect children and Tusla social workers, and staff around the country are currently working on over 24,000 open cases.

“Every day we collaborate with children, parents, family members and a wide range of professionals where we share relevant appropriate information to keep children safe, promote their welfare and ultimately improve their lives, without breaching their rights.”

‘Fair process’

Quinlan also addressed criticism of the agency for informing suspected abusers that they are being investigated.

“In the area of retrospective allegations, we have been quite open about our concerns that we are working on the basis of inferred legislation and that new legislation is needed in this area.”

The priority in these cases, he said, is identifying any current risk to a child.

However, we also have to provide for fair process for the person who an allegation has been made against – this is why Tusla advises the person of the allegation that has been made.

Quinlan said Tusla works with An Garda Síochána daily, that it collaborates on all cases where abuse is suspected and that it is now liaising with the organisation on a joint protocol for information sharing.

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