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Call for creation of official sex offenders register

Independent TD Denis Naughten says address notification breaches by offenders shows system is not protecting children.

New legislation could enable community groups or schools to request information on any sex offenders residing in their area
New legislation could enable community groups or schools to request information on any sex offenders residing in their area
Image: John Birdsall/John Birdsall/Press Association Images

THE SYSTEM OF keeping track of sex offenders’ location is “not working” – and a more transparent register of sex offenders should be a priority, according to an independent TD.

Denis Naughten, TD for Roscommon/South Leitrim, told TheJournal.ie that he was surprised by the number of sex offenders who were breaching notification of address orders following their release from jail. He obtained figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which he said showed that 10 per cent on sex offenders are breaching the terms of their release.

In 2008, the CSO records that 16 sex offenders breached their notification requirements – that figure rose to 24 in 2009, to DOUBLE that in 2010 at 50 such breaches. Already in the first six months alone of this year, according to the CSO figures, 25 sex offenders had committed similar breaches.

Naughten also discovered that while 10 sex offenders had been prosecuted for notification breaches in 2008, that number leaped to 15 in 2009. In the first six months of 2010, 21 sex offenders were prosecuted for notification breaches – DOUBLE the number of prosecutions for the whole of 2008.

Naughten said:

I didn’t expect to see that level of breach in the rules governing the reporting of change of addresses. We don’t actually have a sex offenders register – that which we have is monitored by the gardai. To think that 10 per cent of those who are on that list are breaching the terms… and those are the ones coming to the attention of gardai… shows that the current system isn’t working.

Further more stringent protections need to be put in place, according to Naughten, and he conceded that Justice Minister Alan Shatter is broaching some changes with his upcoming legislation in this area. Last month, TheJournal.ie reported that the minister was considering introducing a modified version of ‘Megan’s Law’, which is legislation in the US which allows the public to access the sex offenders register to see if any convicted offenders are living near them.

However, Shatter would not make the register fully accessible to the public, but instead give authorities permission to warn individuals or respond to a specific request for information from certain community groups.

Denis Naughten said that he would not be in favour of an open-book register like that provided for by Megan’s Law but that parents and groups who work with children and vulnerable people should be able to request information on whether a sex offender was residing in their area. Naughten said:

Gardai have an administration mechanism to disclose information to people if they feel it is necessary but that needs to be put on a sound statutory footing. I think it needs to go further where people can directly request such information and it is provided to them.

At the moment, an organisation can ask for Garda vetting of an individual who wants to come work for them in an organisation where they would come in contact with young people or vulnerable groups. However, those vetting certificates can take months to clear – and they only are given out in specific requests in case of a work, paid or voluntary, application.

“The big problem with the Garda vetting process at present”, said Naughten, “is that the vetting is specific to an organisation and not to an individual. For example, there is a neighbour of mine who is involved in around nine different organisations between work and voluntary work, and she has to apply for nine separate Garda clearances for herself for every year – one for each group. That type of thing is holding up the system so when those types of anomalies are removed by legislation, it will streamline the system and free up resources.”

The release of information about any sex offenders living in the area of a school, community group or other such organisation would also assist with the issue of resourcing such protective measures, claimed Naughten.

It won’t just be the gardai monitoring who is in the area, but the community.

Poll: Should a sex offenders register be made public?>

Read: Version of Megan’s Law to be introduced in Ireland>

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