Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
63. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to increase the efficiency of the garda vetting unit in preparation for a greater workload and remit in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24743/11]
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Garda central vetting unit, GCVU, provides employment vetting for a large number of organisations that employ or engage in a voluntary capacity persons to work with children or vulnerable adults. There are more than 18,000 organisations registered with the GCVU. In the period 2007 to 2010 the number of vetting applications increased from 187,864 to 291,938. That is, by any standards, a huge increase in demand. I am conscious of the need to keep the time required to obtain vetting to the minimum possible. Since I was appointed Minister, I have take a number of initiatives to reduce this timeframe. However, it is only right that I praise those employed in the vetting unit who do a substantial amount of work under increasing pressure in terms of the number of applications for vetting.
A number of steps have been taken to improve the position. The sanction of the Department of Finance was obtained to retain the services of ten temporary employees. Further sanction was obtained to engage an additional ten temporary employees who have recently commenced work in the GCVU. Other measures aimed at improving turnaround times are also under consideration. All of this should have a positive impact on processing times. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the average processing time for vetting applications received at the GCVU is approximately ten weeks.
Responsibility for the deployment of Garda personnel is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner, taking into account all the various demands and requirements. I am informed by the Garda authorities that there is a total of five gardaí, 76 full-time Garda civilian personnel and 20 temporary civilian personnel assigned to the GCVU. This represents a significant increase in the number of personnel assigned to the unit which stood at only 13 before the current process of development of Garda vetting began in 2005.
The Deputy will be aware that the Government has approved the draft scheme of a national vetting bureau Bill. The Bill which will establish a statutory basis underpinning vetting procedures for persons who are to work with children and vulnerable adults will be published in accordance with the Government’s legislative programme. The establishment of a national vetting bureau which will take over the work of the GCVU will have resource implications which I will be pursuing with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I hope it will be possible to provide, under the new internship scheme, some internship experience for persons currently unemployed. I had a conversation with the Garda Commissioner when the new JobBridge scheme was announced and it is my understanding the Garda has taken the initial steps necessary to recruit interns to the vetting unit. Working at the unit will give them important job experience while contributing to a reduction in waiting times for vetting.
I do not regard ten weeks as an appropriate time for the completion of vetting applications. I have talked to the Commissioner about this and believe it is a necessary objective to get the timeframe down to an average of about four weeks, save where there are unusual circumstances — for example, in cases in which information must be sought from abroad. When we entered government, the waiting time was 14 weeks. This has been reduced to ten weeks and I hope further progress will be made as we continue through this year and into next year.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: Is there a facility for people who have urgent requests for vetting? I know of one case in which a guy needed Garda clearance to get a visa. Can we consider urgent applications on a case-by-case basis?
Deputy Alan Shatter: I raised with the Garda Commissioner the need for what I described as a fast-track system for special circumstances in which job offers were available for only a short period of time and vetting had to be undertaken with some speed. The difficulty, of course, is that if everyone sought to use this system, it would undermine its effectiveness. It has not yet proved possible, because of the number of applications being received, to establish a regular fast-track system. I am aware that there have been occasions on which there has been genuine, readily identifiable urgency with vetting applications; in such cases those in charge of the facility in Tipperary have co-operated and engaged in vetting with some speed when they had the information necessary to ensure the process was completed properly.
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