Adjournment Matters - Health Services.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 183 No. 50

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Mr. Browne: Information on Feargal Browne  Zoom on Feargal Browne  At present, there is a delay in the vetting procedure for people who have been approved to work in the home care sector. They have been appointed and have been allocated their patients but they have not been vetted. Could the Minister examine this issue?

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Gallagher): Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Garda central vetting unit, which was recently decentralised to Thurles, County Tipperary, is responsible for the criminal record vetting of persons who would have substantial, unsupervised access to children and vulnerable adults. The requirement to vet most certainly extends to the home help sector, as those employed therein have access to the private residences of adults, some of whom are vulnerable, particularly the elderly. There is absolute agree[1595]ment on this point between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Health and Children, the Health Service Executive and the Garda Síochána.

Accordingly, home helps have been properly subject to Garda vetting for many years. As the service is funded by the HSE, and in keeping with sound administrative practice, all applications for home help vetting to the Garda central vetting unit are processed centrally through the HSE, rather than at myriad local levels. There are no avoidable delays in the processing of vetting applications received by the vetting unit. In this regard, the Minister is informed by the Garda authorities that, on average, correctly completed vetting applications are processed to a conclusion in a four-week period. An additional period would be required for the paperwork to be processed through the HSE, but this would usually be a minimal time contribution to the whole process.

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The Minister does not consider the average period required for the processing of a vetting application from start to finish is unreasonable, given the important task being undertaken. It is in the nature of averages that individual instances of vetting may take a longer period. Where this occurs, there are usually legitimate and sound causes.

One main reason for delay is an incomplete or incorrectly completed vetting application form, for example, where important information is omitted or mandatory entries are left blank. In such cases, in the interests of a robust vetting procedure, the application form must be returned for necessary attention by the applicant. Although in most cases, such errors are genuine oversights, occasionally such practices are used by unscrupulous persons to evade proper vetting. Senator Browne will appreciate the need to be fully vigilant in this regard.

In the past few months, new liaison mechanisms with the Garda central vetting unit have been successfully implemented in the HSE. These include, most notably, the centralisation of the HSE’s vetting operations to several regional centres, with the intention of transiting to a single [1596]national centre in due course. The centralisation allows for the development and concentration of expertise in the checking and countersigning of vetting application forms in the HSE. It is not the case that vetting procedures are simply an administrative routine. For vetting to be effective, a great deal of time and effort on the part of the recruiting organisation must go into, for example, verifying the identity of the applicant, confirming his or her past residential addresses and so forth.

A further, frequent legitimate reason for delay in the vetting process is where criminal conviction or criminal prosecution information is disclosed by the Garda authorities in respect of an applicant. In such cases, it is a matter for the recruiting organisation, in this case the HSE, to consider the implications of the disclosed criminal history information in the context of all other pertinent recruitment information and to reach a decision on recruitment. Understandably, in the interests of natural justice, the recruiting organisation may wish to give extended consideration to individual cases.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is satisfied that vetting applications are processed in an expeditious manner by the Garda central vetting unit, in liaison with the HSE. Although delays may be encountered in individual cases, they are usually unavoidable and relate to such matters as incorrectly completed applications forms or to the detailed consideration of disclosed criminal history information.

Although not directly related to the subject, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform wants to put on the record the fact that the Garda Síochána vetting services are undergoing significant expansion, so that the protection afforded by vetting can be enjoyed by all organisations that recruit persons to work with children and vulnerable adults. Although criminal record vetting is of tremendous importance, good recruitment and employment practices remain integral to the protection of service users. On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I thank the Senator for providing the opportunity to consider these important matters.

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