Northern Ireland's Health Minister Edwin Poots rejects Sinn Fein accusation that his actions were 'too little, too late'
Northern Ireland's Health Minister and his department have been accused of doing "too little, too late" over an alarming report on the risks posed to vulnerable young people from sexual predators.
Launching the report by leading children's charity Barnardo's on November 7, 2011, Mr Poots said the "protection of children and young people in Northern Ireland is our highest and most immediate priority and Government is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all our children".
The chair of Stormont's health committee, Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin, said her party would be calling for an inquiry into the authorities' handling of child abuse and exploitation in care homes and elsewhere.
She claimed action should have been taken by the Department of Health "much, much earlier" following the Barnardo's report.
Ms McLaughlin said one of the key actions recommended in the report was the development of a multi-agency action plan.
"Whilst the Barnardo's report was published in 2011, the research dates back to 2009," she said. "I suggest it is too late... we need to have been doing all of this much, much better, much, much earlier."
"A whole series of things have happened since 2011," said Mr Poots in response yesterday.
"For Maeve McLaughlin to come out and give misinformation is incredible," he added.
Mr Poots said a safeguarding board had been established a year ago. A leafleting campaign and a helpline had also been set up to support vulnerable young people, he added.
A spokesman for his department last night added: "A great deal of work has been undertaken following the publishing of the Barnardo's report – Not A World Away: The Sexual Exploitation of Children and Young People in Northern Ireland – in 2011."