Belfast Telegraph

Law compels reporting of sex abuse

Anyone who fails to report child sexual abuse to the gardai will face up to 10 years in prison under new laws, it has been announced.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the legislation, expected to be enacted by the end of the year, will close a loophole in the legal system.

Separate child protection measures, launched by Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, will also legally compel the likes of schools, religious groups and sports clubs to report suspected abuse to health authorities.

Designated protection officers must be appointed within any organisation or service attended by children, under the proposals. They will have responsibility for reporting any suspicions and could face up to five years in jail if they fail to bring any concerns to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Ms Fitzgerald said the Children First legislation, to be brought before the Oireachtas in the coming weeks, was about moving away from a historic legacy of turning a blind eye to child abuse. "If you are not a safe place for parents to send their children, you can be taken to court by the HSE," she said.

Mr Shatter said his new legislation would overhaul laws from 1998 which make it an offence to withhold information about other serious offences but for some reason excluded sexual offences. He said: "The primary purpose of this Bill is to close an existing loophole in our current law."

The new provisions will require anyone who has knowledge of a child being abused to report that information to gardai or face up to 10 years' imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the abuse.

Ms Fitzgerald said 30,000 child protection and welfare concerns were reported to the HSE every year. Of those, more than 1,500 are confirmed as abuse cases, she said.

Fiona Neary, executive director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), said both sets of legislation were important and long awaited.

"Preparations are already in place towards ensuring this new child protection regime is supported by good training and information and staffing at the professional level," she said. "It is vital that this support continues to be resourced."

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