Tuesday 22 January 2019

Specialist teams should investigate historic sex abuse allegations – report

The investigators would have a separate role to Tusla, the child and family agency, according to the report.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, has made a number of recommendations (Julien Behal/PA)
Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, has made a number of recommendations (Julien Behal/PA)

By Cate McCurry, Press Association

Historic allegations of child sex abuse should be examined by specialist teams of forensic investigators, a report has suggested.

Professor Geoffrey Shannon, special rapporteur on child protection, said that the investigators would have a separate role to Tusla, the child and family agency, and would represent children who need protection while the alleged abuser would seek their own legal representation.

In his annual report, the professor stated that a “fair and independent” decision making forum would assess evidence and decide on whether the allegation is founded or unfounded.

“This independent body should be entirely impartial,” he said.

“The independent body would then adjudicate on the allegations, determining the final outcome.

“If the claim is determined to be substantiated, Tusla should then be given express statutory authority to share relevant information with relevant persons.

“Where claims are not substantiated, the information should not be permitted to be shared.

“This process would balance carefully the duty to protect unidentified children from any risk with the rights of the alleged abuser – ensuring a comprehensive investigation and fair procedures in any substantiation hearing.”

He further said that there needs to be a “stronger partnership” between An Garda Siochana and Tusla when interviewing the child and adult victims.

Dr Shannon further stated that to ensure greater cohesion between the gardai and Tusla, forensic teams should be required to work closely with the gardai to support any criminal investigations.

“If these specialist teams have conducted interviews with child victims, adult victims or the alleged perpetrator, these may assist greatly in any criminal investigation,” he added.

“Critically, for the child and adult victims, the risk of repeat and multiple interviews would be decreased – reducing the trauma that can be caused from same.”

He also highlights that the Child Care Act of 1991 is almost 30 years old and needs to be reformed to take into account constitutional and legislative developments since then.

Dr Shannon also said that “significant challenges” have arisen when Tusla investigates claims of child abuse.

“In particular, the complexity for social workers of being both the assessor and the adjudicator in these cases is highlighted as a matter of concern,” he added.

I do not for a minute believe that our clients are lying about the abuse they suffered Maeve Lewis

One in Four, a child sex abuse charity, said it welcomed Professor Shannon’s recommendations.

Maeve Lewis, its executive director, said: “As mandated professionals, we make an average of 90 notifications to Tusla each year.

“When our clients engage in a Tusla investigation, the majority of decisions are that the allegation is “unfounded”.

“I do not for a minute believe that our clients are lying about the abuse they suffered.

“Rather this highlights the immense difficulties faced by social workers in substantiating an allegation.

“This means that many sex offenders can continue to abuse children with impunity. Professor Shannon’s recommendations, if implemented, will ensure that more Irish children will be safe from sexual harm.”

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section