Wednesday 24 January 2018

Call for missing children alert three years after it was signed off in Dail

Brian Hutton

AN Oireachtas watchdog has demanded the urgent setting up of an "Amber Alert" system for missing or kidnapped children more than three years after it got the go-ahead.

Former justice minister Dermot Ahern signed off on a US-style rapid response scheme, which would quickly spread the alarm when youngsters are feared abducted, in April 2009.

The order came on the back of a Garda Inspectorate report which made 18 recommendations, including the need for gardai to work more closely with the media and overseas police forces.

More than three years later, the chief recommendation of a joint Oireachtas committee investigation into missing persons is for the alert system to be "introduced as a matter of urgency".

Dara Calleary, Fianna Fail justice spokesman and member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, criticised the delay.

"It is not acceptable," he said. "But I hope that the fact there is all-party agreement now and we've all worked on this together that it will put further impetus behind it."

Mr Calleary said there should be no further delays in the introduction of the system.

The Mayo TD also called for better co-operation between the Garda and international police on missing persons, including improved communications, sharing of resources and technology.

More than 100 children remain on Ireland's missing persons list, it was revealed during hearings of the Oireachtas committee.

Of the 114 children reported missing over the past five years and who have still not been found, 106 vanished while under State care.

In March, John O'Mahoney, Garda assistant commissioner, said an urgent alert system to be called Child Rescue Ireland had been developed over the past two years and was in the final stages of being rolled out by the force.

A Garda spokesman said today that there was no exact date for the system to be launched but it would be in the near future.

The Amber Alert began in the US in 1996 when broadcasters teamed up with local police to develop an early warning system - including sharing photos and information - to help find abducted children.

Amber - America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response - was created as a legacy to nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas.

The alert is used in the rare case when it is believed a child has been kidnapped, is in danger and there is enough information to issue a description and it is credited with helping in the recovery of more than 400 abducted children.

A key component of the American system is the rapid sending of messages on TV, radio, at airports and ports, and via text and email.

Another is a well resourced and trained call centre to receive public calls and then track and forward leads to investigating police.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has also called for a single helpline for those wishing to report a missing person and a national missing persons day.

In their report, TDs and senators urged a place of remembrance for vanished loved ones, the possible involvement of mobile phone companies to provide an alert system for missing persons and a possible register of unidentified remains which could make use of DNA.

David Stanton, Fine Gael TD and committee chairman, said: "More and improved co-ordination between various agencies involved in searching should be promoted and supported."

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