Sunday 26 January 2020

Child sex abuse probes hindered by restrictive data protection rules

Ralph Riegel

GARDAI and health officials are being hindered in sharing information about sex abuse because of restrictive data- protection legislation.

The head of the Catholic Church's child-protection body said that fears about defamation meant that information was not being passed on.

Ian Elliot, head of the Church's National Board for the Safeguarding of Children (NBSC), warned that hundreds of child-protection cases are being hampered.

Under current regulations, legal protection is only afforded to an individual who reports a suspected case of child abuse to the gardai in good faith.

Such protection does not cover the information if it is pooled with a non-statutory body.

Mr Elliot argued it was absolutely crucial that gardai are allowed share information about a complaint with others, such as a bishop or child-protection team involved.

"But that communication is not protected by legislation. In fact, it is expressly forbidden by the data-protection legislation that is in force," he said.

He said, at the moment, gardai can only share such information if there is deemed to be "a child at imminent risk of harm".


Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said: "We have had extensive contact with the NBSC to facilitate its important work in child protection within the Catholic Church. Our data-protection legislation already permits sharing of information where serious concerns about welfare exist."

But Mr Elliot said: "The legislation is too restrictive and is inhibiting the flow of information. This is essential communication.

"This runs into hundreds (of cases) and there have been some disturbing situations that have arisen. This places in jeopardy the effectiveness of the safeguarding framework."

Mr Elliot, whose hard-hitting report on the Diocese of Cloyne prompted the resignation of Bishop Dr John Magee, also confirmed he has raised the issue with Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

A spokeswoman for Ms Fitzgerald, who was in Brussels last night addressing the EU Council of Ministers, confirmed the minister has had ongoing contact with Mr Elliot on this and other matters relating to data protection.

Mr Elliot wants the legislation on data protection to be amended, so that children can be safeguarded "without the interference of lawyers".

Mr Elliot also insisted that the church has responded to the failings identified over recent years.

Irish Independent

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