Sunday 22 September 2019

Sex offender disclosure law 'could do harm as well as good' - experts

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Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Fears have been expressed that proposed laws, allowing for the disclosure of information on the whereabouts of sex offenders to members of the public, could end up driving them underground.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland legal director Caroline Counihan told the Oireachtas Justice Committee this was "a huge concern" as the risk to the public could escalate dramatically and quickly if an offender goes "under the radar".

She was responding to a question from Fianna Fáil TD Jim O'Callaghan, who suggested sex offenders may avoid being registered and "drift into the ether" if the disclosure of their whereabouts became common practice.

Probation Service director Vivian Geiran also had concerns about the proposal.

He said there needed to be caution and care in how it was implemented as there was "a huge potential for harm as well as good". Mr Geiran said people should be assured that high risk offenders, on release, received the highest level of attention from gardaí and the Probation Service. The proposal, contained in the Government's Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, is part of a raft of measures aimed at assisting the monitoring of sex offenders and improving public safety.

It would allow a garda of inspector rank and above to inform a member of the public of the name and whereabouts of a sex offender in certain circumstances.

Such a disclosure could only happen where it was in the interests of the protection of the public, and where gardaí were of the opinion it would not lead to disorder, physical harm, damage to property or intimidation.

Ms Counihan told the committee it would be important the information could not be misused. She suggested there should be a penalty in the bill to guard against this.

Dr Margaret Fitzgerald-O'Reilly of the University of Limerick School of Law said there had been no appreciable impact on re-offending rates in jurisdictions where disclosure policies exist. She did advocate the controlled disclosure of information.

Irish Independent

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