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Those who fail to report child sexual abuse face 10 year jail sentences under new laws

ANYONE who fails to report child sexual abuse to the gardai will face up to 10 years in prison under new laws.

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).

Doctors, nurses, teachers, sports coaches, social care workers, counsellors and other medical workers will be among professionals also legally obliged to report child abuse to authorities.

Organisations themselves could be shut for failing to follow the regulations.

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.

"The primary purpose of this Bill is to close an existing loophole in our current law," he said.

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.

The Justice Minister confirmed that Catholic priests given information about abuse in confessionals would also be obliged to report it under the new law. But he said this was also the case for other serious offences since 1998.

There will be certain exemptions, including for parents of the victim or medical professionals whereby the child or vulnerable person has requested it not be immediately reported so they have time to come to terms with the abuse.

"It would be wrong to criminalise individuals in those circumstances," said Mr Shatter.

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.