Wednesday 18 September 2019

Sport Ireland's Dr Una May addresses parents' concerns in light of Tom Humphries sex abuse case

Tom Humphries
Tom Humphries

Cormac Byrne

Director of Participation and Ethic at Sport Ireland Dr Una May has addressed concerns that parents may be feeling today following the sentencing of former GAA volunteer Tom Humphries for the defilement of a child yesterday.

Humphries abused his position as a camogie mentor to initiate contact with a 14-year-old girl who he groomed over a two-year period before engaging in sexual activity with her when she was 16.

The paedophile journalist was also accused of abusing a second girl which included an allegation of a sex assault at Croke Park.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped the charges earlier this year over  what is believed to been concerns over a lack of evidence.

There has been a lot of outrage raging since Humphries was given a two-and-a-half-year sentence for his crimes which some charity groups and abuse survivors has criticised as being too lenient.

Dr May appeared on Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One to address concerns parents may have given how Humphries gained access to his victim through sport.

She revealed that Sport Ireland provides information, guidelines and training to clubs and governing bodies and trains up to 6,500-7,000 volunteers in their basic awareness training every year.

She advised parents to check that a club has a policy and enforce the policy to ensure that they carry out the appropriate vetting where people are directly involved with coaching children

"It's a parent's responsibility to go down to a club and watch, take part and observe the ethos within a club and I think that can tell a lot," she said.

Clubs are responsible for ensuring that volunteers are vetted by the Gardaí but there are also rules that must be observed.

"There are basic common sense rules around leaders and parents who may be involved. Things like they shouldn't be giving lifts to children on their own. We have a safe support app which has a tracker option within it where parents can track their children when they have been collected from a match until they receive their children back home," she added.

"It is a parent's responsibility to ensure that they know where their children are and who they are with. There are basic procedures like not being alone with a child, not taking sessions alone with a child and when an away trip happens that there is an adult of each gender attending and if it is a case that it's overnight, that the adults are not sharing a room with the children.

"There are lots of guidelines and support and advice for clubs and national governing bodies."

Asked to give advice to parents on what to do should they have concerns, she said: "It's a parents right to decide whether to send their child to a club or not. If they have serious concerns around an issue, every club should have a children's officer and the children's officer is there to ensure that all the appropriate procedures are in place.

"The first port of call should be to the children's officer to make sure that that person is taking their role seriously and carrying out the correct checks and balances.

"If there is a significant concern about an actual issue then that issue is reported to the designated children's officer in a club. That's their role in managing a suspected significant issue."

Dr May says there are strict guidelines on how trainers and volunteers communicate with players/athletes.

"In this day and age of social media, our whole connectivity has improved. Children  all have phones these days. What we would recommend is that if a coach is communicating that it is through a group text so the entire team is involved and where the parent is also been texted or that it is not done without the parent's consent.

"Under no circumstances should there be regular contact between a coach and a child."

Asked what would her message be to parents who are considering not allowing their kids to take part in sport following the Humphries case, she said: "I think there are fears for everybody in every walk of life and in every area where we deliver our children whether it's school or the church or wherever it may be.

"I think what is important is that we have very strong safeguarding measures in place.

"Unfortunately there are predators in every walk of life and it is something we have to be very cognisant of. A parent has to have a role as well and has to stay involved in a club."

Dr May's fellow Sport Ireland board member Donal Óg Cusack stepped down from his position last night.

He has been embroiled in controversy since he wrote a character reference for Humphries. He has since apologised for his lack of judgment in writing the letter.

In a statement last night, he said: "I do not wish any controversy to detract from the important work of the Board."

On Cusack's resignation, Dr May said: "The membership of the board of Sport Ireland is a matter for the Minister. It is not a matter for Sport Ireland to deal with.

"I think the fact that Donal Óg has tendered his resignation is a matter for Donal Óg and he made a statement and I think he was clear about the fact that it was an error of judgement he made.

"Our priority is around the safeguarding of children and it's an area that is very, very important to us. We have a statutory responsibility around providing guidelines and ethic.

"It was Donal Óg's decision to resign."

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