Fine Gael Meath East TD, Regina Doherty, has today (Thursday) welcomed the passage of the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 by the Houses of the Oireachtas, saying the new legislation will make Ireland a safer place for our children.
“This is a ground breaking piece of legislation that will strengthen the protection of children, and put an end to the decades of secrecy and denials that dominated Irish life. As individuals and as a society we have a duty to protect our children. This piece of legislation ensures we will fulfil that duty.
“For too long a culture of sweeping problems under the carpet and a refusal to address and confront difficult issues led to abuse being unreported, and children being unprotected. The new legislation means it will be an offence to withholding information on serious offences against a child or a vulnerable adult. This is the strongest possible recognition that it is not ok to turn a blind eye when you know abuse is taking place.
“Ensuring that we all act in the best interests of the child is at the heart of this legislation. It does however take account of the extremely sensitive nature of this issue. It allows a person who is accused of withholding information to rely on the view of a parent or guardian who believes the information should not be disclosed, provided they are taking the wishes of the child into account.
“It also takes account of the fact that the majority of abuse against children or vulnerable adults takes place in the home. There may be cases where a mother is afraid to report the abuse of a child in a violent domestic situation; she certainly should not be criminalised for this. This is an important distinction in the legislation. It’s essential that we have a certain amount of flexibility in our law to take account of real life situations.
“I hope that this legislation can be further enhanced with the passage of the Children’s Referendum later this year. I believe we need to clearly define what we mean when we speak of the best interests of the child, as opposed to the best interests of the family. If this is included in the wording of the amendment for the Children’s Referendum, making a judgement on what constitutes the best interest of a child will be much clearer.
“By passing this Bill into law we have fulfilled one of the legislative commitments in the Programme for Government to strengthen child protection. It will complement other pieces of legislation which will further enhance the protection of children, including the Children First Bill and the National Vetting Bill.”