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Second round of safeguarding reviews in dioceses has begun

By Sarah Mac Donald - 11 June, 2020

Teresa Devlin, CEO of the NBSCCCI.

The National Board has begun its second round of safeguarding reviews of Irish dioceses but the work has been delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Releasing its annual report for 2019 on Wednesday, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) revealed that to date, six diocesan second reviews have been initiated, five are complete and a further four are planned.

But other reviews have been set back by the lockdown due to the pandemic.

The NBSCCCI said that a decision was made by the National Board in 2019 to undertake a second round of reviews with a new focus on facilitating feedback from those who receive Church safeguarding services: children and their parents/carers; complainants of abuse; and respondent priests and religious.

“Hearing directly from the people who use Church safeguarding services adds an independent perspective to complement what is written in Church records,” the National Board stated.

The report also highlights how the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the subsequent Data Protection Acts in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland in 2018 necessitated a significant portion of the National Board’s time being spent on ensuring compliance with legislative requirements.

NBSCCCI chairman, John Morgan, said in his statement in the annual report that much of the attention of the Board in the period covered by the report was taken up by considerations and consultation concerning the impact, effects and interpretation of new data protection legislation introduced in 2018.

“A key issue concerns the area of appropriate and necessary information sharing. It is particularly so in the circumstances of much of our activity,” he said.

NBSCCCI CEO, Teresa Devlin, said in her report that the National Board reviewed all data protection policies and the data it held for the purposes of compliance with the legislation and that new procedures have now been devised and a data protection officer has been appointed.

But she underlined that the Data Protection Acts had had an impact on the monitoring role of the National Board.

She said this was evident in the section of the report on allegations received as the National Board was unable to provide detailed statistical information.

“Representation was made to Tusla for delegated authority to be given to the National Board to receive notification information relating to clerics and religious. Under current legislation, this is not possible; moreover engagement with government departments in the Republic of Ireland to try to find a way around this difficulty have not yielded any positive result.”

“The National Board is therefore unable to furnish any information of value about the numbers of allegations made against Church personnel, as the information now provided to it by Church authorities is completely anonymised.”

In relation to notifying the National Board regarding allegations against clerics and religious, doubts have been cast on the legal basis for a Church authority to share sensitive personal data with the National Board relating to allegations against clerics and religious.

“The National Board cannot fulfil its monitoring function, track trends year to year, nor offer assurances that Church bodies are consistently applying safeguarding standards in relation to their notification and management of cases outside the scope of a specific review of that Church authority,” the National Office said.

While allegations are still notified, the information is anonymised and significant detail is removed.

“As a direct result, we cannot advise with any certainty on whether reports we receive may also have been forwarded by another Church authority, which would result in double-counting.”

Last year 116 notifications were forwarded to the National Board.

Upon receipt of allegation information, the National Board checks whether notification to statutory authorities has been made, “and beyond that we are not able to analyse the information and therefore cannot offer comment on developing patterns, or on the time period to which the allegations relate,” the report highlights.

“The inability to analyse and monitor allegations is, in the view of the National Board, a significant loss to the Catholic Church, and is detrimental to the efforts to safeguard children.”

The National Board has made representations to Government ministers, civil servants, Tusla and the Data Protection Commission in the Republic of Ireland, seeking support to have legislation amended to enable sensitive personal data to be shared with the National Board on allegations against clerics and religious. These efforts have failed.

During 2019, the National Board continued to offer detailed advice to Church authorities on case management matters, especially following the completion of statutory investigations, when the internal Church inquiry process can begin.

Engagement with complainants of abuse underlines the necessity of the canonical inquiry process, following the completion of the statutory processes, the National Board said.

The National Office’s staff has also been offering training on good child safeguarding practice among Irish missionaries who engage with children in an international context.

The aim is to ensure that anywhere Irish missionaries minister to children, the safety and well-being of children will be prioritised and promoted. Resources made available to participants include guidance on writing international safeguarding policies, with accompanying templates.

Many Religious minister across international boundaries, and several have expressed concerns to the National Board about the absence of good safeguarding practices in their partner Church bodies and communities in missionary countries.

Missionaries therefore invited the National Board to organise and deliver knowledge and skills-based safeguarding training which they could adapt and apply within their missionary work overseas.

The National Board consulted on appropriate international safeguarding standards. This was followed by training, the aim of which was to assist in the practical application of safeguarding standards in an international context.

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