By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A leading child welfare official has warned that Ireland is a safe haven for child abusers amid fears that British p’dophiles might flee across the Irish Sea to avoid mounting mob violence and recent naming and shaming campaigns against them.
The monitoring of child abusers has become an emotive issue in the UK in the wake of the abduction and murder of 8-year-old schoolgirl Sarah Payne last month and the News of the World campaign for a public register of pedophiles similar to the "Megan’s law" system in America.
British Home Office Minister Paul Boateng has already pledged that laws protecting children will be strengthened.
Gardai have already followed the movements of a number of p’dophiles who traveled from Northern Ireland and Britain since a Register was introduced in the UK.
Paul Gilligan, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said that despite ten years of campaigning there still was effectively no monitoring system in Ireland.
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He said that witch hunts of convicted child abusers of the kind that had led to vigilant violence in Britain was "not an appropriate" mechanism for dealing with the problem.
The key principle underpinning the decision to release information must be the welfare and safety of children.
"Maintaining the register as confidential to professionals will not be enough," according to Gilligan who said that relevant groups of individuals must be allowed to seek the necessary information.
He said there should be formal information exchange between statutory authorities monitoring p’dophiles in all European countries and in particular between the UK and Ireland.
He said extra measures were needed in addition to the new laws proposed by the government.
Justice Minister John O’Donoghue rejected the ISPCC claims that the State could become a safe haven.
O’Donoghue said his Sex offenders Bill should be law by the end of the year and its central purpose was to require sex offenders to notify Gardai of their names and addresses and any changes to that information.
A risk assessment of all those named on a Register will be undertaken by the Gardai and the Probation Service.
"Disclosure of names on the Register could be made where it is necessary to prevent an immediate risk or crime or to alert members of the public to an apprehended danger, but only on a strict need-to-know basis," the minister said.
The new law will also require sex offenders coming from abroad to register with the Gardai.
"This is to ensure that this country is not used as a sanctuary by persons escaping notification requirements in other countries," he said.