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The Mater’s Garda vetting disgrace

How is it that a man with convictions for, amongst other things, child abduction and sexual grooming of children came to be employed in the Mater Hospital in Dublin?

As is usual, for everything in Ireland, there’s an excuse: It was somebody else’s fault:

A Mater Hospital cleaner who was jailed for five years for possessing child-abuse material had passed garda vetting despite convictions abroad for sexual corruption and abduction of a child, it has emerged.

A hearing last week at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Constantin Maxim (48) previously served a prison sentence in his native Romania for an offence of sexual corruption and abduction of a minor for sexual purposes.

A statement from a spokesperson at the Mater Hospital to the Irish Independent said patient and staff safety is its main priority.

The individual concerned was not employed directly by the hospital and we were not aware of the details of this case. However, we can confirm that the company in which he was employed had followed all processes required for any individual to work onsite at the Mater, including garda vetting,” said the spokesperson.

If you’re wondering how it came to light that a person with previous convictions for child abduction and sexual corruption of children was working in the Mater Hospital, well – it came to light only when he was caught, this time in Ireland, with thousands of images of child sex abuse on his phone. Real charmer, this Mr. Maxim.

There will be some who ask, perfectly reasonably, why a fellow with convictions in his own country for child sex abuse and child abduction was in Ireland to begin with: The answer, for what it’s worth, is that as a Romanian national, Mr. Maxim has EU citizenship and as much legal right to live and work in Dublin as somebody born and reared in Walkinstown. The flip side of that arrangement is that the person from Walkinstown can also go and work in Romania, if the mood takes them. That is the upside, and the downside, of the EU’s free movement of people policy.

And yet: That policy exists, which means that the entirety of the EU is effectively a playground for all of us – we can work and live where we wish. The problem is that, as this case demonstrates, the EU is one single travel area with 27 police forces, and apparently those police forces are not effectively sharing information. That is the only reasonable explanation for how it came to be that this fellow passed his garda vetting process: Either somebody did not search for his convictions in Romania, or the system does not have access to such convictions. If the latter, then that effectively makes the whole continent a safe space for Paedophiles, with each country in which one can legally live providing a fresh start, and a new opportunity to access the vulnerable.

In any case, this is not a satisfactory excuse. How many scandals must Ireland have about the sexual abuse of children before we start getting the basics right? If protecting children from potential sexual abusers means higher hurdles for foreign-born workers to clear in terms of garda vetting, then that should not be a proposition given a second thought – just do it.

Because that appears to be the nub of the problem. Had Mr. Maxim been an Irish criminal, his crimes would have been recorded on the Garda pulse system, and detected in the vetting process. He would never have gotten the job. But because he is Romanian, the system is not equipped to deal with him. There’s a lesson there.

The ideal solution, obviously, would simply be to improve the system to allow European police forces to have a common database of people’s criminal records. But this may not be possible for all sorts of data protection and information sharing reasons.

If it is not possible, then the obvious answer is to change the safeguarding requirements at garda vetting stage to require applicants for sensitive jobs born overseas to prove that they have no previous convictions for child abuse or other sexual crimes in their country of origin.

For an Irish person overseas, this would be perfectly feasible: Every Irish citizen has a right to their Garda pulse record, showing what information the Gardai hold on them. If you were applying for a job in Romania, and were asked for this, then it could be provided – though it might take a few weeks to obtain.

It seems relatively simple and non-discriminatory to extend that obligation to foreign-born applicants seeking to work with vulnerable people in Ireland. The burden of duty here rests, very clearly, with the applicant to prove that they are suitable. It does not lie with the state not to discriminate.

And in any case, it is not even discrimination: Asking an applicant to prove that they are no threat to the people they would be working with is not discriminatory, since Irish born people who have lived here their whole lives face the same burden. They just don’t have an excuse not to meet it.

This is just common sense, and it should have happened in this case.

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