Questions raised over Garda vetting of Limerick under age soccer coaches

COACHES in charge of Limerick under-age soccer teams are operating without Garda vetting or training in child safety, the Limerick Post can reveal.

Coaches who have had dealings with at least four local clubs have approached this newspaper with serious concerns over the safety of children, having discovered that just a handful of all coaches have received Garda clearance, and even fewer have up-to-date documentation. 

Two coaches, who asked not to be named publicly, said they are worried that paedophiles might target junior soccer as easy prey.

The first coach discovered the issue just recently when he took up a new position and, on checking his own documentation, discovered it was two years out of date.

“Every club is supposed to have a child protection officer,” he says.

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“I went to ours, I wanted to explain that I would rectify the out-of-date situation immediately. Even though I did have Garda clearance originally, it had lapsed.

“I was surprised to find that there didn’t seem to be any great fuss made. I started asking other people who deal with the juniors where they stood. I went to two other clubs that I would have dealings with as well, because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing

“None of the people I spoke to – and I spoke to a lot of people – had Garda vetting. None of the committee members had Garda vetting.

“Some people, like myself, had got it originally and it lapsed but no one was ever asked to produce an up-to-date vetting and others had never even been asked  about it.”

The second coach told the Limerick Post that he had discovered that just half the coaches he spoke to had Garda clearance and “none of them had done  the FAI’s own child safety course. It’s specified in regulations that people should be vetted, but it’s not happening.

“The real problem is there’s no oversight. No-one is checking. Not the clubs, not the FAI – no-one. And if a person isn’t asked to have vetting, they won’t have it.

“All the focus is on winning games. Clubs enter teams in the league and no-one asks whether the people coaching those teams have been vetted.

The coach expressed his concerns that child abusers may use the lax enforcement to slip through the cracks.

“Paedophiles look for a weak link to put themselves in a place where they can have access to innocent children. Right now, soccer in Limerick is a weak link.”

“And if it’s weak in Limerick, it’s very likely it’s weak in clubs everywhere.”

The Limerick Post asked the FAI, the governing body for all soccer in Ireland, for a comment on the claims.

A spokesman said: “The FAI is committed to ensuring that children have a safe and enjoyable environment in which to play football. An important aspect of this relates to Garda Vetting and safe recruitment practices undertaken by leagues and clubs. These requirements – including when an individual must be Garda Vetted -are detailed [in] the Child Welfare and Safeguarding Policy and … the FAI Handbook.

 “Clubs are required to comply with the legislation regarding to child welfare and safeguarding. This includes Garda vetting obligations under the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.”

Though the spokesman pointed out that individuals who coach children or vulnerable persons in the community are also “personally responsible for complying with the legislation and the FAI policy”.

“A club needs to determine whether an individual’s duties require the individual to be vetted. The club must assess this against the definitions of relevant work or activities set out in the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012.”

“Monitoring compliance with the relevant child welfare and safeguarding legislation is a collective effort between all involved in delivering football: individual coaches, clubs, leagues, affiliate associations, and the FAI.

The spokesman added that any club or person found to be in breach of the FAI’s regulations may be subject to “appropriate disciplinary action”.

Anyone aware of non-compliance with FAI Child Welfare and Safeguarding policy, or FAI Regulations or legislation, can contact anonymously if preferred.