With Gardaí unable to use technology capable of pinpointing exactly who is accessing child abuse material, we are failing 96% of Irish victims of child sex abuse, writes Donal O’Keeffe.

Last Tuesday, I was finishing a column with which I was really happy. I’d asked some people to help me interview Bosco for a child-friendly piece, and I was delighted so many had supplied questions, among them Ryan Tubridy, Marian Keyes, Martin Collins, Fergus Finlay and Julie Feeney.

I had spent much of the week in the company of Bosco, who is exactly as much fun as you would imagine, and Bosco’s friend Paula Lambert, who is a kind and wise woman. I was delighted the column was shaping up to be something a small child could read, or have read to them. Then I got an email from Áras An Uachtaráin.

I had asked, more in hope than anything else, if President Higgins might have a comment on the contribution to Irish life made by the Lambert family, and by Bosco. To my astonishment, the President replied. And what he said was brilliant.

Seeing as I didn’t actually write any of it, I can say honestly the column is a really good read. I remember being a child, centuries ago, and I remember how important it is to not feel patronised, and how important too it is to feel properly cross about the mess grown-ups have made of the world kids are going to inherit.

And, just as I sent the column to The Avondhu, I heard on my radio something which stopped me in my tracks.

I was half-listening to RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime as Mary Wilson said: “Five years ago, the Garda Inspectorate completed a report on how good a job the Gardaí were doing at responding to child sexual abuse allegations. It was a very mixed report and made a large number of recommendations for the future.

“In the five years since then, the Inspectorate has followed up with field visits, data analysis and interviews. Their report, which Philip Boucher-Hayes has been reading, expresses concern with the limited amount of progress made.”

Boucher-Hayes then listed off a series of points which left me genuinely appalled.

“Less than half of the things that the Inspectorate said needed to be done to properly protect children have actually been addressed,” he said. “Six are not implemented at all, six are partially implemented, and four have not been satisfactorily addressed, according to the Inspectorate.

“They say ‘This is disappointing and – in the Inspectorate’s opinion – has had a negative impact on the services currently delivered to victims.’ The areas of concern are very serious.

“You have allegations of child sex abuse not being investigated to the highest standards,” continued Boucher-Hayes. “Victims being dealt with by untrained guards; guards assigned to specialised child protection units not receiving any child safety protection training at all; convicted offenders not being properly supervised upon release; communication failures between Gardai and Tusla..”

Saving the worst for last, Boucher-Hayes then revealed: “Most shockingly… the Inspectorate identifies that the Gardaí have the technology and the training to identify who is accessing child abuse material, but they’re not using it because it would generate too much intelligence for them…

Quote “It would generate too much intelligence for them to take action on” unquote.

That was what stopped me in my tracks.

You see, Gardaí do have the technology – it’s called “Round-Up” – to see exactly when someone is downloading what is wrongly called “child-porn” – and should rightly be called child abuse material – and the Gardaí have FBI training in using that technology to track down those downloading such material to their specific internet protocol (IP) address.

So if someone is downloading images of children being sexually abused, not only could the Gardaí see that they are doing that, Gardaí could actually pinpoint their physical location. Gardaí could see if they were downloading images of children being raped, and they could see precisely where they live.

With the confirmation that child abuse material was being downloaded, and with the location to which it was being downloaded, Gardaí could then search that person’s property and seize and analyse their computer, phone and any other devices. With the evidence retrieved from those devices, Gardaí could then press charges.

The problem is – the Gardaí have not yet used Round-Up.

Chief Inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, Mark Toland, told the Irish Times that he believed the Gardaí “do not have the staff numbers for the workload that would result from” turning on Round-Up.

The Garda Inspectorate report contains a litany of other mind-boggling revelations. For instance, the Garda Cyber Crime Unit has really poor broadband, so when seized computers, phones and other devices suspected of containing images of child abuse are sent for analysis, it can take 12 hours to download videos which should take 30 minutes.

66% of all reported sex crimes in Ireland involve a child victim. Of those, 44% of perpetrators are family members, 25% neighbours or family acquaintances and 14% strangers. Clerical sex abuse is now statistically negligible.

Only 4% of child abuse cases reported to the Gardaí result in a conviction.

The fact that Gardaí can actually pinpoint who is downloading images of child abuse, and choose not to do so because of a lack of resources, speaks multitudes about a country founded on a load of old guff about “cherishing all the children of the Nation equally”. Yes, I know that was about metaphorical children rather than actual children, but then we’ve always cared more about makey-uppy children than real children. Contrast the Eighth Amendment’s hypothetical children with the over 3,000 real children in emergency accommodation tonight. Anyway, Padraig Pearse’s deeply disturbing poetry aside, do you honestly think the women and men of 1916 would be happy with a situation where our police lack the resources to track down men who pose a clear danger to children?

I apologise for upsetting you, but let’s be honest here. We talk about “child porn” – or more correctly, child abuse material – but we don’t really stop to think about that actually means. There’s only one reason men (and of course it’s men) download images of children being raped, and that’s to masturbate while watching those images. I think we can all agree that a man who is sexually aroused by children being raped is a very dangerous man indeed. Lack of Garda resources is simply not a good enough reason to let such a man walk free.

In last week’s column, Bosco and our guest contributors covered a lot of important contemporary issues, from climate change to Direct Provision, from bullying to homelessness, and from racism to what small children should do if they’re feeling scared or unhappy.

We covered what we felt we could in a piece we wanted to keep child-friendly. It was a nice, gentle article, and our President was kind enough to join in. It was silly and serious, and – most of all – it was child-friendly.

If only, though.

With only 4% of child abuse cases in Ireland ending in conviction, if only we lived in a country that was truly child-friendly.

Childline 1800 666 666
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour helpline 1800 778 888