I understand that the statement in question was made in the context of a recent pre-budget submission to my colleague, the Minister for Finance. In the absence of specific details about the cases in question, it is not possible to comment on the findings contained in the submission. I have asked my Department to contact Women's Aid to get more details. However, I can assure the Deputy that this issue is one which receives the highest priority from myself and the Garda authorities. In this regard, the Garda Commissioner, earlier this year, issued directions on the approach to be taken by the gardaí in incidents of domestic violence. These directions set out the manner in which investigations should be conducted (and reported) and state that where a power of arrest exists in respect of a domestic violence incident. that power should be exercised and the offender charged. I understand that legislation being prepared by my colleague, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, will further extend the powers of arrest in these situations.
Another example of the resolve of the Garda authorities to deal effectively with this issue is the establishment of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit — formally known as the Woman and Child Unit. The unit was established in March 1993, and it is staffed by gardaí who are highly trained and experienced in dealing with domestic violence and sexual assaults. The functions of the unit include overseeing the investigation of offences of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and other violent and sexual offences committed against women and children. Enforcement practices in respect of protection and barring orders are also carefully examined. The unit works in close contact with the Garda Community Relations Sections and liaises with organisations, both statutory and voluntary, which deal with violent or sexual crime against women and children. It also deals with the drafting of protocol on the role of the Garda Síochána in these cases.