Tackling domestic abuse and providing supports for victims is a priority for me as Minister and for Government. Since my appointment I have been continuously working with my colleagues and with our partners to ensure that we have robust legislation, policies and infrastructure that can support and assist victims and hold perpetrators to account.
With regard to the specific information requested by the deputy, my Department is leading on the delivery of a number of important commitments to make sure that we are responding effectively to the needs of victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
These include delivering on -
- The Justice Plan 2021 which outlines our commitment to an audit of how domestic, sexual and gender based violence services are organised to ensure a comprehensive approach is taken to providing for the needs of victims of domestic abuse is on target to be completed by the end of March 2021;
- The review of outstanding action under the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence which is a whole of Government approach to delivering on the many actions necessary to address these matters. The outcome of this review will inform the Third National Strategy which is to be adopted before the end of 2021 and which will focus on prevention and reduction and will include a National Preventative Strategy;
- The full and timely implementation of the detailed roadmap for the introduction of the recommendations contained in the O'Malley review. Entitled Supporting a Victim's Journey - A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases this plan will, when implemented, will protect and support vulnerable witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. I chaired the first meeting of the Implementation oversight group in December and I am pleased that all actions are progressing in accordance with the plan;
- The continuation of campaigns to raise public awareness of sexual harassment, domestic and sexual violence in order to bring about a change in long-established societal behaviours and attitudes and to activate bystanders with a view to decreasing and preventing this type of behaviour and violence;
- Increased funding to support victims of crime and to raise awareness and combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. I have secured funding of €4.1 million to support victims of crime and some €3 million for raising awareness of domestic, sexual and gender based violence. These figures reflect the additional €2.3 million provided in Budget 2021 for the implementation of Supporting a Victim's Journey;
- The continuation of the additional Covid specific resources, support, enforcement and services for key organisations working to provide support services to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence during the pandemic and the continued prioritisation by frontline services of domestic abuse incidents;
- The recent launch of a new Victim’s Charter website to inform and support victims of crime. This has a dedicated section providing specialist information for victims of sexual offences;
- Enactment of the Criminal Procedure Bill 2021 which was before Dáil Éireann on February 10th for its second stage debate. The primary purpose of this bill is the introduction of preliminary trial hearings. It is the first of the legislative changes being brought in as part of ‘Supporting a Victims Journey’.
In line with my prioritisation of tackling sexual violence and following on from the O’Malley Report and its implementation document, scoping is under way for a new Sexual Offences Bill. The Bill will encompass provisions to implement the O’Malley Report recommendations as well as for additional harassment orders to the 2017 Sexual Offences Act and to implement the recommendations of the 2019 Law Reform Commission Report on Knowledge or Belief concerning Consent in Rape Law.
The Deputy may also be interested to know that there is now a Divisional Protective Services Unit (DPSU) established in every Garda division across the country. This ensures that vulnerable victims of crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual violence presenting to Gardaí are met with a consistently high standard of specialist, sensitive, professional and expert assistance which in turn helps to get cases and perpetrators before the courts.