I would like to thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Implementing the recommendations of the Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences, known as The O'Malley Review, has been a priority for me since I published the review in August of 2020.
As I know the Deputy is aware, in October 2020 I published and commenced implementation of Supporting a Victim's Journey, our ambitious plan to implement all the recommendations of The O'Malley Review, and I am chairing an Implementation Oversight Group comprising all relevant departments and agencies responsible for driving the implementation of the agreed actions.
The last meeting of the oversight group was held in February and I received an update on how each of the actions are progressing. I am happy with the progress that is being made, thanks to the shared dedication of all participants to reform our criminal justice system and to make sure the needs of the victim are paramount throughout the process.
In relation to the Deputy's request to have an update on the actions provided in tabular form, I have attached the latest Implementation Group Traffic Light Progress Table from Q1 of this year.
As part of the implementation of Supporting a Victims Journey, I have set up a number of sub-groups to work on advancing some of the high priority recommendations.
The first of these were tasked with mapping the journey that faces the victim and reviewing the availability of supports and the funding of civil society organisations providing frontline services. This subgroup commissioned an expert consultant to analyse and categorise the supports provided with grant funding made available by my Department.
The consultant identified a) geographical areas and b) categories of victims which represent gaps or unmet needs in the current provision of these support services for victims of crime within the criminal justice system. The consultant completed this exercise in July of last year and my Department contacted identified NGOs to distribute additional funding to provide additional services to address the gaps identified.
Recently I announced funding totaling €4.6m for more than 60 organisations to support victims of crime. This is an increase of over 20% on the previous total fund of €3.8m which was made available in 2021.
A second subgroup is carrying out work on the introduction of Intermediaries and the establishment of a pilot programme. An academic consultant from the University of Limerick, with the support of the sub-group, has been tasked with developing the framework for the operation and training of intermediaries and will engage with stakeholders in development of such. Development of the course content is currently underway. Once training of these intermediaries has taken place, a pilot will take place in two locations; one in Dublin and one in a rural area.
The final subgroup is focused on developing specialist Training (Legal and otherwise) for the full range of frontline staff and professionals, including legal professionals. My Department has engaged a consultant to conduct a mapping exercise to establish what training is already being provided, and in what areas.
This exercise has commenced and aims to have a relatively short timeframe for completion so that the development work can begin. Building on that, the subgroup will then design a framework for provision of a range of training and awareness raising measures for those engaging with victims of sexual crime and vulnerable witnesses, and the categorisation of headings for specific types of training needed.
Outside of the work of the sub-groups, a number of key actions have been delivered as part of implementing Supporting a Victim’s Journey including:
- The introduction of preliminary trial hearings;
- The nationwide rollout of Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSUs);
- The first cohort of staff at a new sexual offences unit in the Director of Public Prosecutions office formally took up their roles last year;
- The establishment of a Victims’ Forum to provide further opportunities to engage closely with frontline organisations who support victims; and
- Work to promote the rights that victims of crime have and the supports that are available to them is advancing, including through the development of a new Victims Charter website www.victimscharter.ie and the distribution of informative printed material to public locations around the country.
In relation to the updates on sexual offences legislation that have been recommended in the O’Malley Report, work has started on drafting the heads of a General Scheme of a Sexual Offences Bill, which is expected to go to Government later this year.