I can assure the Deputy that combatting domestic abuse is a top priority for me as Minister and for the entire criminal justice system, particularly An Garda Síochána.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Central Statistics Office (CSO), as the national statistical agency, is responsible for the compilation and publication of all crime statistics. The CSO produces these statistics using data recorded on An Garda Síochána’s PULSE system and makes regular releases under reservation in relation to various crime statistics, including recorded and detected crime. The CSO also continues to work with An Garda Síochána to address quality issues in the underlying sources used to compile the statistics.
Therefore the official statistics are those which will in due course be published by the CSO.
However the Garda authorities have provided my Department with initial, provisional, operational data which shows that :
- domestic abuse related calls have increased by approximately 24% in the year to date (while reflecting a worrying increase, I should make the point that this figure also reflects increased Garda protective activity and call backs to victims):
- breaches of Domestic Violence Order Incidents have increased by 10% in comparison to the same time period last year.
- Formal notifications to Tusla in the same time period have increased by 18%.
We have witnessed a rise in the rate of domestic abuse calls recorded by An Garda Síochána and incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic and while this is very troubling, it was not unexpected. In view of this, at an early stage in the Covid-19 pandemic, my Department developed an inter-agency action plan to help support those at risk of domestic abuse during the pandemic. The plan which recognises the added risk of domestic abuse which some people face during this period, has been kept under active review and is currently being updated.
As part of this inter-agency plan and in addition to the funding already allocated for 2020, my Department to date has provided an additional €285,000 to a number of organisations working in the sector, to support and extend the existing services they offer during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. Other actions under the plan are aimed at ensuring that domestic abuse and sexual violence continue to receive the highest priority from the civil and criminal justice system. This includes priority by the Legal Aid Board and Courts Service for domestic abuse cases and availability of a Legal Aid Board helpline to ensure that persons experiencing domestic violence issues get prompt legal advice and legal representation in court where needed.
An Garda Síochána continues to attach the highest priority to domestic abuse incidents during the pandemic, including through ‘Operation Faoiseamh’, a proactive initiative designed to ensure victims of domestic abuse are supported and protected throughout the period.
In addition to these actions my Department is also leading a public awareness campaign on domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic, in partnership with frontline services in the community and voluntary sector. This campaign is known as ‘Still Here’ and it aims to get the message to those experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence that support services from State agencies and the voluntary sector are still available and accessible to support victims during the Covid-19 pandemic. Further information on the organisations involved in this initiative as well as services and supports for victims is available on the website www.stillhere.ie.
I also understand that Tusla has put a range of practical supports in place including funding, identification of additional accommodation capacity, and provision of additional ICT resources during the Covid pandemic.
The Deputy may also wish to note that rent supplements are being made available by the Department of Social Protection on a short-term basis to victims of domestic abuse referred via Tusla-funded domestic abuse service providers, with these arrangements to be reviewed after six months of operation.
My Department is currently leading efforts to identify lessons which can be learned from the inter-agency plan put in place to address domestic abuse, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. This process includes input from the community and voluntary sector working in this area. The draft Programme for Government contains a commitment to conduct an audit of statutory responsibilities in this area. This audit will be undertaken in conjunction with NGOs and service providers.
In relation to the questions on services, primary responsibility for funding frontline services including refuges for victims of domestic abuse rests with Tusla. Tusla has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual or gender based violence, and is providing €25.3 million in funding for these services in 2020. I have asked that my colleague, Minister O'Gorman, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs address elements in relation to funding frontline services.