146. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Justice the action being taken to deal with the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. [57819/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I can assure the Deputy that tackling domestic abuse and providing supports for victims is a priority for me as Minister for Justice, and for this Government.
There is no doubt that in the context of the pandemic there is an increased risk of domestic abuse, evidenced in the figures reported by frontline services. Additional resources, support, enforcement and services to combat this have been provided and this continues to be the case.
An Garda Síochána treats all instances of domestic and sexual violence as a priority. ‘Operation Faoiseamh’, launched at the start of the pandemic, is an ongoing proactive initiative. It is designed to ensure victims of domestic abuse are supported and protected and ensures domestic abuse incidents receive the highest priority response from Gardaí.
My Department initiated the ‘Still Here’ public awareness campaign in partnership with frontline services, to reassure victims that access to support services continues to be available during this time. We also provided additional funding for support organisations to help them overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic in delivering their services.
Under Budget 2022, a total of €13m has been allocated to my Department to combat domestic sexual and gender based violence and to support victims of crime. This represents an increase of €5.35m. This includes the retention of emergency COVID-19 funding to address the impact of the pandemic on domestic violence services and additional funding in direct supports to NGOs and specific domestic violence intervention programmes.
While it is Tusla, under the remit of the Minister for Children, Equality, Integration, Youth and Disability, which has responsibility for funding frontline services for victims of domestic abuse, I understand that Minister O'Gorman has secured an increase of €41m for Tusla under Budget 2022. This includes the budget which will be allocated to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.
I think it is important to emphasise that this Government is not only working collectively to address the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic, but is also working together to improve how we deliver supports and services to domestic abuse victims going forward.
The Deputy will be aware that my Department is leading the development across government of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This plan will outline how the Government will radically improve services and supports for victims. My Department is also currently implementing Supporting a Victim’s Journey, which is our plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases. It will reform the criminal justice system at every point a victim comes into contact with it.
This work is in addition to the audit of how domestic, sexual and gender-based violence policy and services are organised which was published in July. The recommendations of this audit, as well as the Tusla review of accommodation needs and the outcome of the mapping exercise undertaken as part of implementing Supporting a Victim's Journey, will play an important role in the development of the new national strategy. I expect to receive a complete draft of the new strategy by the end of this year and I will then engage in a focused public consultation process early in the New Year, before bringing the finalised strategy to Government in Quarter 1 of next year.
I can assure the Deputy that I continue to prioritise all aspects of our work to combat domestic abuse and to address the needs of victims, both through short term measures and working with my colleagues to evaluate and improve how we do this in the longer-term.