196. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice her Department’s plans to extend supports for adult victims of sexual offences following court proceedings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57950/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I would like to thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. Reforming the system to better support vulnerable victims as they come into contact with our criminal justice system is a priority for this Government. I know this was true too for the Deputy during his time as Minister for State in the Department of Justice and the important work he did under the equality aspect of his responsibilities.
Our work to extend supports for adult victims of sexual offences is being done through the implementation of Supporting a Victim's journey, our plan to implement action the recommendations of the O'Malley Review.
To date, a number of key actions have been delivered as part of implementing Supporting a Victim’s Journey, including:
- Legislating for 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 in April;
- Work to advance the training for all personnel who come into contact with vulnerable victims is underway;
- The University of Limerick has been commissioned by the Department to develop the framework for the operation and training of intermediaries;
- An improved Victims Charter website which provides a comprehensive repository of information for victims has been created, including a section with specific information for victims of sexual violence.
As part of this work, my Department has undertaken a review of the supports and funding of civil society organisations providing frontline services in order to identify where gaps may exist and how to bridge them. Specific geographical areas and categories of victims that are not adequately covered by NGO supports have been identified and my Department is engaging with relevant NGO partners to agree revised funding to ensure that we meet the gaps identified. This piece of work will be completed shortly.
To promote more sustainable service delivery and planning, we are also offering multi-annual funding commitments to key NGOs we work with where funding covers staff salaries. These funding grants cover accompaniment to court, to Garda interviews and to sexual assault treatment units, as well as emotional support.
Supporting a Victim's Journey is a detailed roadmap, which when implemented, will ensure we have a more victim-centred system that supports and empowers victims and gives them the confidence to engage with all services knowing they will be supported, informed and treated with respect and dignity at every point and by every person they come into contact with.
While the provision of counselling services is not directly under my remit and falls to Tusla and the Department of Health, I can confirm that both are represented on the O'Malley implementation group.
It is important to state that the supports being introduced will be provided regardless of whether or not criminal proceedings are in train and will extend beyond the trial and verdict because victims do not stop needing support at the end of a trial.