Gardaí's domestic violence stats 'not robust'

The Central Statistics Office has concluded that it cannot stand over Garda domestic violence figures after conducting a detailed analysis, writes Cormac O'Keeffe and Fiachra O'Cionnaith.

The agency said the Garda data was not “sufficiently robust” and told police chiefs they will not publish the figures until certain measures have been implemented.

It is the latest twist in the ongoing concern regarding the reliability of Garda crime statistics and comes on the back of growing pressure in the Dáil on Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, which has enveloped Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

The scale of the problem regarding the recording of domestic violence was highlighted in the Garda Inspectorate’s landmark ‘Crime Investigation’ report, published in November 2014.

It found that 45% of domestic violence calls to gardaí were not recorded on the Pulse system and recommended that “all crime of domestic violence and incidents of domestic dispute” should be recorded.

At that stage, the commissioner announced that a Garda data quality team was being established to oversee crime figures.

The CSO published two reviews of crime statistics, in 2015 and 2016, which cited the Inspectorate’s figures.

Last April, the commissioner told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that an internal Garda working group was examining the recording of domestic violence.

The CSO told the Irish Examiner that it conducted an analysis last January and February of garda domestic violence data going back six years. This examined trends and compared them against neighbouring jurisdictions.

“The figures are not sufficiently robust to be published as they currently stand,” said Olive Loughnane, a statistician in the crime section of the CSO.

She said the agency initiated its study because of the importance of such statistics and requirements of the national plan to implement the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.

Ms Loughnane said their analysis examined garda data from 2010 to Q3, 2016. She said recorded figures were rising, which “suggested the quality was getting better”, but said she could not be definitive yet.

She said that due to the “importance of and high level of interest in the figures”, they requested a meeting with gardaí and made recommendations.

“An Garda Síochána are implementing a number of measures designed to improve the quality of the figures,” she said. “We will not be publishing the figures until these measures have been implemented.”

Gardaí briefly published domestic violence data last February but took it down afterwards, reportedly showing that incidents rose from 3,678 in 2014 to 4,640 in 2015 and to 5,988 in 2016.

A Garda spokesman said they took the accurate recording of domestic violence “very seriously”: “We recognise that we need to improve in this area as part of a series of measures we are taking to enhance the service we provide to victims of domestic violence.”

He said the introduction of Pulse 6.8 in late 2015 had improved the supervision of all investigations.

“A data quality working group, which is looking at all data including domestic violence data, has been established,” he said.

He added that the Garda Information Services Centre was monitoring data and that a new domestic abuse intervention policy had been approved, in line with the Istanbul Convention.

“This policy provides direction to members on classifying domestic abuse incidents on Pulse,” he said, adding that training of members was in progress.

Meanwhile, the two front-runners to replace Enda Kenny as taoiseach have failed to say if they will keep Ms Fitzgerald in her Cabinet position should they become leader. Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney publicly backed the justice minister, but would not say if she will remain on in that role if they become Taoiseach.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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