Reporting and investigation of sexual crimes could be hampered by the closure of rural Garda stations, a TD warned yesterday.
Jonathan O’Brien, Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman, said victims of sexual assault may find it “more difficult” to report if their nearest Garda station was closed and they had to travel further.
Mr O’Brien said the situation would worsen when the Government announced a further raft of station closures later in the year.
The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland said the early collection of forensic evidence was crucial in recent rape cases and that anything, which delayed that, including the closure of stations, could have a negative impact on investigations.
The network said that while the quality of the Garda response — in terms of having trained specialist officers to deal with victims — was the most important thing, it was also important to ensure the service was accessible.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr O’Brien said he was concerned at the rise in recorded sexual offences, particularly in light of the ongoing station closures.
“My concern is that people in rural areas who are the victims of sexual assault will find it more difficult to report such cases,” he said. “For instance, if they are obliged to travel further, will provision be made to ensure a female Garda will be on duty at all times within the Garda station to which they will travel?”
The Cork North Central TD said the situation would be more critical when the justice minister and Garda commissioner shut further stations, in addition to the 39 already closed this year.
Clíona Saidléar of the Rape Crisis Network said the gardaí had implemented many positive changes in recent years, including the training of specialist gardaí to handle sexual assault cases.
“The most important thing for survivors is to have a specialist response, a professional response,” she said.
“Secondary to that — but still important — is access and availability.”
She said in cases of recent rapes, the early collection of evidence was essential: “Timing is of the essence in terms of the gathering of forensic evidence. If you narrow the window by adding time to that you could have a negative impact.”
She said each Garda station should have an “early evidence kit” in situations where too much time may have passed to travel to a sexual assault treatment unit to collect evidence.
Alan Shatter, the justice minister, said “no recent changes that have been made, [including] the closure of stations, in any way substantially have an impact” on the Garda investigation of sexual crimes.
The comments come as a national rural community group network said people were suffering a double whammy of station closures and fewer patrol cars.
On the eve of their annual conference, Irish Rural Link’s head Seamus Boland said there was a “systematic closure” of rural stations and said it was “absolutely urgent” for the Garda commissioner to draw up a rural policing plan.
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