An estimated 56 staff — half gardaí and half civilians — are being recruited to run offices dedicated to victim services around the country.
Gardaí confirmed that training is due to start next Monday and that they expect to have victim services offices in all 28 Garda divisions by the middle of the year.
The offices will provide information and supports to victims and will be able to track their cases through the criminal justice system.
Women’s Aid welcomed the new offices and said it was “quite optimistic” the new system would help create a better relationship between gardaí and victims.
Both Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said victim services offices were a key part of placing victims at the centre of police and justice reforms.
It follows highly critical findings in a Garda Inspectorate report and the implementation this year of an EU victims’ directive, which imposes obligations on member states regarding victims.
Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin said the group had met with Chief Supt Anne-Marie McMahon, head of Garda community relations, regarding the offices. “I think the offices will help things,” said Ms Martin. “I am quite optimistic that we will see a change. The new offices will bring a clear relationship between victims and gardaí.”
She said gardaí were recruiting staff for the offices. They were told there would be two staff in each office.
“Each office will have a garda and a civilian. That’s 56 staff specifically dedicated to victims.”
She said these staff will conduct services, including basic, but important, ones, such as identifying and locating investigating officers.
“A lot of times, a victim of domestic violence is trying to contact a garda, but can’t get through. They operate on rotas and can often be on days off or holidays. These new offices will help the communication link.
“It makes a huge difference to victims to get a good response. It makes a huge difference if you are treated with respect and kept up to date.”
A Garda spokesman said the offices would provide a “consistent high quality service to victims” and were part of placing victims at the centre of the police service.
The commissioner is also developing a system of risk assessment in relation to victims of domestic violence.
The Inspectorate’s report highlighted “serious issues” with the investigation of domestic violence, including negative attitudes of some gardaí. It said only 287 arrests were made in 11,000 incidents.
The inspectorate said the national Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit did not actually investigate such offences, nor did it engage in much monitoring of policy.
Meanwhile, Minister Fitzgerald said the draft general scheme of a bill on domestic violence was being finalised and would hopefully be considered by the Cabinet shortly after Easter.
womensaid.ie; freephone helpline 1800 341 900
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