Domestic violence costs the country €2.2bn

DOMESTIC violence costs the country €2.2 billion a year but efforts to combat the problem will not be protected from any potential cutbacks to the National Development Plan (NDP).

This was the message of Justice Minister Dermot Ahern who was in the Waterford Institute of Technology yesterday to open a high-level national conference on domestic abuse.

Mr Ahern said while he hoped the Government could deliver on a range of promises made in the NDP, these were contingent on economic conditions which were not currently present.

He echoed the words of Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who this week said the Government had to focus on infrastructural investment ahead of service delivery.

“The job of the Government is to manage the situation with the available resources.

“We have to look at the budgetary situation over the next couple of years and everything that has been promised in the [NDP] was based on certain levels of growth. While the situation has tightened, there is enough money to ensure the priorities are dealt with under the capital investment programme. Previous Governments have cut back on the capital programme but that is something we believe is not a good way to go,” the minister said.

The prospect of future cutbacks comes 18 months after a four-year funding freeze on support services and victims’ groups was lifted.

Mr Ahern said, as things stood, there should be enough money to meet commitments to the support services, including more than €61 million earmarked for the National Women’s Strategy.

However, he said promises made in the plan were based on the assumption of a more buoyant economy.

Mr Ahern said European figures reveal domestic abuse costs each state €555 per citizen annually in policing, health bills, lost productivity and court procedures.

And when this is projected onto the Irish economy, he said the burden was in the region of €2.2bn.

The two-day conference was the first hosted by the Government’s new Cosc office, which is responsible for co-ordinating responses to domestic, gender and sexual violence.

More than 150 representatives from key services and statutory agencies were invited to the conference.

Cosc executive director Éimear Fisher said it plans to produce a national strategy in late 2009 after a review of existing shortcomings.

She said by mid-summer Cosc will complete a mapping of services currently in place, and will then focus on investigating which international models best suit here.

Mr Ahern said Cosc’s work will also be guided by a major survey of public attitudes and the results of this will be published before the end of this year.

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