Branch for west suffers in cuts

PLANS to extend a treatment service for sex offenders to the west have been shelved because of a lack of funding.

The programme, known as the Lighthouse Project, caters for sex offenders at two locations in Dublin and another facility recently opened in Cork and is jointly operated by the Probation Service and the Granada Institute.

It was planned that another branch of the Lighthouse Project would open in the west later this year, but the Department of Justice confirmed no funding has been allocated for it. The decision, which was taken in the past few weeks when annual budgets were set, comes just weeks after Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern outlined a range of proposals aimed at improving the monitoring and treatment of convicted sex offenders.

The work of the Lighthouse Project has been hailed as a valuable treatment programme by the National Organisation of the Treatment of Abusers (NOTA Ireland).

The two facilities in Dublin have up to this point treated only those who have offended against children, whereas the Cork project, which got under way late last year, treats both those who have offended against children and against adults.

Both Dublin projects will follow suit and expand their services, but despite the hopes of some within the Probation Service for a similar project in the west — an area, along with the midlands, where NOTA has highlighted gaps in services — the lack of funding has put any plans on hold.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: “The Lighthouse programme is being modified this year to facilitate the inclusion of offenders who have sexually offended against adults. This is being piloted in the recently commenced Cork programme. It is intended to replicate this for Dublin programmes, following a training needs analysis for staff.

“While consideration has been given to starting a further programme in the west/north-west area, there has been no funding allocated to this for 2009. Currently, offenders from these areas are availing of Lighthouse services through the Dublin programmes.”

Last month Mr Ahern published the report of a working group comprising members of the Prison Service and the Garda, among others, which puts forward a series of proposals as to the future management of convicted sex offenders. Among the measures being considered is the electronic tagging of convicted offenders after they have been released.

The proposals have been thrown open to the public, who have until April 30 to send in written submissions.

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