Groups working with people who have suffered child sexual abuse, sexual violence, or domestic abuse want gardaí to do better in keeping people informed about investigations and prosecutions.
The groups stressed the need for training for frontline gardaí and specialist training for dedicated units in submissions to the Policing Commission, which produced its report last month.
One in Four, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), Irish Rape Crisis Centre Managers Forum, SAFE Ireland, and Women’s Aid welcomed the creation of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) and divisional units.
One in Four, which works with adults sexually abused as children, said it had a close working relationship with the GNPSB and good relationships with senior gardaí across the country.
Writing its submission, executive director Maeve Lewis welcomed the “major shift” in the Garda culture to victims of sexual crime, from scepticism to support.
“It is our experience that the majority of gardaí are able to carry out investigations both sensitively and professionally,” she said.
But she said that one of the “most common frustrations and upset” expressed by clients was “lack of communication” from the investigating garda, ranging from general updates to not communicating when a file has gone to the DPP or a decision by the latter. She said gardaí may call to a client without due notice or meet them at an inappropriate place, which can be “detrimental for clients”.
She said in one instance the garda gave the client information about an upcoming trial when they met at a traffic checkpoint.
Ms Lewis said her organisation had noticed in recent years that many older, experienced gardaí have retired and that younger, inexperienced gardaí are investigating “serious sexual crimes” without undergoing specialist training or without adequate supervision.
“On occasion, our clients have raised concerns about the outcome of their case having been affected by a poor investigation,” she said.
“We are also aware of a number of trials collapsing where it has been claimed by the defence that an inadequate investigation had taken place.”
She added: “While it is rare, a number of our clients have been victims of what could be perceived to be negligence by members of the Gardaí. Investigations have not been properly undertaken, cases have not been referred to the DPP, and files have been mislaid or lost.”
RCNI said progress included the GNPSB, rollout of local units, and increased resources in combating online sex offences.
It said “proactive contact” by gardaí with victims was important as well as “full and accurate” explanations about decisions by gardaí, prosecutors, and judges.
Irish Rape Crisis Centre managers forum also stressed the need to keep victims informed and for a “consistent” approach by gardaí. It said the divisional units were a positive development but said only three of the 28 divisions had them.
SAFE Ireland raised the issue of information and the need for adequate training for frontline responders.
Women’s Aid said the experience of female victims of domestic violence with gardaí “can vary from the excellent to the very negative”.
Brexit to ‘exacerbate’ security threat
Brexit will exacerbate threats to Irish security and an overstretched Garda Síochána will struggle to adapt to an expected increase in smuggling and terrorist activities, according to a security expert.
Edward Burke, director of the Centre for Conflict, Security & Terrorism at the University of Nottingham, said that given the Garda Síochána is both a policing and security agency it prioritises criminal investigation over long-term intelligence gathering.
In a submission to the Policing Commission, he called for a new intelligence service, a national security adviser and secretariat and, in the medium term, evolving the National Cyber Security Centre into a full signals intelligence agency.
The commission published its report last month and proposed the creation of a National Security Co-ordinator and a new Strategic Threat Analysis Centre, but did not favour a new intelligence service.
Mr Burke said according to the PSNI, 43% of organised crime activities, including paramilitaries, had a cross-border dimension.
He said Brexit will exacerbate threats to Irish security as it would involve some physical infrastructure and that a customs border would create a market for criminal evasion.
“An over-stretched Irish police and security infrastructure will struggle to adapt and respond to an expected increase in an already worrying level of border smuggling and terrorism.”
He said securing the Common Travel Area will require “significantly increased political attention, intensified bilateral security relations and an investment in capabilities”.
Mr Burke said Ireland had a limited capability to detect and monitor networks of international criminals or terrorists who operate in Ireland.
He said the extent of reliance on the British signals agency (GCHQ), the British Security Service (MI5) and the National Crime Agency confirmed “an impression of excessive dependency”.
Mr Burke said the European Commission had expressed growing concern that Ireland has been too slow to link up with critical EU crime and intelligence databases such as Schengen Information System II.