Children's charities say it is “paramount” that the necessary resources are given to specialist Garda units tasked with examining digital devices for child abuse imagery.
It follows reports in the Irish Examiner that Garda HQ is waiting more than a year and a half for funding to set up long-planned regional cybercrime units.
The regional units are envisaged to ease the workload of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) and provide a speedier response to local gardaí regarding all investigations requiring the examination of computers and other digital devices.
Two pilot regional centres have been operating – in Ballincollig, Co Cork and New Ross, Co Wexford – but six such centres were originally envisaged.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris submitted a formal application for funding to set up regional cybercrime hubs in March 2019.
Garda HQ said that it has been unable to go ahead with the procurement process until it gets sanction for its business case and added that the existing cyber infrastructure was also “at-risk”.
The last Garda annual report, published last December, said the Cyber Crime Bureau dealt with “248 child pornography [legal term] enquiries” in 2018.
It said that while the case backlog had reduced in recent years, it stood at 493 cases, and continued to be “a critical priority” for the bureau.
It said the introduction of regional cybercrime units with forensic capability would help reduce the backlog.
Garda HQ first proposed setting up such units in June 2016, all of them to be in place by the end of 2017.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said the business case was under review by the Department of Public Expenditure and expected a preliminary response in the coming weeks.
Eve Farrelly, executive director of the CARI Foundation, which provides specialist services to children who have been sexually abused, said: “It is paramount that An Garda Síochána receive the necessary resources to investigate and prosecute for this type of crime.
"Cari fears that delays in the units will delay future investigations, arrests and criminal prosecutions.
"Criminal proceeding delays for children have a special impact as time works differently for children than it does for adults.”
John Church, chief executive of ISPCC, said: “Cybercrimes, including the distribution and sharing of child sexual abuse imagery, can inflict significant trauma on children and young people. Behind every image is a vulnerable child being abused and exploited. They are re-victimised and re-traumatised every time an image is shared onwards. These images are crime scenes and must be treated as such.
“It is imperative that the work of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau is resourced adequately and effectively to facilitate it in the most efficient detection, investigation and prosecution of these heinous crimes.”
*CARI Helpline: 1890 924 567; ISPCC Childline 1800 66 66 66