Thursday, 29 November 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the roll-out of new specially trained Garda units to handle cases involving vulnerable witnesses such as child abuse and sexual crimes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49981/18]
Every Member of the House is aware that being a member of An Garda Síochána is a demanding and specialist job. One day of the week gardaí can be asked to investigate issues pertaining to financial crime. On other occasions, they can be asked to investigate issues concerning child or sexual abuse. I will ask the Minister about the latter group. It was announced recently specialist groups in An Garda Síochána would be rolled out to deal with vulnerable witnesses. What is the status of that roll-out? When will they be up and running?
I acknowledge the importance of appropriate expertise in An Garda Síochána as its members undertake important work on a daily basis and, in the issue raised by Deputy O'Callaghan, work of a sensitive and personal nature. The setting up by the Garda Commissioner of the divisional protective services units is one of the actions outlined in the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The strategy, in accordance with programme for Government commitments is a whole-of-government approach, involving seven Departments and a number of State bodies, including Tusla and An Garda Síochána.
A key element of the strategy was the recent enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill 2018. Under the existing Garda reform programme,divisional units of the Garda national protective services bureau are being rolled out across the country in two phases. The bureau and its divisional units are tasked with improving services to victims, improving the investigation of sexual and domestic violence incidents and identifying and managing risk. Phase 1 of the roll-out has been completed with divisional units established and working in three areas, Dublin metropolitan region west, Cork city and Louth.
I strongly welcome the important statement by Commissioner Harris this week at the launch of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre annual report on his commitment to the continued roll-out of the divisional protective services units. I am confident that under his leadership and stewardship, there will be rapid progress in the delivery of these important units.
Following an evaluation of the pilot, the next phase will see an additional six divisional bureaus established in Dublin metropolitan region south central, Waterford, Kerry, Kilkenny-Carlow, Limerick and Galway before the end of 2018 with the objective of extending them to all remaining Garda divisions before the end of 2019.
I had the pleasure of being at the launch of the Rape Crisis Centre's annual report and I had an opportunity to listen to Commissioner Drew Harris. I welcomed what he said. He gave a commitment that there would be a roll-out of the divisional protective service units in all 29 Garda divisions. It is important to note that taking evidence or a statement from a victim of child abuse or a complainant in a rape or sexual abuse case is a complicated matter that requires expertise, sensitivity and training. That is why I very much welcome the establishment of these units. Unfortunately, there have been reports in recent weeks that gardaí are being told they cannot take part in specialist courses due to budgetary constraints. That is of severe concern to members of An Garda Síochána but also to the victims of such crimes and complainants who wish to come before the court. Will the Minister give us assurance that funding will be provided and that it will be ring-fenced for these vital units?
I acknowledge the importance of the specialist training to which the Deputy refers. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that all Garda personnel receive training in the investigation of incidents considered to be domestic abuse in all its forms with additional training provided to gardaí who have been selected for duties as detectives. Further and more specific training has been developed by the director of training with the senior management team at the Garda national protective services bureau for training to be provided to personnel selected for duty within the divisional protective services units where the roll out has taken place. This has commenced in the three divisions I mentioned in Louth, cork city and Dublin metropolitan region west. I am keen to have all the Garda divisions involved in the process by the end of next year. I acknowledge the importance of the recommendations in the recently published report by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, placing an emphasis on the need to support victims of crime and the need for the gardaí to have an appropriate level of training.
We do not just have to read the report that was published recently by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland; we can read the reports of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and the Policing Authority, which have criticised the low numbers of specialist child interviewers within An Garda Síochána. It is a difficulty and problem that exists within the force. We keep making laws in this House and in the Seanad, which make the law more complicated. Gardaí have to investigate any breaches of the law. It needs to ensured that they are adequately trained to deal with legitimate complainants who come forward using those laws. That is why it is so important to ensure funding is ring-fenced for these units. I welcome that the units will be rolled out in the 29 Garda divisions but I am also conscious of what has been said by members of the Garda Representative Association, GRA, who stated they need to ensure there is a proper professional national training plan to deal with front-line members of An Garda Síochána. It is not appropriate to put a young garda who is not adequately trained before complainants in such cases.
The Deputy makes a reasonable point. I acknowledge an increase of 8% in the Garda Síochána Vote in the recent budget. There is €1.7 billion available to the Garda Commissioner to engage in the type of activity he believes is important to ensure the issues raised are dealt with. I am informed that all Garda personnel receive training in the matter of domestic abuse. I acknowledge the importance of the pilot areas. Induction training has been provided for personnel in these units. A briefing is being provided to all appropriate State agencies beyond the Garda Síochána. The training referred to by the Deputy includes specific training in the investigation of sexual crime, online child exploitation, domestic abuse, human trafficking, children in care who are reported missing and sex offender management. I look forward to ensuring that all divisions of An Garda Síochána have the appropriate units within the timeframe envisaged, which is 12 months from now.