THE allocation of €2.7 million in increased funding for domestic and gender based violence must include extra refuge spaces for victims in rural areas — that is according to the director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor.
The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, will outline this afternoon the breakdown of how the allocation will be spent.
“It is very clear from the Covid-19 experience how prevalent domestic violence is in Ireland,” Ms O’Connor told The Echo. “We believe frontline services need a substantial increase in funding, such as Women’s Aid. So we want to see funding for refuge spaces across the country. There is an issue there that refuges are mainly in urban areas.”
There has also been provision for the implementation of protections for vulnerable victims in the budget. The allocation comes two months after the publication of the O’Malley Report on Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences.
Mary Crilly of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre said that anything that pushes along the implementation of the recommendations is to be welcomed.
Executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Liam Herrick, said: “We would support the report and the implementation of it.”
When the report was published, it recommended introducing more protective service units in garda stations; training of all gardaí on dealing with vulnerable victims; the provision of more information and advice for victims; requiring timely pre-trial hearings where defence lawyers would have to seek permission to cross-examine the victim’s sexual history; the introduction of video links to all court houses; and specialist training for judges, solicitors and barristers. It also included the introduction of sentencing guidelines for sexual offences.
A protective services unit for sexual crimes and domestic violence offences in west Cork is being beefed up in the coming months, and work is also underway to strengthen a similar unit in Cork city. Recently, a protective services unit for Cork North was launched in Fermoy.
Meanwhile, €158m has been allocated to the Courts Service, including €8m for the Courts Modernisation Programme.
“The Courts Service has already shown impressive innovation and adaptability during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in maintaining vital frontline services for those who need them, including the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse,” Minister McEntee, said.
Funding is also provided for Covid-19 measures within the courts, while the Free Legal Aid service has been granted an allocation of €294,000 for 2021.