CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

17th May 2017

 

Distinguished guests,

I am delighted to welcome you to Dublin this week.

I want to thank the organisers, Victim Support Europe, Victims Rights Alliance, Victim Support Northern Ireland and the Advocates for Victims of Homicide organisation for the kind invitation to be with you here this morning.

A number of things strike me straight away about this week’s conference. These are:

I am delighted that Victim Support Europe has chosen Dublin and this wonderful venue for this year’s conference.

All of the bodies involved in this event and their support sponsors deserve of great credit and of our thanks for putting together such an attractive and contemporary programme.

No matter what peoples’ particular interest or involvement in this policy area is, I am sure the line up here before you this week will motivate and invigorate you.

The overall theme of this week’s conference “Victims of Crime, Rights, Needs and Responses” is also very fitting.

Joining these three components is key in effectively meeting the needs of victims of crime in our society.

Firstly, we must ensure that victims’ rights are fully recognised, respected and made as easily accessible to them as is possible.

Secondly, we must continue to assess the needs of victims of crime.

And thirdly, we must continue to actively monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the responses we already have put in place. And further develop those responses as required.

The Victim Support Europe organisation remains at the forefront as the leading European umbrella organisation advocating on behalf of victims of crime.

So it is pleasing to see that your conference this year, while focusing on all victims of crime, will examine emerging trends in victims’ rights, needs and responses internationally.

This includes, for example, your work in looking closely at the responses for victims, of terrorism, of hate crime, of online crime and of historical abuse.

All of this work is important.

It is also timely that this conference is taking place considering what is undoubtedly a period of significant and fundamental reform in this policy area.

It can sometimes be the case that criminal justice systems or processes are perceived or felt as unresponsive by victims.

It may even be that such systems, even unintentionally, can at times add to the suffering or frustrations experienced by victims.

We must also always remember that victims are involved in such systems and processes by virtue of circumstances and crimes not of their making.

Thankfully cultural and political developments in recent times has meant that the need to fully protect and support victims is now being more widely appreciated and given increasing recognition and prominence.

Consideration of victims’ perspectives and experiences must form part of our overall broader responses in dealing with crime.

I have said it before and I will repeat it here today – the rights of victims should be at the heart of the criminal justice system.

At the European level, it is of course the European Union’s Victims Directive, which is driving such welcome change in this policy area.

Fundamentally, as delegates will know, a key aim of the Directive is to ensure that victims of crime receive appropriate information, support and protection across the Union.

In addition, the Directive contains a more comprehensive definition of a victim than was set out in its predecessor, the European Council’s Framework Decision of 2001.

The Directive is therefore a very significant development in advancing the rights and supports for victims across the European Union.

The challenge for all the Member States is to ensure that its provisions are effectively and practically implemented.

Such implementation involves the support of a wide range of parties in its delivery and is, therefore, not a modest task.

However, we are wholly committed to this task.

Put simply the outcome has to be that the Directive brings with it the very real and sustained benefits for victims.

In Ireland’s case, we have introduced the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016, which is a hugely significant measure for victims of crime as it places victims’ rights on a statutory footing in this State.

The development of legislation in this area has been a priority issue for me as Minister for Justice and Equality.

Work on this legislation has involved a detailed consultation process led out by my Department both with the relevant State Agencies concerned but also with our non-Governmental agencies and civil society groups.

Such agencies and groups continue to play a fundamental role in advocating for and providing support to victims of crime in Irish society.

In fact, a number of the organisations here today, have contributed to the framing of our legislation. I wish to publicly thank them again today for this contribution.

Our legislation is now well advanced in our Parliament. Coincidentally and literally as I speak, this Bill is being examined and further progressed this morning by the relevant Parliamentary Committee.

And while we must get its provisions right I look forward to the enactment of this pivotal legislation for victims in Ireland as soon as is possible.

Pending this, arrangements have been put in place by the criminal justice agencies here to ensure that the rights conferred by the Directive are provided to victims of crime within our existing legislation and on a non-statutory basis.

To assist this, a Victims Services Group chaired by my Department has been in place since July 2015 to co-ordinate the work of these agencies in preparing for the full implementation of the Directive.

More widely, Ireland is very keen to continue to play its part in working closely with our partners across the European Union and wider afield in further developing support to victims.

Our involvement as a founding member and active partner of the work which is being done through the European Network of Victims Rights group demonstrates this.

I also know that representatives of some of our partners in this initiative are here today and wish to commend them for their support in this work.

I also very much welcome the proposed consolidation of this Network currently being advanced at European level.

All of this work is a key and hugely valuable source of support to people at what often can be a traumatic time in their lives.

Finally, I wish you all well in your work over the next two days here in the Royal Hospital. I am certain a hugely stimulating and constructive conference is ahead of you.

However, before I let you get on with this work, it would be remiss of me not to make my contribution for our tourist industry.

So let me also wish that all our visitors to our capital city this week can, in addition to their work, get at least some time to  explore and enjoy a flavour of Dublin during their stay.

I wish you all a very enjoyable visit here and offer all my very best wishes to VSE for this your 2017 conference.

Thank you once again.

 

ENDS