152. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice when she will review the actions committed to within her Department’s implementation plan for the Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences; and if she plans to publish a bi-annual progress report of the plan. [59144/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Supporting a Victim's Journey is an ambitious plan which is introducing important reforms to support and protect vulnerable victims and ensure our criminal justice system is more victim-centred.
I am fully committed to implementing in full all of the actions set out in Supporting a Victim's Journey. To monitor progress, I chair an Implementation Oversight Group comprising all relevant departments and agencies responsible for driving the implementation of the agreed actions, which meets at least quarterly and on occasion, more frequently as required. This ensures the work to implement all of the actions is kept under regular review. In addition, progress reports are submitted to me and the Deputy may wish to note that to date no Department or agency has flagged any significant issues of delay or concern.
A number of key actions have been delivered to date as part of implementing Supporting a Victim’s Journey including:
- Legislating for the introduction of preliminary trial hearings;
- The nationwide rollout of Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSU);
- The first cohort of staff at a new sexual offences unit in the Director of Public Prosecutions office formally took up their roles in April;
- Work to advance the training for all personnel who come into contact with vulnerable victims is underway;
- The University of Limerick has been commissioned by my Department to develop the framework for the operation and training of intermediaries.
In addition to the above, a review of the supports and funding of civil society organisations providing frontline services has been conducted to identify where gaps may exist and how to bridge them. Specific geographical areas and categories of victims that are not adequately covered by NGO supports have been identified and I recently announced that €445,000 is being provided to a number of organisations to allow them to provide further services and to increase the geographical spread of support to victims of crime.
To promote more sustainable service delivery and planning, we are offering multi-annual funding commitments to key NGOs we work with and where funding covers staff salaries. These funding grants cover accompaniment to court, to Garda interviews and to sexual assault treatment units and emotional support and counselling.
In partnership with D/FHERIS we have also agreed with NUIG Active* Consent to fund the creation of an e-learning hub, which will – for the first time – provide an integrated, publicly available resource on consent awareness and learning bringing together a variety of related educational and promotional material in one place. The information hub will go live shortly, with further elements being rolled out early in 2022.
In relation to the updates on sexual offences legislation that have been recommended in the O’Malley Report, the scoping exercise has been completed and work has started on drafting the heads of a General Scheme of a Sexual Offences Bill.