Mishandling of 999 calls needs ‘root and branch’ response, support group says

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee says work to improve the service has begun amid new focus on dynamics of domestic violence

Women’s Aid has said it is “deeply concerned” by a report which found failings in the handling of 999 calls to An Garda Síochána prevented investigations and the identification of victims of possible sexual assault.

Sarah Benson, chief executive of the domestic violence service, said “something of this gravity must never happen again”.

Ms Benson was speaking after a new Policing Authority report highlighted how numerous failures in the handling of emergency calls prevented investigations and the identification of victims of possible sexual assault.

The report, carried out by Derek Penman, the former chief inspector of constabulary in Scotland, identified “substantial shortcomings” in the Garda’s handling of emergency calls from members of the public.


“We welcome Commissioner Drew Harris’s comments that Garda management has taken action to improve performance and systems but we must be assured that a complete root and branch revision of internal systems and practices must also be completed to ensure that such a grievous breach of procedure can never happen again,” Ms Benson said.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland said a “consistent and professional response” was needed from the Garda.

While it was now up to gardaí to retrospectively attempt to remedy the shortcomings outlined in the report, “for anyone making those calls these events are not in the past”, a spokeswoman said.

“Many victims of sexual assault minimise their experience and the cancellation of their calls may confirm their belief that what happened to them was unimportant. It is vital that we say to those people today that it is not too late and that they can seek help now.”

Safe Ireland, the national agency, which works towards ending domestic violence, said the findings of the report were “disturbing and certainly undermine public confidence in policing”.

In a statement, Safe Ireland said it and frontline services encourage victims of domestic abuse to call 999 and “will continue to do so, however, we must be assured that the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner have prioritised immediate remedial action to ensure all of these calls will be treated competently.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said all the recommendations made by the Policing Authority in its report would be adopted and the work to improve the service had begun.

Separately, Ms McEntee welcomed the adoption, by 38 of the 46 of the members of the Council of Europe, of a significant declaration of intent to step up efforts to tackle domestic violence.

The Dublin Declaration, which focuses particularly on tackling cultural and structural norms that perpetuate domestic violence, was adopted on Friday — the second day of a two-day conference hosted by the Minister.

Though among the eight that did not sign up were Hungary, Turkey and Azerbaijan, among those who did were Latvia, Lithuania and Armenia which have yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention — a legally binding convention against gender-based and sexual violence.

“To me that’s a real positive because I think it shows their intent,” said Ms McEntee.

An issue raised “particularly” during the conference, she continued, was the failure in some instances in family-law disputes to listen to children’s voices where they were traumatised by living with domestic violence.

“You often have situations for children where it is seen that there should be equal rights in terms of access, even where one person has been violent. I don’t think that should be the case.

“It’s an area that we have already started working on and in our ‘zero tolerance’ plan [on domestic, sexual and gender violence]. There has been more focus on children as victims, not just of physical domestic sexual violence but victims themselves being involved in these situations, and how important it is for their voice to be heard.”

Some judges and legal professionals needed “more training” on the dynamics of the abuse, said Ms McEntee. These issues, she said, would be further addressed in the forthcoming Family Law Bill.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times