Greater priority should be given to victims of crime, conference told

Speakers tell of shared sense that to others their cases were about the crimes not them

A number of victims of serious crimes, including incest and terrorist violence, have spoken of how they believe the treatment of people who endure experiences like theirs needs to change.

The contributors were taking part in a webinar held to mark the European Day for Victims of Crime, organised by the national Crime Victims Helpline and other support organisations.

Ailbhe Griffith, who was sexually assaulted in Dublin in 2005, told of the benefits of meeting with the man years later by way of a structured process.

She was attacked while on her way home from work by a man who got on her bus at the same time, sat beside her without speaking and then followed her when she alighted.


The assault lasted about an hour and Ms Griffith said she felt the man was “capable of killing me”. However, some young men came upon the scene, chased after the man when he attempted to flee and apprehended him.

Ms Griffith said she was happy with her treatment by An Garda Síochána and the sentence the man was given, but was still left feeling that the criminal justice process “wasn’t about me, it was about the crime”.

During the following years, she said, she continually asked herself why he had done what he had done, and eventually, when the man was on supervised release, she requested a meeting with him by way of the restorative justice system.

She got no rational answer from the man as to why he had attacked her, but she said the process was helpful and made her less afraid of the attacker.

“When I walked out of that room I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt elated. I felt absolutely and utterly empowered.”

One of the biggest effects of the process was that it had changed her memory of the attack, she said.

“When I think back to the event now, I automatically think back to the restorative meeting, that ultimately leaves me feeling very empowered.”

Colm Smyth, who was shot by loyalists in the attack on O'Toole's pub in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994, in which six men died, said he was "still dealing with the effects and the trauma of that night".

“One of the most important things for me, as a victim,” he said, “was the feeling of powerlessness and not having a voice within the system. Up to this day, that is a huge part of my experience.”

For many years Mr Smyth said he had “no communication” about what was going on regarding the police investigation. “I was not part of their process. I was someone that it happened to.”

Hazel Larkin said a lot of things had improved in relation to the reporting of sexual crime since she reported in 1992 that she had been abused. However, she said these changes had happened more at the local level than at the level of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts.

“We refer to the criminal justice system, rather than the victims justice system, and for very good reason. For in many ways the system is stacked more in favour of the criminal, than of the victim.”

Events promoter Buzz O’Neill-Maxwell said nobody has been prosecuted in the eight years since he was the victim of a homophobic attack outside the George bar in Dublin.

“I don’t know if it an open case, it definitely is an open wound,” he said.

Mr O’Neill said he was delighted that legislation was being introduced which would allow assaults such as the one he had suffered be treated as a hate crime.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she shared the objective that the criminal justice system should treat victims with dignity and empathy.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent