New refuges to be opened as part of government plan to tackle domestic violence

There are nine counties that still do not have refuges for women and children

The number of arrests made annually for rape or sexual assault in Ireland has almost doubled over the course of the past decade

The number of arrests made annually for rape or sexual assault in Ireland has almost doubled over the course of the past decade

 

Refuge spaces will be opened in the nine counties that currently have no such services as part of a new plan on domestic violence.

The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has also confirmed that the responsibility for operating the refuges will move away from Tusla into a new structure under her department. At present, there are nine counties that still do not have refuges for women and children.

In an interview with the Irish Times for the Winter Nights Festival, Ms McEntee confirmed that a forthcoming strategy on domestic, sexual and gender based violence will address this.

“I cannot be any clearer, the commitment is there to make sure firstly in the nine counties that we focus on that immediately but also put in place the spaces that are needed the length and breadth of the country. It will be underpinned by resources.”

“We need better spaces, even the physical built environment. We need to build on services.”

“What the sector have clearly said and what was clearly responded to is the fact that we need things to be much more joined up. So that (responsibility) is moving out of Tusla and will come over to Justice, and the overall structure of that we are working on at the moment.”

Responsible

Ms McEntee also said that she would be the person ultimately responsible for both policy and the provision of services under the new plan, but that she will also be accountable to the Taoiseach.

“Making sure policies and services are co-ordinated has been a huge priority and really has been something that the community and voluntary sector have sought for some time. We are amalgamating both of those into the Department of Justice.”

“The Taoiseach’s department will play a key role as well, so they will have an oversight part in this to make sure we are all doing what we are supposed to, and that includes me as Minister for Justice.”

She also said that many victims don’t forward because “they are afraid and don’t think that they will be listened to.”

“When we are looking at why the figures are so low, firstly in women coming forward, but then when they do come forward, actual prosecutions following through, there are a number of things there: making sure victims have the support they need going through that process, because if they don’t feel they have the support they are not likely to continue what is a difficult thing to do; it’s about making sure the laws are clear.”

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin also said that Tusla will soon publish a review of the provision of accommodation for victims of domestic violence.

“This will assist in developing a plan to address the shortfall of adequate refuge provision and the building of centres. We want to streamline the provision of centres in particular in terms of capital and current provision.

“Resources will not be the issue in getting this developed. He also said that an order will shortly be signed to bring into operation the Criminal Procedure Act 2021 which will allow for pre-trial hearings “that will reduce delays in the trial process that might retraumatise victims.”

Arrests

Meanwhile, the number of arrests made annually for rape or sexual assault in Ireland has almost doubled over the course of the past decade, according to new data released by the Department of Justice.

The total number of persons arrested in the State for rape or sexual assault in 2011 was 536 and that figure rose to 998 in 2021.

In fact, the annual figures show a consistent increase in arrests every year. In 2018 there were 811 arrests; in 2019 there were 883; in 2020 there were 910; and last year the figure rose to almost 1,000 for the first time.

The figures were released to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee after he tabled a parliamentary question on the issue.

Separate figures published last year show that only a minority of those incidents are subsequently prosecuted and tried in criminal courts. For example there were 124 prosecutions in 2019 (when there were 883 arrests) and 168 in 2020 (when there were 910 arrests).

However, some of those arrests might subsequently have led to prosecutions for sexual assault below the category of rape. There were 459 prosecutions for sexual assault in 2019 and 530 in 2020.

Mr Tóibín said the State needed to have a conversation about those rising figures.

“A system needs to be established whereby we can track these statistics through the judicial system — how many reports to the Gardaí lead to an arrest, how many make it to court, how many convictions result and how does the sentencing process work.

“Aontú has serious concerns about the sentencing process…Ireland is far too lenient in terms of our sentencing. We need zero tolerance, and that means stronger sentencing,” he said.

For her part, Ms McEntee said the Government was deeply committed to tackling sexual violence and sexual crime in all its form.

“I am working to ensure that victims feel empowered to report sexual crimes and when they do, they are supported at every stage of their interaction with our justice system.