Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues, Dr Shannon, I am delighted to be with you today.
I know that this launch is the culmination of a lot of hard work. I know many people have come together and shown a real commitment to providing better services, reducing trauma and helping rebuild lives.
As Minister for Justice and Equality I am delighted to be part of such a strong cooperative effort. Already today, you have heard some of the international speakers who have come here share their experiences of putting the Barnahus principles put into practice. Now, this pilot project, will provide us with an opportunity to develop our own best practice.
Working together as Departments and Agencies, we will have the common aim of putting the wellbeing of children who have suffered sexual abuse and their families at the core of what we do. These principles will drive not just service provision, but everything…including multidisciplinary and interagency collaboration, child-friendly environments and interagency case management.
The HSE, Tusla and An Garda Síochána each has a major role in supporting the needs of child victims. Those roles might be medical, therapeutic, or investigative. But they are not exclusive roles. And the great positive in this project is that the bodies will overlap and work together so that the best interests of the child are served from a health and well-being perspective, while also ensuring that the necessary criminal investigations are conducted in the most sensitive and compassionate way possible.
Our response as a State and as a community to sexual violence has evolved in recent years. We now recognise its impact and the trauma it can cause. And so the law and policies relating to sexual offending and the victims of sexual violence have increasingly reflected the special harm caused by this type of offending and the dedicated response which is required to address it and to reduce victimisation. And as we evaluate and review the supports and services we provide, I know that our laws and policies will continue to evolve
It cannot be ignored that a particularly traumatic outcome of sexual abuse is often the interaction between the victim and the criminal justice system. Responding to the needs of victims has seen the rolling out by the Garda Commissioner of Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSUs) in each Garda Division. These units have specially trained officers responsible for engaging with and interviewing victims. They will support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, for adults and children alike. This is a very positive step towards reducing the trauma and supporting victims through the criminal investigative process.
The legislative changes introduced in recent years also recognise that victims of sexual crime and sexual violence in particular, have special needs and require special supports. This is particularly true in the case of children who have suffered sexual abuse, and indeed their families who may themselves be struggling to deal with what has happened.
That said, financial support is also key to addressing the needs of all victims.
In 2019, just over €1.7 million was made available by my Department to support 57 community and voluntary sector organisations who provide victim support services across the country. These services provide important information and support to victims of crime including emotional support, court accompaniment, accompaniment to interviews and other services, counselling and referral. I want to commend and thank all of those in our services and in our society who provide these and many other supports.
But to get back to today….
I just want to say again that this is a really important initiative. And so I thank Simon Harris and Katherine Zappone for their collaboration and support. I also acknowledge the role and commitment of Dr Geoffrey Shannon in advocating for the Barnahus model and also for his time as Special Rapporteur for Children. I truly believe he has been instrumental in keeping children’s rights at the forefront of public and political discourse. I would like to thank him for that. And I would also like to wish him well in his new role with the Fundamental Rights Agency as Children’s Rights Expert in the area of cybercrime.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the work of all of those in An Garda Síochána, the HSE and Tusla who, together with their lead Departments, have shown how a shared objective and a collaborative approach can achieve a more considered response, better outcomes and more hopeful futures.
As we begin a process of meeting the rights and needs of vulnerable children and their families in a new and collaborative way, I am pleased to note that the Galway project is also expected to inform best practice for the future development of similar centres in other locations. And I wish everyone involved the best.