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22 cases referred since June to Divisional Protective Services Unit

TWENTY-TWO investigations have been referred to the new specialist Garda unit tasked with investigating sexual and domestic crime, since the Clare unit was set up this summer.

The Divisional Protective Services Unit (DPSU) opened in May and became fully operational a month later, according to Detective Sergeant Paul English who made a presentation to the Joint Policing Committee last Monday.

There is now a unit in every Garda division, Sergeant English noted, tasked with investigations into areas involving vulnerable adults, sexual crime, online child exploitation, domestic abuse, trafficking, organised prostitution and victim liaison. He also told JPC members that while there had been a drop, during the lockdown, in the number of survivors coming forward to organisations such as Rape Crisis Midwest (RCMW), there had been a noticeable increase as the country reopened.

Of the 22 investigations referred to Clare’s DPSU, 18 related to sexual assaults, including rape; two concern child exploitation and two involve coercive control.

Giving an overview of the offences the DPSU investigates, Detective Garda English outlined that for the first nine month of last year, there had been 10 rapes reported, while the number for the same period this year is seven. There were 26 sexual assaults reported between January and September of 2019 and 22 reported for the same period this year. Last year, there were three reports of child exploitation incidents to the end of the third quarter, and five so far this year. In terms of offences under Child Pornography Act, there were seven reported from January to September of 2019, and five in the same time-frame for 2020.

The Clare unit, based in Crusheen, is staffed by five investigators, three women and two are men. “There are two specialist interviewers for children,” Sergeant English said. “The anticipated future level of staffing will be two detective sergeants for the unit and ten detective Gardaí. There is a national unit under Detective Chief Superintendent Declan Daly at Garda Headquarters in Dublin and the remit of the divisional units mirrors that.”

Detective Sergeant English also outlined to JPC members the process by which referrals are made to the specialist investigators. “When a person reports to a Garda station, the Garda determines if the incident matches the remit and submits it if it does,” he explained. He added that the unit sometimes gets external referrals from organisations including Tusla, the Diocese, the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), as well as online child exploitation investigations. “We might receive a location from an IP address,” he said, “then search warrants would be issued.”

Detective Sergeant English stressed that the unit’s main aim at all times is to prioritise victims. “None of us should underestimate the courage it takes to come forward and report,” he said. “They are to be admired and treated with respect.”

Detective Sergeant English outlined that a special interview room is available at the Crusheen unit so that injured parties have a better experience. “Interviewers are specially trained, as it can take several interviews before there is a disclosure,” he said. “People can choose to be interviewed by a man or a woman, if they wish.”

The detective sergeant also outlined that under the Victims of Crime Act (2017), a number of measures can be taken to make the process of going to court less traumatic. These include applications to prohibit an injured party being questioned about their private life, and to exclude the public from court. Video linking and recordings of interviews can also be facilitated, where appropriate.

In relation to initiatives to curb domestic and sexual crime, a number of JPC members paid tribute to the work of Sergeant Caitriona Holohan, Chairperson of the Clare Local Area Network (CLAN) and Liaison Sergeant for Domestic Abuse.

“She has been absolutely outstanding,” Chief Superintendent Seán Colleran said.

The contact number for the Clare DPSU is 065-6890132 and the email address is clare.dpsu@garda.ie

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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