NI ministers publish update on strategy to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence

Progress on a cross-department strategy to stop domestic and sexual violence and abuse in Northern Ireland has been published.

Ministers for Health, Justice, Communities, Education and Finance have published an action plan for year six of the seven year domestic and sexual abuse strategy as well as a progress report for 2020/21.

Key cross Departmental actions for year six include:

  • Domestic abuse and civil proceedings bill to become operational by end of 2021. A media awareness campaign and training will take place.
  • Continuing to develop the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (‘IRIS’) training and support programme with general practice;
  • Introducing a new Advocacy Support Service for victims of domestic and sexual abuse;
  • Bringing forward regulations to enable the introduction of Operation Encompass;
  • Establishing an Early Intervention cross departmental working group;
  • Commissioning research to consider the extension of the Sanctuary Scheme;
  • Preparatory work on developing legislation on Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders;
  • Introducing Sexual Offences Legal Advisors to provide general legal advice to victims of serious sexual offences;
  • Delivering early intervention Domestic Abuse Behavioural Change Programmes regionally;
  • Providing funding to support emergency refuge provision, other accommodation-based services and floating support services as well as other core services including advocacy, the Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline, MARACs and the Rowan.

Outlining what has been achieved in the last 12 months, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “As we look back at 2020, I am encouraged by what we have achieved together. Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19, essential support services have remained fully available and new initiatives, such as the ‘Ask for Ani’ pharmacy code word scheme, have been introduced to provide additional routes for victims and survivors to access support.

“The IRIS programme has also been running across two GP Federations with some practices now fully trained to use the IRIS referral pathway to provide specialist advocacy support for both women and men experiencing domestic and sexual abuse.”

Highlighting the progress that has been made, Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “Tackling domestic abuse is extremely important to me. Despite Covid-19 my Department has driven forward important work. Legislation for a new domestic abuse offence has been enacted. Free public transport is available for those fleeing domestic abuse to emergency accommodation and a range of media campaigns have raised awareness around how to get help and support.  A domestic homicide review process has been also been introduced to learn from tragedies where tragically an individual loses their life.”

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: “As we continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, we know that for many home is not a safe place.  I want to ensure that the Sanctuary scheme is fully utilised to provide victims with the choice to remain safely in their homes or seek re-housing. Through the Supporting People Programme housing support services are being provided to help vulnerable people to live independently in their homes or in supported accommodation.”

Education Minister Peter Weir added: “Work has been undertaken to establish a pilot programme to notify schools of domestic abuse incidents. This will commence in the South Down area in the next financial year, assisting schools to provide support, and a tailored response, to those affected by domestic abuse.  We have also welcomed the publication of guidelines for responsible media reporting on domestic abuse regionally.”

Concluding Conor Murphy said: “Additional guidance has been published so that victims (or those concerned about others) can easily access, in one place, the contact details for support organisations.  For anyone who feels they are at risk of abuse, it is important to remember that there is help and support available. The Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is available 24/7 on 0808 802 1414 or in an emergency phone the police on 999.”

The action plan is the sixth to be issued under the strategy and is based on partnership working across Government as well as with statutory, voluntary and community sector partners.

Further details on the documentation can be accessed at the Department of Health website.

Picture (c) NI Assembly / PA.