Belfast Telegraph

Tourist crime charity 'abandoned'

An internationally-renowned charity helping holidaymakers targeted by criminals feels abandoned after being forced to leave its central offices in Dublin's Garda headquarters.

The cash-strapped Irish Tourist Assistance Service (ITAS) was told to leave the huge Harcourt Square complex to make more room for the force and has to operate from a crime-prone side street, it told a parliamentary watchdog.

The front-line agency, which is run on a shoe-string budget, is expecting the number of overseas visitors turning to it for help to massively increase next year, when a new European Union directive will ensure all tourist victims are referred to it.

Under questioning by TDs and senators at an Oireachtas Justice Committee hearing, Lisa Kennedy, chief executive of ITAS, agreed they felt "abandoned" after being ejected from its 14-year home in the city centre Garda HQ.

"Yes, unfortunately," she said.

"It was a perfect location, and we were modelled on the Amsterdam tourist assistance service, which has its offices in the main police station in Amsterdam."

ITAS has helped 13,000 tourists who fell victim to crime in Ireland over the past two decades.

It offers complimentary accommodation, transport, meals, emotional counselling, money transfers and embassy contacts and it reports 95% of those it helps go on to recommend Ireland as a place to visit despite their ordeal.

For the past five years it has worked out of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal building on Hanover Street East in the capital's docklands during the week.

On weekends and on public holidays it has to operate from the reception area of Store Street Garda Station in the north inner city.

"This is very confusing and affects the continuity of the service," said Ms Kennedy.

"The main office is very difficult to find and for a tourist who has been a victim of crime and not familiar with the city, it poses a serious problem.

"It is also in an area that is prone to criminal damage and vandalism."

Ms Kennedy said the set-up is far from ideal and they need a city-centre location seven days a week.

Last year the service survived on a 112,000 euro ( £88,000) budget, mainly from the Department of Justice and Failte Ireland.

It also receives some donations from the tourism industry, including hoteliers and pub-owners, but funding has plunged 20% in recent years.

Ms Kennedy told the parliamentary watchdog an EU directive will compel authorities to refer crime victims from overseas to the service from November next year.

It currently deals with around a tenth of those who report a crime to the Garda, including theft and assault victims as well as the friends or family of tourists murdered or killed in Ireland.

At the moment it can be costly and time-consuming for tourists to keep track of criminal investigations here, as investigating officers are often not on duty when the tourist phones.

Senator Martin Conway said it was amazing people could not contact Garda stations by email.

Dublin North East TD Finian McGrath said he would "have a job" finding the offices on Hanover Street and urged a prime city centre location for the service.

The Independent representative also said donations from the tourism industry should be stronger as ITAS protects their customers.

The service employs two full time staff and another nine part time staff through a community employment scheme.

It has been honoured internationally with former workers being knighted by the British monarch and the Italian President for helping their nationals.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee said it would be asking Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald if she could help with the relocation and funding of the service.

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