Belfast Telegraph

New plan to tackle domestic violence in Northern Ireland undermined by lack of funding: SDLP MLA claims

By Mark Edwards

A new plan to tackle domestic and sexual violence in Northern Ireland will be undermined due to a lack of funding, an MLA has said.

The Department of Health and Department of Justice jointly published the action plan under the Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse Strategy on Thursday.

The plan will see the implementation of a Domestic Homicide Review process to promote good practice in responding to domestic abuse.

A 'Sanctuary Scheme' for victims will also be implemented to enable victims to remain safe in their own homes.

The Department of Justice will also commence a Crown Court Observers' study to gather information on victims' and witnesses' experiences of the court system in sexual offence cases.

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Dolores Kelly

However, SDLP policing and justice spokesperson Dolores Kelly MLA cast doubt over the plans, saying they will not be properly implemented because of a lack of funding.

“This new plan based on cross-departmental partnership is, on paper, a welcome step towards tackling domestic and sexual violence," she said.

"In particular the Domestic Homicide Review process. However, in reality the lack of funding is going to make it impossible to implement the plan in its entirety.

“Speaking with management and board members from Women’s Aid on a regular basis, I am acutely aware that year on year, they are left to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get the funds needed to maintain their refuges and programmes.

"Likewise, it has been years since any of their staff have received a pay rise to acknowledge the very important, yet difficult job that they do, as well as not receiving any budgetary increase. "

The MLA for Upper Bann said it was unacceptable that the political spat between Sinn Fein and DUP meant the new plan could not be brought into legislation in the absence of an Executive at Stormont.

She added: "Victims of domestic abuse should not be left to wait.

"Without functioning institutions and an Assembly and Executive to pass and implement legislation, victims of domestic abuse are being let down.”

A Department of Justice spokesperson said: "The action plan will directly contribute to the delivery of the 2016 Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse Strategy’s vision, to have a society in Northern Ireland in which domestic and sexual violence is not tolerated in any form, effective tailored preventative and responsive services are provided, all victims are supported, and perpetrators are held to account."

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