Belfast Telegraph

Stormont accused of neglect as taskforce on sexual violence admits it has not met in three years

By Adrian Rutherford

A Stormont taskforce set up to tackle domestic and sexual violence has not met for almost three years, it has been revealed.

The Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence last convened in November 2012.

Since then the number of domestic abuse incidents reported to the PSNI has soared by 30%.

The details emerged after an Assembly question from SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly.

She said: "The inability of this group of ministers to even meet to discuss the prevention of domestic and sexual violence is a shocking dereliction of duty and reveals the priorities of those involved."

The inter-ministerial group - which was chaired by the Health Minister and also comprised the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and ministers of Justice, Finance and Personnel, Social Development, Education, and Employment and Learning - was set up by the Executive in November 2007 to lead and co-ordinate efforts across government to address domestic and sexual violence.

A strategy paper published at the time said: "It will ensure that domestic and sexual violence issues are integrated into the policy initiatives of all relevant government departments."

The group was scheduled to meet twice a year to provide updates on the agreed targets.

However, responding to an Assembly question from Mrs Kelly, Health Minister Simon Hamilton confirmed the group has not met since November 2012.

Mr Hamilton said it was last scheduled to meet in October 2014, but this was postponed.

The meeting does not appear to have been rescheduled.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Kelly said she was astonished at the lack of meetings.

"It is deeply disconcerting that, at a time when violence against men and in particular women is on the rise, and more cases are being reported, a greater emphasis is not being shown by the Executive," she said. The Upper Bann MLA said more focus was needed on domestic violence.

"I have met with the women's aid sector and I was really shocked to find that there are waiting lists for people to have their first intervention or assessment by Women's Aid," she added. "The fact that Women's Aid has to scramble around for funding is unacceptable. Domestic violence is a societal problem and we have to be much more focused and concerned about it."

Police figures show there were 10,387 domestic abuse crimes reported to the PSNI in 2011/12.

By last year, this had increased to 13,426 crimes ­- a rise of 29.2%.

Mr Hamilton said: "Where IMG members have required briefing but no meeting was scheduled, briefing has been provided via correspondence.

"IMG members have been updated both on the development of the new draft strategy on domestic and sexual violence and abuse and on the outcome of the public consultation on the strategy in this way."

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