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Councillor who was victim of sex attack welcomes tagging plan for offenders as justice minister says plan will protect public

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Councillor Deirdre Donnelly

Councillor Deirdre Donnelly

Councillor Deirdre Donnelly

A Dublin councillor who previously revealed she was the victim of a sexually motivated attack has welcomed proposed changes to the law which will allow for electronic tagging of sex offenders and disclosure of information about them in certain circumstances.

The Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill was brought to Cabinet by Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

Independent Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Councillor Deirdre Donnelly, who represents the Stillorgan area, said she welcomes the proposed amendments, but feels more needs to be done for victims of sex attacks both when reporting to gardaí and when going through the legal process afterwards.

Last July Cllr Donnelly went public about being harassed by a man who pestered her during a function at a hotel.

“He was rubbing himself up against me. It was in a bar in full view of people, but nobody seemed to notice,” she said.

She said she repeatedly moved away from the man, who was drinking alcohol and swaying as he walked.

Eventually she left the function early and went to her room, but the man followed her, causing her to flee and fall.

She reported the matter to gardaí but the man was never prosecuted.

“I welcome the legislation that sex offenders or serial sex offenders who are a danger to society can be electronically tagged. I hope that the gardaí and all involved will cooperate with the minister and we can see this implemented,” said Cllr Donnelly.

However, she thinks more should be done to help people reporting a sex attack and going through the legal process afterwards.

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“I will openly say that what the justice system in this country has put me through is a lot worse than what the individual did. And is. The legal system, from reporting an event right through to how it was dealt with, was very poor.

“The trauma begins for the victim when the event happens, and the trauma is there right throughout every single day while you're waiting for the DPP to send a letter to see whether they will prosecuted or not; when you're going in and out to medical appointments; when you're trying to explain to people why you’re so upset. It’s there the whole time,” she said.

She added that it can take up to two years for a decision to be made about whether to prosecute or not.

“In my case it was 22 months. I don't think that the legislation is taking all of that into account.

“The provision of legal advice to the victim at the start so that they understand the process, and a clear explanation available to the victim at the garda station outlining the legal process involved is needed.

“And counselling records should not be used openly as evidence in cases. Why is it that a victim of rape or sexual assault can have their privacy violated in such a manner but the offender on release into the community has a right to privacy regarding their address?” Cllr Donnelly asked.

She would also like to see a situation where the complainant can meet with a representative from the DPP if a decision has been made not to prosecute.

“The ‘cut and paste’ style letter in the post with an accompanying leaflet is not sufficient. A face-to-face meeting would assist in granting some form of closure to the victim and help with the healing process.

"In the UK, a member of the Crown Prosecution Service can meet with a complainant and explain the reasons why a prosecution will not go ahead,” said Cllr Donnelly.

This evening, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the legislation which will allow for the electronic tagging of registered sex offenders is about keeping the public safe.

She said the legislation agreed by Cabinet would strengthen “already robust” laws around sexual offenders as Minister McEntee said there are currently over 1,700 registered sexual offenders in Ireland.

The Bill will also allow for Gardaí to disclose personal information about known sex offenders to the public if there is a potential threat to safety.

“This won’t be a public meeting, though, where a Garda will tell people that someone is in the area. This is about strengthening the law that currently exists and about keeping people safe and taking on board concerns people have had in recent years,” Minister McEntee said on Newstalk Radio.

The Minister said it was about “balance” and what she didn’t want to see was whole communities being incited and “driving a sex offender to ground” where they can’t be monitored.

It will be done on a case-by-case basis with individuals being informed if Gardaí believe there are sufficient grounds to inform them of the offender’s presence.

Minister McEntee said when the new legislation is introduced, electronic tagging of registered sex offenders “will be an option for a judge to put this as part of an order”. This will ensure newly-released prisoners are following the terms of their probation.

“It won’t apply to everybody but it will be an option for a judge to consider in certain circumstances.

“You have other elements of the Bill whereby if a sex offender is leaving their jurisdiction or moving house, to date they have to make that known at a Garda Station within seven days. We’re reducing that to three days.

“It will also be underpinned in legislation that if you are on the sex offenders register, you cannot work with children, you cannot work with vulnerable persons. We’re making that crystal clear,” Minister McEntee said.

The Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021 will for the first time explicitly give the courts the power to ban a sex offender from working with children or vulnerable adults. Courts have previously issued orders banning sex offenders from working with children but the new legislation will give judges the specific legal power to issue bans to those deemed a threat to the public.

The measures are aimed reducing the likelihood of reoffending by sex offenders and the minister acknowledged that “not a very high number” of offenders undergo voluntary rehabilitation courses while in prison.

The legislation will also give gardaí the power to take fingerprints, palm prints and photographs to confirm the identity of an offender.

There will also be legislation allowing gardaí to drop or change sex offender orders.

Minister McEntee said she would also support legislation that prohibits protests outside the homes of politicians and other people in public life.

"There are workplaces and public spaces where people can protest, and everyone should have the right to protest, but when it comes to someone’s house, outside their front door where their family are, who have nothing to do with this; I think it’s crossing the line,” Minister McEntee said.


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