New garda unit sends out old letters to crime victims
Letters being sent out to victims of crime by "dedicated, specially trained" officers are the same as those being sent out by superintendents years ago.
A Victim Service Office, manned by officers redeployed from other duties, was set up in each of the 28 garda divisions in March amid much fanfare.
Every time an individual becomes a victim of crime they receive a letter - which garda management described as being central to an all-new "victim-orientated police service".
However, the Irish Independent can reveal that the "new" letters contain precisely the same wording as those being sent to victims by local superintendents at least three years ago.
All that has changed is that instead of the local garda superintendent, the letters are signed by an officer from the Garda Victim Service Offices (GVSOs).
Informed sources maintain between 60 and 100 gardaí are being taken from front-line and other duties to churn out the correspondence.
Victims of rural crime have labelled the letters an "insult" and "waste of time".
Michael Clohessy, the owner of a garage in the village of Littleton, Co Tipperary, has 12 victim letters to mark the number of times his business has been burgled or vandalised.
"Each time we are hit, these victim impact letters come from the guards and that's it, we bin them because we know there will be no follow-up, they are a complete joke," he said.
When the victim offices were announced in March, the Garda Press Office declared they were "the central point of contact for victims of crime and trauma" in each Garda division, providing advice, information and support to victims.
However, the overwhelming majority of crime victims interviewed as part of the Irish Independent's series on rural crime have been hugely critical of the letters.
John Tully, whose shop has been robbed twice in the past 16 months, slammed the victim letters as "adding insult to injury".
"Every time we are robbed we get a letter from the Garda Victim Services Office which starts with the same line," he said.
"These victim letters are adding insult to injury and are a complete waste of time.
"It's not letters that people want, it is action - we want to see gardaí on the ground stopping this and not stuck in offices writing letters."
And dairy farmer Barry O'Gorman, who earlier this week told the Irish Independent how he was targeted on two occasions during the summer, revealed that his local GVSO got his name and address wrong.
"After the first robbery I got a letter with the wrong name and address and I was fairly annoyed and told them (gardaí) to correct it," he said.
"The letter that came after the second robbery still had the wrong name. The letters went into the shredder because they are of no use to me and all my neighbours have done the same thing - we would prefer to see guards out catching these guys and not writing letters."
Last night a garda spokesman said that the GVSOs will "take time to bed in" and that the letters to victims "need to be improved" and are currently being reviewed.
"However, we have surveyed victims of crimes who have used the offices over the last couple of months and the general response has been positive on the service they received," they said.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors called on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to prioritise Garda resources in Budget 2016, particularly in rural areas. Government needs to ring-fence resources for crime prevention and investigations, it said.