A charity offering support to victims of crime during court proceedings is to expand its services over the next three years.
Victim Support at Court (VSAC) expanded beyond Dublin to the East and South East regions in the past three years and now plans to further extend its services to other parts of the country.
At the launch of its three year strategic plan, the organisation's manager Dympna Kenny said there had been a significant demand for services from victims of crime both in the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin and elsewhere.
VSAC has worked with the Department of Justice to provide support where there are no accompaniment services available in courts throughout the country.
Ms Kenny said the organisation wanted to increase awareness of its court accompaniment service to all victims and survivors of crime, adding "Our mission is to provide a safe and supportive environment for victims of crime, their families and witnesses while they attend court.
"We want to ensure that no victim is left without support and receives a consistent level of service regardless of the court they are attending."
The group now plans to use social media to increase awareness of its services. At a virtual launch of the three-year plan today, Ms Kenny said many victims of crime were still unaware of their services.
It will also increase volunteer recruitment and training and has been given funding for three years from the Department of Justice to implement the plan.
Ms Kenny said the practical support offered to victims, witnesses and their families included simply showing them an empty courtroom and explaining "who sits where, how to walk up to the witness box, who will ask the questions first".
In the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin where the charity has a permanent presence they also show witnesses to private areas where they can wait away from the public and have some privacy while waiting to go into court.
"For many it can be the first time they have ever been in a court and it can be a daunting and frightening experience for victims of crime, especially if they have to give evidence,"she said.
Launching the report, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee noted that 36% of those who used VSAC in 2019 were victims of rape or sexual assault.
The minister described the three year plan as "a bold step forward" and said it was her aim and objective that the implementation of recommendations contained in a review of protections for vulnerable witnesses in sexual offence prosecutions will be seen as a very important and substantial step in the reform of the criminal justice system.
The minister said the focus would be ensuring that victims have full access to a range of supports, services and information.
A training and accreditation programme for intermediaries was recently launched which would provide for professionals to be specially trained and recognised as intermediaries.
She also said plans were in train for victims to have legal representation at pre-trial hearings and to retain the same legal team for the trial itself.