Ministers publish progress on Domestic and Sexual Abuse Action Plan

Progress on a cross-departmental strategy to stop domestic and sexual violence and abuse in Northern Ireland has been published today.


Ministers for Justice, Health, Communities, Education and Finance have published an action plan setting out proposed activity for year seven of the seven year domestic and sexual abuse strategy as well as a progress report detailing developments during 2021/22.


Key cross Departmental actions for year seven include:

  • Develop and consult on a new domestic and sexual abuse strategy.
  • Commencement of Protection from Stalking Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 and introduction of a new stalking offence and Stalking Protection Orders.
  • Continue to develop the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (‘IRIS’) programme with General Practice.
  • Implement Operation Encompass on a phased basis to provide for information sharing with schools, colleges and training facilities.
  • Review and reassess current work programme to ensure teachers have the necessary skills to teach about sensitive subjects, including child abuse as well as domestic and sexual abuse.
  • Develop existing Sexual Offences Legal Advisers, by extending the service to children, as well as legislative proposals to clarify the entitlement to pre-trial third party representation on disclosure and object to the raising of previous sexual history.
  • Develop additional guidance and tools to strengthen and support the operation of the Local Domestic and Sexual Violence Partnerships.
  • Develop and implement an action plan to address recommendations from independent research commissioned on the Sanctuary Scheme
  • Progress actions reflecting the review of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Disclosure Scheme, including consideration of how to raise public awareness.
  • Examine learning from the first 18 months of operation of Domestic Homicide Reviews.
  • Seek victims’ views on their experience of engaging with PSNI and seek opportunities to develop the concept of domestic abuse champions within local policing teams.


Outlining what has been achieved in the last 12 months, Justice Minister Naomi Long said: 

“During this last year we have seen the passage of three important pieces of legislation on domestic abuse, stalking and sexual offences which will provide greater protections for victims.  A new domestic abuse offence is in place, making a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour a crime.  An eLearning package and multi-media advertising campaign accompanied this to raise awareness.  A new advocacy support service was also introduced last September, primarily to help those going through the criminal justice system.  At the end of March 1270 adults and 120 children had been helped by the service.”    



Health Minister, Robin Swann said: 

“My Department has continued to develop the IRIS programme to better equip GPs, practice nurses and other professionals within primary care to identify and refer victims of domestic and sexual abuse to specialist advocacy support. 281 pharmacies have also enrolled in the ‘Ask for Ani’ code word scheme providing an additional avenue for victims to seek help.


 Health and Justice have worked closely together on a range of areas during the past year including a ten week Call for Views to inform the development of a new domestic and sexual abuse strategy. I would like to thank the many individuals and organisations who took the time to respond and engage with us in this very important exercise.”



Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: 

“Those fleeing domestic and sexual violence are in an incredibly vulnerable situation and need to know that support is available.  Having a safe, secure and comfortable place to live is a priority. Through my Department’s Supporting People Programme, the Housing Executive continue to deliver safe accommodation and related support. My Department also helps fund a dedicated helpline.  Having a friendly voice, where advice can be offered in a confidential way, is a lifeline for many and I would urge anyone who feels they are at risk of abuse, to seek help and support through the Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is available 24/7 on 0808 802 1414 or in an emergency phone the police on 999.”



Education Minister Michelle McIlveen added: 

“The education and wellbeing of children who are affected by domestic abuse is critical.  An Operation Encompass pilot was rolled out in September 2021, covering 137 schools across the Newry, Mourne & Down area.  This aims to help children affected by domestic abuse get immediate support in school, by enabling the police to tell schools about an incident the previous day.  Roll out of the scheme to other areas will be progressed over the course of this year.”



Concluding Conor Murphy said: 

“For Ministers and the Civil Service addressing domestic and sexual abuse is key to improving the wellbeing of staff who are affected.  In 2021 I launched a new Domestic and Sexual Abuse Policy for the Civil Service with additional training to help embed and support its implementation.  I am also making changes to Civil Service terms and conditions to allow for up to 10 days leave with pay for staff affected by domestic and sexual abuse. The Civil Service was awarded the Onus Gold Workplace Charter Award by an accreditation scheme which recognises organisations for their support to anyone affected by domestic violence or abuse.”



The action plan is the seventh to be issued under the strategy and is based on partnership working across Government as well as with statutory, voluntary and community sector partners.


To view the latest action plan, and other documents, please click here.