Domestic Violence Bill, 1995: Second Stage.

Wednesday, 31 January 1996

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 146 No. 1

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor): Information on Mervyn Taylor  Zoom on Mervyn Taylor  This Bill repeals and re-enacts with substantial amendments the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act, 1981. Senators will immediately note the title which has been given to the Bill. It is a Bill about domestic violence. While it contains provisions to protect persons against such violence, I think the House will agree that the title of the 1981 Act is too modest in identifying the subject matter as being protection rather than violence.

[19] Violence in the home is a horrible act and society, I think, is now more aware of the insidious, cowardly and brutal measure it can be against its victims. The title of the Bill is intended to put that subject to the forefront, not to hide it as the 1981 Act appears to do.

The House will readily accept that the problem of domestic violence must be addressed by proper legislative provisions and, where necessary, by the involvement of a range of agencies, including the Garda Síochána, the social services and other support services, including mediation, counselling and legal aid. It is the Government's intention to keep under review all avenues of approach in this difficult area to best protect and support victims and to provide that the perpetrators can be dealt with quickly and effectively under the law.

As far as civil law is concerned, the Bill provides a legal framework within which the victims of domestic violence can seek a range of remedies in the courts to suit the circumstances of a case. Underpinning the legislative provisions contained in the Bill are measures to improve access to justice, extend the protections under the 1981 Act to a wider class of persons, make changes in those protections and strengthen the powers of arrest and entry of the Garda.

The most widely availed of remedy in the area of domestic violence is the civil law remedy of a barring order, which was introduced in 1976. Prior to that, the main civil law remedy available was an injunction in the High Court or Circuit Court. The barring order remedy was a radical innovation at the time, although it was and continues to be limited to violence by a spouse against the other spouse and children.

The Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act, 1981, strengthened the law on barring orders following representations by various women's organisations. The main changes made were the extension of the District Court's time limit from three to [20] 12 months, the granting of a statutory power of arrest without warrant to the Garda for breaches of orders and the creation of a new type of order called a protection order.

These orders were designed to provide immediate protection for the applicant spouse or child pending the determination of the barring order application. They fell short of barring the offending spouse from the family home. The remedy for violence in the home does not stop short at barring orders. Violence is also a ground for judicial separation and on the granting of a separation decree the court may confer on one spouse the right to occupy the family home subject to such conditions as it thinks proper or it may transfer ownership of the home to the other spouse in suitable cases.

Court statistics show the average annual number of applications to the courts for barring orders over the past three years was 4,365 and the number of decrees granted was 2,248. This appears to indicate at first sight that just over half the applications for barring orders result in the granting of orders and the courts show a marked reluctance to grant orders. However, further analysis reveals that a good number of applicants withdraw their applications or fail to turn up for the court hearing.

The experience of the Legal Aid Board is that 90 per cent of those who turn up in the District Court for the hearing of their applications for barring orders are successful and the vast majority of orders granted are for the full 12 month period. The reasons victims do not proceed with their applications vary. It may be as a result of intimidation by the other spouse or a genuine change in circumstances where the respondent spouse stops the violence. It may be that the applicant spouse does not want to go so far as to have the respondent barred from the home or the victim spouse is prepared to give the respondent another chance. We must be careful in amending the law in this area to ensure that change will be for the best in what is a very complicated [21] area, involving family and other relationships, high emotions and, most importantly, circumstances in which the protection of life itself may be at stake.

In 1987 the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) (Amendment) Bill was initiated in the House to amend the 1981 Act. This was intended to allow the court to grant a long-term protection order. The Bill was eventually withdrawn due to opposition from women's organisations based on the fear that, if the Bill was enacted, the courts might almost invariably take the soft option of granting a protection order rather than a barring order, thus diminishing the existing legal protection for victims of family violence. Senators should note that I am addressing this problem in the Domestic Violence Bill, 1995, but in a way which will obviate the concerns which arose in 1987.

A feature of the barring order remedy which has been most often criticised is that it is confined to inter spousal violence. Increasingly over the years, patterns of social behaviour have changed. Many households are established on the basis of non-marital arrangements and violence in those households, as in households with married couples, is not, unfortunately, absent.

It is also the case that violence is not confined in the main to spouses or cohabitants. It can occur between parents and children, brothers and sisters and other members of households. The Government accepts that the law in this area needs to be updated in the light of these realities and as part of its programme of family law reform is committed to the changes now provided for in this Bill.

In providing for the changes encompassed in the Bill I have taken into account various recommendations of submissions from, for example, the Law Reform Commission in its report on child sexual abuse, the Second Commission on the Status of Women, the Kilkenny incest investigation team and groups like AIM and Women's Aid.

The Bill is the result of a comprehensive review of the civil law in relation to [22] the protection of persons from domestic violence which I carried out in my Department. All the submissions which have been made about the present system have been taken into account in the course of my review. I am most grateful for the information which has been put at my disposal by the various organisations concerned.

I turn now to the details of the Bill. Section 1 defines a number of terms for the purposes of the Bill, one of which, the definition of “welfare”, I should like to explain further. That definition makes clear that the word includes psychological welfare in addition to physical welfare. This will help allay a perception among some groups that actual physical violence is a necessary prerequisite to the granting of a barring order.

Section 2 introduces a new type of long-term protection order to be called a safety order. The need for such a remedy — a remedy which falls short of barring the respondent from the home — has been advanced by the Second Commission on the Status of Women and the Kilkenny incest investigation team among others. Specifically a safety order will prohibit a respondent from using or threatening to use violence against, molesting or putting in fear the applicant or a child. In this respect it is identical to a protection order with the exception that the new type safety order may be granted in its own right and not as an interim measure. In addition, it may prohibit a respondent who does not actually reside with the applicant from watching or besetting the residence. The reports of the Second Commission on the Status of Women and the Kilkenny incest investigation team recommend that provision be made for the granting of orders of this nature.

Section 2 provides that a safety order procedure will be available to persons in domestic relationships. It will be available on the application of a spouse against the other spouse, a cohabitant against the other cohabitant, a parent against an adult child and an adult person against any other adult person who [23] resides with him or her. The term “cohabitant “ is not used in the Bill. That class of person is referred to technically in various sections of the Bill as a person who is not the spouse of the respondent but has lived with the respondent as husband or wife. In the case of a safety order it must be for a period of at least six months in aggregate during the period of 12 months immediately prior to the application.

Violence in the home is not confined to violence by one spouse against another or children. It transcends all relationships. For this reason I have provided that the safety order remedy will be widely available. An exception is made where the relationship is primarily contractual in order to ensure that the remedy is confined to what are genuine domestic disputes and does not, for example, become a feature of disputes between landlords and tenants for which there are separate legal remedies. Of course, the nature of a relationship may change over time from being primarily contractual to primarily non-contractual. Each case will have to be decided by the court on its merits and subsection (1) (b) sets out some factors to which the court must have regard in reaching a conclusion. These factors include, for example, the amount of rent paid and the nature of any duties performed by one person on behalf of the other.

The section also provides for the variation of safety orders on the application of any of the parties concerned. The maximum duration of a safety order granted by the District Court is limited to five years, although it may, of course, be of shorter duration at the discretion of the court. However, on or before the expiration of an order, a further safety order may be made at the applicant's request either for the full five years or for such shorter period as the court may specify. On the other hand the Circuit Court will have jurisdiction to grant safety orders of unlimited duration although it may, of course, choose to limit the duration of an order in accordance [24] with the circumstances of a particular case.

The section also contains a range of ancillary provisions in relation to safety orders. It provides for the variation of orders on the application of any of the parties concerned. The duration of a safety order granted by the District Court is limited to five years renewable on application for a further five years and the Circuit Court will have unlimited jurisdiction.

Provision is made to ensure that the type of objections which arose when attempts were made to introduce safety order type legislation in 1987 will not arise again. Accordingly, section 2 prohibits the court from granting a safety order where the applicant applies for a barring order. The same will also apply in reverse — the court will be prohibited from granting a barring order where the applicant applies for a safety order. This will give the applicant a degree of control over the proceedings which, according to my Department's research, victims perceive to be lacking in such cases. The court may consider the alternatives to a safety or a barring order where the applicant chooses to apply for both remedies in the same proceedings. I am providing in section 17 that a breach of a safety order will be punishable on summary conviction by a fine of up to £1,500 or imprisonment for up to one year or both.

Section 3 in general re-enacts the barring order procedure while providing in addition that the remedy will be available to a wider class of persons than spouses and their children. The effect of a barring order will remain — it will operate to bar a person from entering his or her home. The class of persons who may apply for a barring order is being extended to cohabitants — one against the other — and the remedy will be available also to a parent against an adult child. So far as cohabitants are concerned, they must, under section 3, have lived with the respondent as husband or wife for a period of at least six months in aggregate during [25] the period of nine months immediately prior to the application.

The effect of section 3 (4) is that, except where the applicant and respondent are spouses, the court will not be able to bar a respondent with an ownership interest in the property unless the applicant also has an equivalent ownership interest. I am advised that a proposal to bar such a respondent with an ownership interest on the application of a person with any lesser interest could be open to serious constitutional challenge on the basis that it may infringe that person's property rights which the State in its laws must respect under Article 40.3 of the Constitution.

The position is different where the parties are married — an infringement of the spouse's property rights is presumed to be justified on the basis that the rights of the family founded on marriage are protected by the Constitution and take precedence over property rights. The difficulty I mention was recognised in the Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women. It is not a difficulty with which many people, particularly non-legal people, may be over-impressed but it is something which, unfortunately, given apparent constraints in our Constitution, cannot be ignored.

Section 3 (5) contains a general saver which protects the rights of persons other than the applicant or respondent who have a legal or a beneficial interest in the dwelling. For example, the fact that an applicant has succeeded in having a respondent barred from a property will not render him or her immune for ejectment proceedings instigated by the landlord for non-payment of rent.

The maximum duration of a barring order granted by the District Court will be three years as opposed to one year at present. Breach of a barring order, under section 17, will be an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine of up to £1,500 or imprisonment for up to one year or both. This is an increase on the present law of a fine of up to £200 or imprisonment for up to six months or both.

[26] Section 4 empowers the court to make an interim barring order in emergency situations and on an ex-parte basis if necessary. This power will significantly increase the ability of the courts to react quickly in situations of domestic violence. The section empowers the court to grant, subject to certain conditions, an interim barring order pending the determination of an application for a barring order. Such interim orders may be granted without notice to the respondent where the court considers it expedient in the interests of justice to do so. Nevertheless, it is important to guard against the danger of a misconceived or malicious application, particularly when one considers that a respondent could be barred from the home on the basis of an allegation which he or she has had no opportunity to refute. For this reason, the granting of an order is confined to extreme cases, that is, cases where there is evidence that there is an immediate and serious risk of significant harm to an applicant or dependent person if the order is not made immediately and the court is satisfied that the granting of a protection order would not grant sufficient protection.

Section 5 re-enacts section 3 of the 1981 Act and provides for the granting of a protection order pending the determination of an application for a barring order. A protection order may also be granted pending the determination of an application for the new type safety order provided for in the Bill.

Section 6 is a significant new provision which allows a health board to apply for a barring order or a safety order on behalf of a victim of domestic violence. Such provision has been recommended by the Law Reform Commission and the Kilkenny incest investigation team. The health board will be obliged to consult with the victim before applying for a barring or safety order.

Subsection (1) specifies the circumstances in which a health board can apply for a safety order or a barring order. The section applies where a health board (a) becomes aware of an [27] incident or incidents which in its opinion puts into doubt the safety or welfare of the victim; (b) has reasonable cause to believe that the victim has been subjected to violence or otherwise put in fear of his or her safety or welfare; (c) has reasonable grounds for believing that the victim or parent of a child victim would be deterred or prevented from applying for a barring order or a safety order and (d) considers it appropriate to apply for an order having ascertained, as far as reasonably practicable, the wishes of the victim or parent of the victim.

Another aim of the section is to allow a child stay in its own home where possible and to have the perpetrators of violence rather than the child removed from the home. However, in making any order where children are concerned the court will have to be satisfied that there remains a parent in the home who is willing and able to provide reasonable care for the child. This will avoid a situation where a child could be left in the home with a parent whose capacity or willingness to provide care is suspect.

Section 7 empowers the court to adjourn proceedings for a barring or safety order which affects the welfare of the child where it considers that a care or supervision order under the Child Care Act might provide a more appropriate remedy. It may order a health board to investigate circumstances with a view to arriving at the best possible solution in the child's interests. The objective is to ensure that the barring or safety order solutions are not viewed in isolation but are considered against the backdrop of other services which can be provided by a health board.

Many of the remaining provisions of the Bill are based on the provisions of the 1981 Act and mirror those provisions closely. There are some important exceptions, however, with which I intend to deal specifically.

Section 9 is an important provision which empowers the court to deal with maintenance, barring, family home protection and child care applications in the [28] same set of proceedings. This provision reflects the fact that the problem of domestic violence is often intertwined with a variety of other problems which may arise during the course of domestic violence proceedings. For example, a wife who is being abused by her husband may also be anxious about obtaining maintenance from him for herself and her children. The purpose of this section is to allow the court to deal with all these matters as a package. In some cases of course such extension of the scope of the proceedings would be agreed to as a matter of convenience by both parties. Alternatively, there may be emergency cases involving children where, despite the objections of one of the parties, the court finds it necessary to make, for example, an emergency care order for a short period of time in accordance with its obligations to regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration.

Section 13 provides for the discharge of orders on the application of any of the parties concerned. The court will not be empowered to discharge an order unless it is of the opinion that the safety and welfare of the victim is no longer at issue. This represents a stronger test than the safety and welfare test which is currently applied. If the courts are asked to discharge an order which was originally made on safety grounds, they must be satisfied that the psychological welfare of the victim, as well as his or her physical safety, no longer requires it.

I have already indicated that section 17 of the Bill makes contravention of orders under the Bill a criminal offence and that the fine and term of imprisonment will be higher than under the present law in the 1981 Act. The gardaí will continue to have a power of arrest without warrant for breaches of barring and protection orders and that power is being extended to the new safety order and interim barring order procedures.

The present powers of arrest without warrant of the gardaí in domestic violence situations are unclear. The gardaí can arrest for breaches of barring and [29] protection orders but, where those orders do not exist and violence has occurred, they are not in a position to arrest for many of the acts of violence which occur. The difficulty arises because of certain common law distinctions between different types of assault which permit arrest without warrant in some cases but not in others. Subsection (2) of section 18 removes those difficulties by making clear that a power of arrest without warrant will exist for offences of assault occasioning actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm.

I am also making important new provisions in relation to the powers of the gardaí to enter a home or other place for the purpose of an arrest for breaches of barring, protection or safety orders. The gardaí will have power, if need be by force, to enter any place where they suspect the perpetrator to be. At present, when gardaí are called to a scene of domestic violence they may not be able to gain entry. The perpetrator may have forced or convinced the victim not to admit the gardaí. Scenes of domestic violence are difficult but too often it may be said that the gardaí are not in a position to investigate fully the violence against the victim, be it adult or child, and this new provision in the law — to enter by force if necessary — is deemed necessary by the gardaí and the victims of violence themselves. Similar powers of entry will apply when gardaí wish to effect an arrest for criminal assaults.

These then are the main provisions of the Bill. Other Departments also have responsibilities in relation to the problem of domestic violence. The Department of the Environment makes special provision for the housing of victims of domestic violence. The Department of Health provides, through health boards, financial assistance to organisations involved in providing assistance to victims, and it is also responsible for reform of the law in relation to the care of children. The Department of Justice has responsibility for criminal law and the Garda Síochána operate special policies to deal with domestic violence.

[30] Counselling, for which my Department has responsibility for funding, must continue to have a part to play. Over the past two years I have more than doubled State funding to the many groups who are engaged in marriage counselling throughout the country.

I hope that this Bill will commend itself to Senators on all sides of the House. I look forward to a good and constructive debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mrs. McGennis: Information on Marian McGennis  Zoom on Marian McGennis  I welcome the Minister and this Bill. The Minister referred to the various groups who met with him and advised and assisted him in the preparation of this legislation. I am sure he is aware of the recent survey on domestic violence commissioned by Women's Aid which highlights the degree to which domestic violence occurs in all social classes. Women's Aid has been telling us this for years. The minds and bodies of women and children are broken by both the well-heeled and the down at hell. To look at domestic violence as a male reaction to unemployment and poverty is, therefore, a fallacy. The survey has shown that 18 per cent of women whose education ended at primary school said that they had been subjected to some form of domestic violence; the figure was as high as 20 per cent for women with third level education. The propensity to engage in this destructive behaviour is as prevalent among men with a good education as among those with little or no education.

More than 600 women, chosen at random, completed the questionnaire in the Women's Aid study which was administered by the ESRI. It is a reliable piece of research and gives the lie to those who suggest that domestic violence is a feminist fantasy. The Minister is familiar with the presentations which Women's Aid and other groups have made to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights. The reality which has been highlighted again and again is that there are only 16 refuge spaces in Dublin. If we are to accept the [31] findings of this survey, this is an appalling lack of refuge spaces. Women's Aid indicated that they would need an additional 80 places to cope with the problem as identified at present.

I welcome this Bill. I know the Minister spent much time on its preparation. He indicated that there have been problems satisfying all the requirements and needs identified by the groups he met and by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights. I welcome the additional powers which are being given to the gardaí to enter family homes in cases of suspected assault. In the presentations to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights, it was illustrated graphically that a woman could lie half dead in the family home but, if the husband answered the door, he could refuse to allow the gardaí enter the house. Unless the gardaí could see through the window that somebody was in extreme danger, they had no power to enter. This places in context the change in the title to the Domestic Violence Bill, 1995. Perhaps we were too coy with the title of the 1981 Act, because it may have sent a message to the Garda and the social services that this was something that should be dealt with within the four walls of the home.

The approach taken by the Minister, specifically on the strengthening of the powers of the gardaí to enter the home, puts the lie to this. It sends the message to those men, who are mainly the perpetrators of violence, that such behaviour is not acceptable within the family home. It has much wider implications and society is giving the gardaí powers to intervene and help women and children caught in such situations.

I also welcome the introduction of the safety orders. Although it does not remove the perpetrator from the home, maybe it strikes a balance between the final break in a relationship and the attempt to provide an opportunity for matters to be put on a healthy footing.

The involvement of the health boards was a recommendation in the Kilkenny report, and I am pleased to note the [32] Minister has taken it on board. Do the same restrictions apply to situations regarding cohabiting couples or can they make a recommendation for a barring order if there is a property problem with such couples?

The Minister said that the aim of section 6 (6) is to allow a child to stay in its own home where possible and to have the perpetrators of violence, rather than the child, removed. This is excellent but the Minister also advised that, in making such an order, cognisance must be taken of the fact that there should be a parent remaining in the home to look after the child.

Society tends to take the view that it is better to keep the home together and to leave the children in a situation where, perhaps, the social services could cope. We have been reluctant to remove children from situations of violence, and I am not clear if this is what will happen again under the terms of section 6. What happens where there is no parent to look after the child in the family home? Is the child taken into care? Is a safety order enacted or is the offending and violent parent left in the family home? I am not clear as to the Minister's intention on this aspect.

The provision in section 9 is very sensible; I only wish this kind of coherent approach was applied to other legislation. The need to drag people through the various arms of the law, for example, to apply for a barring order in the family courts on a Monday and then to apply three weeks later for a maintenance order etc., is a waste of time, energy and is bad for the morale of those involved in violent situations. It must also be a huge waste of the resources of the courts, the time of staff and so on. We know, for example, the problems being experienced by the courts because of the backlog of cases. I welcome section 9 and wish that other legislation with interrelated aspects dealt with them in a similar manner.

The extension of the definition of safety and welfare to cover psychological welfare, which was not in the 1981 Bill, is an excellent improvement. [33] However, prior to the publication of the Bill, submissions to the Minister referred to the need to educate the Judiciary, especially in cases of mental cruelty. One submission highlighted a case involving a wife who went to court to seek a barring order against her husband. She explained to the judge that he regularly produced two bullets in his hand telling her that one was for her and the other was for him. However, the judge said her fears were unfounded. I think this case was brought to the attention of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights and indicates that members of the Judiciary do not understand what is mental cruelty or the psychological welfare of a victim. The Minister's strengthening of section 13 to ensure that the psychological well being of the victim is considered will only work if the Judiciary has some understanding of what is the psychological well being of victims. I urge the Minister to ensure that we consider this aspect in the legislation.

Having acknowledged the very good aspects of the Bill, as I always do when the Minister presents proposed legislation, I have serious concerns regarding the restrictive nature of the way in which cohabitees can secure a barring order. I am aware that constitutional restrictions mean that the Bill does not go as far as it should. Perhaps we should have amended the Constitution before this excellent legislation was introduced, although if we had done this many more women may have been battered and bruised.

Many of the protections which this excellent legislation will provide will not extend to those who are not owners of, or do not have a substantial interest in, the family home. The court will not have the power to grant an order where the respondent has a greater legal or beneficial interest in the home than the applicant. The previous legislation sent out similar signals, even in its title and in the fact that the gardaí were not allowed to enter property because domestic matters were involved and those concerned should be left to resolve [34] them. We are now saying again that, even if it is because of constitutional restrictions, property ownership dictates whether one can beat one's spouse or one's partner to death. This is the effect of certain restrictions in section 3 (4).

At a recent submission, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights suggested to the Minister that there were many Articles in the Constitution which required updating. In this context, the law on bail was referred to on the Order of Business. This Bill is good legislation but it is seriously hampered because the rights of property appear to supersede not only the common good but the right to life of somebody who is in a violent home. I ask the Minister to urge the Government to act on recommendations made by the commission established to examine the Constitution.

Where there is violence in the home can the health boards apply to the courts for a safety order, barring order or protection order? Will they be constrained by the greater legal or beneficial interest in the family home being with the male rather than the female, or is there some way in which the Minister has allowed the health boards to get around this obstacle? The Bill may have been amended since it was in the Dáil because it appeared that a cohabiting couple had to live together for six of the previous 12 months. Has the Bill been amended since then or does it apply to any six month period in the previous 12 months? It has been shown that in violent relationships there are often periods of absence when the perpetrator goes missing, so there may not be a continuous six months before going to court. If the Bill has not been amended, that is another serious problem with the legislation. Those who are expert in this area will say that after inflicting violence, harm and hurt on a spouse or partner, the perpetrator will often go missing and come back when he thinks things have quietened down.

Perhaps it is not the role of this Bill but, like the Family Law Act, one thing it does not do is attempt to examine or [35] address the reasons men are violent in family situations towards their children or spouses. The research Women's Aid carried out is the first serious research on the subject. That body made a pre-budget submission to the Government to secure additional finance to further extend its knowledge in this area. I welcome what the Bill does but unless there is an attempt to tackle and eradicate the underlying causes of domestic violence, the problem will persist and children who have grown up in those circumstances may become perpetrators in time. I ask the Minister to work through his office and the Government to ensure not only do we tackle the crisis but we try to eradicate the problem, which is becoming more evident in society.

Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  I also welcome the Domestic Violence Bill and congratulate the Minister for bringing it to the House. If one looks at the order of the most severe and vile crimes, after murder and the taking of life, domestic violence must be near the top of the list. It is sustained over a long period, often years, and creates severe emotional difficulties. It is important that society deals with the situation, which has emerged from the hidden Ireland and is being addressed by our legislators.

Anyone would in conscience support the combating of domestic violence. Violence in any form, particularly that which affects women and children, is a tragedy. Those who witness it are appalled but those who live with it know its reality. This Bill takes a firm stand in the fight against domestic violence, a problem which has for too long haunted victims in our society, who have suffered in silence and felt they had to present a front and portray the domestic scene expected of them by society.

Although currently statistics on domestic violence are unavailable in Ireland, evidence of the problem has become painfully obvious. It is estimated that 25 per cent of British women experience physical abuse and this number does not include women who suffer the psychological [36] effects of mental cruelty. Similar statistics on women and violence are reported in countries throughout Europe and Ireland is not immune to domestic violence, so while we do not have statistics we can assume we are nearing that level. In 1994 alone the Women's Aid board fielded 6,000 cases of women reporting violence and it was estimated that in the Dublin area between 10,000 and 15,000 assaults on women take place every day. The Garda obtained 5,000 cases involving family violence in 1995. These numbers are completely unacceptable when one realises it is estimated that only 10 to 15 per cent of victims report attacks.

No one can deny domestic violence is a serious problem in our society. It is important to consider why past legislative efforts have failed to handle this problem effectively. In studies, women admit being deterred from reporting abuse because of threats to their personal safety or the safety of their children. Others report that they could not economically survive without their spouses income. In the past women who reported their spouses to the Garda knew they would have to face their spouse unprotected, possibly within hours. Interim barring orders can protect women while due process of the law is being carried out. Extending powers to the Garda give women an added sense of security that there would be authority there to support them in their decisions to tackle their unfortunate problem.

It is particularly commendable that the Bill provides to a woman the ability to choose the action she wants to take. Not allowing judges to interchange requests for safety and barring orders gives women control over the proceedings. The Bill is designed to give women options to take protective measures for themselves and for their children and also the option to live without fear and abuse.

While extending options to women, the Bill takes into account every measure to protect those who are often the greatest victims in our society, children, [37] who are the most vulnerable and least able to respond to their circumstances. Section 7 introduces a significant measure to deal with this. It states that if issuing a barring order or a safety order is not a relevant solution to the problem, alternative action may be taken. Specifically, the Bill allows the court to implement the Child Care Act where necessary. This is further insurance that child victims will not be pushed aside but will be protected within our legal system.

Senator McGennis and I are Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights and we are only too aware of the details of some of the cases which were presented to us in various submissions over the years. In the past the Garda and the courts have been frustrated by the limitations on their powers, as the Senator showed with reference to an example presented to us at a meeting of that committee eight months ago. In the past, legislation did not allow barring orders to be issued in cases involving non-married individuals. It is important to remember that while the majority of domestic violence cases are against women and children, violence does not totally discriminate. This Bill moves forward and reaches out to protect wider varieties of people, including cohabiting couples and parents of violent offspring.

The Minister must be commended for the revising of the Family Law Act, 1981, to provide assistance to more people. Making cohabitants eligible for application for safety and barring orders not only protects more women but protects the children of these relationships also. The Bill also protects the interests of elderly parents or vulnerable siblings who may be exposed to violence. We are all conscious today how important it is too protect the elderly from violence and ensure they live their final years in the comfort and safety of their homes. The Bill takes a crucial step in acknowledging that domestic violence can affect all members of the family.

This legislation is not the entire solution to the problem of domestic violence. [38] Important research is being done to reverse the growing rate of violence in this country. Groups, including Women's Aid, have suggested the need for more family courts and roving District Judges for family law in rural areas. There is an urgent need for an extension to social services. There is a need for more shelters and social workers to assist families who have been victims. There is, however, only so much that laws and the Garda can do to resolve the problem of domestic violence. This legislation will not eliminate domestic violence on its own but it is an important step which paves the way for future action in the matter.

Unfortunately, violence against women is a feature of life in the latter part of the 20th century. Women are the usual victims and men are the perpetrators. Domestic violence is not confined to one class alone and it occurs in both rural and urban areas. Men use violence to exert control over women. Persistent violence undermines women's confidence and breaks their spirit. Women and children are psychologically and physically at risk if there is violence in the home.

I refer to the findings of the study commissioned by Women's Aid and published in September 1995 which illustrates that violence against women in the home is extensive. I commend Women's Aid for the excellent work it does in this area and for the contribution this study has made to our understanding and knowledge of the level of violence in the home. The study states that 18 per cent of women reported that they had been subjected at some time to mental cruelty, threatened with physical violence, experienced physical or sexual violence, or had their pets or property damaged. Many women experienced multiple forms of violence and 11 per cent of women experienced physical and-or sexual violence.

The rate of reported violence is likely to underestimate the true level of violence. Like everything coming from hidden Ireland, it will take time to understand [39] or evaluate the level of violence experienced by women in such circumstances. Some 71 per cent of women in the study who experienced physical violence reported that it resulted in physical injury which included broken bones, head injury, loss of consciousness and miscarriages. Among the mental health effects reported were loss of confidence, depression and increased use of medication and alcohol. It was also reported by 64 per cent of women that their children had witnessed the violence. The negative effects of violence on children include poor school performance, sleeping problems and children being fearful and withdrawn. The symptoms are similar to those experienced by children who have been physically or sexually abused.

The severity of the violence is also shown in the high level of reporting of such incidents to doctors and gardaí. One fifth of women in the Women's Aid study who experienced violence reported it to the gardaí, 29 per cent reported it to a doctor and 16 per cent reported it to a solicitor.

The ill effects of violence on women in the home may be more severe and persistent for those living in poverty and on low incomes. Almost three times the number of women who qualify for medical cards and who attend doctors' surgeries reported that they had experienced violence than those without medical cards, despite the fact that domestic violence is not class related. Living in a violent relationship results in changed economic circumstances for many women who then qualify for a medical card. The results suggest that the long term ill effects of violence on women living in poverty and on low incomes is greater than in the population as a whole. This is consistent with the view that women living in poverty are likely to experience greater ill effects than other women and that the cumulative effects of a life in poverty exacerbates the effects of any one illness.

[40] Special circumstances relating to violence against women in the travelling community include the early age of marriage and arranged marriages. The difficulties travelling women face in terms of leaving violent relationships are related to patterns of kinship marriage and the fact that the economic and kinship base is interlinked, resulting in pressure to maintain family relationships. Travelling women also have larger numbers of children which makes it difficult for them to leave. However, broader kinships have facilitated some travelling women leaving violent partners. Many have gone to England and Northern Ireland to seek refuge and have access to services which they feel have supported them. It is important to address this area of domestic violence.

Statutory services specifically designed to respond to the needs of women who have experienced violence in the home should be introduced immediately. There is no overall community care strategy for women who have experienced violence in the home. With the centralisation and streamlining of social services, social work has become less accessible to women, with the exception of an inadequate number of emergency refuges which are inadequately funded.

I pay tribute to Women's Aid and Women's Aid helpline which provides crucial support to women in violent relationships. The State must introduce a strategy to ensure that women who seek help receive a response. Several agencies such as the Garda, community welfare services, community homemaker services, the accident and emergency services at hospitals and voluntary organisations have noted the lack of support services in the community to which they could refer women who have experienced violence in the home. Some 75 per cent of women who experience violence in the home suffer from depression. Other psychological illnesses are also reported.

I welcome this Bill which will be crucial in terms of developing the powers of the Garda whose primary role is protection. [41] Central to the success of the Bill is the need for ongoing training for gardaí and the need to monitor information. It presents an opportunity to tackle one of the most serious problems in society today.

I refer to a report, Breaking the Silence, which was compiled by the Midwestern Health Board and Adapt House in Limerick. This report describes the experience of women who have been subjected to violence by their male partners in the home. It shows that for many women violence begins early in their lives, either through witnessing assaults on their mothers or other family members, or through personally experiencing physical or sexual violence. Violence begins early in a marriage and there are often warning signs during the courtship of what is to come. However, many women are not alert to such warning signals or, if they see them, often ignore them. Once violence occurs in the relationship it tends to become progressively more frequent and severe.

The extent of the violence inflicted on women is often difficult to imagine unless physical injuries or permanent marks and scars are seen. The report states that injuries leading to unconsciousness or requiring hospitalisation are not uncommon. Violence is not confined to physical attacks but also includes emotional, verbal and sexual abuse which are often seen as more dramatic than physical violence. The most frequent issues which trigger immediate violent attacks include alcohol abuse, argument, jealousy, possessiveness and the desire to obtain control over the woman. The circumstances which trigger violent attacks are almost always trivial.

The first attack experienced by the woman is usually unexpected and evokes a reaction of shock, confusion and fear. The man often expresses repentance for the first attack and the woman is likely to believe him when he says it will not happen again. Few women seek help outside the home at this stage. It can take many years for a woman to finally decide she has reached [42] her limit in terms of the number of violent attacks. It is only when the woman has finally realised the man will not change that she can begin to take definite action to leave the violent situation.

When the woman seeks outside help she will probably go to the gardaí and to social workers. The Adapt House report shows that women who contact such agencies find they are helpful. Other agencies which provide assistance are often not seen by women as helping them to break the cycle of violence. Refuges provide one of the most immediate effective forms of help for women. They provide safety, comfort, support, counselling and practical advice and information on women's circumstances. An important part of the refuge is that women feel someone will listen to them without judgment or blame. This constitutes the first step in their self-empowerment.

The violence reported in the Women's Aid and Adapt House studies is but the tip of the iceberg and it is likely that much violence, particularly among women of the higher social economic backgrounds, remains hidden. To ensure this problem is removed from the shame of this country, it is important that not only the Bill before the House is enforced with all the vigour which the authorities can apply but that we look to long term prevention.

To that end, the Adapt House report's recommendations include the promotion of policies which will ensure gender equality in economic, educational, employment and political spheres; the confrontation and change of sex role stereotyping, which reinforces gender inequalities and confines men and women to rigid ways of expressing maleness and femaleness and the development of a widespread public attitude whereby violence is not tolerated in the community as an acceptable means of handling conflict.

The report also recommends the provision of parental training to alert fathers and mothers to the different ways in which they can act to prevent the development of violence in their [43] children's future lives by providing, for example, non-violent role models, teaching non-aggressive means of handling anger and conflict, encouraging responsibility for an open expression of feelings and facilitating the development of self-reliance and self-esteem.

The report also recommends the training of teachers to enable the education system to play its full role in teaching conflict resolution and anger management skills; preparing young people for future intimate relationships, providing non-violent and non-sexist role models and the confrontation of media images which facilitate women being regarded as natural victims of violence and which allow violence to be seen as an acceptable option in dealing with conflict. The report recommends the identification of groups which are at risk so that early intervention measures may be initiated.

With regard to intervention for those currently suffering violence, the MidWestern Health Board and Adapt House recommendations include the provision of an adequate number of refuges across the country and adequate funding to enable current refuges to provide their service; prompt action from the Garda when called upon by a woman who is being victimised, as the treatment of violence in the home is a crime to be dealt with in the same way as any other violent crime; recognition of violence in the home as a public concern and not the women's sole responsibility to handle; the training of social workers and others in the caring professions, such as GPs, hospital doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors and clergy to be aware of the problem of violence in the home, to be alert and sensitive to the warning signals and to be aware of the kind of help required and where such help might be found.

The report recommends the provision of practical help to women who want to leave violent relationships, for example, the provision of affordable and suitable housing, economic assistance, childcare facilities, training and employment [44] opportunities and a variety of psychotherapy and counselling options for women who wish to stay with their partner despite the violence, and for the perpetrators themselves.

It is clear that there are no simple or quick solutions to the problem of violence in the home. The problem is complex and involves traditional, social and cultural factors in the interaction with individual life histories and personalities. An attempt to tackle the violence must include strategies aimed at long-term prevention in conjunction with interventions designed to alleviate the suffering of victimised women and children. The situation of the woman who is subjected to violence is so fraught with medical, psychological, social, legal and economic problems that no single professional agency could adequately deal with it. The complexity of the problem makes it essential that the different agencies involved work together to pool their experience, knowledge and resources in order to facilitate a concerted effort.

Finally, the strengths and resources of the women who suffer the violence must be recognised, acknowledged and brought to bear in enabling them to end the violence in their lives. I would commend anybody who is interested, concerned or who feels they can make a contribution, to refer to the Adapt House survey which lays bare and open to the reader the real suffering of women in such situations. I commend the Minister for taking this step which is but one step in trying to control and eliminate this problem.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  Like other Senators, I too welcome this excellent Bill which must have required a great deal of work in the Department.

When Séamus Heaney addressed those of us who were lucky enough to be invited by the Taoiseach to celebrate his Nobel Laureate he said that we are falling into modernity and we must construct our own safety net. I see this Bill as part of that safety net.

[45] Domestic violence is not new but our attempts to recognise and reject it as a proper form of conduct is. This Bill is a most welcome step in showing the perpetrators of domestic violence that it is not considered a type of private and permissible struggle within the home but as criminal behaviour which will not be tolerated by our society.

Today and for the past few weeks there has been much focus on some horrific crimes, several of which were murder. This has led to a debate which has focused solely on the public aspect of crime and ignores entirely the fact that, as far as women are concerned, violence, even murder, is far more likely to come from the hand of a husband, partner, ex-partner, friend, acquaintance or neighbour than from any stranger. Anger, rage and jealousy, “If I cannot have you, no one else will” and sexual desire are far more likely motives for violence than robbery or murder by a deranged stranger. Dr. Enda Dooley's book on homicide in Ireland from 1970-1990 makes really interesting reading because it shows that a very small proportion of women who are murdered in this country have been murdered by strangers. The vast proportion are murdered by people they knew well. Most violence in the home is male against female, I think the figure is about 95 per cent. While physical size is important in physical violence, emotional and psychological violence can be just as important and, indeed, women have been driven to suicide by it.

The Constitution makes the family central but some families are sour and lonely places for its members. In the last few decades we have recognised physical and sexual abuse of children and the abuse of adult women and elderly people is addressed in this Bill. Men need to be challenged about this type of behaviour. Different explanations are given for it. Alcohol has often been blamed but many women will tell you they are beaten irrespective of whether the man is drunk or sober. In fact, alcohol can sometimes be used as an excuse to minimise or justify the violence.

[46] Domestic violence is one of the most serious social problems affecting us. It is not just those who are involved in the violence who are affected, it debases society in general. This Bill and other legislation, such as the Family Law Act, 1995, which the Minister introduced last year, have gone a long way towards addressing the recommendations of the Second Commission on the Status of Women.

There have been many studies on domestic violence. Women's Aid is to be particularly commended for the study it brought forward with the help of the Economic and Social Research Institute. The study to which Senator Neville referred, the one by Ms Ruddle and Professor Joyce O'Connor for the Mid-Western Health Board and Adapt House in Limerick, and other studies have given us a lot of insight, helped elucidate the causes and suggested preventative measures for this problem. I am thinking, in particular, of the one which was undertaken last year in Northern Ireland by Ms Monica McWilliams and Ms Joan McKiernan, Bringing it out into the Open: A Study on Domestic Violence in Northern Ireland. It would be well worth our while looking carefully at its recommendations.

Once we have identified and tried to look for the causes of domestic violence within society, it is important to note that attempts have already been made to deal with the problem within the social services and they, of course, must be reinforced. Others have been started, such as Alternatives to Violence, a programme originally set up in America and which is now being pioneered in our prisons by a voluntary group — mainly Quakers — which has been astonished by the response from men who want to get involved in the scheme. I would be grateful if the Minister were to look at these programmes to see if he can give them additional help.

Within and outside the prisons it is important to get people to address their violent behaviour and look at alternatives. Violent men have recognised this and some of them have set up an organisation [47] called MOVE — Men Overcoming Violent Emotions. It is important to recognise that men find this behaviour unacceptable within themselves and we must try to find methods whereby they can avoid this horrific behaviour. I was disappointed with the Bill in that there seems to be an emphasis on custodial sentences and fines. I would have liked more sociological and community based sanctions in the Bill.

The section dealing with the clarification of the powers of the Garda is most useful. At present the gardaí are often at a loss to know what to do despite increased training in this area and the establishment of the domestic violence and sexual assault investigative unit in 1993, which was a major step forward. In general, women do not criticise the gardaí when they become involved in cases. In the past they were often in a position where they had to advise the woman to go out and take a walk while the man cooled off but this Bill will put them in a better position.

However, their role could have been expanded. The Garda juvenile liaison scheme, in which a child involved in suspected crime is not charged in court with the crime but is cautioned and put under Garda supervision, has been a spectacular success. According to their own figures, only 11 per cent of children so dealt with over the last 30 years came before the courts before they were 18 years old. This is incredible and the scheme is not publicised enough. Could a scheme not be set up with the Garda for violent adults — usually men admittedly? It would be much easier for women to report violent behaviour if they felt the perpetrator would still be in the home and would not be before the courts but would only be cautioned. Taking such action is serious, particularly getting a barring order — it involves getting a husband and father thrown out of the house. The juvenile liaison scheme has worked very well and I wonder if it would be possible to set up something like it for cases of first offences.

[48] The withdrawal of barring orders often takes place because the woman feels some desperate action will be taken or none at all. The old solution of threatening to call the gardaí may be no harm. I urge the Minister to seriously look at this proposal. The Garda might be receptive to doing something like it. Having seen how important and successful the juvenile liaison scheme has been, I hope it might be considered.

This legislation will be applied mainly in the District Court. I sometimes think most people do not realise that a great deal of family law work is carried out in the District Court. Women have told me they receive polite, kind and efficient treatment from the District Court office when they go there. They often turn up without any legal representation and may look for a barring order when a safety order would do and the Bill does not allow people to change it. They may ask for more extensive measures than are felt necessary. The Minister has put a great deal of effort into expanding the civil legal aid scheme and that is appreciated by all. It is essential that women have legal representation before they get to the District Court because no depositions are taken there as they come in on summonses. It is essential they know what they are going into before the case begins.

As Senators have said, more probation officers are needed and more social workers so reports can be made back to the court speedily. It is important that the facilities in the courts be improved as rapidly as possible. It is difficult for opposing parties to be interviewed in the same corridor. Women tell me they try to keep their heads down and keep talking to their solicitor about what is happening.

The delays in court cases are also worrying. Urgent cases can be taken quickly, but the courts do not sit over the whole weekend and Saturday night can be a bad night. In some cases the people involved may not just be sharing the same house but the same bed. There may be immediate difficult cases and the courts should be given as much [49] facilities as possible to deal urgently with these cases.

Senator Neville and others referred to refuges, which are most important for women who feel they have to leave their home — often with their children. The places available must be increased. It is regrettable that people object to refuges being established in their communities because women have to flee somewhere from violence and in charity we should be able to take them in. These are of particular importance to travellers who often have difficult circumstances and few places to go. They are also of importance to rural women. It can be easier to get shelter in urban areas from friends and neighbours but rural women can be very isolated. Setting up refuges around the country will have to be addressed urgently.

Women with adolescent sons may also experience difficulty. A lot of refuges will refuse to take in men; they may rightly feel it is difficult to take in a big 15 year old. The involvement of men in the refuges may cause difficulties because the violent person, be they a partner or ex-partner, is barred from the refuge. We have to consider what a woman is to do with her adolescent sons. A woman said to me that all her children only came with her on her fourth attempt to flee the home. On the first time she fled she failed to find anywhere they could stay. Her boys had to go back home to their father where they were beaten for their mother's removing herself from the home. This matter should be looked at.

The inclusion of non-marital relationships is another good feature of the Bill. However, some aspects are a little unrealistic — for example, the requirement of evidence of cohabitation in six of the previous nine months for a safety order or six of the previous 12 months for a barring order. How is a woman to prove whether or not a man was living with her and how long it is since he has left etc.? Men can often have been gone from the home for some time before they become violent and decide to go back — they may have left years beforehand [50]— or the man and woman may not have lived together at all but have a child in common. I do not think such women are protected. The geographic protection is not enough. The woman may have to attend a place of work, a hospital or a school and the violent person will have to be warned off those areas also. The geographic protection is not wide enough and I would like to see it expanded. I hope to table amendments to this section on Committee Stage.

Under this Bill a large number of other pieces of legislation, such as the Family Home Protection Act, the Guardianship of Infants Act and the Child Care Act, can come into play in the District Court. These are all complex areas and I am anxious that people will get sufficient legal advice and time to respond to these Acts. I know that there is provision for an adjournment to be made, but I do not want that to be an adjournment for ten minutes to speak to a social worker outside the door who is trying to deal with 60 other cases that morning. This area must be taken very seriously because the summons may not say anything about the fact that other legislation may come into play.

This is a very difficult area for me to address because I do not have any legal training. I know that the Minister said that people such as me will find it very difficult to understand how property can be put ahead of people. Under this section those who are not married do not have the same rights as those who are married in regard to the ownership of the home, although they may have paid quite an amount of money towards the home. The children of non marital relationships are being treated less justly than those of a marital relationship in this situation. I thought that we were supposed under the Constitution to treat all the children in the State equally.

I can comment with more expertise on the involvement of the medical profession. A recent study by Women's Aid and the casualty department in St. James Hospital on injuries to women [51] makes terrifying reading. Non urgent cases of injuries to women who came to the casualty department were tactfully diverted into a side room where specially trained doctors and nurses tried to discover the cause of their injuries. In the vast majority of these cases, the injuries were caused by male members of their households. Even more shocking than the broken noses, ribs, teeth and jaws and multiple bruising, was the fact that many women had waited for up to a week before coming to the hospital with fractures. This did not occur in any other circumstances. Shame or fear of the perpetrator had made them afraid to attend the hospital. Another important factor was that many of them could not be delayed for too long because they had to leave the hospital to go home to protect their children, who were also being physically assaulted. This is a very serious situation.

General practitioners in Northern Ireland, in the booklet on domestic violence to which I referred earlier, said that there was great under reporting of domestic violence. However, they admitted that they did not question women too closely because the floodgates would open if they did. They recognised that violence within the home was very extensive. The problem is so widespread that it is essential for the medical profession to address it at once.

Pregnancy is not a protection from violence, as a recent study in the Rotunda Hospital showed, and miscarriage and the early onset of labour can often result. Marital rape, which is quite common, can often be done to deliberately impregnate women. The training of nurses and doctors in this area is vital. Perhaps, we could set up within some casualty departments some pilot schemes with women doctors, as we did in regard to sexual assault cases. Separating the perpetrator of the violence from the victim can be a great help in allowing the women to give an accurate history. Many women claim that there is [52] no follow up to their treatment; they are given tranquillisers and not referred to any of the caring agencies, social workers or Women's Aid who might help them. Doctors now ensure that no non accidental injury to children goes unexplored and we should extend that to women.

Violence towards the elderly is an extraordinarily important area. Old people of both sexes are at risk, particularly those with psychiatric problems such as Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Margo Wrigley and others have done work on this area. A study commissioned by Women's Aid, which was carried out in the accident and emergency unit in Beaumont Hospital last year, as well as the report in St. James Hospital, pointed out severe abuse of the elderly. However, some of it was by men who had been separated from their elderly wives for years and decided to go home.

Stress on carers of elderly people should be catered for before old, frail and disabled people are assaulted in their own homes. Is a person in receipt of a carer's allowance covered by this Bill? We need to establish respite care for old people and to consider giving tax allowances to adult children to employ help for elderly parents. This would help to prevent the resentment which can occur if a woman, in particular, has to give up good employment to care for a difficult elderly parent, knowing that she may have great difficulty in reentering the workforce.

I warmly welcome the Bill. I hope that the Minister will take to heart some of the points I made and perhaps these amendments could be made on Committee Stage.

Ms Gallagher: Information on Ann Gallagher  Zoom on Ann Gallagher  I also welcome the Bill. The first real legislation dealing with the protection of the more vulnerable members of the family was only introduced in 1981 in the form of the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act. Since then, there has been a major change in society and how it deals with abuse of power. A great deal of new family legislation has been [53] introduced since 1981, which is very welcome. On that basis, it is time to look again at the 1981 legislation and ask if it is sufficient to properly protect our citizens from physical and other forms of abuse within the family home. It is clearly the case that it is not.

It is important to point out that the various forms of abuse and violence about which we now talk openly have, sadly, always been part of our society. It is part of the make-up of the human being which comes to the surface in a percentage of us and serves to remind us all of our animal origins. I sometimes watch nature documentaries on television and I am surprised to see the care and protection given by animals to their mates and young. I often wonder how far human beings have actually advanced in that regard. It may be funny to refer to the Stone Age image of the man hitting the woman over the head with a club and dragging her along by her hair. However, sadly, for many women in Ireland today that image is not far from the truth. Domestic violence has always existed; the only change is that it is no longer brushed under the carpet and is, at least, discussed as an issue in the public domain. We still have a huge mountain to climb before we achieve a society which does not tolerate domestic violence and allows all those who have been abused to come forward and get help.

While our education system produces very academic and bright students, it often fails to produce excellent citizens. It should be part of every school's curriculum to teach tolerance and care for every individual in our community, respect and value for both sexes and self-respect in an effort to break what is often a cycle of inherited violence. How else can we tell ten year olds who often see their father batter their mother that such action is wrong? Those children know nothing better and regard that as normal. Sadly, many grow up to perpetrate the same abuses. It is, therefore, very important that while we introduce much needed improvements to legislation, we must also recognise the value [54] of education in tackling the causes of the problem.

On a practical level, it is more cost-effective to put additional resources into education of this nature, on a long-term basis, than to spend increasing amounts on prisons, social workers, refuges and all that is associated with, and needed to deal with, the results of such abuses.

Previous speakers referred to Womens' Aid which is a particularly marvellous organisation. Last year it obtained 100,000 signatures from people who believe that a zero tolerance attitude must be adopted towards violence against women and children. The Womens' Aid document, Making the Links, deals with the huge array of issues connected with domestic violence and offers many valuable proposals. This document argues for an integrated strategy for the elimination of violence against women and for changes in society to ensure that domestic violence be treated as an unacceptable crime.

The legislation before the House travels some way along that long road. The Bill will extend the law on barring and protection orders beyond spouses and their children, to a much wider range of people including most co-habittees and their children and the parents of abusers. This expansion of protection is very welcome. I am personally aware of an elderly woman who is waiting for the enactment of the legislation. She raised a large family in difficult circumstances, having lost her husband, and now suffers abuse from a son who remains at home. She is forced to hang up the telephone when he enters the house because she fears that another argument will ensue. Such people deserve peace of mind in their latter days. It is our role, as legislators, to introduce laws to protect them. It is for this reason that I welcome the expansion of the range of people covered by the protections which previously only existed for lawful spouses and their children.

I cannot understand why the legislation enters into such great detail in defining the groups who may apply for barring and protection orders and [55] excludes co-habitees who may not have lived together for six out of nine or 12 months and those women who, in many cases, share houses with violent blood relatives such as brothers or cousins. From reading the legislation, these people appear to be excluded. I do not understand why that is the case. I appreciate the constitutional difficulties with permitting an unmarried, sole owner of a family home to be put out of it on the application of a temporary partner. However, I would challenge a Constitution which protected the perpetrators of cruelty and violence and placed property rights on a pedestal above the right of people to live free from the awful fear and affliction of violence.

This Bill should deliver a clear and unambiguous message to society that violence toward all women and children is beyond the bounds of acceptability. A way should be found, through the legislation, to balance the constitutional property rights of the abuser with the right to bodily integrity of the victim. I suggest that the courts be given guidelines in this area and be granted discretion to balance those conflicting rights. An effort must be made to deal with this matter in the proper interests of justice. Property should not come before people. I urge the Minister to examine this area of the legislation more thoroughly to see what is possible in the context of providing protection for all citizens.

The third area I wish to address is the role of the Garda Síochána. As a solicitor I deal with quite an amount of family law and I have discovered, during recent years, a vast improvement in the way the Garda deal with domestic violence. In many cases they are now more proactive in dealing with the issue. Additional training in this area is always welcome but I accept the fact that many gardaí are inept in dealing with such issues. I have found that most gardaí are very willing to help the victims of domestic violence and take on more responsibility than their duty requires. I [56] take this opportunity to congratulate the members of the Force on how they deal with domestic violence within the legal constraints under which they operate.

I welcome the provisions in the Bill which will give gardaí greater powers to enter the family home — which is a must — and the power to arrest without warrant. The legislation will enable the gardaí enter a house for breach of any of the orders and also where an assault has taken place or where such an assault is suspected. This provision is crucial. It will allow the gardaí to carry out an arrest, even when a victim is afraid to admit the abuse to them in the presence of the abuser, which is often, and naturally, the case.

Individual gardaí have built up a wealth of experience in dealing with domestic issues. They often advise and encourage women to pursue legal rights and remedies and show great empathy and understanding in doing so. Their role is very important because they operate at the coalface of the problem and are called upon to deal with very distressful situations and circumstances. Therefore, it is important that their hands are not tied in tackling the problem. For that reason, I welcome the provisions in the Bill relating to the powers granted to the Garda Síochána.

The fourth area I will address is the role of the medical services to which previous speakers referred. Perhaps our experience, or what we hear through the grapevine, influences how we perceive the way in which a particular profession deals with a particular problem. When discussing the medical profession in general, it is often the case that its members are in the front-line of those who can be confronted with domestic violence. In my experience, many women suffer severe physical abuse within the home. The song which says that “Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors” is more than correct for many people. This is particularly true of women perceived as “well off” in our society, who are afraid to admit their marriages are failures in so [57] far as they have become the victims of violence within the home. This is something which is not suspected by people outside those homes.

From my limited experience of the subject, I have discovered that, in such situations, the perpetrator of such violence will get away with it. The more they get away with, the more they continue to do it until the woman suffers serious injury, for example, being pushed down the stairs. She must then get herself to her doctor or to the hospital for emergency assistance. At that stage it is crucial that the medical profession be in a position to identify the nature and cause of her injuries. It is not helpful or good enough that many practitioners prescribe Valium for women who appear before them on a regular basis, hoping that this will deal with the problem, when they suspect that domestic violence is one of the causes for concern.

In this day and age, nobody in the medical profession should be permitted to turn a blind eye to the possibilities of domestic violence. It should be more focused in terms of the training of the medical profession. As with childcare, perhaps we should consider placing an onus on practitioners to report such suspicions. That is only a suggestion but it is something about which I feel strongly.

Increased funding is required in the area of education and healthcare and for groups such as Womens' Aid which deal with the problem itself. It does not make sense that thousands of women are forced to telephone the helpline serviced by Womens' Aid, apply for barring orders and that hundreds leave their homes each year on a temporary or permanent basis. At present there are very few refuge places available. If the legislation being introduced is to be effective, we hope that the need for refuge places will be reduced. It should not be the case that the victim is the one who is forced to flee. The victim should be allowed to remain in the family home with her children and the abuser should be put out of that home. Be that as it may and as the aim of the legislation, [58] there will still be a need for refuges, as there always has been. More attention must be focused on the other services that are required in terms of counselling, etc., which accompany the issue of domestic violence. Additional funding is needed in this area. It should be remembered that it is not just a matter for the Minister for Equality and Law Reform but for others sitting at the Cabinet table also.

The Bill makes great improvements in the law dealing with domestic violence. The provision of a safety order as a new remedy is valuable. A woman who came to my office this week — and who has been married for over 20 years in a small town — said she did not want to throw her husband out of the house because it would badly affect the children. Yet, she has been the victim of severe verbal and psychological abuse for a long number of years. Such a woman would consider the safety order as a remedy while finding it impossible to consider a barring order. Our legislation should seek to deal with people who have real problems like that.

I welcome the extended role of the health boards in the area of domestic violence. While some fears have been expressed at the interference of the health services in these areas, as well as the balance of rights between spouses, health boards should take a proactive role in initiating applications on behalf of a spouse or children. We must always be careful of over indulgence in terms of how a particular family might be viewed by a health board or by social workers. The family's rights must always be balanced.

Another provision of the legislation which will be crucial if the law is to be effective is the increase in fines for breaches of orders. It is beyond me how you can tell a man he must obey an order to keep away from his family home when he will only be fined £200 if he does not. If we mean business we must increase fines for breaches of such orders granted by the courts.

I take the point by Senator Henry that financial penalties are not always [59] the correct answer. While they might hurt one's pocket, compulsory counselling or some other form of redress linked to a fine should be considered. In their youth, perpetrators of violence have often been victims themselves and they certainly need help.

I want to query the grounds for renewal of a safety order or barring order because, from reading the legislation, it is not quite clear. Does the applicant need to have fresh grounds to apply for the renewal of these orders? Must he or she have suffered recent violence to obtain a renewal of the order? The Bill does not elaborate so I would like the Minister to come back on that matter.

I welcome the increase in the length of time for which barring and safety orders may be granted. Women who obtain barring orders for one year — perhaps when family violence forced them to do so over the Christmas period — are in constant worry and turmoil knowing that they have to go to court and do it all over again the following Christmas. The fact that such orders have now been extended to a three or five year period is welcome.

The Minister must be complimented on introducing legislation with so many effective steps which can often be skipped over yet make the law more workable. The fact that proceedings can now be combined is a practical provision. In addition, safety orders will prevent the victim from being watched over at a distance or from being followed. Up to now, women who obtained barring orders were often followed around by their spouse — when they collected the children from school, for example — who remained a constant torture to them. That new provision is a thoughtful one.

I spoke earlier of the need to teach our children that violence is wrong. Another important facet of this, however, is the education of women themselves. I was surprised when a businesswoman came to me before Christmas and asked whether her husband [60] had conjugal rights. She did not know that she was entitled to refuse his advances. This is a man who was physically violent towards her, yet she did not know what her basic rights were.

Another women rang me after hearing me speak on local radio about domestic violence. She asked me to come to her house where I found her lying on the floor, battered black and blue. It was a vision I will never forget. She had taken an overdose and her kids were screaming all around her. That woman had been violently abused for at least 25 years. To date she has still not taken out a barring order because she feels financially reliant on her husband who has worn her down psychologically. She lacks independence. Those type of women need to be educated about their basic rights. They need to know that they are entitled to seek maintenance as well as a barring order.

A public campaign would be helpful, but if that is not possible then extra funding should be given to women's groups for courses on how to deal with domestic violence. We must empower women to tackle the problem themselves. Education and awareness is necessary to challenge the myths and stereotypes surrounding domestic violence.

Zero tolerance is still the aim. Meanwhile, I welcome the Bill which is an important and well thought out piece of legislation. I know of thousands of women who are waiting for it.

Mr. Mulcahy: Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  I warmly recommend this important Bill. It is high time that the 1981 Act was amended and updated. I would, however, like to comment on some of the things that have been said by my colleagues, Senator Henry and Senator Gallagher. It is neither attainable nor desirable to take the violent strain — if there is such a strain — out of mankind or womankind entirely. Senator Henry seemed to be going down that road. No matter how much we would like to disguise it, the human being is an animal which responds to animal stimuli. That is not an apologia [61] for violence to any extent. In my book, all forms of violence are unacceptable but we must understand better the nature of mankind and womankind. We must try to understand better why people who are living together can, on occasion, be violent towards one another. The Minister is more familiar with the statistics than I am but I would confidently predict that domestic violence has increased in the latter half of the 20th century. There are good and logical reasons for that. There has been more poverty, higher expectations, greater pressures at work, greater financial pressures and unemployment.

We are fooling ourselves if we suggest the Bill will eliminate domestic violence. As long as human beings exist on the planet, men and women will be violent towards each other. This applies to all animals and not just to men being violent towards women in human society. One extreme example is the praying mantis where the female of the species consumes the male as the nuptial breakfast. I do not advocate that women should attempt to consume men as their nuptial breakfasts or that men should ever be violent towards women. However, we should try to be as realistic as possible regarding the fact that some humans are prone to violence.

I read a women's magazine, MarieClaire, recently — I read it more than my wife — which is widely published in England, Ireland and France. It said studies show that female spousal violence towards men in the UK has increased sixfold in the last 20 years. Perhaps it is difficult to understand how women could beat up men but it happens. It has not happened to me yet but perhaps some Senators could outline unfortunate experiences. However, I hope it has not occurred.

The Bill is most useful in that it will address a problem in a realistic manner. However, we should not deceive ourselves that it will eradicate domestic violence or its causes. One of the Bill's principal features I favour is the length of time a barring or safety order will be [62] in effect, which is, I understand, three years.

Mr. Taylor: Information on Mervyn Taylor  Zoom on Mervyn Taylor  Three years for a barring order and five years for a safety order.

Mr. Mulcahy: Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  As Senator Gallagher said, women who have been subjected to spousal or other abuse worry constantly about the expiry date of barring orders, whether it is in six or 12 months. They are forced to look over their shoulders. The Bill will ensure a longer period of time for which barring orders will be in effect and a greater sense of stability in the home, whether it is matrimonial or non matrimonial. The Bill is realistic in that it recognises the large increase in non marital relationships. People are living together and having sexual relations both inside and outside marriage. In many cases, people who live together are not contemplating marriage. The Minister and Government have correctly identified that society is changing widely.

As far as non spousal relationships are concerned, I understand the Bill proposes that people must have lived together for an aggregate of six months in a 12 month period to avail of the relevant measures. I am sure there is some logic behind that timeframe or perhaps the figure was plucked from the air. We will return to this matter on Committee Stage but I am sure the Minister will explain that feature in greater detail.

I also welcome the role proposed for health boards to deal with vulnerable people. The Bill's provisions in this regard are most welcome. However, I do not want — I hope the Minister does not want it either — the development of a Rochdale type situation where over eager health boards and officers pried, sometimes unnecessarily, into the lives of adults, children and other dependent people. In many cases, it was found that the inquiries were not justified. I am not sure the mechanisms contained in the Bill in relation to safeguards surrounding health boards are sufficiently strong. Perhaps the Minister will consider this [63] aspect between now and Committee Stage.

Nevertheless, the discretion of health boards should not be fettered. For example, in the Rosemary West case the health boards in the relevant area were notified approximately 13 times that things were perhaps going drastically wrong in that household. However, for some reason the health authorities never successfully intervened, with terrible and tragic results. Perhaps I misread it, but the Bill does not provide for interim safety orders. There are measures for interim barring and protection orders and it should be possible to apply for interim safety orders.

Mr. Taylor: Information on Mervyn Taylor  Zoom on Mervyn Taylor  For practical purposes, a protection order would be an interim safety order. The difference between the two is that one is permanent and the other is interim.

Mr. Mulcahy: Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  I may be incorrect but that point might bear a little closer examination.

The enforcement measures are the crux of this matter. A person who breaches an order, during the full or interim stage, will only be fined £1,500 or, at the discretion of the court, receive a 12 month term of imprisonment. Under the law as it stands, the maximum custodial sentence the District Court can impose summarily is two years. In the Bill the Minister is limited to the imposition of a two year custodial sentence in the District Court.

The House will debate crime this evening and I support judicial discretion regarding sentencing, but only in certain cases. However, given this type of provision, is it possible that people who were in flagrant breach of an interim or permanent barring or protection order will emerge from the court with only a small fine of perhaps £50 or £100? If that is the case the measure should be amended because if somebody is in breach of a barring or protection order, the taxpayer is already put to the expense of the machinery of the State [64] going into operation against that person. It is not good enough that a court will have the discretion to impose a small fine on somebody who is essentially in contempt of court.

The matter will be discussed on Committee Stage but I ask the Minister to consider setting a minimum financial fine and custodial sentence. I favour a minimum custodial sentence so it is plain to anybody who breaches an order of the court regarding spousal abuse that they will serve such a sentence and there will be no messing about. Violence may be part of our nature, but it is unacceptable. I compliment the Minister and his Department for bringing forward what is in general terms an excellent Bill which will be supported on this side of the House. Subject to those comments I commend this Bill to the House.

Mr. Maloney: Information on Sean Maloney  Zoom on Sean Maloney  I welcome the Bill which deals with violence in the home. This violence affects all members of the family. In many cases the victims, usually the wife and children, suffer because the other spouse has a drink or drugs problem or may be suffering from a mental illness. The 1981 Act did not provide enough support for these victims, nor did the Garda have proper support in dealing with them. It is necessary to act very quickly in these situations. The Minister has addressed many of the outstanding issues in this Bill and it is most welcome.

I have been looking at situations in my own area, Donegal. For a long time there was little refuge support for women and children enduring domestic violence. Thankfully that has changed; we have a refuge in Letterkenny and people living in Donegal who have such problems at least have some place to go. Before this refuge was available we had to depend on services in places like Derry and Coleraine. In the past, if there was trouble in the home and the wife and children had to run away, they had to go to the North. Over the last 18 months that situation has changed with [65] the support of the Department and the health board and this is most welcome.

Victims need to know that help is available. We swept this problem under the carpet for many years. In my experience, the people who looked for help would probably approach the Garda as a last resort. They would approach the clergy first, but in many cases the clergy did not want to get involved. I saw women coming into the service beaten black and blue; rape was not out of the question. I have seen massive violence against women. I have seen psychological violence against women which drove them to have nervous breakdowns. If this Bill helps to solve even some of those problems it is to be welcomed.

In my work I have never come across a man admitted for reasons of domestic violence; it was always females. Their psychological mindset at the time was usually such that they accepted everything that was thrown at them and would not report the perpetrators to the Garda. People have changed over the last ten years and there is now a greater willingness to report domestic violence to the Garda, but the Garda does not have sufficient power to deal with these situations. I have spoken to a number of gardaí in this regard and they say they do not have enough powers. I know we must guard the powers we give the Garda but there is a fear that the Garda do not have the power of arrest in that situation.

I have an unhappy memory of seeing a person with a drink problem coming through the service in which I was involved. A barring order was made against him. He came home one night and murdered his wife. It is impossible to allow for these things, it is impossible to keep a guard on a person 24 hours a day. In this case, a combination of factors, including jealousy and drink, led to this tragedy. The children were left without a father or mother. Barring orders are breached left, right and centre. Barring orders were introduced in 1976 and were very welcome but for many years people did not use them. The gardaí are limited by their powers; [66] I hope this Bill gives them enough powers to deal with those cases.

The Minister said that he wondered sometimes why women did not stand up to the perpetrators of such violence. I have seen women in fear of their lives. They are afraid to tell the authorities. They come to hospital, get counselling and try to get help. I have even seen them being visited by the people who perpetrated the violence on them. It is sick, although I know that often the pre-petrator is there trying to make up for what he has done. In many cases the perpetrators are sick but many of them are not. It is a crazy situation for any woman to find herself in. It does lasting damage to the children and anything we can do to change that is welcome.

Violence does not occur only between husband and wife, I have seen the worst forms of violence perpetrated on sons and daughters and nothing is ever done about it. I remember another infamous case where a girl who was living with her family attempted suicide a number of times. She came through the psychiatric service and it was discovered, after this violence had gone on for eight or nine years, that the girl was being raped by two members of her family regularly. One can understand why she wanted to take her life. Nobody tried to investigate the circumstances of the case; all the services failed. It may not always be possible to find out what is going on in certain homes if the person affected does not want to tell, but the psychological effects are horrific.

I welcome the Bill. It is a move in the right direction but we must see that the punishment fits the crime. More help is needed in cases of domestic violence, matters need to be investigated earlier when they are brought to the attention of the Garda or the health board. That has happened to some degree through the years. If the clergy had brought many of the cases they were told about to the attention of the authorities they might have been dealt with sooner. I know many members of the clergy helped people. In my home town one excellent member of the clergy went to [67] people's homes regularly and if alcohol was the problem convinced that person to seek help within the psychiatric service, but they did not all do it. It is important that the punishment fits the crime. That might mean a perpetrator has to attend the Garda station daily, but the victim at least needs to know that help is available.

There is always a danger that false allegations may be made. If a person has moved into a second relationship they may tell lies about the first. We must have as many services as we can to see that this does not happen. If the powers are there for the Garda, if support from the health boards and counselling services is available, this Bill will go a long way towards alleviating these problems. I welcome the Bill.

Ms Honan: Information on Cathy Honan  Zoom on Cathy Honan  I, too, welcome the Minister and pay tribute to him for introducing this Bill which is a significant reform of the law in relation to domestic violence. It will offer a strengthened degree of legal protection to women living in violent relationships and, in protecting women, it will also protect children. For these reasons I wholeheartedly support the Bill.

Violence against women is a social evil of the worst kind. It is a violation of women's human rights. It causes serious and often permanent physical and psychological harm to the women and the children affected by it. It occurs in every class of society, right across the social spectrum; yet because it occurs behind closed doors it is one of the most difficult crimes to detect and prevent. We still do not have any national statistics showing the level of domestic violence. However, the voluntary organisations which work in this field are in no doubt that the levels are high and frightening.

Women's Aid, which runs a free telephone help line, receives tens of thousands of calls each year. In the first year of its existence, the Garda special domestic violence and sexual assault unit in Dublin received over 5,000 calls. This [68] figure is even more horrific in the light of international experience which shows that only between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of women who are assaulted by their partners will report the offence.

For many years social attitudes and those of the Garda, the legal profession, legislators and the public to domestic violence conspired to serve the interests of the abuser, not the woman who was abused or her children. The family home was seen as the man's personal fiefdom in which his power was absolute. Behind closed doors the man of the house had absolute rights over his wife and children.

For many years women who were assaulted or abused by their husbands were expected to put up with it by society. If they left the family home, they were often seen as having abandoned their marriage vows. Many women who left because they were abused by their husbands were often sent back by their families. On the other hand, women who stayed with an abusing husband, usually out of economic necessity, were assumed by many to have asked for it. These attitudes are still alive and well and are a major underlying factor in the continuing problem of domestic violence.

Róisín McDermott from Women's Aid prepared a paper on violence against women in the home. She said that it is only when we look at the services available to women who are being physically, sexually and mentally abused that we fully understand why so many stay. Factors which keep women in violent relationships are poverty, economic dependence and cultural attitudes which blame women and protect the offender. Our political system does not prioritise its support services, which are badly needed, and our judicial system, unfortunately, can fail to treat the issue with the seriousness it demands. Furthermore, society often insults women by asking them why they stay instead of asking why men abuse women.

All the legislation the Minister has introduced has done much to improve the lot of women in Ireland. The provision [69] of additional funding to the free legal aid centres has made a huge difference to the lives of many women. We have spoken about women in the home trying to obtain barring orders or trying to take legal action against spouses or partners abusing them. The extension of the law centres and the shortening of the length of time women must wait to be seen by a solicitor to get their cases through the system has been a considerable help and I compliment the Minister in this regard. I realise many areas — for example, the provision of refuges for women and changes in the education system — are within the brief of other Ministers. I ask the Minister to raise these issues with his Cabinet colleagues because domestic violence is not only the charge of one Minister — it requires support from the Departments of Justice, Health and Education.

The Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act, 1981, was the first law to give a degree of protection to battered women. It introduced new legal remedies — the protection order, which prohibited the man from using or threatening violence against his wife, and the barring order, which excludes him from the family home. These remedies were welcome and necessary in so far as they went, but they only applied to situations in which the parties were married. People cohabiting as husband and wife or other persons living together in a domestic situation were not protected by the provisions of the Act. This Bill is a significant reform because for the first time the deficiency in the 1981 legislation is being addressed and for that reason it is welcome.

Domestic violence is a problem which will not be solved by legislative action alone. This Bill will not stop domestic violence from occurring. The incidence of domestic violence will only be reduced by attitudinal change. This Bill will not assist thousands of women whose only way out of an abusive relationship is through the front door. I am not being critical of the Bill, but I realise we must change attitudes and [70] look at why men batter women. We need to educate young boys and girls about relationships and the unacceptability of violence in our society.

Women who must leave their homes need a refuge — a safe place where they and their children will be protected from the abuser and where they will be helped to get their lives back on track. The greatest difficulty facing an abused woman and the voluntary agencies that work in this field is not only the lack of legal remedies, which this Bill is trying to fix, but the lack of refuge spaces. Access to adequate safe refuges is essential and if the Government is serious in its commitment to action on domestic violence it must look at this area. Only 79 family places are available throughout the country for victims of domestic violence. In my area of Laois-Offaly there are no refuge spaces.

We may ask why do women stay, but where will they go? Many women are financially dependent on their spouse or partner and do not have an independent means of support or access to a car to drive to a refuge in Dublin. Many of these women do not know where refuges are located. Research in the United Kingdom in 1978 said that a city the size of Dublin should have 100 family spaces. Yet in 1996, it has only 79 places. Belfast, for instance, has 104 places, which is more than in the entire country. While it is a scandal, I do not doubt the Minister's good intentions in this regard. I urge him to press these urgent issues with his Cabinet colleagues.

The problem of domestic violence requires study, which will be difficult and demanding. If the Government is serious about tackling this problem, it must be done. If possible, research should be carried out on the levels of domestic violence and why men abuse women. Women's Aid has done some analysis on this and, obviously, it would be the main party to be consulted in this regard. We need wide-ranging educational initiatives directed at the legal and medical professions, social workers and the Garda. Attitudes are changing [71] and more people are aware of the problem, but we have a long way to go. Women who leave refuges need housing and their children need intensive counselling — they need to rebuild their lives. These issues must also be tackled.

While my party welcomes the Bill, we have some difficulties with it. The main difficulty is this. Where parties live together as husband and wife and where the woman has no legal or beneficial interest in the home, she is precluded from applying for a barring order; neither can she apply for one in circumstances where her interest in the property is less than her partner's. This will create a problem because many women move in with a partner permanently and they may have children together. She has supported him in his career and has contributed directly and indirectly towards the establishment of the family yet, because the woman's name is not on the title deeds of the house or because she is not named in the lease, she has no rights whatsoever.

Of course, it would be open to the court on a preliminary basis if the woman in question did have a legal or equitable interest in the home but this would confer jurisdiction on the court to proceed to hear the woman's application for a barring order. This type of hearing would be lengthy, complex and costly and would have to take place in the Circuit Court. It would mean additional costs and difficulty for the parties living far from the nearest Circuit Court. More importantly, because of the continued failure of successive Governments to alleviate the appalling pressure on Circuit Family Court lists, it would mean extremely lengthy delays between the issuing of proceedings and the hearing itself.

In view of the foregoing, the remedy of a barring order will not be a practical option for the vast majority of women who are cohabitating with men. The only effective remedy for this group will be to continue to flee from the house and to seek shelter in a refuge wherever they can find one with sufficient room. [72] The Minister believes there will be constitutional difficulties in granting a woman an order which barred a man from property which he owns. However, a woman's right to bodily integrity and her right to safety in her home should be superior to the property rights of the man.

If there are children in the relationship they should not be forced into homelessness for the sake of the father's property rights. Children should have a right to a safe and secure home and in such cases it should be possible for women to obtain a barring order. My colleague, Deputy Keogh, argued strongly for this anomaly in the Bill to be dealt with in the Dáil. I ask the Minister to look at this again so that we can protect all women from violence in their homes. If a man is abusing the children he has brought into the world and whom he has an obligation to house and maintain, the law should have the power to exclude him from the family home on the application of the mother and irrespective of who owns the house.

Another difficulty we have with this Bill relates to the powers and responsibilities of the Garda. The Bill provides that where an officer has reasonable cause for believing that an offence under this Bill has taken place, he may arrest the alleged offender. Women's Aid has, on a number of occasions, expressed its concern that there is a worrying lack of clarity about Garda powers of arrest in domestic violence situations. This Bill does not clarify the situation. Gardaí ought to be put under a positive obligation to effect an arrest where they believe a violent incident has occurred. While the Garda have made great strides in learning about and understanding domestic violence and have, in some areas, undergone a huge change of approach in dealing with it, there are still areas in which the gardaí will refuse to arrest a husband. Imposing an obligation on the gardaí to arrest would do much to improve the situation.

I pay tribute to the voluntary organisations which have campaigned tirelessly [73] over the years to assist and empower victims of domestic violence. In particular, great credit is due to Women's Aid who must be congratulated on the sustained way they have campaigned for legislative and institutional reform. Fortunately, they have encountered a sympathetic Minister which is why this Bill has seen the light of day.

Women who are victims of domestic violence need this Government's support. Women's Aid, the voluntary agency dealing with such women, needs the Government's support. They need this Bill but they need more. They need to be given the resources they require to continue to provide refuge spaces, support, advice and counselling for women and children. They need resources to continue their public awareness campaigns and their educational initiatives. Their efforts to provide housing for women who leave refuges, including sheltered housing, must be supported. This Bill is a welcome start.

Róisín McDermott, in her paper on violence against women in the home, says that in Ireland women are most unsafe in their homes and are most unsafe from their husbands and partners. We must ensure that women become safe in their homes; we must stop the violence against women. We must provide the support and information services they require and the Garda and the Judiciary must treat violence against women in the home as the serious crime it is. As a society we must break the silence and educate; we must particularly educate our young people about violence against women.

I congratulate the Minister and welcome the Bill.

Mr. Farrell: Information on Willie Farrell  Zoom on Willie Farrell  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus roimh an Bille. We welcome this Bill because violence in any shape or form is not acceptable anywhere. However, many of our problems with violence today arise because we have lost respect; respect appears to be a thing of the past. Over the past 20 years we have spent billions of pounds on [74] education, we have talked about rights but we have forgotten to talk about responsibilities. Today nobody is held responsible for anything. When we encounter violence our response is: “God help them, they are not responsible for it; it is the society in which they were reared”.

I grew up near a town 40 years ago where there were housing estates and I cannot understand the problem of violence. I had a friend who lived in Ballymun during the 1970s. I often drove up from Sligo and arrived at Ballymun flats at 12 midnight. I could park my car and travel up to my friend's flat in the lift. I could leave my car there for three or four days and nobody would interfere with it. Ballymun was an area of young people at the time. They did not know each other and were only starting to build a community. However, today one would not be safe going there in daylight.

What has gone wrong? There was more unemployment then than there is now. What has gone wrong is the fact that discipline, responsibility and respect have gone out the window. Pupils no longer have respect for their teachers. Nowadays, if a teacher says the wrong word to a child the teacher will be before the court. If a criminal kicks the guts out of a garda and the garda retaliates, the garda will be brought before the court. If somebody breaks into one's house and one wins the battle and puts them out, the criminal can take action against one for grievious bodily harm and damage. The house owner is now the culprit. Is this not where we have gone wrong over the last 20 years?

The day discipline went out of the national school was the day we threw everything out the window. Thank God I went to a school that had very good teachers; I could never say a bad word about any of them, although I know of people who went to schools where there were brutal teachers. When we took over this country we threw out everything without putting anything back in. Many of our beautiful old estates were [75] so weighed down because of rates that people could not afford to pay them and we knocked down the lovely houses that today would be centres of architecture; we threw out or smashed everything; we parcelled out land through the Land Commission, etc. We never looked to the future; we became a destructive society.

I was born and lived quite near a pub. There was always a little family violence, nobody need say there was none, but it was only on the evening of a fair because generally there was not enough money for the abuse of alcohol. On the evening of a fair everybody knew the man who would come home abusive and contrary but a neighbour would be in the house before he arrived. There was community spirit then; today nobody goes into another person's house. Now we have social classes, we are no longer families. When I was young there was no “kipping” together; one was either married or one was not. Now people are cohabiting. We have lost all respect for ourselves and for our way of life. Until we bring back respect we will never come to grips with violence. Even on the worst fair day, it was a fist fight and anyone who attempted to use an ash plant would get the worst of it. Someone would take it out of his hand, throw it away and tell him that if he wanted to fight, he should fight fairly. There were fights in dance halls but they were always fist fights. Now people use knives and shoes; it is all kicking and abuse. Violence in the home involves smashing the delph, breaking everything and wrecking the house. This was not the type of violence there was in the home when I was growing up.

The greatest cause of violence is the abuse of alcohol. It always amazes me that there is so much talk about smoking cigarettes. A smoker will never break up a house or wrap a car around a telegraph pole but the drunkard will. We seem to be ambivalent about this; we should have stronger regulations to prevent abuse.

[76] Violence in the home goes right across society. We see violence in some of the best homes and those which one would think are good homes. We see violence from people with university degrees, men and women. There is violence not only in the ghettos or among the unemployed; it is in all strata of society. What has gone wrong? It is not lack of education. In the days of matchmaking, people said we could not expect any different because couples were brought together against their will. We were told that when people could pick their partners and make their own arrangements for getting married we would have no problems. What is happening?

It is strange that people who come from abusive families go into another abusive family. People who leave a marriage with an alcoholic get involved with another alcoholic. Any counsellor will tell you that they cannot come to grips with this phenomenon. People just do not learn.

Much has been said about men abusing women. Are people living in the real world? Many men are abused but they are afraid to talk about it. Many men come home to learn that their wives are drunk in the pub. That is abuse but they must look after the children and put them to bed. I travel quite a lot and I have seen a great deal of this type of violence.

Violence is not just against women or men, children are also violent towards parents. On some American and English programmes one hears a mother saying that her seven year old son kicks her and she cannot control him. In their time their grandmothers would have controlled them and there would be none of that nonsense. It is time we faced reality.

Television is another factor. Even RTE is not content unless each programme contains a variety of four letter words. It is the in thing now. It is not entertainment unless the lowest of the low in terms of language is used. This is another form of violence and we are accepting it on television. We should get [77] back to where we were 20 years ago. If we were back where we started in the 1970s, when no one had ever done anything, we would be a rich and wealthy country today. There is no point in talking about how this problem started or who caused it, we are all part of it and we must try to solve it.

I welcome this Bill because it gives the health boards a little more power. They knew things were happening but they could not go into houses to investigate or take people out of the houses. As each Bill is passed, people say we need more resources. “Resources” is the buzz word which means we need more money. Since there are only 1.5 million people working in this country, from where will the money come? No health board will be able to implement this Bill if we do not provide more money, and that is a hard fact of life. A large amount of finance is required. I often wonder if we ever consider where we will get the finance. Can the Minister tell us how much it will cost to implement the provisions in this Bill?

We have a problem with violence in the home and elsewhere. People are not safe going home at night. A person's car is safe in the Oireachtas car park but it may not be safe if parked on the street. We must do something about society but, in the meantime, we have a big problem with violence in the home between married or cohabiting couples. I can never understand why a person who is going out with another does not leave them the first time they are abused.

I always advise young girls, before they even think of getting married, to visit their boyfriend's home. The old way of judging a man's character was whether he was good to his mother. If he is a blackguard at home, he will be a bigger blackguard to his wife. Every girl should be told she will never change her man and every man should be told that if he is going out with a girl who is not on the same wavelength, he should forget about her. We cannot change people.

[78] The North-Western Health Board has done much work in this area. I appeal to the Minister to make money available when this Bill is passed to ensure its implementation. If he is does not, the Bill will not be worth the paper on which it is written. Money should not be wasted on administration because it will not get to the root of the problem. It will create more jobs for bureaucrats, the courts and judges but it will not help the people it is designed to help.

We have to educate people to have respect. At one time if a man saw a woman getting on a bus, he gave her his seat or carried her bags. Now, a person is afraid to help a woman because he could be accused of attempting to rape or abuse her. Fear has been driven into people. They are afraid to buy sweets for a child in case they are accused of trying to molest them. This fear has created a bad society. I do not know where it will end. Let us hope this Bill will in some way remedy the serious problem of broken marriages.

Professor Lee: Information on Joe Lee  Zoom on Joe Lee  The Minister will be relieved to hear that I will be very brief. If I am talking at one minute to six, he can stop me. I welcome the Bill which is a big improvement on the current situation. I will put down some amendments as will others but the Minister dealt with the amendments in the other House in a reasonable manner. We will have a rerun of some of the arguments but it was dealt with quite cerebrally in the Dáil.

I welcome the Bill because there is a hideous situation in the field of domestic violence. I would like to say that it will make a significant improvement, but I am more inclined to think, if I can speak in terms used by Garret FitzGerald, that it will slow down the rate of increase in domestic violence rather than reducing or abolishing it because the fundamental problem confronting the State is that, while we are enacting a good deal of specific legislation which is well intended and often well designed for a specific problem, it is swimming against the tide of the way general [79] values are going and of the impact of what may be termed “modernity” on society. While the specifics are designed to try and cope with the consequences of this, we are either importing, or perhaps fostering, the types of mentalities and mindsets which can only be curbed but cannot be fundamentally changed by this.

It was interesting to consider the specific proposals of the Coolock submission, many of which were based on experience, and to look at the final paragraph, even the final sentence, which made clear that it is not beginning to tackle the underlying causes, whatever they may be, but that it is preventive as far as possible and is making some attempt to ensure that when violence occurs it will not recur and to save the victims from the continued brutalisation of situations.

Preventing violence from occurring in the first place and changing the mindsets of individuals is something that is very difficult to achieve through legislation. Nevertheless, if it cannot at least be assisted through legislation, it is hard to see the motives for change that are going to take place in society.

Over the weekend the Irish Independent dealt, as did other newspapers, with those horrible recent events in County Kildare and elsewhere. Turning to the television review, one could then read about a new programme being described in its first episode as mingling sex and violence with expertise. This was not said in criticism, but with admiration at the technical skill of the programme. How do we convince ourselves that 100 per cent of viewers of this kind of thing will be able to distinguish in their own minds the technical virtuosity of a programme from the values contained in such virtuosity? I do not see how we are going to be able to do this. I am not sure we even fully realise the problems involved. I do not suggest that everybody is dominated by media images, but a sufficient proportion can be influenced by them to affect their behaviour.

[80] I welcome the emphasis on psychological welfare, which is very important, and the emphasis on the elderly, which is also very important. I welcome the Bill as there are a number of good things in it which we can discuss on Committee Stage. Perhaps I am becoming more gloomy in my old age, but I welcome it almost in a Canuteian sense that it is the best that can be done against the tide that is threatening us.

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor): Information on Mervyn Taylor  Zoom on Mervyn Taylor  I thank Senator Lee for allowing me to conclude in what will be a very inadequate way, given the short time available to me. I also thank all the Senators for contributing to the debate and for the broad welcome given to this legislation. It is a subject on which Senators have strongly held views and I look forward to a constructive and informed debate on the Bill on Committee Stage.

Domestic violence is a particularly insidious form of violence. It is an attack in the sanctity of the home on victims of all ages and of all social classes by those to whom they are or should be closest, be it an attack by a husband on his wife, by a parent on a vulnerable child or, indeed, by an adult child on an elderly parent. It is this combination of circumstances that generates the seemingly confused reaction of victims, which includes the desire on the one hand to stop the violence and on the other hand to protect the integrity and good name of the family unit by hiding it. As a result many victims have suffered in silence over the years and continue to do so.

The effect of this legislation largely depends, therefore, on the willingness of victims to avail of its provisions. Thankfully, victims have shown an increased willingness to take action in recent years; however, there is a lot more work to be done. What is needed more than anything is a change in traditional social mores, especially those governing the relationships between women and men.

References were made by many Senators — Senator McGennis, Senator [81] Neville, Senator Henry, Senator Honan — to the question of the funding of women's refuges. Approximately 90 per cent of the funding for hostel facilities in women's refuges comes from the health boards. Additional resources continue to be provided, and in the past two years emergency accommodation has been provided in Navan, Letterkenny, as referred to by Senator Maloney, and Castlebar. In addition, the Minister for Health has provided over £500,000 to meet the running costs of the new Bray Women's Refuge and capital grants towards the development of refuges in Dublin, County Kerry, Galway and Dundalk. In addition, increased financial support is being made available for counselling and telephone helpline services for victims of domestic violence. The Government is fully committed to the further development of appropriate services within the health areas for victims of domestic violence.

During the debate reference was made, especially by Senator McGennis and Senator Henry, to the fact that the safety order remedy is limited to a respondent cohabitant with whom the applicant has lived for an aggregate period of six months during the preceding 12 month period. The purpose of the Bill, as evidenced by the long Title, is to make provision for the protection of persons in domestic relationships. This includes persons living together as husband and wife. It is considered that limitations must be placed on this provision, given that the existence of a safety order renders a person liable to arrest in respect of behaviour which might not otherwise constitute any criminal offence. Thus, if two people happened to have lived together for a period of time and subsequently break up, and have had little or no contact for a year to two, there would appear to be no good reason why the safety order remedy should be available between them without also being available in every other context of personal conflict or aggressive behaviour. For this reason, therefore, the scope of section 2 (1) (a) [82] (ii) of the Bill has been limited in this way.

Senator McGennis, Senator Neville and Senator Henry referred to the difficulty of barring a respondent with an ownership interest in the home. This has been a matter of much controversy in the other House and in general debate. I wish to emphasise that the need for this restriction is not of my making. The reality is that I am advised that any proposal, no matter how framed, to bar a respondent with an ownership interest on the application of a person with any lesser interest could be open to serious constitutional challenge on the basis that it may infringe that person's property rights, which the State in its laws must respect under Article 40.3. of the Constitution.

As I stated earlier, the position is different where the parties are married. Senators may wish to refer to the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women, which dealt with the problem of domestic violence and which specifically recognised this difficulty. It is a difficulty to which I have given a great deal of detailed consideration, both before the Bill was published and during its passage through the Dáil. The crux of the matter is that the many good measures in the Bill, acknowledged by many Senators, and Deputies in the Lower House, measures which are recognised to be so badly needed, could be rendered inoperable if a provision in the Bill was found to be unconstitutional. This is a risk which I am not prepared to take.

I have much pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 7 February 1996.


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