Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary White. As it is her first visit to the House, I congratulate her on her appointment and wish her well in her new portfolio.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Mary Alexandra White): I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I am delighted to be in the House and welcome the opportunity to speak on this most serious topic.
These statements on domestic violence, which are taking place so soon after the publication earlier this month of the Government’s National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2010-2014, are timely. The strategy reflects the Government’s commitment to tackling domestic and sexual violence, which is reflected in the establishment in June 2007 of Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence. Cosc is a national executive office within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with a whole-of-Government remit. As well as dealing with violence against women, Cosc’s remit extends to violence against men and violence against older people in the community. Cosc’s actions therefore have a broad focus across all Government activity with the essential aim of preventing and responding to domestic and sexual violence. In carrying out its remit Cosc works closely with the many Departments, State agencies and non-governmental organisations dealing with domestic and sexual violence. In the past 18 months or so the development of the national strategy has been the main priority of Cosc.
Before discussing the development and content of the national strategy, I would like to say a few words about the nature of domestic violence. Three different dimensions of abuse characterise domestic violence — physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Behaviours which commonly occur in situations of domestic violence include various forms of physical violence such as kicking, punching, slapping, choking, and threatening with an object. Equally sexual abuse, in its many appalling variations, can be part of a pattern of domestic violence. Controlling and intimidating behaviour, including threats and blaming the victim, are common forms of emotional abuse. The use of isolation can be a key backdrop to domestic violence. An example of this is where the perpetrator restricts communication between the victim and friends or relations. Isolation can significantly hinder the victim in getting help and recovering from the cruel and degrading crimes concerned. More specifically, it can prevent reporting of the violence and make it difficult to access support services. It is relevant too that domestic violence may also include economic abuse. An obvious example of this would be where, as a means of exerting control, money for everyday expenses is deliberately withheld by one partner from the other.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that these types of crimes usually take place behind closed doors where there are no witnesses or, worse still from the child’s point of view, where the only witness is a child. The hidden nature of the violence makes it very difficult to tackle. There are various reasons this behaviour is kept hidden. It can be due to the misguided view that the violence is a private matter or due to the embarrassment of some of those involved. Often it is kept hidden because the victim considers he or she will not be believed. Violence is a crime, whether it is inside or outside the hall door.
Most domestic violence and the most severe forms of it are perpetrated by men against women. At the same time men can be, and often are, victims of domestic violence. Children also become embroiled in such violence, sometimes as direct victims, but more often as secondary victims. Sadly, older people can experience domestic violence perpetrated by their children or by members of their own families. Other groups which can be at high risk of becoming victims of domestic violence include people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and members of the Traveller community.
I will now focus on the development of the national strategy in the past 18 months or so. A wide range of State and non-governmental organisations dealing with domestic and sexual violence played a key role in assisting with the strategy’s development. Those organisations responded to the call for submissions on the strategy and participated in subsequent rounds of consultations. The organisations included Departments, State offices and agencies as well as the more than 70 non-governmental organisations at national and local level which deliver services to victims of domestic and sexual violence. In addition, domestic and international research was considered. A conference was held in Waterford at which international experts spoke of their experiences and research. The conference focused on improving and evaluating the responses of specific services such as housing, the police, the criminal justice system and the health care system, as well as specific co-ordination issues such as risk assessment models. The conference was followed by a forum on domestic violence hosted by President Mary McAleese, which explored why victims find it difficult to seek help or report abuse. The material gathered from all these sources was analysed and formed the basis of discussions with Departments and public sector bodies to identify the goals and actions required. This culminated in a final round of consultations with all the Departments and State bodies concerned late last year. All relevant Departments and bodies indicated their commitment to the strategy and to the actions with which they are specifically involved. Some Departments offered to lead on certain actions and others made valuable suggestions on implementation.
The Government’s action in this area has been driven by its concern at consistent evidence of high prevalence and low levels of reporting of these crimes. Soon after the establishment of Cosc in 2007, it became clear that a national strategy was required to set out a common vision, to form a basis for a joined-up approach and to identify priority actions. Now that the Government has approved the national strategy, we have a document which represents a blueprint for more strategic and co-ordinated action on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in Ireland in the five-year period from early this year to the end of 2014. The finalisation of the strategy is a significant milestone. It is the first time there has been such a strategy and the achievement is a credit to all concerned, including Departments, State agencies and NGOs that all had such a large part in getting the strategy over the line. It is the first time in Ireland there has been a common vision and collaborative plan of action to tackle these horrific crimes.
The main focus of the strategy is, on the one hand, to prevent the violence concerned and, on the other, to respond effectively to such violence. Ultimately, the impact of the strategy will be fewer victims of domestic and sexual violence, better services for those who are victims and increased accountability by perpetrators. The strategy places a high value on evaluation and evidence-based policy planning. This is crucial to ensure effective interventions and best public value. The strategy is very much an action-focused one. Not only does it outline actions and activities, it sets out clear targets against which progress on implementation will be measured.
More specifically as regards domestic violence, the national strategy has two central pillars which deal with primary and secondary interventions. I will briefly indicate the actions to be implemented under these interventions. Primary interventions are those that aim to prevent a problem from occurring or, when it has taken place, to prevent its recurrence. In the context of domestic violence, the national strategy’s primary interventions will raise awareness of the crime and increase understanding and recognition of it. Another aspect of the primary interventions will be to educate people about the dynamics and impact of the problem and equip people to better respond to it. Actions relating to primary interventions will include developing an understanding and recognition of domestic violence among the general public, specific audiences and across the State sector. Action will also be taken to embed domestic violence-related content in programmes in second and third level education institutions.
Secondary interventions arise once an incident has occurred and there is a direct role for services to deal with a report, respond or refer on for needs to be met by a more specialised service. Secondary interventions are mainly the services offered to victims. They range from routine inquiry in hospital or GP settings which aim to facilitate disclosure to direct service provision for victims. Services for victims can include assistance with accommodation, counselling and medical attention, as well as relief provided through the civil courts and the criminal justice process. A focus on victims is of central importance and a basic first step in increasing their confidence in service provision is to ensure that information on services is available to them in user-friendly formats. One of the actions under secondary interventions addresses this. Another action aims to improve opportunities for disclosure in the health and non-health sectors. Work is planned to promote high-quality standards in service delivery for victims as well as perpetrators and to strengthen intra and inter-organisational co-ordination, with a view to improved service effectiveness and consistency. Action will also be taken with a specific focus on supporting and enabling collaboration across State agencies and NGOs. In addition, specific actions are included to improve protection and support for victims, through improvements to counselling as well as ensuring effectiveness and consistency in housing responses and the co-location of services in a one-stop-shop setting.
The strategy also includes an action to minimise attrition levels in domestic violence cases, to the extent that is appropriate. This will include examining recent research with a view to developing proposals to improve the situation.
Through the establishment of a domestic violence perpetrator programme committee, Cosc will develop and implement a plan to strengthen perpetrator programmes by improving intra and inter-organisational co-operation, co-ordination and data collection. The final actions under secondary interventions aim to address the accountability of offenders and strengthen the protection of victims through a review — and any necessary improvement — of legislation on domestic violence.
The strategy aims to provide a clear direction for all Government action on domestic violence across the various Departments and agencies concerned. This should lead to more co-ordinated and effective action in respect of victims and perpetrators. In so doing, the strategy will address the key problem of the disjointed nature of current action across the many organisations involved.
The vision in respect of the national strategy, in so far as it relates to domestic violence, is that, by the end of 2014, there will be progress in a number of respects. There will be clearer societal acknowledgment of the unacceptability of domestic violence. There will be greater recognition and a broader understanding of such violence. There will be greater confidence in high quality and consistent services for victims of the violence. Crucially, there will also be increased safety for victims, and potential victims, as well as increased accountability of perpetrators. In order to assist in making this vision a reality, structures have been put in place to ensure the effective implementation of the strategy. Central to this task has been the establishment of a strategy oversight committee to monitor the implementation of the national strategy and to assist in identifying solutions to any high level difficulties or delays.
The oversight committee is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Seán Aylward. It will meet twice yearly and will report progress to the group of Secretaries General and the Government.
The national strategy is being published at a time of great economic difficulty for our country and some would say that restricted resources will militate against its effective implementation. The strategy, however, takes account of the difficult economic climate. The implementation of actions in the strategy should not involve a great financial outlay. What it will involve is a new approach to working and interagency co-operation. This is very timely, particularly as this is a period when all organisations are reviewing their purpose and how they work. A successful implementation of this strategy will help to increase efficiency and effectiveness. It will also reduce the financial burden on the State that arises as a result of domestic violence. The latter is, of course, in addition to the horrific personal human cost. Recognising the economic challenges, and the current state of interventions in Ireland, it is realistic to expect the strategy to provide a strong framework for sustainable intervention to prevent and effectively respond to domestic violence.
All of this action under the national strategy is being taken by those employed in Government Departments, State agencies and NGOs the work of which has a direct impact on victims of domestic violence. However, committed as those organisations may be, we cannot just leave matters to them. Domestic violence is a societal problem and the entire community is affected by it.
At a forum on domestic and sexual violence hosted in Áras an Uachtaráin in October 2008, President McAleese posed a question as to “what we can do as a civic society, as a community, to help further an ongoing national debate around domestic abuse and help turn the tide of this repulsive blight in our land, bringing reassurance and vindication to victims, bringing accountability and the opportunity to change to perpetrators”. There was a clear view at that forum that civic society has a vital role to play in addressing not just domestic but also sexual violence.
Victims of domestic violence may become confused by the complexity of their situation or they may find it difficult to navigate across the range of services provided to meet their needs. Regardless of their capabilities, they may lose confidence in their capacity to make the right choice for themselves and their families. It is essential that each person in Irish society should play his or her part in building confidence in victims. They must have confidence that not only will they be believed if they report abuse but that there will be understanding in respect of their circumstances.
We should all be open to listening to a disclosure of domestic violence and we should also know what action to take. With the assistance of the various services working in this area, Cosc has developed a website showing how and where to obtain help. All types of people are affected by domestic violence. As we never know when we may be called on to help, we should be ready to do whatever is in our power. The Cosc website —www.cosc.ie— has useful information to assist people in deciding, depending on the circumstances involved, on the best course of action to take.
Through ongoing development and the commitment of Government Departments and State bodies, working in partnership with all relevant NGOs and supported by a more engaged society, the new national strategy will deliver a strong foundation for an improved system of prevention and response leading to safer lives at home and in our communities. The strategy is not a dry document with the early signs of dust gathering on its cover. It is both a statement of national understanding of the complexity of domestic and sexual violence, as well as a realistic collaborative action plan for the coming five years. Implementation has begun and there are clear commitments which will be met. The strategy sets out a vision of a society that says it will not tolerate, nor remain silent on, domestic, sexual or gender-based abuse or violence in our neighbourhoods and communities. The implementation of this strategy provides a clear direction to achieve this vision. The Government is strongly committed to proceeding with that implementation.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate her on her new role. I hope she will make a real difference in respect of the victims of domestic violence, women and children, who are largely invisible. Those who work with them cannot be photographed for their own safety. Since I became a Member of the House three years ago I have run a number of coffee mornings for the victims of domestic violence and for the refuge centre at Waterside House in Galway and these are some of the facts I have learned.
I wish to focus on the scale of the problem of domestic violence as it relates to the COPE Galway Waterside House Refuge. I spoke to people at the centre earlier today and discovered that the number of women who are trying to avail of its services is continually increasing. In 2009, some 152 women were admitted to the centre. Of these, 99 were individual admissions and the remaining 53 were admitted more than once. It is obvious that the rate of recurrence of domestic violence in the lives of the latter women is quite high. Some 227 children were admitted to the centre in 2009. However, 238 women and 425 children were turned away and had to be referred to a different refuge or bed and breakfast establishment due to a lack of space. I am delighted Senator Ó Brolcháin, who, like me, comes from Galway, is present, particularly as the centre to which I refer represents both the city and county.
In 2008, 10% of all callers to the Women’s Aid national freefone helpline disclosed that they were being abused by former partners to whom they were not married. It is obvious, therefore, that a person who leaves an abusive relationship remains at risk. The stalking of victims by their abusers after they have left the relationship is a major issue.
It is also important to consider the number of women who have died as a result of domestic violence since the mid-1990s. Since 1996, 162 women have been murdered in the Republic of Ireland as a result of domestic violence. In 51% of resolved cases, the woman was killed by her partner or ex-partner. Domestic violence can, therefore, prove fatal. One of the most striking media campaigns I have ever witnessed, was that which took place last year and which showed 150 empty pairs of women’s shoes. They had been filled by women who had been murdered as a result of domestic violence which is a very serious crime against women.
What are the effects of domestic violence on women and children? There are physical health effects such as asthma and high blood pressure which are stress related. As one in eight victims is abused throughout pregnancy, there are high numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths. The mental effects include depression, low self-esteem, inability to cope with everyday life, disrupted sleep patterns, eating disorders as a result of poor body image, panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, self-neglect, alcoholism and serious risk to one’s own life.
The longer the victim is in the abusive relationship the worse it is. Some women have a history of visiting their local GP on a regular basis with minor ailments which normally is a sign of a call for help. I would like the Minister of State to consider flagging a protocol for women at risk of domestic violence through a pattern of GP visits. A number of years ago when I was a teacher, I dealt with a family of children and it was obvious to me that there was neglect in the family home. They were forever at the accident and emergency department or visiting their GP, both of which could identify abuse. Even when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, this does not mean the violence will stop. Many women experience additional violence and stalking by their abusers.
There are also the effects on children. In the short term there are language and speech development problems such as stammering; panic and anxiety attacks; mood disturbance; low self-esteem; feelings of guilt and self-blame; depression; lack of concentration in school; bed-wetting; withdrawal and babyish behaviour. The effects on education would be sustained. The long-term effects are serious and include the danger of the children becoming abusers or bullies themselves because fundamentally at the root of domestic abuse of women by men is the issue of control and power. One must consider where this need comes from. Perhaps it goes back to a cycle of inter-generational abuse and being bullied which brings us back to low self-esteem. Other effects include mental health problems; substance abuse; running away from home and delinquency. Young girls, in particular, have trouble in forming their own relationships after seeing domestic violence in the family home, as they distrust men in general and also have a distorted view of what constitutes a healthy relationship.
The economic downturn has had an effect on the level of domestic violence, as more women and children are seeking refuge. As a result, it has become increasingly more difficult to move women on from sheltered accommodation. In general, beds in refuges are scarce but they are being blocked by women who are in permanent residence. Perhaps “blocked” is the wrong word to use, as the women concerned need a home. An increasing number of women are seeking accommodation. There has also been an increase in the number who stay in refuges on a long-term basis.
It is important that we examine the main causes of domestic violence in order that we can act to prevent it. The Green Party puts forward the notion that it believes in prevention through health promotion. I also support and welcome this. The main causal factors for domestic violence are power and control. Other contributing factors are self-esteem issues, the media, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol and unemployment. It is important to focus on the power and control issue which is often cultural and has to do with the way a person was reared. We need to consider what is the need that makes one want to have such power and control over another. It comes down to one person wanting complete control and power in the relationship.
A large proportion of the women affected are in traditional relationships. The husband — the abuser — sees himself as the main breadwinner and his position in the relationship as being superior to that of his wife. He uses various means of control over his wife such as access to contraception, money which the Minister of State mentioned and a mobile telephone. The wife or partner who is the victim of the abuse feels her responsibilities lie with providing and caring for the children, cooking, cleaning and caring for her husband. Her role is secondary to that of her husband. The key point is that she and her husband share this ideology. However, this does not mean she expects to be abused. While she entered the relationship or marriage with that ideology, it does not mean it is a licence to be abused.
Mr. Don Hennessy, the former director of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, believes men consider they are entitled to behave in this way and have power over their wives. He stated:
It is an important tweaking of the locus of control. When male abusers are challenged about their behaviour, they usually respond with a long list of excuses as to why they acted the way they did. Mr. Hennessy stated they would inevitably try to blame the women for the abuse. He also stated we should not ask if the victim had said, “No”, we should ask whether she had ever said “Yes.”
Let us consider the most urgent issue that needs to be addressed to prevent a continuation of domestic violence. The most important matter is reform of the criminal justice system, which is badly needed. We strongly support Women’s Aid’s recommendations, in particular those relating to the qualification criteria for eligibility for protection under the Domestic Violence Act. To qualify for a barring or safety order under domestic violence law an unmarried woman has to be living with the perpetrator for six of the previous nine months. However, abuse could take place in the first month. Married women can take out an order at any stage. This excludes a significant number of clients of Women’s Aid from availing of protection under the Domestic Violence Act, including those who have children with a partner but who do not live together.
I will give the example of a woman who had been with her partner for two years when they moved in together. They had been living together for two months when he seriously assaulted her, as a result of which she had to be hospitalised. She does not qualify for a barring or safety order under current domestic violence legislation and can only use the Non-Fatal Offences Against The Person Act. This discriminates against women who are not married. Teenage mothers who do not live with the father of their child can also be victims of domestic abuse and are also unable to take out a barring order under the Domestic Violence Act. This is a critical issue that needs to be emphasised in any strategy. It is probably the most important one.
Women’s Aid and the refuge centre in Galway consider strongly that more follow-up work needs to be done and aftercare provided for victims of domestic abuse. When a woman finds she is no longer in need of the services the refuge offers, she moves on, which can be good. As a result, it is hard for the refuge to collate information on the quality of life these women and their children enjoy afterwards. However, many of the women and children who leave the refuge are still in need of additional counselling and therapy services which the refuge is unable to offer as a result of budgetary constraints. The Minister of State mentioned an inter-agency approach to examine how other agencies could liaise with refuge centres and Women’s Aid to ensure women and children receive ongoing help. I ask her to imagine what would happen if she or I were abused. Even if we were to receive help, it would not mean we would not live with after-effects or flashbacks. Abuse victims provided me with accounts in which they were unable to have sexual relations again because such flashbacks were so severe. Consequently, there is a need for ongoing aftercare and follow-up. Refuges do their best to offer additional services with the small funds available to them. However, they consider that the follow-up services they offer are only a fraction of what they should be doing. There is a lack of consistency in respect of follow-up services, which resource is badly needed.
I turn to the question of how the problem of domestic violence can be made more visible in order that society will become more aware of its prevalence. This is an interesting point because when I held the aforementioned coffee morning, I noticed that men who were sitting in the outer section of the hotel in which it was being held were highly uncomfortable with its progress and snide remarks were made and so on. There must be far more media attention, while the profile of the various rape crisis centres and women’s refuges must be raised. Many women who were murdered had had a history of domestic violence. However, this detail is often not disclosed by the media. Agencies such as Cosc, to which the Minister of State referred, provide money for leaflets, etc. but this is not enough; a general public awareness campaign is needed. Moreover, this must not be perceived to be a woman’s issue only. I have applauded the men who have shown up at, for example, coffee mornings in support of women who have been abused in relationships. I also applaud the men who intend to speak on the issue in the Chamber today. In addition, advocacy agencies must be encouraged.
I refer to the work that has helped women and children to recover. Women’s refuges received a small amount of funding recently that enabled them to set up a 12-week programme entitled the Power to Change support group which was of great benefit to women who had been victims of abuse. When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, she often can have feelings of severe isolation and loneliness. The self-esteem of such women is very low. Some music and play therapy groups are available to children. Equally, MOVE, men overcoming violence, is a nationwide organisation which engages male abusers in a weekly group therapy session. The therapy they receive is cognitive, which is welcome.
Senator Maria Corrigan: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue and thank those colleagues who made strenuous efforts in recent months on the Order of Business to ensure it was raised in the House. It is very important that the Legislature is seen to send a strong message on domestic violence. I also welcome the Minister of State, on what I understand is her first appearance in the House, and wish her well in her new portfolio. Having had the opportunity to listen to her several times on radio in recent days, I was highly impressed. If she brings the same clarity and focus she demonstrated on radio, this portfolio will certainly benefit from her input.
While I will try not to repeat points made by either Senator Healy Eames or the Minister of State, it has been stated domestic violence is and continues to be a huge problem in society. It refers to the use of physical, psychological, sexual, emotional, verbal or economic abuse, including the threat of violence, as well as the use of violence in intimate and close relationships. It can affect anyone in a household, a point the Minister of State outlined clearly. However, statistics strongly demonstrate that it affects women, in particular. It can affect every woman, regardless of age, marital status, class or cultural background, and knows no boundaries. Every day in Ireland women are beaten, raped and trapped in their homes by those closest to them. The Minister of State outlined in graphic terms the forms such violence can take and the statistics are stark. One in five women in Ireland suffers from domestic violence and it is estimated that globally one in three women faces abuse, violence and rape every day.
Although the figures are less clear regarding the number of men who face violence within the home, it is known they do and in recent times there has been a greater tendency for men to come forward, even though it remains very difficult for them to so do. However, they are aided and supported by organisations such as Amen. Moreover, as the Minister of State noted, older people and children also are subject to domestic violence.
In Ireland it is estimated that 213,000 women are living with severe abuse every day by boyfriends, husbands or partners. This stark figure demonstrates that 250,000 women, Irish citizens and residents, live with abuse every day. As Senator Healy Eames observed, since 1996 a huge number of women have been murdered in the Republic of Ireland and in 51% of the cases that were solved, the women involved were murdered by their partners or ex-partners. However, there also are many hidden injuries and it is possible there are many hidden related deaths, of which one is unaware, that statistics cannot capture but were at the hands of abusers.
The economic costs of domestic violence also are stark. The estimated annual economic cost of domestic violence to the economy is €2.2 billion. Given the current economic climate, it is apt to also include consideration of the economic costs of domestic violence. In Ireland women experiencing domestic violence make 50% more emergency visits than other women, have double the mental health costs and incur costs for drug and alcohol services that are six times higher. Overall, 3% of total HSE expenditure is due to physical injuries that are directly attributable to domestic violence. The personal costs to victims of domestic violence are enormous. Women and men experience a significant loss of confidence and quality of life. People in situations of domestic abuse are not living but merely existing from day to day. They are simply hoping to survive or that when they get out of bed in the morning, they will be able to return to it that night in a condition somewhat similar to that in which they left it. They suffer a range of injuries and, in extreme cases, death.
Children are also victims of domestic abuse, whether directly or as witnesses of abuse. Even as witnesses, the impact on them is extreme. There has not been an opportunity to examine this subject closely. Anecdotal accounts come from schools of how they can identify children in classrooms who come from homes in which domestic abuse occurs through conduct issues, a lack of concentration or a general state of unhappiness. To make matters worse, I refer to attempts by schools to intervene purely on behalf of children in such situations such as, for example, efforts to seek additional support to catch up on the lessons on which the child is missing out as a result of the aforementioned lack of concentration and attention or to find another way to manage behaviour other than being obliged to suspend the child. Often such attempts by schools to intervene on the part of children are met by resistance. Due to the conflict, the child often finds himself or herself being used as a pawn by parents. The consent required from both parents for a particular action is not forthcoming because what happens to the child has become an extension of the conflict in the home. This is not acceptable. I know of situations in which children are not getting access to the supports they need because consent forms are not being signed as a result of conflicts in the home. This increases the abuse’s impact on innocent bystanders.
Children who have grown up seeing their mums subjected to abuse have tried to intervene with the best of intentions. This escalates the abuse to a new level. I have heard accounts of young children who tried to stand in bedroom doorways to stop their dads getting to their mums. This is an horrendous way to live. One would come home from school unsure of what one would be facing that evening.
We have considered what we would say and hoped to achieve in this debate. We have raised the matter on the Order of Business a number of times. We hope that this debate will, as a minimum, highlight domestic violence and the national strategy outlined in great detail by the Minister of State. It is important we raise awareness among ourselves as legislators and among anyone outside the House who hears of our debate on domestic violence. This is an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the measures that have been put in place. Every Senator in attendance has a broad range of contacts. Sometimes, these allow us to refer to anecdotal evidence of how people are finding the situation. It can inform debate and future measures.
In considering what else we may get out of this debate, I take this opportunity to advocate for the building of circles of support within our communities. Everyone has a role to play in respect of dealing with domestic violence. When the Minister of State discussed the strategy, she mentioned inter-agency work. A strategy on domestic violence must be owned by the people if all of us, as residents and citizens, are to take some degree of responsibility. I will revert on this matter.
The final thing I hope this debate will achieve is to send a message to people who find themselves in situations of domestic violence, namely, they are not alone, there is help and support and they should come forward. I have cited statistics, but we do not know how much of the real situation they are conveying. I have no doubt that statistics will never capture events that are occurring today and will occur today. We will never hear about them. All of these statistics are the minimum, not necessarily a realistic reflection. To those who find themselves in that situation, I would like to say they are not on their own and I ask them to come forward.
I revert to my point on developing circles of support within the community, a matter on which I feel strongly. Everyday, I am struck by the question of how many of us have wondered what to do after hearing a disturbance in a neighbour’s house. Recently, I encountered an example of a lady who experienced considerable abuse at the hands of her husband. Since I knew her living situation, I knew there was no way her neighbours could not have heard what was occurring. When I asked her whether anyone had taken action, she told me that everyone had been afraid to call the Garda because they did not know whether they should have interfered in a private situation. One person who used to live across the road from her had always made a point of calling the Garda. When he moved out, he made a point of asking a neighbour to call the Garda if it occurred again, but that person said he or she would not because what happened behind closed doors was no one else’s business.
This is what we must tackle. I appeal to people. If they hear a violent disturbance, they should call someone. Domestic violence is just a fancy name for assault and brutality. It makes us feel a little bit better, a little more comfortable when saying it, but it boils down to physical assault and brutality. We have no business standing by without taking action. We are horrified when newspapers, “Liveline” or other chat or radio shows tell us of how a young lad or girl was set upon and beaten up while going home. We are horrified when we hear of that young person’s injuries, but they are no different than those being suffered by the victim behind closed doors. That assault is no less wrong than what is occurring behind closed doors. We all need to take a stand. Sometimes, this means picking up the telephone and calling for help. If the victim was me, another Senator, one of our daughters, sons or sisters, would we not like to believe that some neighbour would have the decency to pick up the telephone and protect the victim?
Senator Maria Corrigan: I would like the Minister of State to do something and I will skip through the rest. Would she consider increasing the number of places of safety? I welcome the strategy, but it will only work if we all take responsibility. We need to increase community awareness and send a strong message of zero tolerance of domestic violence. Will the Minister of State also review the legal procedures?
Senator Healy Eames raised some issues, but I wish to raise others. There is a waiting time for obtaining barring and interim protection orders, even where one is eligible to seek them. During the waiting period, the person who has initiated the order is at significant risk because the perpetrator knows there is a pending court action.
Senator Maria Corrigan: It is important that we undertake a safety audit as a minimum. We should consider how to enhance protection and reduce waiting times. People who must get safety orders should not wait months.
Will the Minister of State consider what supports could be put in place for children? In terms of prevention, it is important we examine what is occurring in schools. We should consider how to shape children’s development and increase their coping skills and tolerances, namely, how they deal with emotions like anger.
Senator David Norris: I also welcome the Minister of State. I was unusual in welcoming the Cabinet reshuffle and the general Government move. I specified this development. The separation of equality issues from the Department of Justice, Equality of Law Reform in a new arrangement between the current Minister and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, is welcome news and must be positive, although it is a pity the issue of domestic violence still appears to fall principally under the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Clear issues are to be addressed, one of which I read about this morning and has already been raised in the House, namely, a Down’s syndrome child who was raped and prevented from giving evidence by the judge because he believed that, under outdated legislation, she lacked the capacity. This matter must be re-examined, as it was a serious and horrifying case. Yesterday, I spent a very pleasant 20 minutes interviewing Mr. Frank Crummey, who was one of the founders of the Irish Family Planning Association. In the early 1960s when talking about violence against children on “The Late Late Show”, he said, “As we sit here in this studio, children are being abused by the Christian Brothers.” I can put a variation on that statement. As we speak, domestic violence is being practised, predominantly by men against women. That should not obviate an interest in violence against men, either by other men or by women. The facts are quite clear. The issue is the violence and not the gender. However, the gender appears to be a determining factor in the majority of cases.
I regret that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is still so directly involved. The Minister of State said the strategy oversight committee to implement the report by Cosc is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Seán Aylward, and will meet twice yearly and report progress to the group of Secretaries General and to the Government. I do not know Mr. Aylward and I have nothing against him. However, this is an internal group, which is exactly what the Equal Rights Alliance and many others warned against. It will tend not to be critical of Government policy. That is a serious flaw. The committee should report, not to Secretaries General and the Government, but directly to the Oireachtas so we can discuss these issues and make recommendations. I ask the Minister of State to give us an undertaking that the report will be made to the Oireachtas. Once again, the Oireachtas is being bypassed and that is not a good idea.
The Cosc report is a very odd sort of document. It is full of sentimental twaddle and waffle as well as some reasonably good and specific suggestions. It is an extraordinary mixture. The Cosc press release states, “We have a plan!” The report talks about “your wonderful help and advice” and goes on to bleat about thanking Cosc’s partners for the wonderful this, that and the other. It is not professional. There is a mixture of authorship, in my opinion. The report would be strengthened by being independent.
The national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender based violence, which was published in February 2009 after a number of consultations, huddles, chats and so on, is supposed to be implemented by the Government. I hope the suggestions made in the strategy will be implemented.
I would embark on a slightly broader definition of domestic violence than some of the earlier speakers, one of whom suggested it was confined entirely to physical violence. Psychological violence can be equally damaging, particularly over a long period. Two definitions are useful. The first comes from the report of the task force on violence against women published by the Office of the Tánaiste in 1997, which states:
That is a very useful definition. If one analyses it and applies it to the situation one finds that the policies of successive Governments, including the current one, have made the situation worse. I will give some instances of this. I do not attack any particular party or Government. I simply say this is the impact of the policies of successive Governments of various complexions.
I do not know why it should be confined to female children. There are plenty of examples of violence against male children. Recently we heard of a case of both parents who were sexually molesting their children. I object in the strongest possible terms to newspapers such as The Irish Times referring to groups like the Iona Institute as pro-family. They stupidly let similar kinds of groups get away with the tag pro-life, which puts the rest of us into the pro-death camp. Whether the Iona Institute is pro-family, I most certainly am. I am a member of a family. I did not come down the hot tap in the bath; I am part of the family. These groups, which call themselves Christian, should read the Gospels where, for example, Jesus Christ was attacked by the Pharisees because He ground an ear of corn between His fingers and was told He was working on the Sabbath. He said that “Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. We should beware of idolising institutions like marriage even when they operate against the interests of individuals, particularly the children contained in them. I am part of the family. I am very pro-family. I am also a bit picky about the families I support. I would not, particularly, support families in which incest was a natural part of the daily routine. I do not think they deserve my support.
One in five women in Ireland has experienced domestic violence by a partner or ex-partner. Some 162 women were murdered since 1996, some quite recently. That is an astonishing statistic. There have been 215,000 incidents of domestic violence reported to Women’s Aid. One in eight women surveyed in a Dublin maternity hospital had experienced domestic violence during pregnancy. One in four perpetrators against adult women are partners or ex-partners. There has been only one conviction for marital rape since the introduction of legislation 20 years ago. Marital rape is a comparatively frequent phenomenon but no one is held to account for it. The situation is roughly similar internationally.
I have mentioned the Equal Rights Alliance and I pay tribute to it. When the Government decided, in the teeth of an economic storm, systematically to dismantle every organisation that was speaking out for the vulnerable, including the poor, women, gay people and others, the Equal Rights Alliance held the fort. I also thank God for the Green Party.
Senator David Norris: The Green Party, the Minister of State and the other Green members of the Government made sure the damage was as limited as possible and they fought to reverse it. Part of that reversal has landed the Minister of State in the House tonight.
Women are in this wonderful situation where they are a minority although they are 51% of the population. I am not good at arithmetic but even I can see there is something a little suspicious about that. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, who has drawn these circumstances to our attention. Some 4% of Irish women have executive positions in Irish business and women earn 14% less than men. Women graduates, such as our voters, earn 11% less than men so they are 3% better off. Some 23% of women have incomes which put them in a poverty situation. I could go on. These statistics show there is a structural discrimination against women.
The question of legislation was not addressed in the Minister of State’s speech. Domestic violence is not named or statutorily defined as a crime in legislation. The Domestic Violence Act 1996 does not define or name domestic violence. It refers to assault. The Cosc report recommends that a definition of domestic violence be included in legislation and that it should incorporate both physical and psychological abuse because abuse other than physical can be more damaging. Let us have some action and accountability. If even this weak report recommends this measure I would like to see it done.
I read with immense interest a wonderful thesis by Ms Paula Fagan. I do not know who she is but she writes very incisively. Her research is on the provision of services to migrant women in Ireland. We have had a huge increase in the number of migrant women. For most of my lifetime Ireland was a totally homogenous society. That has changed and fractured and there has been a particular growth in female immigration. These women are particularly vulnerable because of their marginal status in society. Structural barriers for migrant women include immigration status, racism, lack of language and culturally inappropriate support. These can have a really serious effect. Ms Fagan’s thesis depends on information culled from a series of sources.
There are six — Longford Women’s Link, Longford; Meath Women’s Refuge, Navan; Rathmines Refuge, Dublin, for which I remember performing a Joyce one-man show as a fundraiser about 25 years ago; WAVES, Sligo; Women’s Aid, Dublin and Women’s Aid, Dundalk. It is clear from all of this evidence that women are vulnerable within marriage and other domestic partnership arrangements.
On the barriers and difficulties faced by migrant women, the first is our immigration legislation. We are promised immigration and nationalisation legislation which I have read and it stinks. It is one of the most corrupt pieces of legislation I have ever come across and it stinks on a constitutional and legal basis. I attended a series of briefings by senior legal people — solicitors and, in particular, barristers — and was so impressed by them that I brought them to the AV room to talk to my colleagues. I hope their concerns will be taken on board.
Immigration legislation impacts greatly on the lives and choices of migrant women, increasing their physical vulnerability and distress in situations of domestic violence and severely curtailing their options. That is a stark fact to face. Our legislation exposes them to physical danger. Individual women face the restriction on public funds through social welfare restrictions. Restriction of services as a result of underfunding limits women’s choices and curtails the development of appropriate responses. They often face both racism in wider society and cultural attitudes within their own community. There is an attitude, not only on the part of the Government in this respect — it is a broad phenomenon. A United Kingdom study states that with the focus on abuses by asylum seekers rather than abuses against them, successive governments have justified the introduction of measures to reduce the duties they have to immigrants and asylum seekers, reducing the amount of money and services, inlcuding housing, available to them. That is evident both here and in the United Kingdom.
There is the question of deportation. I spoke outside the House at lunchtime to a group, Residents against Racism, of which I know the Minister of State is aware. There have been many such cases, including the case of Pamela Izevbekhai and that of the five year old girl with sickle cell anaemia who had to have her spleen removed. Thank God for that wonderful Irish female consultant who stood up against the bureaucracy and insisted that the girl not be returned to Nigeria where she would have faced certain death. Having had her spleen removed and having sickle cell anaemia, if she had to move to live in a malarial area, undoubtedly she would have died, yet faceless bureaucrats were prepared to contemplate this possibility very easily and comfortably.
There is the question of social welfare restrictions. Migrant women are denied access to affordable housing, which is a real problem. In 1999 the then United Kingdom Government introduced the domestic violence concession, under which women who are subject to domestic violence are allowed to claim residence. Have we done this here? No, we have not. Has the Cosc avoided the issue? Yes, it has. We should introduce such a measure.
There is the question of undocumented women, women who are trafficked in the country for sexual purposes and who are even more vulnerable. Our immigration policy has been focused primarily on economic interests. That is why we do not give the women involved a degree of permanency. We take from them any support that is available. For example, rent allowance has been taken from them, which is a disgrace. We must make sure we make such provision.
All of the groups have joined together to state these measures should be introduced. Measures should be put in place to ensure all migrant women, documented or undocumented, and children who experience domestic violence whose immigration status is dependent on their spouse should be given temporary leave to remain. All migrant women and children in this situation should be automatically deemed compliant with the habitual residency condition. They should be given the right to work and support should be provided in situations of domestic violence. This is an opportunity to make such provision because the Government’s policy leaves women exposed. They are often dependent on their husbands for financial support, which makes them vulnerable, unless the State moves in to assist them. We have a good and idealistic Minister of State and also a party in government which has some access to the decent elements in Fianna Fáil. We should use them and address these real issues, not just the blather contained in the Cosc report.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I very much welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White. I hope she lives up to the great things expected of her. She has responsibility for equality and integration matters and it is great that she is in the House today.
The first issue I wish to address briefly is that this debate was largely called for by the female Members of the House who account for roughly 20% of its membership. It is mainly they who have spoken on the matter. I very much welcome the fact that Senator Norris has spoken on it, as this is not just a matter for women, it is very much a matter for everyone in society.
On the various reports on the subject and the level of domestic violence in the country, Senator Norris mentioned that perhaps one in five women had been abused at some stage. The 2005 ESRI report stated that one in seven women had been abused. It also stated that one in 17 men had been abused. Therefore, domestic violence is not purely a gender issue.
Male physical abuse is not commonly acknowledged in society. Therefore, it is hard to know the extent of the problem. Figures for domestic violence are hard to quantify because much of it occurs behind closed doors and is not reported. What I have given are the reported figures. The figure that almost 500,000 women in the country have been abused is startling. If one were to add together all of the women living in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick, they would not number 213,000. That the incidence of domestic violence is higher than the number of women who live in these four cities is startling. However, that appears to be reality.
It is important that something should come out of this debate. We are in the midst of a recession. Senator Healy Eames referred to Waterside House, a women’s refuge in Galway. In a recession people face difficult challenges. When I talked today to people in that refuge which was set up by COPE in 1981, they advised that the peak time when people tried to get into the refuge was Christmas, a time when people come together and have to face one another head on. It is difficult when people have to face one another without the distractions of work or daily life; that is often when violence erupts. A significant number of people are now unemployed and more partners have to face each other on a daily basis. This will probably lead to more violence and difficult situations. The people to whom I spoke told me that Government funding for the service was drying up, as is community funding and fund-raising, on which far more emphasis is put.
I also spoke to people at the Galway Rape Crisis Centre who told me that they had to raise €170,000 publicly simply to survive and provide the most basic of services. The centre has a male counsellor who I understand is the only male counsellor in the west, a stark statistic, and there is a long waiting list of people to see him.
Violence perpetrated against men is violence that dare not speak its name. Senator Norris referred to the issue which is often lost in a debate such as this, in which, unfortunately, not enough men participate. There is violence against men. The Minister of State has responsibility for equality and integration issues and I have been told time and again by various organisations that men are not equal in family law. That is the factual position.
Men who are responsible for violence is one issue but many men who experience physical, emotional, sexual or other forms of violence in the home find it difficult to deal with the problem on the basis that the law and services are not supportive to the extent necessary. If a man experiences domestic violence, where does he go and what does he do? His name is placed on a waiting list and he faces the danger that he, rather than his partner, will lose access to the couple’s children, despite the fact that in some cases it is the man who is trying to protect the children. Men who are faced with these circumstances are not properly protected by the law. This is largely because men, unlike women, have not stood up and been counted in debates on the issue. This is wrong and men must become more involved in this area. This debate also makes a good case for having more women in politics.
I refer to an interesting one-day survey carried out on 4 November 2008 which showed that on the day in question, 263 women and 216 children were accommodated and received support from domestic violence services, 239 helpline calls were received from women and 17 women and 15 children were admitted to refuges, while six women could not be accommodated owing to a lack of space. In these recessionary times, we must ensure that in certain services the base line is not breached. While money is always a great difficulty in a recession, we must ensure the integrity of certain services is protected.
I concur with Senator Corrigan on the need for a safety audit. The delay between reporting and a barring order being issued can be exacerbated when services are reduced in a recession. A safety audit is an important aspect of the overall process.
In 2008, according to the Courts Service report on 2008, a total of 10,401 applications were made for protective orders under the Domestic Violence Act 1996. In the same year, 1,251 barring orders, 1,502 safety orders, 2,955 protection orders and 445 interim barring orders were granted. The Garda recorded crime statistics for 2008 indicate there were 1,184 incidents of breaching of domestic barring order offences in that year alone. These resulted in 349 convictions, with 95% of the persons convicted men and the remaining 5% women.
Domestic violence is an important and serious issue which will not go away in a recession. Unfortunately, based on anecdotal evidence, the number of cases of domestic violence is likely to increase in a recessionary period. When we talk about base lines and matters of vital importance, we must bear in mind that domestic violence services are vital and their integrity must be retained. We can, however, take an imaginative approach to how we maintain these services. The current services cannot be treated as acceptable because it is necessary to continue to make progress in this area, regardless of the economic position.
I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White, is present and that her portfolio does not come within the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Domestic violence is largely a social problem for which many possible solutions can be found by working together as communities and using our imagination to protect people. We must act to ensure that years from now we do not experience the same horror and disgust we experienced as a result of the reports on institutional child sex abuse.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I am pleased the House has been afforded an opportunity to have this debate on domestic violence as it has been sought by many of us for some time. I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State and pleased that she has been given the new portfolio of equality. As Senator Ó Brolcháin noted, it is welcome that domestic violence comes within her remit. I look forward to engaging with her, not alone on this issue but also on the issue of women’s participation in politics. As members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, Senator McDonald and I recently produced a report on this issue on behalf of the Sub-Committee on Women’s Participation in Politics. We are anxious to debate the report in the House and have some interaction on it with the Minister of State.
On the issue of domestic violence, I will cite the words of Professor Susan Edwards, one of the foremost writers on this topic in Britain. In her 1996 text, Sex and Gender in the Legal Process, Ms Edwards described the treatment of domestic violence in the law, the issue on which I propose to focus given that it is my area of expertise. According to Edwards, domestic violence until the 1970s was regarded as a rare phenomenon. This is as true of Ireland as it is of England and this view may even have persisted longer here. Criminal law, Edwards adds, was rarely if ever invoked to prosecute aggressors. A far wider range of remedies in law is now available but stereotypical attitudes and expectations of women and men persist and these inform the law and militate against the justice and protection victims receive, she continues. The law, while it makes claims to offer remedies and protection to victims, is replete with obstacles and difficulties for the applicant seeking safety and protection, she concludes. Much of what Edwards wrote about circumstances in Britain in 1996 is still true and is relevant in this country.
I am glad a more serious approach is being taken to domestic violence. The establishment of Cosc was a positive step, as was the publication of a national strategy this year, although much of the latter is framed in aspirational terms and, from a lawyer’s perspective, does not set out a sufficient number of focused goals. Despite this, I welcome the goals set out in the strategy.
The Minister of State referred to the great work done by non-governmental organisations in highlighting the issue of domestic violence. I pay tribute, as other Senators have done, to Women’s Aid, which has done much work in providing support to victims of violence, highlighting the relevant issues at policy level and making policy proposals. In that context, I refer to the Women’s Aid submission on the Civil Partnership Bill which is before the Dáil. The submission raises concern about one aspect of the Bill which has not been highlighted to any great degree in the debate thus far, namely, the amendment it makes to domestic violence legislation. Having worked with Women’s Aid on developing its submission, I was concerned when it was pointed out to me — I had not noticed — that some of the provisions in the Civil Partnership Bill would have the effect of weakening protections for victims under domestic violence legislation. More care needs to be taken in terms of how the amendments affect the domestic violence legal framework. If Women’s Aid has not provided the Minister of State with a copy of its submission on the Bill, I will ensure it does so because it is important she is aware of it. This is a cross-over issue, as it were, and, given the importance the national strategy attaches to a whole-of-government approach to domestic violence, it is one area in which cross-departmental work and liaison is clearly required. This will be necessary to ensure domestic violence protections are not watered down, even inadvertently, through the civil partnership legislation.
Before referring to some of the figures and statistics, I propose briefly to discuss the term “domestic violence”. The use of the adjective “domestic” has been criticised by many academic commentators over the years on the basis that it can trivialise the nature of the abuse. In a criminal law sense or criminal justice context it somehow divorces this form of violence from the normal criminal law on assault, violence and offences against the person and, therefore, neutralises the full viciousness of the abuse involved. This can render its victims somehow less worthy of the protection of the criminal justice system. The use of the word “domestic” can also serve in a subliminal or indirect way to reduce or minimise the seriousness of this type of abuse in terms of those in the criminal justice system dealing with the perpetrators.
I very much welcome one of the commitments in the national strategy to strengthen the measures used to ensure accountability when dealing with perpetrators. I am very concerned about this issue. Susan Edwards has advocated that where the term “domestic violence” is used, apostrophes should be placed around the word “domestic” to signify the problematic nature of this term. In some of the Irish research, the phrase “violence in intimate relationships between women and men” has been used but that is a cumbersome phrase. The advantage to using the term “domestic violence”, albeit with that kind of proviso, is that the meaning is widely understood and it emphasises the particular issues that arise with this violence.
The statistics on domestic violence show that although the myth is that the main source of risk and danger of violence is from strangers in the street, the reality is that the home may be a place of serious danger and violence for many. We have seen many different figures in the statistics on the level to which people are at risk of domestic violence. The 2005 national survey conducted by the National Crime Council found that approximately one in seven women, or 15%, and approximately one in 16 men, or 6%, had experienced severely abusive behaviour of a physical, sexual or emotional nature from a partner at some point in their lives. The earlier Women’s Aid study showed it to be 18% of women in intimate relationships. The SAVI report showed a higher proportion — 20% of girls and 10% of boys had experienced sexual abuse.
The National Crime Council is perhaps the most conservative but it still points out that even according to its figures, the reality is that in the region of 213,000 women and 88,000 men have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives. It found that women’s injuries tended to be more serious and that women were almost twice as likely as men to require medical treatment for their injuries and ten times more likely to require a stay in hospital. Not only was there a great deal more women victims involved, the injuries tended to be more serious. For that reason, research and discussion have justifiably tended to focus on women victims, although there is a very clear acknowledgement of the existence of male victims. The law is gender neutral.
Looking briefly at the law and at what is currently in place, it was not until 1976 that we introduced a civil remedy for domestic violence through the concept of the barring order in the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act. This was strengthened in 1981 and we now have the Domestic Violence Act 1996 which extended protection beyond spouses to non-marital partners. The barring order, the main remedy, provided for in the court, was changed in 2002 following a Supreme Court judgment stating that interim barring orders had to be time limited. The difficulty had arisen owing to delays in the courts, of which the Minister of State will be well aware. There was a problem in that interim barring orders obtained on an ex parte basis remained in place for months at a time. We also have protection and safety orders. The range of orders is extensive but we need to focus on the enforcement of the law and on the powers of the Garda. The Garda has the power to arrest for breaches but the National Crime Council survey found a significant amount of regional variation in the rate of arrests and charges.
I looked at the most recent figures. One of the tasks and priorities of Cosc is to try to ensure some sort of national system of collation of statistics. One of the big difficulties dealing with domestic violence has been obtaining reliable statistics. It does not help that in 2006, the Central Statistics Office took over crime statistics collection from the Garda. We now have a different system of collection which is a source of great difficulty when trying to compare figures. In 2007, there was a 4% increase in the breach of domestic violence court orders. Up to 1,229 breaches were recorded by the Garda. Of that figure, 366 persons were convicted and 351 of those were men. There were also 435 non-convictions, and this is where the concern arises.  Some 435 cases of breaches of domestic violence orders proceeded to court but resulted in non-convictions. I should have declared an interest as a practising barrister who has worked on some cases. I know from experience that there are many reasons a non-conviction might be recorded. There is some controversy about how strenuously the Garda should prosecute in these cases and there is a divergence of opinion. There has been some academic writing suggesting that quite often the victims or complainants may not wish a conviction to be obtained. They may not wish the perpetrators to go to prison. This is a difficult area and I acknowledge that it is difficult for gardaí working in it. It is important the seriousness of this sort of abuse is emphasised through co-arrest policies. That is a policy inherent in the 1996 Act. However, there is still this difficulty with enforcement and regional variation.
Is the law adequate as it currently stands? I will deal first with the difficulty with statistics. We have difficulty establishing the actual incidence of domestic violence and establishing the adequacy of the enforcement mechanisms. There is a core problem with the use of the criminal law. We are still grappling with how to deal with so-called domestic violence because such abuse is generally carried out as part of a pattern of behaviour. The criminal law is designed to deal with one-off incidence of offending such as a one-off assault, a one-off rape, a one-off murder or a one-off burglary, and we see this problem also with child sexual abuse. Where there is a relationship between the victim and offender, as in many child sexual abuse cases and domestic violence cases, one finds a pattern of behaviour where there is an ongoing abusive relationship and yet the criminal law seeks to attribute liability for isolated events in regard to particular offenders. It is a real problem when dealing with child sexual abuse cases in that there is this somewhat mythical idea in prosecuting these cases that one prosecutes sample charges. However, a child may have been abused from the age of seven to the age of 12, or for five years, and yet as anyone working in this area will know, one has sample charges. There might be ten or 12 separate accounts of sexual assault or rape during that period and yet it does not really reflect the pattern and the ongoing nature of the abuse. It is similar with so-called domestic violence. The seriousness of it needs to be emphasised because the pattern tends to be an escalating pattern.
Women’s Aid reminds us that since 1996, 162 women have been murdered in Ireland. Of the resolved cases, it points out that 51% of the perpetrators were the partner or ex-partner of the women. We can all straightaway think of very high profile cases of murder of women where there was alleged to have been a pattern of abuse leading up to the ultimate murder.
There are many difficulties with our application of the criminal law to the area of domestic violence. The existence of the civil order mechanism through the 1996 Act — it is only when these orders are breached that criminal liability attaches — recognises the specific nature of domestic violence and it offers an interim way of ensuring some protection for the abused women and their children. There is a difficulty with criminal liability and when we seek to attach that, we attach it for specific breaches of a barring order when there may be an ongoing abusive relationship and, in many cases, ongoing breaches.
I refer to the ongoing nature of the abusive relationship. As the statistics kept by the Garda do not identify repeat call-outs, it is impossible to know how many recorded incidents of domestic violence involve the same individuals. That is perhaps one way to try to address this problem of the pattern of abuse we see. While the criminal law seeks to attach liability for individual breaches and individual abuses, through statistics gathering Cosc could do a great deal to help us to deal with this by ensuring statistics are more detailed, that they identify repeat call-outs and where the same individuals are involved.
The national strategy is to ensure we strengthen protection for those most at risk. Where there is a pattern of abuse and where it is seriously escalating, we need to be confident the Garda is aware of that, that it is, therefore, upping its strategy to ensure a very strong pro-arrest policy and that people are dealt with severely in the courts where necessary to ensure this abuse does not escalate.
Clearly, the law is only one aspect of the package of measures to deal with the huge problem of domestic violence. As other speakers said, an enormous package of other measures is necessary. I am glad the national strategy identifies such measures as the provision of sufficient places in shelters for victims and their children. We need to provide treatment services for abusers, where appropriate, and adequate resourcing for victim support groups such as Women’s Aid. These are all vital measures.
Senator Norris referred to a book written by Frank Crummey who played a vital role in establishing and maintaining the women’s refuge in Rathmines. I think it was the first shelter to cater for women suffering domestic violence and their children. I thought it would be nice to finish by acknowledging Mr. Crummey’s work.
Senator Lisa McDonald: The Minister of State, Deputy White, is very welcome. I was delighted by her appointment and hope it will be the dawn of a new era of equality for women in Ireland. I have found the varied and measured contributions to the debate very interesting. I was supposed to speak at the start of the debate, but I had to attend a meeting with the Minister for Transport. I thank Senator Corrigan for speaking in my place. We were given some good news today for a change. The news about the south-east rescue service is to be welcomed. I am delighted to have heard the speeches of many Senators and apologise for missing the Minister of State’s, although I went through her script quickly.
When one considers the number of women involved in business and leadership roles, it is clear that a patriarchal system is embedded in Irish culture. Politics is a glaring example of this. Historically, Ireland’s legal system has been hostile to cases of domestic violence. We have to acknowledge that the number of convictions for domestic violence, by comparison with the number of people who come forward, is affected by a huge rate of attrition. We have come a long way from the old repressed Ireland which had a hostile legal climate. That the victims of sexual violence found it difficult to come forward has been clearly demonstrated in the horrific stories we have heard of late. We should honestly admit that we have known about the victims of clerical child sexual abuse for some time.
We need to examine the nature of sexual violence if we are to ascertain why women find it so difficult to come forward. The Listowel rape case which came before the courts in December 2009 demonstrated again the difficulties encountered by female victims of sexual violence. It is worrying that the victim in the case was clearly targeted as a villain in her community. I am concerned about some of the statistics in this regard. For every 100 cases of sexual violence reported in Ireland, there is a fall-off in 95 cases and just five cases result in a conviction. That is the attrition rate we are dealing with. We have an awful long way to go.
I was very excited when the Cosc report was launched by the Minister. However, my excitement waned when I read it because it is full of jargon. It is okay and grand. There is nothing wrong with it. It sets out how we will deal with aspects of domestic violence, other than those covered by the Domestic Violence Act 1996, until 2014. Various non-governmental organisations such as Women’s Aid are doing tremendous and super work in this area. Will we have to wait until after 2014 for the law in this area to be augmented or improved? If that is the case, it is not acceptable. We need to do better in this area. We have been calling for a debate on domestic violence since 2007 and it has taken three years for it to be arranged. Progress has been slow. I do not think anyone will jump up and down and say it is the most amazing thing ever.
I wish to hone in on a couple of aspects of this issue such as the lacunae in the law. One can seek a safety order or a barring order under the Domestic Violence Act 1996. If one wants to obtain a safety order, one has to have been cohabiting for six of the previous 12 months. If one leaves the house and tries to secure a conviction thereafter, one has six months in which to do so. The timeframes and the cohabitation rules are wrong and missing the point. We are talking about men and women who have suffered violence. I do not want to get involved in a debate on whether more women or men are affected by domestic violence, although I accept that women are more vulnerable. Men are involved also. I will deal with that aspect of the issue.
The fact of the matter is that our definitions are bad. They do not get into the nitty-gritty of what is domestic violence. The cohabitation rule needs to be amended. I welcome the Minister's statement that he intends to use the Civil Partnership Bill 2009 to do so. However, that raises other issues. Do we need a cohabitation rule at all? Why have we put in place the provision, whereby people need to be in a committed relationship? This provision may act as an additional barrier to women seeking safety orders or may be used by abusers to prevent them from being deemed eligible for such orders. As a practising family law solicitor, I find it very frustrating that I cannot help people whose relationships do not fit within the requisite timeframe or the legislative definition.
As someone who has dealt with the issue of domestic violence from two sides — as a politician and as a lawyer — I hear far worse stories as a politician than I do as a lawyer. I do not believe women are coming forward to use the framework available to them under the Domestic Violence Act 1996. They are far more likely to contact local politicians to ask what they can do. It is devastating that those who look for safety orders and barring orders tend to be those whose cases are at the lower end of the scale. I am sure Cosc can back this up with statistics. I do not mean to diminish the abuse they have suffered. As many are not seeking help, many perpetrators of violence are going free without having the rigour of the law applied to them. When it is applied, the law applied is bad.
I do not like the phrase “domestic violence”. It needs to be changed because the crimes of rape and sexual abuse do not seem to be covered by it. Members of the Garda are not trained to be in a position to deal with such violence. Senator Norris mentioned the most telling statistic in this regard — that just one marital rape conviction has been secured in the last 20 years. We are not getting to the real story. Until we face up to this crime, we will never truly have equality in Ireland. We need to state clearly that it is wrong to beat up, rape, physically abuse, mentally abuse or torture a member of one’s family in any way. I refer to abuse by economic means, for example. Given that domestic violence is experienced in one in five families, what proportion of the population as a whole have to tolerate it? If it can be said women in one in five families have suffered some form of domestic abuse, bearing in mind that they comprise 50% of the population, I suggest between 15% and 20% of the population are dealing with this problem at any given time. People are not coming forward because they seem to think it is okay, or a part of life. That is why I am saying we need to get into the nitty-gritty of it.
I am worried that the Cosc report is not good enough. We need to change the law immediately. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to examine the possibility of using the Civil Partnership Bill 2009 to extend eligibility for safety orders. Given that 95% of cases of rape do not result in a conviction, we need to consider deeply the issues of justice and accountability to ascertain where we are going wrong. I am not sure we are doing this. Approximately 12 years ago research in the United Kingdom found that one in three people was suffering from domestic violence. They had statistics to prove that such violence was leading to homicide in the home and took action on foot of this. The UK model is one we should examine. The United Kingdom has introduced 122 specialist domestic violence courts across the country. We would not need that many, but these courts have been phenomenally successful, with a conviction rate of 70% which compares with a rate here of 6%. The difference is stark. The British are going about this in a far better way. They have the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 which deals with the problem of people being trafficked into the country and forced to marry.
I spoke today to a journalist about a Filipino girl in Wexford who is going home tomorrow to the Philippines because she suffered domestic abuse. She had no recourse under the law and could not go to the Garda. Women who are members of the Traveller community or ethnic minorities are not as inclined to come forward under our law to seek redress. There are also issues in the immigration Bill that need to be addressed, but I do not have the time to go into them.
Senator Lisa McDonald: The idea of a specialist domestic abuse court is a very good one. If a person is looking for a barring order, he or she has to enter in front of the entire District Court. He or she can go in at the back, but everybody can still see him or her. If there is a breach of the terms of a barring order and the matter must go before the criminal courts, the case is heard in open court. That is why we are not securing convictions.
Senator Ó Brolcháin made a point about family law provisions being balanced against men. That is a valid point. I wonder how much domestic violence there is as a result. We need to look at family law and give men far more rights in respect of child guardianship. I would welcome a change in the law, a matter we have neglected.
There are so many laws on the Statute Book that are anti-family and anti-women. I agree with Senator Norris. I cannot see how any association could call itself “pro-family” when it propagates abuse within the home. People from the Catholic Church have told women to stay where they are because they are married and that is where they have to be. That is absolute nonsense. This is a fundamental human right. Migrant women are coming here and suffering abuse and we are not doing anything about it because we think they are operating in a different culture, that some of them are Muslims and we cannot delve into their circumstances. Under the laws of the State everybody has to be treated equally, as that is the essence of a republic. We cannot let any church hide behind its own laws. If we are to learn anything about child sex abuse in cases involving the Catholic Church, we should divorce the State entirely from it and apply the law dispassionately but that is not happening.
We need to have a specialised Garda unit to deal with these issues. I am not sure if the gardaí involved completely understand what they are doing. They receive calls from women, then get to know them and promise to call out to them, but that is it. Then tragedy strikes, as we have seen in my own county on several occasions. We do not want to see this happen again.
The report is fine, as it highlights all of the issues involved. I especially welcome the points raised about education because we need to educate young migrant men not to hit women. If they see it at home, it will happen. We have to stop this in our society. We need to change our structures and laws. We cannot leave this to NGOs alone because the women’s refuge in Wexford was denied funding for three months last year by the HSE, which was absolutely outrageous.
I welcome this debate, even though it is three years late. We need to see action being taken. We are in the hands of the Minister of State, but I have great faith in her. She is new and refreshing and has an aspiration and the courage of her convictions to do something. We have to change our laws on the trafficking of women, immigration, prostitution to criminalise the user, domestic violence, women in politics, women in business, Traveller women, men in the family law system and all the other equality issues involved.
I would like to begin by making reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If we start with primitive needs and work towards self-actualisation, we need to begin with education. We need a proper education programme in our schools to allow young people to realise their potential.
The Minister of State quoted the President and they are both correct. Civil society has a vital role to play on the important topic of domestic and sexual violence. We must bring about change within the community and the schools system, but it must be led by the Government and public representatives. There is a starting point with the publication of the national strategy, but we need to bring about change to create a culture that will allow the reporting of abuse and action to be taken by the courts which have to demonstrate in sentencing that this behaviour will not be tolerated or condoned. The Listowel case indicates there is a soft underbelly in society that must be eradicated. We can no longer allow the victim to be seen as the villain. We must learn that message from the Listowel case.
As someone who taught religion for nearly 20 years, who spent many years in Maynooth doing pastoral work and who is very involved in his community, Article 5 of the United Declaration on Human Rights always jumps out at me. It states no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. In talking to women and some men in our society today that article means nothing to them because they are subject to such cruel and inhumane treatment. Young women and men who have been the victims of abuse have come to me. They have seen barring orders being breached and have had to put their children under the bed or up in the attic at 4 a.m. before going downstairs to meet their former partners. I have also dealt with gay men who have been abused. We all see physical abuse, but we cannot understand emotional abuse or the effects on children. I have dealt with children in school who were afraid to go home, wondered when it was going to happen again and whether they were the only children to be affected by such abuse. I have seen shelters full of women who had no place to go to.
This is not about politics. Senator McDonald is right in saying that, if we learn nothing else from cases of abuse in the Catholic Church, it is that we must collectively transfer all of the information into the public domain. We must wash the sins in public and no longer excuse or condone mistreatment. There is a need for joined-up thinking between the law, the Garda Síochána, the local authorities and the Government. All the t’s must be crossed to ensure action will be taken. If we start from the premise that this is about protection, provision and prevention, we will have a good launching pad. Senator Bacik referred to the number of men and women involved. In Cork some 20% of those attending the sexual violence centre are men. However, we will never know the true figures because many women and men are afraid to admit what has occurred to them and will not seek help. As a result, they suffer in silence, which is not good enough.
I pay tribute to Mary Crilly in Cork who has been a campaigner and women’s rights advocate for many years. She acts in an admirable and provocative way, while also being humane, caring and concerned. In addition to healing with words, we must implement strategies to allow victims of domestic violence to be heard in a multiplicity of ways.
I welcome publication of the national strategy on domestic violence. I hope it is not just aspirational but will result in action. I do not believe many gardaí and teachers have been trained to deal with the results of domestic violence. In addition, the resources provided are insufficient. If we are serious about tackling this matter, we must put in place structures and mechanisms to stop the knock-on effects of domestic violence, as well as providing safe havens for the victims involved. The education system should imbue children from a young age with respect for human values. We must also tackle problems such as intimidation, physical violence and sexual abuse, making it clear that they have no place in society. The national strategy must have a firm foundation in our schools, be it in religious education or SPHE classes.
Women are physically abused every day, while trapped in their own homes. It is telling that this is occurring in their own homes. The ethos of having respect for and valuing each other must be enshrined in law. The courts have a major role to play because they have abdicated their responsibility in this regard. I might not be very popular for saying this, but I think that is what they have done. Senator McDonald is right in referring to the family law court and the way in which women are not allowed privacy in making their case. I have accompanied women to the door of the court, yet they are afraid to go any further. They are afraid of being seen by the perpetrator or his family. There is intimidation by the family of the perpetrator who say, “He did not mean it,”“It’s the drink,” or “It’s the drugs.” That is no longer acceptable.
It comes back to the issue of resources, financing and prioritisation. Many agencies in Cork, including women refuges, do not have enough beds and, therefore, cannot cope. While I will not name the areas involved, I know that some such organisations have insufficient places for victims of domestic violence because the beds available are full or the women involved are separated from their children. It is unacceptable in the 21st century to separate a woman from her children.
Where the terms of barring orders are breached, there should be no second chance. It may not be the legally correct thing to say but, to my mind, one cannot keep giving people chances when they breach the terms of a barring order. Such orders are granted for a specific reason.  If we amend the Domestic Violence Act, we will have done a great service for women, in particular, but also for male victims. I hope we will see reform of the criminal justice system in this regard because it is long overdue.
Mná Feasa is an organisation in Cork which provides a support system for women. Its slogan is, “You don’t need a bruise to be abused”. Women should not have to suffer in silence. They deserve not just respect, but also the protection of the courts and implementation of the law. It is time we stopped merely debating such matters but acted on them. I appeal to the Judiciary to implement the law and hand down sentences which will send a message that we will no longer allow this situation to continue. Women deserve no less.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I warmly welcome the Minister of State. Like most other speakers, I have faith in her and welcome her appointment. She has raised our expectations but I have no doubt that she will fulfil them. I hope she will enjoy the next two years and look forward to the legacy she will leave after that period. Her track record shows that she is a woman who wants to achieve things in the areas about which she is concerned. The equality agenda is safe in her hands. I welcome her appointment in that regard.
I also pay tribute to Senator McDonald who through her persistence finally succeeded in having this matter raised on the floor of the House. Her contribution showed why she has been agitating to have it debated. Senator Bacik is also dealing with the legal position and knows what is happening daily in the lives of those suffering as a result of legal shortcomings. Their contributions were particularly valuable. They have provided a great understanding of the small measures by which improvements can be made. Senator Corrigan has asked what we can achieve. We are all united in seeking to ensure something positive will happen as a result of this debate.
President McAleese has invited groups tackling domestic violence to Áras an Uachtaráin, which indicates her strong commitment in this regard. It is an issue about which she cares and which will no longer be swept under the carpet. Those who have to suffer domestic violence must be encouraged to speak up and let their voices be heard. As everybody has said, we have no real idea of the level or extent of the violence. I refer to violence in the traditional manner, that is, in terms of physical abuse, but there is also emotional violence, which is just as damaging, especially for children who grow up in a violent atmosphere. This is shocking to think about. One’s home is a refuge, a place to return to after a hard day or even a holiday, a place to be settled and be one’s self. In circumstances in which there is domestic violence, that home is ravaged by abuse — whoever it is perpetrated by and whoever is the victim — and the resulting loss of a sense of safety shatters the core of one’s person. That is why people are reluctant to speak out about domestic abuse.
Senator McDonald alluded to traditional values, while Senator Corrigan spoke about the need for the community to take ownership of this issue. Traditionally, what happened inside a house stayed inside a house; those outside ignored it. It is one of the great privileges of being a public representative that when one canvasses one sees what goes on behind people’s doors. It is extraordinary to see this and to appreciate the way in which people open up to one about what goes on in their houses. It can be the beginning of a cry for help. If the word has gone out and people have heard this is an issue we take seriously and that it is vital for people to speak openly about it, they may feel they can speak, as a first step, to a public representative, who will then encourage them to contact someone for help and not to put up with abuse. That is why the President, in particular, has done society a tremendous service by highlighting this issue. This is something we should try to keep on the agenda in the Seanad. We need to give as much encouragement as possible to people who are suffering from abuse to take these first steps.
I noted in the Women’s Aid report the mention of the fact that many people who call the organisation hang up immediately when the call is answered. The person answering the call knows this is somebody trying to reach out. He or she has taken the first step but still cannot articulate his or her anger. It is difficult to be intimately involved with someone who abuses one. How can one reach out to try to solve the problem? One wants it to stop, but may not want the consequences, which can include the break-up of a family. The issue needs to be discussed more openly in order that people will feel they have the courage to take these first steps and obtain advice. Particularly for the perpetrator of the violence, it is important to discuss what is causing it. A dialogue about trying to change behaviour can be entered into in order that the abuse can, I hope, cease.
There is a very good advertisement about domestic abuse on television, although I do not know whether it is being broadcast on Irish television or some other channel. It is particularly good because it portrays two young people dealing with the eruption of violence. The fellow wants to have intimacy with the girl but she is not having it, and he completely turns on her. It is extraordinary how quickly it happens. The advertisement is effective because one could imagine it representing a teenager anywhere who wants to belong and does not want to be tagged with some kind of phrase because she refused to allow a boy to have his way with her.
In the advertisement, the young girl refuses to put up with this treatment. It is a particularly strong advertisement; I do not know whether Senators have seen it. It is really powerful in teaching young people they do not have to put up with violence. That is where we must start. If we teach children in school that they do not ever have to put up with abuse or violence from anybody and give them a sense of dignity and self-respect, we will change behaviour. That is why I found the advertisement to be such a strong message, and its propagation through the broadcast media is terribly effective. For youngsters, it does not portray domestic violence as something that happens to people of their parents’ age but possibly to themselves. It is a very good message.
Senator McDonald also mentioned the shortcomings in the law, which we really need to think about, and the question of cohabitation as dealt with in the Civil Partnership Bill. Why must a person be cohabiting with somebody for domestic abuse to occur? One need only be in an intimate relationship. The rights of the victim should not be subjugated just because both people do not live behind the same door. There is greater freedom if one lives independently, but we know what often happens in circumstances of domestic violence. Even when partnerships break up, one party can be subjected to terrible cruelty and violence. I agree that we are complicating things by introducing the issue of cohabitation rules.
As Senator McDonald said, the conviction rates speak for themselves. Our legal framework is not functioning properly and is not delivering what we need it to deliver, namely, security, refuge and a sense of justice. We need to consider this. The issue of the cohabitation rule indicates a simple way in which we can streamline the legal process. In so many cases of domestic violence, as Senator Bacik mentioned, people do not want the perpetrators to go to prison but they do want the violence to stop. We must recognise their need to be safe from their abusers, and deliver this. Convictions are one thing — in any case, prosecutions take a long time to go through the courts system and can be terribly costly — but we need to provide solace and comfort to victims of violence.
Senator Bacik raised an interesting point about patterns of behaviour, and there is no better woman to think of a way for us to overcome this challenge. I have always thought that sexual violence is different from regular crimes because it is an utter and total violation of one’s person. A person who has been raped does not want to go through a moment by moment re-enactment of what happened in court. We need to recognise this. The burden of proof should not be quite so high in cases of sexual violence. In cases of rape or similar, it is almost the case that the burden of proof rests with the victims — they must prove they were raped. That is a terrible thing to do to somebody who has been subjected to such violence. I am not sure how we can deal with this. As Senator Bacik said, our legal system does not allow the admission of patterns of behaviour; it must consider cases on an individual basis. That is not very satisfying in terms of elucidating the type of person involved.
The Council of Europe has stated that domestic violence is the major cause of death and disability for women aged between 16 and 44 in Europe, which exceeds the corresponding statistics for traffic accidents or cancer. This is shocking, especially as these women are quite young. Domestic violence has a highly detrimental effect on our society and we must tackle it properly. I welcome the appointment of the Minister of State, with her obvious interest in this area. Amendments will be necessary to some Acts. Like many others, I hope we can organise streamlined legislation that will facilitate and achieve greater levels of conviction of perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence in order that victims will see the point of bringing forward a case.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Mary Alexandra White): I thank all Senators who took part in this debate. It has been wonderful for me to have the first debate in my new portfolio in this House on an issue that is so significant for all of us and one on which I have been working for years. I thank Senator McDonald for her persistence in getting this debate here. Let us hope we have many more debates of this quality, whether on women in politics, violence against women or other issues of equality on which I would be very happy to engage. This is an issue we must highlight and about which we must do something. We should not leave these reports sitting on shelves, but implement them. If we need to change the legislation to achieve that, we must consider doing so. Before I address some of the Senators’ remarks, I would like to make some comments on matters I did not address earlier.
The Government takes domestic violence very seriously. It is a heinous crime with serious consequences for victims. I take the opportunity to say something about aspects of domestic violence I did not deal with in any great detail in my earlier statement. Some Senators addressed the issue of the prevalence of domestic violence in Ireland. It is not easy to obtain good data on this. This is often owing to the hidden nature of the crime and the reluctance of victims to report it. We have, however, empirical data on the prevalence of the problem in the national study of domestic abuse published by the National Crime Council in 2005. According to the study, some 15% of women and 6% of men have experienced severely abusive behaviour from their partners at some stage or on some occasion over the course of their lifetimes. The percentage is much higher if minor incidents are taken into account. The study found that where severe abuse and minor incidents are combined, 29% of women and 26% of men suffer domestic abuse at some stage in their lifetimes. In other words, almost a third of all women and a quarter of all men experience some form of domestic violence at some stage. This underlines the seriousness of the problem and the magnitude of the task faced in tackling the problem.
Increasing knowledge about the problem is the key to making progress on dealing with it. In 2008, Cosc carried out a survey of attitudes of the Irish public to domestic abuse that came up with some interesting findings. One of the main findings was that a majority of the population exhibits a high level of awareness of the problem of domestic abuse. People perceive domestic abuse to be a common and increasing problem. They have a broad understanding of what constitutes domestic abuse and regard it as unacceptable. These are broadly positive findings. In terms of responding to domestic abuse, the study showed that people feel responsible and are willing to intervene if they witness it. However, if the victim is somebody outside the family circle, such as a neighbour whom they do not know well, people are reluctant to become involved. An understandable concern or fear of making things even worse is the main reason given for not becoming involved.
The survey provides a baseline for understanding public attitudes to domestic abuse in Ireland. Cosc is using the survey to inform work being undertaken to improve the system of prevention and responses to domestic violence. This includes the development of accessible information for the public to assist them to understand and be prepared to take appropriate action to counter these crimes. A practical example of such information is, as I mentioned in my earlier statement, the details of local and national support services on Cosc’s website at www.cosc.ie.
Once the problem has been identified, it should be reported and dealt with through the provision of direct services to victims. One of the areas being examined to improve service provision to victims is the one-stop-shop facility. I touched on this idea in my opening statement. The primary purpose of such a facility would be to reduce the number of locations and organisations that victims of domestic violence must visit to receive basic support services. The main partners in such a resource may be from very different backgrounds. They may be from the justice sector, housing services and community-based support services. There is potential for a one-stop-shop facility to provide great benefit to victims of domestic violence and to benefit the support services contributing to the project. In a one-stop shop, each organisation is clearly committed to focusing on the victim. This should facilitate joint working to deliver effective support services to the victim to overcome the negative consequences of domestic violence. Where the model has already been used elsewhere, there have, by and large, been positive outcomes in terms of reduced rates of repeat victimisation and increased rates of reporting. Moreover, the model may well be able to improve co-ordination and co-operation between various service providers.
As well as victims in domestic violence cases, there are also perpetrators. It is important to work with perpetrators to help create genuine changes in their behaviour to prevent further victimisation. Domestic violence perpetrator programmes in Ireland are delivered through a combination of non-governmental organisations and the probation and welfare service. In the past 15 years or so, a network of perpetrator programmes has developed throughout the country. The nature of the programmes delivered differ in most cases. The national strategy includes an action to strengthen measures to deal with domestic violence perpetrators. A particular focus will be on devising means of ensuring greater effectiveness of the programmes. Through the establishment of a domestic violence perpetrator programme committee, Cosc will, in consultation with programme managers, develop and implement a plan to strengthen perpetrator programmes. There is a specific action in the national strategy to update the law on domestic violence to give further protection to victims.
The most widely availed of remedy in Ireland in cases of domestic violence has been the civil law remedies under the Domestic Violence Acts of 1996 and 2002. Applications under the Acts are family law cases and are heard in private. The Acts provide for the protection of a spouse and any children or other dependent persons, and of persons in other domestic relationships whose safety or welfare requires it because of the conduct of another person in the domestic relationship concerned. Contravention of any order under the Acts is a criminal offence and therefore subject to sanctions under the criminal law. The Acts provide for the issue, variation or renewal by a court of the following orders: a safety order, which prohibits the abuser from further violence or threats of violence and can last up to five years; and a barring order, which requires that the violent person leave the family home.
When an application for either of the above orders has been accepted by the court, the applicant is given a date for a court hearing. The waiting time varies in different parts of the country. There are two ways the court can protect the applicant awaiting the hearing for one of the above orders. The first is by way of a protection order. This is granted if the court thinks there are reasonable grounds to believe the safety and welfare of the applicant is at risk. The second order which can be made pending a hearing is an interim barring order. If the court is of the view that a protection order would not be sufficient to protect the applicant awaiting a court date, then an interim barring order is granted. The domestic violence legislation aims to address the accountability of offenders and strengthen the protection of victims through review and any necessary improvement of domestic violence legislation.
I would like to address one or two of the issues raised during the debate. With regard to suggested shortcomings in domestic violence legislation, the national strategy specifically provides for addressing these. One of the strategy’s actions provides for the updating of domestic violence legislation to give further protection to victims. The views of Senators will inform further work in this area and we will keep this in mind. I am glad Senator Healy Eames is present as she raised the issue of the importance of disclosure of domestic violence in accident and emergency departments and general practitioner surgeries. It is known that, in general, reporting of domestic violence through professionals is still strikingly low. The national strategy includes a specific action to ensure a reasonable opportunity is provided to the victim for disclosure of domestic violence.
Many other issues were raised during the course of the debate but I cannot possibly deal with all of them. I assure Senators I have listened intently to their views. As a new Minister of State, I am in listening mode and will take on board what I have heard and it will inform consideration of actions to address the domestic violence issue. The Government is committed to tackling the problem of domestic violence. That commitment was reflected in the priority given to the preparation of the national strategy and is reflected in its implementation. It is expected the strategy will drive greater progress in dealing with the domestic violence problem and, ultimately, deliver greater safety for victims and potential victims.
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