Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) (Amendment) Bill, 1987 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Bill. The Workers' Party recognise that it is an important though small amendment to the whole armoury of the development of law for the protection of the family, spouses and children beleaguered by matrimonial strife and difficulties. However, I must pass a number of comments in the context of the Bill and of some perceptions abroad as to the possible effect of its provisions. Many commentators, and those concerned directly in the area of this law, are concerned that it will be seen abroad, particularly within judicial circles, as an endorsement of a trend by the Legislature of a view that the barring order has been somewhat too punitive or onerous a provision in dealing with matrimonial strife in the past. The Minister, in the opening speech delivered on his behalf, used the word "drastic" when referring to the issuing of a barring order. We want to emphasise clearly that if and whenever a barring order is made, drastic though it may be, it is in response to a very drastic and unhappy situation. The message must go out from the House that we have full confidence in the barring order procedure and in the competency of any of our courts to make such an order when the judge or justice thinks it proper. There is no doubt that the introduction of the judicial process of issuing a barring order for the protection of a beleaguered spouse or family has been an incredible safeguard and an important development in our law to protect vulnerable people.

Reference has been made to the fact that the Bill was a response to a promise made in the Fianna Fáil election manifesto issued last February. I am glad to see that some members of the Government remember that document and that some promises in it are seeing the light of day in legislative action. However, it will be of concern to me if the Bill will be the only response to the promise contained in the Fianna Fáil election manifesto. In time it may prove to be too small a proposal. There is no doubt that in dealing with the whole area of the protection of spouses, and the barring of spouses from the home in the case of strife we should seize the opportunity to expand, develop and improve the law. The Bill should be used to expand the areas of protection to spouses and the expulsion of bullying spouses from the home.

From statistics it appears that courts are developing in a retrograde way, that they are moving back from the original intention in the granting of a barring order when first introduced into our law in 1976. Statistics for the years 1983 to 1985 indicate that our courts are becoming more reluctant to act in issuing barring orders. It is said that that was immediately consequent on the ruling of the Supreme Court in the O'B v. O'B case delivered in June 1983. It appears that the courts are taking a more narrow or more conservative stance on the issuing of barring orders. In 1983 in the Dublin metropolitan area 1,697 application were made for such orders and of that number 848 were granted. However, in 1985, after the O'B v. O'B ruling, 1,856 applications were made but only 516 were granted. That trend developed further in the following year, the last year for which we have full figures, when 1,927 applications were made and only 440 were granted.

It appears that upwards of 1,500 applications made by spouses who were in positions of difficulty and vulnerability were not either pursued because of the high onus of proof required or were not sympathetically entertained primarily because of the restrictive definition given by the courts in the wake of the O'B. v. O'B decision. I bow to the better views of Deputy Shatter and Senator Robinson that it was a misconstruction of the intention of the O'B. v. O'B. judgment, namely, that there would be need for proof of physical violence, or the threat of it, before a court should or would act in the issuing of a barring order. The intention in bringing in the Bill is not to endorse that narrow attitude and not to say that, recognising the restrictive nature of the grounds on which a barring order can be issued, there will be available in the alternative the issuing of a protection order of an interim, premanent or semi-permanent nature.

We need to re-establish our confirmation of the importance of the barring order as a necessary, though unfortunate, weapon in the campaign to put down bullying spouses in the matrimonial home. We should use the Bill to extend, as widely as possible, the application of the law in this area and there are a number of areas that we should consider widening. First, we should consider widening the grounds on which a barring order, or a protection order, can be made. It is important to re-establish the original conception of the 1976 legislation, that it should involve physical and mental injury or damage to the spouse or child. If nothing more we should use this opportunity to reaffirm the view of the House which is contrary to the perceived or misunderstood interpretation of the O'B judgment. Secondly, the scope for making orders against those persons should be extended. For example, we should not confine ourselves to the spouse definition. It is clear, particularly in the area of sexual abuse, that we are dealing with people who are not necessarily the spouse but often a brother, an uncle, or another person living on the premises. In my view it is desirable to make it possible to issue a barring order against persons living outside the marriage or who are cohabiting or sharing a dwelling.

The whole purpose and draft of the legislation is to protect, and the extent to which children and adults can be the victims of abuse or violence and threats of abuse or violence should be recognised, irrespective of whether the adults are married. I hope the Minister will consider extending beyond the definition of spouse the definition of persons who are entitled to seek order and against whom orders can be made.

Another important area in which the scope and concept of the availability of the barring order must be developed is to concerned agencies outside the marriage definition. It is clearly recognised that many spouses, particularly women, in some way beaten down, bullied, frightened or simply because of pride, were unprepared to seek aid. I concede that in many of the applications which were not granted these people had the initial courage or were desperate enough to seek the order, but they drew back at the last moment because of the fear of having to go into court to tell a stranger sitting on a bench the terrible turmoil they had to endure in the marriage. Where there is a concerned external organisation—such as a health board or a welfare officer— available who is aware of what is happening in the home, they should be entitled to bring proceedings on behalf of the beleaguered spouse to ensure the ejection from the home of the bully. I hope the Minister will consider the extension of this legislation in this regard.

I know these matters are not news to the Minister because they were raised in the debate in the Seanad and they will be raised here again at Committee Stage. I hope he will respond as magnanimously in this area as he has done over the past few weeks. The message must be underlined that the availability of the issuing of the protection order is not to be seen as a supplant of the barring procedure. There are a number of practical reasons for this. It is clearly recognised that it is much more difficult to prove the breach of a protection order than to prove the breach of a barring order. It is a fact that the errant respondent found in the garden or at the front door by the gardaí if and when called is clear proof, conclusive almost, of a breach of a barring order, but it is very difficult to prove that there has been a breach of a protection order particularly when the definition allows for the making of a threat or the presentation of violence rather than the administration of it.

This brings me to the difficult role the Garda have in the policing of these orders. It is clear that the Garda Síochána are pivotal to the proper implementation and application of the law in this area. In the case of a barring order, it is a very simple job when they arrive at the family home and find the errant respondent on the premises, but what happens when a protection order is in force? When the Garda arrive a blunt complaint is made that the errant respondent has done something which the wife considers to have been a breach of the protection order. In the face of a blank denial, when there is not extraneous evidence to suggest a breach of the protection order — such as a broken picture frame, banged door, spilled tea or the sign of a bruise or mark on the spouse — what is the garda's position? He is an invidious position. I know from practice it is a position they do not want to have to extend unnecessarily or unduly. This must be borne in mind when we are dealing with this legislation.

For example, in the area of assault, the directive issued to the Garda Síochána is that when called to the matrimonial home on complaint of an assault, the garda should not seek to arrest and remove the husband unless there is the sign of the infliction of a blow. Therefore, the officer is instructed to look for such things as reddening or bruising, torn clothing or something extraneous from the word of the injured party to suggest that there had been the commission of the crime of assault. That is probably the general working rule which is applied in regard to breach of protection orders. For that reason I join in the calls for the introduction of clear guidelines for members of the Garda Síochána so that they can act effectively in the undoubted increasing availability of protection orders in the future.

In regard to the specific provisions of the Bill, it is a very welcome fact that there is an onus laid on the courts which issue protection orders for an order to be sent as quickly as possible not only to the person who seeks it but also to the local Garda station so that there is on record available to the Garda up to date information of the orders in their locality or any alternations or abbreviations to them. That is a very welcome development under section 5. The provision in section 4 with regard to the oral notification of the respondent is a good development in the law and will be supported by us.

There are a number of matters to which I would like to refer briefly. It is strange that recent legislation has given us the opportunity to make comment on the very poor situation in which our civil legal aid offices find themselves. There is no other area of the law in which these offices are asked to concern themselves more urgently than in the protection of beleaguered and battered spouses. It is a fact that 90 per cent of the applications being brought before the court are initiated, unaided, at the behest of the victim because of the overworked legal aid offices and the lack of facilities and staff there. The beleagured battered spouse must make her own way to the District Court and there encounter at first hand the intricacies of this legislation. I know they are very well catered for and aided by the staff of these offices, but it is undesirable that they do not get advance advice, counselling and aid from the legal aid services. I hope the Minister in responding to his Government's manifesto in bringing in this legislation will recognise that a comprehensive, fully staffed legal aid service is the only way we can give effect to this Bill.

It is important to make the point that once we bar spouses from the home, for whatever good reason, it is incumbent on us to consider providing care and attention for those people. It is clear that many of them have personality disorders or problems, particularly alcoholism. Many of them are wandering the streets as a result of a barring order. They have nowhere to go and are in great need of counselling. I should like the Government to take that problem on board. Clearly, in trying to develop a uniformity of view and development of this whole area, there is a very urgent need for the establishment of family law courts. I know this is actively in the mind of the Government and I realise it will involve the commitment of resources but it is quite clear that the Government should, at the earliest possible opportunity, consider the establishment of these courts from the point of view of developing the quality and effectiveness of the service and ensuring the implementation of the legislation.

The Workers' Party welcome the Bill and we commend the Minister on its introduction. We particularly commend the Government because it appears they are responding to a lot of good counsel from very concerned organisations outside the House in this area. That is something which any Government should always be prepared to do, to listen to those in the field and to respond at the very earliest opportunity. There are, as I indicated, areas that immediately concern The Workers' Party which we will be addressing by amendment on Committee Stage and we look forward to a response of a positive nature from the Government.

Like other speakers, I welcome the amendments to the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Bill which are included here today and I appeal to the Minister to consider them as another step on the ladder to the broader area of family law reform which is so urgent and necessary.

As legislators, we recognise and take into consideration that many of the problems we are now encountering at least have the freedom of being recognised and of having remedial action taken, both legislative and social. We all welcome that because many of us know that for years many people suffered in silence because there was a stigma attached to the victims of violence. Indeed it has been carried on to this day. Sometimes when legislators are talking about protection of the wife and her children in the home the comment may be made that there are also battered husbands. That probably can happen and we all deplore violence from any side. That is why we have been careful to refer to the protection of spouses.

We all recognise that there is a special need to focus and to refer specially to women in the home without appearing to be chauvinistic or sexist. In that connection I should like to refer to a recent publication entitled Domestic Violence Against Women by Dr. Maeve Casey and published by Women's Aid. The book was commissioned to show the co-operation, concern and support for this drastic problem. In order that the book will be more widely read and recognised, the Garda Representative Association made available the funds for publishing this report. We all join in recognising and acknowledging that contribution as the gardaí are in the front line in regard to coping with this problem. In part 1 of this report, to probably explain why we are dealing with the level of abuse and violence against women, an historical background is given.

Under the heading 1.2, Historical Background, it is stated:

Under English Common Law, on which much of Irish law is based, a woman's status as wife excluded her from the legal process, and gave her husband extraordinary discretion in determining punishable offences. Dobash & Dobash¹ quote Sir William Blackstone on English common law in 1765 when he stated: "By marriage the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended in marriage". Wife beating was tolerated as the ‘natural prerogative' of the husband, providing the extent of the chastisement was ‘reasonable';² and there was little objection in the community to a man using force against his wife as long as he did not exceed certain tacit limits.³

Such attitudes reflected a value system which say the wife as a chattel or possession of her husband, resulting in the assault of a stranger in the streets being viewed as a grave crime, but a similar assault on a wife being viewed as a trifling error of judgement. 4 It is from this historical background that a shift in attitudes to domestic violence against women is occurring.

It is important that we see violence to women against that background and that we realise why, to a frightening degree, there was a tolerance of that type of violence to women and sometimes to children. Even if the children were not beaten they certainly witnessed the violence. That attitude must be changed and the education and awareness that must go with the legislative reforms cannot be over-emphasised.

As has already been welcomed and acknowledged, the Minister for Justice and the officials drafting this legislation responded to a need and to groups and organisations who are dealing daily with this problem. This is very welcome because that kind of practical advice makes for good legislation. In this regard I would briefly like to cover some of the points because many of them will be dealt with on Committee Stage. The points I wish to refer to are contained in a submission made by three of the agencies dealing particularly with violence in the home, Women's Aid who, of course, are the refuge afforded to women and their children escaping from violence, AIM and the Sisters for Justice.

In welcoming this Bill these organisations believe it can be strengthened even further on Committee Stage because their whole concern is for the vulnerable and the victims. One of the points they make is that applications for protection orders and barring orders should be made separately and that the applicant should have an opportunity to choose personally which order they wish to apply for. They should be made aware that there is a choice. The organisations also believe that in self-evident cases of abuse an ex parte barring order should be issued in the same way as an ex parte protection order. They believe that if women victims were made aware of that choice and used it, it might reduce the numbers of women coming to the Women's Aid refuges at the moment.

I am sure the officials have taken into consideration — we may have to make special provision for it in the Bill — that the protection and barring orders should be applicable to any violent family member over the age of 18 years of age. Unfortunately there have been cases where sons or other members of the family beat up the parents. That is something against which we must provide protection.

It is a matter of concern to all of us in dealing with violence and undesirable social tendencies and crimes committed by those under the age of 18, that there should be safe places of detention for juveniles. While there are a certain number of safe places for boy offenders we do not really have any safe places of detention for young women many of whom are vulnerable and can be led into prostitution or other crimes. We must ensure that such young women who cannot be convicted as adults are not left to wander the streets, without a place to go where we can save them physically and morally. We are all aware of this problem and in providing detention and rehabilitation units it should be a top priority.

The current grounds for a barring or protection order being issued are the safety and welfare of a spouse or child. Because of the interpretation of O'B v. O'B in the case of 1983 there is grave concern that mental suffering may be excluded. It is suggested by a number of agencies concerned about this that we should include “physical and/or psychological welfare” as part of the Bill to cover that.

According to this very valuable book which has been scientifically researched, a very high number of women made the point that mental violence and damage was more intolerable than physical violence. The phrase used in the Bill "because of the conduct of the other spouse" is absolutely valid but it may have to be extended to include "and other members of the family" because it might not be the spouse who is inflicting the violence. That is something we can talk about on Committee Stage.

The Garda should also be made aware of this legislation. The garda called into such a violent situation should be very clear as to his powers and in order to show the seriousness of the case a minimum penalty should be considered for a breach of either the protection or the barring order. We have minimum penalties with regard to litter, pollution or other antisocial actions and this is certainly a very anti-social action. The imposition of a minimum penalty would mean that there would be a record and in the event of future violence or future arrests a record could show that this was not a first offence.

The point was also made about how important it is to have family law courts. There is an anomaly in our law which almost amounts to a discrimination in that at present in order to have a permanent barring order one needs legal representation and the money to go to the Circuit Court as the District Court cannot give the same amount of protection. In seeking justice there should not be a inbuilt advantage which can be bought.

It might be considered in the context of this Bill, particularly with regard to court procedure, that the applicants and respondents in the courts should be allowed one support person of their choice, other than their legal representative. This has been looked at with regard to procedures for rape victims. It can be of tremendous support to victimised people who find themselves again in a very emotional situation. This would mean we would have some record as to how judgments are made in these instances. An absolutely essential part of a family court is that cases are held in private as much as possible, but what is disturbing at times is that because of that priority, there can be a lack of awareness as to what happens to cause, for instance, huge disparities in judgments, in the treatment of people appearing before the court and in the behaviour of different judges. This is a matter of grave concern and will come up again and again in our family law. We must consider how we are to monitor it to make sure that the people who are immediately touched by these cases can see that justice is being administered.

As well as that, it would be of tremendous help to us as legislators to be aware of the needs that might arise so that we can propose amendments and reforms to such legislation. It would be most important, once this Bill is enacted, anybody who can take advantage of its provisions would benefit by way of administration — here I am thinking of people like the Garda — but essentially women themselves or people who might be at risk in the home. I would hope that such people would be made aware of the strengthened provision of this Bill.

In the booklet entitled Domestic Violence Against Women — The Women's Perspective— by Maeve Casey Part 4 contains many recommendations. I do not intend to enumerate them. One such recommendation is that if we are really to treat this whole problem in the round and alleviate and even prevent it in the long term we should first ensure that the Garda are aware of their powers and are trained to be aware of the difficulties and sensitivities in this area. Therefore, it would be highly desirable that this aspect would comprise part of the Garda training and perhaps it does form part of their training already.

This is an issue that has been raised by the Joint Committee on Women's Rights. In fact, we have written to the incoming Garda Commissioner requesting him to meet the committee so that we might agree that the recommendations contained in this booklet be drawn up as a code of practice and, through the Garda Commissioner's good offices and directions, made available to every Garda station in the country. As Deputy Shatter has said — and as we are all aware in our respective constituencies — violence in the home and against women is not confined to one area or region. Therefore, in an effort to tackle it properly it is only fair that every garda in every Garda station throughtout the country should have these recommendations as a code of practice.

In addition, all of the community resource services we can offer victims of such violence will be of tremendous value. In this respect I must welcome the new building erected for the needs of the Women's Aid refuge in Dublin. At times it is filled to overflowing, which is an indictment of our society and evidence of the violence still perpetrated against spouses in the home. There is need for increased public awareness and education on this problem of domestic violence. Here I join all my colleagues in saying that there is more entailed than counselling and support — which is needed initially for the victims of such violence — but essentially we must break the cycle of such violence by the establishment of counselling services and indeed support and rehabilitation services for the assailants themselves. In the long run, in cost effective terms it is preferable to get to the root of the problem rather than endeavour to cope and heal the wounds emanating from constant violence. Thankfully, the old historical attitudes to wives being seen as possessions of their husbands who could chastise and freely beat them into shape is no longer socially or legally acceptable. There is till tremendous need for public education on the dignity and sancity of family relationships which are incorporated in the very words of our Constitution anyway.

I know the Minister may feel he has no direct influence in this area but may I appeal that, in addition to the dimension of the training of Garda, we look in a reforming manner at the training of our judges so that they would be subjected to a training period in all areas of the law and particularly in relation to family law which might be described as a younger branch of the law. Perhaps by way of formal or informal meetings and groupings they might reach agreement on certain guidelines, not statutory ones because I know there are many arguments against that but rather a consensus on the behaviour and attitude of judges toward crime and court proceedings emanating therefrom.

What we should attempt to do in all areas of law reform is ensure that no citizen is left at risk but rather that he or she would receive help and support when in need. Above all, when people have to have recourse to the law and court procedures, by way of implementation of that law they should be assured that such law is fairly administered, and is freely and openly accessible to everybody regardless of income. It would be my hope that by bringing this problem of violence and its attendant shame out into the open, there will not longer be need for the immortal phrase encapsulated in the title of the book written by Erin Pizzey — who involved herself in Britain in the establishment of refuges for women —Scream Silently Or The Neighbours Will Hear. The neighbours and all of us legislators here must listen and respond, ensuring that people do not live behind closed doors in that dreadful vulnerable position amidst the cycle of violence and hatred that emanates therefrom.

I am very pleased to be in a position to welcome this Bill enthusiastically. Its provisions will provide additional remedies for the tragic victims of family violence. Those are many things required in this country by way of laws to try to assist those who are caught in difficult family circumstances, particularly in relation to marital breakdown of which this family violence is often a major cause or, as some people might say, may have a contributory effect rather than be the cause. There are many people, many women particularly, living in this country frightened of their lives to be in their family homes, unfortunately also frightened to have recourse to the law by way of remedy whether that be by way of a barring order or, under the new proposals, by way of a protection order. Their fear is occasioned by the feeling that a bad situation can often be rendered worse if one does have recourse to the law by way of remedial action. That is a pity.

I am sure many Deputies, particularly those female Members, often come across women living in very difficult and frightening circumstances. When one asks them why they have not taken a case to court for a barring order or a protection order — awaiting a barring order as will be the case now — they often say they feel it would not really solve anything, that it would make their position worse, leading to all kinds of consequences for the family and children. It is a pity that often people are prepared to put up with terrible violence and pressure, particularly mental violence — which can often be worse than physical violence — in order to keep a family together, to save face with relatives or whatever.

I should like to think that Members of this House would encourage people in those situations whenever possible to have recourse to the law by way of remedial action. I accept that when one is dealing with a family — particularly in circumstances as they relate to husbands and wives — those relationships are such that, when the law begins to interfere, it worsens their position no matter what it may have been; generally it will render their position worse. When one goes to court and gets a barring order against a spouse one is taking a very drastic course of action. In my experience I have never witnessed a case, subsequent to such action being taken, where there is reconciliation between the two parties. That course of action is brought about because of the difficulties that exist in relation to the whole family law area.

For many years people sought barring orders as one way of trying to get some arm of the law to recognise that their marriages had broken down. The tragedy is that 18 months after the second last referendum to change the Constitution in relation to the prohibition on divorce was defeated we have an even bigger problem with marital breakdown. Why were so many people unwilling to help others who are the victims of marital breakdown? Why are we not prepared to deal realistically or compassionately with those unfortunate people who have to live a life of hell because of the kind of laws that exist?

In so far as this legislation is one part of a long litany of legislation that is required to improve our laws and to make them more realistic and more caring, I welcome it. I hope it is only one part of such legislation and that this Dáil will have an opportunity of introducing much more legislation in this area. I was a member of the all party committee on marriage breakdown and that committee made very fine proposals, almost all of which can be implemented without any recourse to the Constitution, although perhaps the most fundamental ones would need constitutional change. A lot can be done in the absence of constitutional change. I hope we are just starting along the path to introducing that kind of caring and progressive legislation.

In relation to the judicial system as it affects family law matters, every Deputy who has ever dealt with people who have gone through family courts, who have taken a case, be it for maintenance, custody or separation proceedings, will realise that those people have one thing in common. They all say that the courts as we know them are not adequate and are not suitable to deal with matters between individuals in a family. The adversarial courts system drives people further and further apart. It seeks to establish who committed the matrimonial fault, as it were. It does not seek in any way to try to help in a caring and compassionate way the victims of family law disputes. It is high time we introduced proposals to set up a proper system of family tribunals, tribunals not just by name but ones that would have available to them the proper back up expertise that can genuinely help people in these positions. We need marriage counsellors, psychologists and in particular people who are in a position to help the children who are very often the losers in family law disputes.

When we grant a barring order to a spouse to bar from the family home the other spouse or when we grant a protection order to warn, as it were, one spouse against mistreating or using violence or threatening language against the other spouse or the children, that legislation will not be sufficient unless side by side with it there is in place a proper system of counselling to try to help people during this period to rehabilitate themselves, to come to terms with the problem and to try to find a solution.

Many of these problems stem from the huge problem of alcoholism in this country. I will quote from a submission which, I think, every other Deputy in this House has received, too. It is from the Coolock Community Law Centre, a committee who frequently deal with the victims of marital breakdown. They say:

The Committee is of the opinion that the grounds for obtaining a barring order should be clarified by legislation. In particular the difficulties in cases where there is no violence, the behaviour of the offending spouse has a very serious effect on the applicant and the children. This commonly occurs in cases of alcoholism. There is a general reluctance on the part of the judiciary to bar a spouse on the grounds of alcoholism unless it is coupled with violence. The majority of clients coming to this Centre seeking barring orders do so usually on grounds relating to abuse of alcohol and it is felt that the Court is not providing relief for these clients.

There is no doubt we are not providing relief for the huge numbers of people who suffer, maybe not physical violence, but mental violence. There is terrible pressure on the spouse and the children and the present law does not deal adequately with that situation.

I accept what Senator Robinson has said in the other House and what Deputy Shatter has said in this House in relation to the interpretation of the Supreme Court's decision in the case of O'B. v. O'B. They are eminent lawyers in this field. The fact remains that in 1983 1,697 applications were made in the Dublin metropolitan area to the District Court for barring orders, 848 of which were granted. In 1985 1,856 applications were made, almost 200 more than in 1983, and only 516 were granted. In 1986 1,927 applications were made and only 448 barring orders were granted. Since that Supreme Court decision there has been a dramatic decrease in the numbers of people capable of getting barring orders. Considering that 1,927 people sought barring orders in 1986 and only 448 of them were successful, at least 1,479 couples are living in an even more dangerous situation because, having taken proceedings for a barring order, one puts oneself into an even more vulnerable position with the difficult spouse or the spouse using violence, abuse or whatever. We should update the law in relation to barring orders. It is not enough to say that there must be physical violence. I accept what the eminent lawyers said, that that is not really what the Supreme Court said. The facts seem to be that fewer barring orders are now granted.

I know of cases where women have been living under terrible mental pressure and mental violence — that is what I would call it — and they have not been able to secure barring orders. Instead they have to return to the home and live in an even more difficult environment. It would be very worth while indeed if some training were given to the Garda Síochána to allow them to be effective in cases of marital violence. I am often told by people that when they ring the Garda in relation to the enforcement of barring or protection orders they are not treated with the same level of seriousness they would receive if it were a different kind of case. I can understand why that is the case. The Garda are generally reluctant to interfere in these matters. They find it very difficult to do so, albeit that there is an order in force from the courts. It is a difficult situation to place them in and they need some training and guidelines.

That brings me to another group of people who certainly need training in this area, the Judiciary. I have said before in this House that we need more younger members of the Judiciary and certainly more women members, particularly today with this kind of case. The members of the Judiciary here tend to be elderly men, many of whom have had no training in family law matters because when they were student lawyers these problems did not exist and we were not very far advanced in the whole family law area. It is a well known fact that in legal circles the family law area is known as the pits because there is not much money in it; it is not taken seriously, with a few exceptions — it is generally left to the women lawyers and to date there are not many of them at a senior level. The members of the Judiciary need training in this whole area particularly if they are to staff the new family tribunals that I hope will be established before too long.

The Minister said in his opening address that this Bill is part of a programme Fianna Fáil promised in their election campaign. He said:

I should like to point out also that the Bill follows the commitment in the Fianna Fáil Programme for Natioinal Recovery to amend the law to protect women against domestic violence.

Although the Minister is not directly responsible, I say to him that the funding that has been given this year and that is proposed for next year to the women's organisations trying to help women in these difficult circumstances does not support the view that Fianna Fáil are trying to help women who find themselves involved in domestic violence. AIM, the women's group the Minister complimented for being, to a large degree, responsible for this kind of legislation, were given £4,000 in 1986. That tiny £4,000 was decreased to £1,000 in 1987. What can an organisation of that kind do with just £1,000?

There is none for 1988.

As Deputy Barnes says, there is none for 1988. It is a disgrace. Maybe it is because these groups do not have enough political muscle or not so many people are affected but the cause they are trying to help is far more important than some of the groups which seem to be able to get a lot of money from all Governments. It is a tragedy and a pity that the commitment the Government seem to have in their statements to women suffering violence in the home is not followed through by support for these organisations that are trying to survive in very difficult circumstances and trying to help in a practical way the women so affected.

There are many practical difficulties for a woman in a situation of violence. If she fails to get a barring order and is the joint owner of the family home, if she wishes to get out of that situation and leave the family home she has, effectively, no chance of getting alternative accommodation from the local authority. They will say to her that she is the joint owner of a family home and must go through the rigour of selling the home and proving she is not in a position to independently provide housing for herself. That can take months, sometimes years. What is she supposed to do in this situation? I have often had women come to me saying that their marriage has ended and they are living in a difficult situation, cannot put up with the pressure and asking what they can do. If they leave their husbands, will they get alternative accommodation? The fact is that they will not if they are joint owners of a family home or if they voluntarily leave the home. They effectively have no choice. In these difficult circumstances groups like AIM and Women's Aid provide temporary shelter which gets women out of their own difficult situation and at least gives them time to think and work out something for the future.

In relation to people who are barred from the family home, if we are to be practical about this legislation we will have to provide alternative housing accommodation for them. Although we might take a poor view of somebody involved in family violence, the fact is that if this legislation is to be effective, particularly if barring orders are to be effective, this can only be so if alternative accommodation is provided for the spouse who is barred from the family home. The lack of alternative accommodation is what may prevent some members of the Judiciary from granting barring orders in the first instance. In the other House reference was made to the fact that many people who are the victims of family violence are very often not married to each other. Because of the huge problem we now have with marital breakdown, many people live in what is known as common law situations. It is not open to a person living in this kind of situation to apply to have the other party to the relationship barred from the family home or to have a protection order placed in court in situations of violence or the threat of violence. If we are to be practical and realistic we will have to look at ways of helping people whose relationship is not based on marriage. If we are to be practical about the plight so many people find themselves in because of the result of the second last constitutional referendum we will have to provide remedies.

There is also a need for protection and barring orders to apply to members of families other than a spouse. We all know of the increasing rate of violence against children in particular by people other than the spouse or the father. Brothers, uncles and other people who live in the family home can be involved in molesting and interfering, often in a sexual way, with children. It should be open to health boards or competent authorities to apply in certain restricted circumstances to have a particular member of a family barred from the family home instead of necessarily having always to take the child out of the situation. It may also be necessary for that other authority to apply because the mother or wife might be reluctant to take proceedings against her own husband or the father of the child. It may well be necessary to update our laws to allow for competent authorities such as health boards to make application in these circumstances.

These are all matters which are not in this Bill but which are important if we want to properly update the law in this country as far as it affects families and particularly as it relates to family law. We have a long way to go to have the kind of realistic legislation we all realise is so badly needed. I hope that this Bill, which I fully support, will be the first step in a programme of reform the Minister or his colleagues will bring before this House in order to help those who tragically find themselves in difficult family situations. The all-party Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown reported on these matters more than two years ago. In that time we have not used that report as usefully as we could to implement in law many of its fine recommendations. Most of its recommendations were made with full support of all the participants from all parties and Independent members. We should build on that consensus and bring in the legislation and I am sure it will have an enthusiastic and welcome response in this House.

I hope this Bill will prove to be helpful in difficult marital situations that arise but I am not entirely convinced it will. There is a danger that the courts, if invited to do so, may tend to use these protection orders as a kind of half-way measure rather than give a barring order in an appropriate case. If that tendency was to develop it could have serious consequences in some families. However, the main defect of the Bill is that it does not recognise what is the major factor in this country that gives rise to marital breakdown, that is, alcoholism. Many of us who are involved in that kind of work — and as politicians we come across it in our clinics — know that the major factor is alcoholism. That is not a ground for a protection order or a barring order, but it should be.

Many of the courts have been working under a difficulty up to now because the actual grounds on which a wife would be entitled to get a barring order are not specifically spelt out. It should be spelt out that alcoholism and all that that implies ought of its own accord to be a base for an application for a barring order.

Debate adjourned.