Opposing Domestic Violence: Statements

I welcome the opportunity for Members to express their views on opposing domestic violence. It is poignant to think of the tragedies that have occurred in families in this country because of domestic violence. Each of us, no matter which side of the House we sit on, came to politics to right wrongs and eliminate evil. Sooner or later, each of us realised that no matter what we do some evils do not go away. Child sexual abuse does not go away. Sexual violence does not go away. Gender-based violence does not go away. Domestic violence does not go away.

A study undertaken by Cosc, the national body, found that over 70% considered domestic abuse to be a common problem in Ireland. It is extraordinary to think that following a survey, a total of 70% of people should say that they consider domestic abuse to be a common problem in Ireland. Domestic violence does not go away. Indeed, its very constancy might tempt us to shrug and move away from it but that should never happen. It should never be permitted to become a norm in the minority of homes.

We know that domestic violence is devastating for the victim. It destroys trust and any sense of self and self-respect. It often causes a retreat from work, the economy and social networks. It has major personal and social costs. Preventing domestic violence and protecting and supporting the victims requires legislation, services and consistent good practice.

In recent years Ireland has put in place a national strategy for tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence to co-ordinate this multifaceted approach. The Government and I are committed to updating this strategy as a new blueprint for future initiatives. This work is being overseen by Cosc. A final review of the strategy was completed in the summer and is now feeding in to the development of the second stage. We have asked many people for submissions. I hosted a consultation in Dublin Castle some weeks ago where representatives from all the groups working in this area came together and gave us their best thinking on the next national strategy. It was a useful event and will help us to identify the priorities. The groups were asked to identify what they believe should be the priorities in the coming years.

In October, we were presented with excellent work from the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The committee produced recommendations on domestic and sexual violence. I note that Deputy Stanton is present and I pay tribute to him for the excellence of the work done on this topic and indeed on many other topics worked on during the year by the justice committee with considerable cross-party support. The recommendations from the justice committee will help us to identify the new national strategy. This needs a whole-of-government approach because one thing is clear: if we are to deal with this topic effectively, we need a cross-party and interdepartmental approach.

I am keen to highlight various benchmarks which will be important in the coming months and which will help us to underpin in a serious way developments and improvements in this area. In particular I have in mind the Council of Europe convention known as the Istanbul convention. This convention is aimed at preventing and combating sexual and domestic violence against women. I am keen to sign the convention in the course of 2015 on behalf of Ireland. We are examining the various elements that have to be dealt with. It was thought that there was some constitutional impediments to signing, but I am pleased to say that we believe this is not now the case. We will have an action plan as part of the new national approach towards ratification. In the course of 2015 we will also deliver domestic violence legislation to consolidate existing legislation and introduce some new elements of legislation. Several changes have been made already.

Another element which will contribute to a better approach to the victims of domestic violence is the implementation of the EU victims directive. I have held some good meetings with the Northern Ireland Minister, Mr. David Ford, MLA. We have worked together on the issue because he is implementing the EU victims directive as well. He has developed a charter for victims to ensure they have a more central place within the criminal justice system. I am keen for 2015 to be the year when we put the rights of victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. Delivering for victims is a key goal in addressing the grim reality of domestic violence, of this there can be no doubt. The directive is excellent and I believe that its implementation in all member states will make a real difference to how victims are approached throughout criminal justice systems.

Today, I am announcing a further allocation of €230,000 for victims services. This will come from the dormant account disbursement scheme. It will help the Crime Victims Helpline and Victim Support at Court. Victim Support at Court is very important. From what I have heard, users find the support on offer invaluable. We are keen to see the service extended beyond Dublin and I hope the extra funding will allow that to happen.

Another key development in 2015 will be the planned establishment of the new victims liaison offices in each Garda division. The victims services offices will be the central point of contact for all victims of crime and trauma in each Garda division. The offices will give advice, information and support. I believe this will be very helpful. The offices will be staffed by dedicated, specially-trained personnel who will keep victims informed of all significant developments associated with their cases as well as providing guidance and support. I imagine other Members will agree that one of the key issues for people when they report incidents of violence to the Garda is their wish to be kept informed of what is happening and the outcome of the case or any associated developments.

The Garda Inspectorate report is important in this area. As Deputies will be aware, the report contains a chapter on domestic violence and how it is dealt with at present. While everyone accepts that there have been great improvements in the response from the Garda - victims support services will say as much - the inspectorate report also found an inconsistent standard. The report points to significant concerns in respect of the support for victims in many cases.

I have asked the newly-appointed Garda Commissioner to report to me on how An Garda Síochána will implement the inspectorate recommendations on all the issues and on domestic violence in particular in order that we can ensure a more consistent response. The Commissioner recognises the vital importance of this response and she is committed to delivering improvements. I have no doubt that this will be included in the policing priorities for the year ahead. She has made a clear statement about her concern for victims and this is one of the reasons she is supporting the development of the victims liaison offices.

One of the points that emerged from the Garda Inspectorate report was the question of risk assessment in domestic violence cases and ensuring that assessments are carried out more appropriately and carefully. Clearly, this is a challenging task and one cannot always be absolutely correct with risk assessment. However, by ensuring a consistent standard, improved training and greater clarity on the importance of being careful in undertaking risk assessment as well as by responding and listening carefully to victims and taking what they say seriously, we should and will get a more consistent response.

The misuse of alcohol is clearly evident in many cases of domestic violence. I am familiar with this from previous work in child abuse and neglect cases. We see the trends again and again in respect of the influence of alcohol and drugs on criminal offending. We know that alcohol abuse plays a major role in fuelling many cases of domestic violence. It is another example of the shocking impact of the misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs on Irish society.

Awareness raising is important in respect of how we as a society and a community and individuals become more cognisant of the impact of domestic violence and encourage people to do whatever they can to reduce the incidence. We are supporting the various victim support groups in order that they can do this work. This year we have supported the White Ribbon Ireland campaign and the Man Up campaign, which encourage men to stand up against domestic violence and be positive actors in all their relationships with women and children. Considerable awareness raising has been undertaken by a variety of men's groups as well as individual men throughout the country in respect of this issue and this is a positive development.

Clearly, the question of legislation is important.

We have made several changes. The change to the in camera rule is an important element of greater awareness throughout society. We have modified the rule to allow greater reporting of family law cases, including domestic violence proceedings. There are appropriate protections for the identities of individuals, especially children. Media reporting is important for people to understand the scale and type of case coming before our courts.

Several other changes have been made, such as the provisions for orders to be made for same sex couples in a civil partnership arrangement to be treated on the same basis as married couples, and for same sex couples living together in intimate relationships to be treated on a par with opposite sex couples in the same situation. Couples who have a child in common may now apply for safety and protection orders even where they have not lived together. These changes were called for and are now in our law. We have also removed the six-month period for residing together prior to being eligible for safety and protection orders which previously applied. I will publish additional legislative proposals in the early part of the new year to consolidate and reform the domestic violence legislation.

The role of Tusla is important because of the preventative family supports that are available and can be called on. Priority court time and court dates are available. The President of the District Court works to make sure that delays in the hearing of family law cases, particularly those involving domestic violence, are kept to a minimum. Support services in Dolphin House are available every week day morning to individuals attending there. We want to make sure those services are spread more widely to women using the court for applications under the Domestic Violence Act and other ancillary orders, such as child access and child custody. That is a very good service because it gives the women the support they need. That service is available as well in Dundalk District Court and other court jurisdictions are planning to introduce it.

Last week, I announced that there will be a new family law complex at Hammond Lane which will be helpful because the facilities families have been using, for example, in the Dublin area, are not of the standard they should be in order to help people get the best services, whether mediation or court services. It is quite clear that a new building is necessary instead of the three different services dealing with these cases in accommodation that is not good enough or suitable.

We need to work with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to deal with the range of issues arising around domestic violence. Another element is to work with, and have programmes for, perpetrators of domestic violence. There are 13 programmes for which the Department provided just over €400,000 in funding in 2013. We have to work to reduce offending behaviour in this area. It is complex and is not easy but it is important that people are helped to behave differently and to work with couples where that is what the couples wish to do.

The fact that domestic violence runs like an underground river through our society does not mean we can ever accept it. The fact that it finds new routes and creates new tributaries with passing time should make us more rather than less resolute when it comes to dealing with it because we must deal with it and its victims. The new EU Victims Directive, the signing of the Istanbul Convention and the changed approach to victims within the criminal justice system should be an important marker of change in this respect in 2015. We will need to meet the relevant complex needs with a very strong cross-departmental, cross-disciplinary and professional approach working in tandem with the NGOs which do so much of the frontline work.

It was very inappropriate to stick 60 minutes of this debate in at 6.30 p.m. on the last sitting day of the Dáil session. When we speak here we hope by getting the word out through the media and so on that we can highlight issues of importance in society. This deserved a lot more than an hour’s initial debate with the Minister’s speech, which was very interesting, thrown in at the beginning. It should have been the key debate during the main part of a sitting day. How many journalists are around the House now? I put any money on it that if they are here they are in the Seanad watching the Water Services Bill 2014, not watching this debate. On the one hand, we say this is an incredibly important issue but on the other hand we tuck it away in a way that will not give the subject the treatment it deserves.

The statistics are horrendous: Women’s Aid reports 17,000 incidents of domestic violence in Ireland. That is a huge number of victims. In many cases there are multiple victims, not only partners but children. The cases include sexual and emotional violence and financial abuse. In each case there is the heartbreaking situation of somebody feeling unsafe in her or his own home. We have to continue to work on this.

I wish it were possible to eliminate domestic violence. We must make sure that where it does occur there are appropriate responses. We must continuously change the methods we use to ensure this. I am very pleased that the Minister will implement the Istanbul Convention. It is very important. We will watch with interest when she outlines the steps that have been taken to do this. It is also important that this is never seen as a work completed because as society changes we have to keep changing the rules and defences to make sure that victims are defended at all times and that every new opportunity is taken to make sure we put better measures in place.

I have heard good reports of An Garda Síochána from some victims. It would be wrong for us to paint all members of the force in a bad light. Many have gone beyond the call of duty to help victims. I was very taken aback by the report of the Garda Inspectorate on Garda readiness to deal with the victims of domestic violence. The gardaí are the first call out point for many victims and are the people who can enforce the law.

It is vital, and this is within the Minister's gift, that all necessary resources are made available to An Garda Síochána. I noted the Minister's comments on the new Garda Commissioner. Having met Ms O'Sullivan, I have no doubt she will be very understanding of the position and concerned to implement the Garda Inspectorate's report. The understanding is that elements of Garda training on domestic violence have been suspended as a result of a lack of finance. There is no justification for this and, as a female, the Minister should ensure the problem is rectified. Every member of An Garda Síochána who is called out to an emergency domestic abuse case must have appropriate training and know what action to take.

We can introduce all the laws we want but we must ensure they function in real life. I was told by a victim of violence that gardaí who came to her home could not remove the perpetrator without a court order, although they were able to try to deal with the matter. Furthermore, safety orders apply for 24 hours, after which the perpetrator can return to the family home. I also understand that notice that a safety order is to be issued is given to the victim and perpetrator 24 hours in advance. This can cause serious difficulties. These are practical issues that arise in these types of cases. We must try to find a proper balance and ensure the law protects victims at all times by erring on the side of caution.

I recall a case that occurred one evening when I happened to be in Dublin. I received a telephone call from a person who had been the subject of serious domestic violence and had found out that her partner had been released from prison and returned to the locality. She felt very vulnerable at night as she lived in a rural area. I telephoned the local Garda station but gardaí could only take limited action. The only comfort I could offer was to tell her to call me if necessary. I felt this was at least a way of keeping in contact. We must deal with these types of circumstances which create serious fear for people. It must be frightening to find one has no back-up in such a scenario.

A great deal of work remains to be done on this issue. I hope the House will have a proper debate when the Minister produces specific plans on domestic violence in the new year. Such a debate should highlight that domestic violence is a grievous problem and cancer in society that we must fight at all times.

I am glad the Minister touched on the issues of alcohol and drugs, particularly the former. Drugs are illegal and must remain illegal. Anyone who argues that soft drugs should be made legal has not studied the literature. Society also has a casual attitude towards alcohol. I am disappointed that we have still not tackled the issue of alcohol advertising, which is focused on getting young people into the habit of drinking. Anyone who tells me that drink advertisements do not glamorise drink for young people has not followed the advertisements broadcast on television.

Similarly, alcohol sponsorship must be addressed because drinking is presented as a laddish or macho thing to do. The vast majority of cases of domestic violence involve violence by men against women. If we are serious about addressing violence, we should be brave enough to tell the powerful drinks lobby that we can do more to address the issue of alcohol in society. Our tolerance of alcohol abuse is far too high.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I have not stood opposite the Minister on this side of the House for some time. This is an important debate. Some issue will always be debated at the tail end of a session. The small number of Deputies present says more about those who are not here than those who are.

It is frightening to note that one in five women will be abused by an intimate partner in her lifetime. I did not realise the figure was so high until I researched the issue. We are discussing this issue as a result of the concern expressed by the report of the Garda Inspectorate which detailed particular problems with attitudes towards domestic violence in the force. It found, for example, that some complaints about domestic violence were treated as a waste of time and some members of the force displayed negative attitudes towards domestic violence incidents by referring to calls as problematic, time consuming and a waste of resources. The Chief Inspector of the Garda Síochána stated:

The whole issue of domestic violence needs to be thoroughly reviewed. We had about 11,000 domestic violence incidents and there were only 287 cases where somebody got arrested.

This is a matter of grave concern which must be quickly addressed.

One of the reasons for the low number of arrests for domestic violence is the insufficient level of training provided to gardaí. I acknowledge that many good members of the Garda do an excellent job. However, it is worrying that the Garda domestic violence training programme has been axed for new Garda recruits as a result of a lack of funding from the Department. The programme provided previously in the Garda College in Templemore was run by people who deal with rape victims on an ongoing basis. The forthcoming programme was ended owing to a lack of funding. The Minister must reintroduce the programme if we are to be serious about tackling domestic abuse.

The Minister expressed a willingness to sign the Istanbul Convention. It is worth noting that the convention establishes a framework for governments to ensure robust action to prevent, investigate, prosecute and ultimately eliminate violence against women and girls. Unfortunately, violence will never be eliminated. I ask the Minister to forgive my unparliamentary language but as long as we have evil bastards in the world, there will be domestic abuse. We must ensure sufficient resources are in place to deal with it and this requires ring-fenced budgets.

I decided to speak in this debate because of cuts to a service in Longford which has supported 1,500 women who were subjected domestic abuse since 2005. In 2013, it assisted 248 women and had supported 242 women this year to the end of October. These figures are scandalous in a county the size of Longford. The previous and current Governments implemented serious cuts to funding for domestic violence services. For example, HSE and Tusla funding for domestic violence services has been cut by 17%, while funding for the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime's domestic court accompaniment service has been reduced by 26%. Family Support Agency funding for counselling services has also been reduced by 47%. This is not good enough. If we are honest about addressing this issue, we must protect and sustain these services.

I ask the Minister to give a commitment to look into the figures I have given today and ensure this service is supported into the future.

We also need to look at a cross-departmental approach. I have recently been dealing with a situation in which a woman had to leave her family home because of domestic violence. However, because of housing legislation, she was unable to apply for local authority housing and, therefore, was unable to receive rent allowance. The only places that woman could go to get away from a domestic partner were into a refuge or a hostel. We need to look at this in a more holistic way and we need to give it much greater time than we are giving it this evening. That said, I welcome the opportunity to contribute, albeit in a small way.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. I too could be critical of how late the hour is, but I will not, because I believe it is important that we have this debate and it does not matter what time of day it is. Across all parties, we abhor domestic violence. While it is a pity the debate is at this hour, given the time of year, and as somebody who has continuously asked over quite a number of years for statements on domestic violence in December, to correspond with the Women's Aid campaign 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence Against Women, it is important that the Houses reflect the debate that is being held in public, given the harrowing statistics that face us every year. I have continuously asked for such a debate, and this year the Minister has granted it, which I welcome.

I have been critical of previous Ministers for Justice and Equality for their inaction in many ways. It is refreshing to hear today what the Minister has set out for herself, especially for next year. I hope the time will allow her to deliver on those commitments in terms of the Istanbul Convention and the EU directive on victims, and also the long-awaited newly consolidated and updated legislation. The consolidation will be good to see, but I believe updating and dealing with the issues is a big challenge, given that those who have been dealing with cases of domestic violence have shown us the system is not working. When the heads of the Bill are published, hopefully in early 2015, I hope the Minister can refer it to the justice committee as quickly as possible so it can carry out pre-legislative scrutiny. It can also invite in those who have been critical of the way the Houses of the Oireachtas have dealt with domestic violence over the years so they can have their say and so that their views and practical solutions may be reflected by the drafters when they finally put the legislation together.

It is important, given the statistics, that we in this Chamber reflect the urgency that is involved. The domestic violence services answered more than 46,000 calls and provided services for more than 8,000 women last year alone. That is in some ways scary for a society, but it is a reflection of those who sought help, although not everybody seeks help, which is a pity. Fifteen rape crisis centres also assisted more than 2,000 survivors of sexual violence in that period. As we know, victims are far more likely to see a prosecution if they are attacked by a stranger in a public place and if they succeed in reporting it within an hour. If, however - as with the vast majority of victims, some 91% - a woman is assaulted by a known assailant in private - in her own home - there is often a delay in reporting, and it is extremely unlikely that those victims will ever see justice done. That is unacceptable. We have to come up with a framework in which that is not the case. It requires a more robust and co-ordinated response on behalf of the Government. That is why I welcome the change in attitude that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has brought in comparison to the previous Minister, Deputy Shatter, who said there was more important legislation to be prepared concerning the financial crisis. I know he was questioned on a number of occasions over the years and that was the stock answer. At least we have tonight seen a very solid commitment from the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald.

I wholeheartedly support the recommendations from the Rape Crisis Network, which has called in particular for a multi-departmental Government response and the use of the education system in running a primary prevention programme. I believe a lot more can be done through education to prevent domestic violence in the first place or, at the very least, to give a societal response when abuse occurs in a family home or a community setting.

There is also the question of the provision of specialist training for An Garda Síochána. The Minister made mention of the Garda Inspectorate report findings, which were very stark and made sobering reading. The inspectorate found that rape and sexual assault is not always investigated by detectives despite the seriousness of the offences and the complexity and inherent sensitivity of the cases. That has to change, no matter what else we do. Those who are dealing with sexual violence in An Garda Síochána need to have the appropriate training and, hopefully, that will be reflected in the near future. The inspectorate also said these cases are often investigated by gardaí who are not properly trained. The inspectorate further found problems with accurate recording and classification of domestic violence on the Pulse system, with many identified cases of domestic violence wrongly categorised as complaints without violence, even where a crime had occurred. Again, it falls to members of An Garda Síochána to ensure there is proper reporting, classification and recording of those cases because, without those statistics, the figures we are quoting are probably an underestimation. That is a reform to be made within An Garda Síochána. Many reforms are under way in An Garda Síochána, which is all to the good. It cannot change overnight, but in many ways it needs to.

Last year saw an initiative called On Just One Day, which consisted of a State-wide census of women and children accessing domestic violence services. It found that on one day in November 2013 nearly 700 people called or used the services. A total of 467 women and 229 children who were at risk sought the help of the agencies involved, and if they had not, they would have been homeless or at risk of homelessness. On that one day when the census was held, more than 100 women and 150 children were accommodated in a refuge, and 15 women and 24 children were newly admitted. That same day, 15 women could not be accommodated because there were not enough spaces.

Of the total number of adult victims, 24 of the women were pregnant and 29 of them needed hospitalisation or a doctor. This is the report from just one day and the reason a day was picked was to provide an example of what the services go through day in and day out. These are the stark and harrowing figures of domestic violence in society.

Domestic violence affects all parts of the community, all walks of life, all classes and creeds. No group is immune from it and there are both victims and perpetrators in all groups. Given the sheer numbers involved, violence, against women in particular, should be at the top of the list of any anti-crime agenda and at the top of the political agenda. This is not to belittle or ignore violence against men within the home. The Minister mentioned the Amen service in Dolphin House, which helps men subject to domestic violence. It is good there is recognition that men too also suffer from domestic violence.

On a related issue, no victim, regardless of the perpetrator, should be denied a forum to have his or her voice heard or to see justice done or to receive the assurance that no further women will be put at risk due to the action or inaction of the justice system. To this end, Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, made a formal proposal to the Taoiseach in early November for an all-Ireland initiative to deal with the issue and support the victims of sexual abuse during the course of the war in the North. Many of those victims did not feel they could report to the authorities, in particular the RUC and the PSNI. I believe this initiative could and should be jointly resourced by the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government. The objective would be to support victims of abuse in all communities, regardless of the identity or position of the perpetrator, to ensure access to counselling and other supports and to ensure access to prosecution by the justice system if victims wished or felt they could make official complaints. Victims would also be assured anonymity and confidentiality if required and if they did not wish to be identified.

I raise the issue of funding of the services that are doing tremendous work in this area. We are all aware of the level of support they provide and of the increasing call on their services. However, as yet they have not seen a corresponding increase in the resources they need and require and some services have suffered cuts over the years. These cuts need to be addressed and reversed and the sooner the better. The reversal of the cuts would only bring the services back to a level that was not adequate in the first place. More is required, because the level of services needs to be raised beyond the level there five or six years ago when some of the cuts took effect. Key steps need to be taken to ensure moneys are ring-fenced to enable delivery of these services.

The estimate for the cost to the economy of these domestic services annually is €2.5 billion. If that is the estimate, the additional money required for service provision - €2.5 million - would be money well spent. Apart from the economic argument, it is money well spent if it helps protect women, children and men from domestic violence and provides them with the hope there is a service and home for them during the time they are making the transition from a family home where there is an abuser. It would also provide support where needed to allow them remain within the home where a violent abuser is barred from the home through a safety order.

SAFE Ireland has identified five essential actions requiring the support of the Members of this House. We must ensure these steps are taken. The first concerns the ring-fencing of budgets to ensure the services are properly resources and can plan for the future. These services do not pop up overnight and those who run them must have some security to know the service can be guaranteed. It takes time to build up the trust and support of those people who have suffered domestic abuse. The second proposal is to amend, develop and enact housing legislation as a matter of urgency to address the many barriers to safe accommodation currently experienced by victims of domestic violence. As part of this, Sinn Féin recently tried to bring forward legislation in this House, but this was rejected by the Government. I commend those who supported it at the time.

I will forward the other proposals to the Minister. I thank her for taking the time to have this important debate. We should try to ensure the issue is part of our annual calendar in December, but preferably not the last item on our agenda. Perhaps the lateness of this debate sends out a message that we are serious about this issue and are willing to discuss it.

Deputy Coppinger is sharing time with Deputies Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Christmas should be a happy time for families and everybody, but unfortunately it is a time when violence against women flares up in a dramatic way. It is a time when, according to Women's Aid, fear, intimidation, casual cruelty, sudden flashes of violence, threats to the well-being of children and the use of children as pawns to control and intimidate are rife. Unfortunately, this is what faces many women over the next few weeks.

The statistics that have been cited are shocking, but they are probably even higher than we believe. Internationally, at least one in three women - up to 1 billion women - have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetime. In Ireland, one in four or one in five women have been victims of domestic violence. It is a serious concern that rather than an improvement in the situation, the problem seems to be getting worse. In a survey carried out in the United Kingdom, one in four teenagers reported they had experienced violence from their boyfriends or partners. This is a huge problem and society must blow it open and discuss it seriously.

Violence is not just physical. Psychological, sexual and financial violence against women are as serious as physical violence. They may not sound as serious, but imagine what it is like to be threatened that your house will be set on fire or your partner will commit suicide, or to be continually blamed, stalked, harassed, called names or imprisoned in your house and not allowed to use a car etc. These are all forms of psychological violence.

As an example of violence on a wider basis, some 55% of women have been sexually harassed in their workplace. This indicates the level of violence against women in society. The Minister may have seen a video that has gone viral showing a woman walking down a street in New York and of the intimidation and casual abuse she suffered from men who had no compunction about comments they made to her. I am not saying this is similar to what happens in Ireland, but I would hazard a guess that it does happen to many women.

It is appalling that one in eight pregnant women experience violence; pregnancy can be a trigger for a man to be violent to a woman. We must move away from an exclusive focus on the victim.

We should stop looking at why she leaves and why she puts up with it to reduce our victim blame culture, which is endemic in society, even among women. There has to be zero tolerance of violence against women of any kind. It should not be excused, minimised or put in a context, etc. Perhaps society needs to open a discussion on the clever nature of violent men. In a report by John Hennessy in 2012 entitled "How he Gets into Her Head - the Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser", he contended that violent men are more skilful and determined than most paedophiles and they manipulate and groom women to be victims of violence in the future. It is important to understand that.

Ireland has the highest failure rate in Europe for meeting women's needs when they seek help. We only have one third of the refuge places required and an array of other supports are also needed. Austerity and the homelessness crisis is worsening the position. It is impossible to give women advice and to find places for them to go. For example, the refuges in Dundalk and Wexford have been subject to cuts.

I welcome the Minister's announcements regarding liaison officers in Garda districts and so on. I have experienced the lack of availability of gardaí in Blanchardstown to respond to breaches of barring orders when no cars were available. Ongoing cuts to Garda resources are also exacerbating the problem.

Capitalism breeds violence because as long as women are economically and socially subservient to men in a system, they will be victims of violence. The rape culture we have witnessed in popular culture is worrying and it deserves much more discussion than the few minutes devoted to this debate.

I am sorry I was not present for the Minister's contribution and I hope she will forgive me if my contribution does not reflect comments she made.

According to the recent report of the Garda Inspectorate on crime investigation, "Domestic violence is a high volume incident that requires particular attention," and its victims "are some of the most vulnerable and intimidated victims of crime and for this reason, need a higher level of support and protection". However, the same report showed how little support is offered to victims of domestic violence in Ireland, laying bare a serious and dangerous lack of investigation, reporting or follow-up on the part of the Garda in many such cases. For example, between January and September 2012, of the 10,373 calls classed as domestic violence-sexual assault by the Garda, reports were carried out in less than half of the cases. Furthermore, some domestic violence incidents and the injuries sustained are not even recorded on the PULSE system, meaning that an incident of rape reported to the force could go unrecorded, almost as if it never happened.

According to the inspectorate report, domestic violence "often accounts for half of all murders committed". In 2014, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights published a study on violence against women, which highlighted that 15% of Irish women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner since the age of 15. The National Women's Centre Ireland states that of the 204 women killed in Ireland since 1996, the majority were killed in their own homes, and more than half by a partner or ex-partner. While there is policy in place in respect of the response to domestic violence, the inspectorate report found little evidence that it is effectively monitored to ensure its proper implementation at operational level. This glaring disconnect between policy and practice is putting lives in danger and urgently needs to be addressed.

Clearly, from the victim's point of view, reporting incidents of domestic violence is very painful and risky in itself, leading the majority of them to avoid doing so, or to suffer several incidents before breaking their silence. Statistics from the National Study of Domestic Abuse show that less than a quarter of those severely affected by domestic abuse tell the Garda. The inspectorate report found that in many cases where domestic violence victims find the courage to report incidents to the Garda, the quality of service provided depended on the attitude of the attending garda and, in a large number of cases "the approach was one of disinterest or aimed at limiting Garda involvement in investigating further". Victims have been told to "let him sleep it off" or that "there's two of them in it". Domestic violence calls have been referred to as "problematic", "time-consuming" and "a waste of time".

However, many gardaí provide a good service to victims and help them to obtain the protection they need but reform is urgently needed. We need ongoing effective training for gardaí in dealing with the sensitivities and nuances of domestic violence cases, the implementation of a victim-centred policy and effective monitoring of investigative policies. We also need to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention, although the Minister may have said that will happen in the new year, which is welcome.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas.

I echo the comments of previous speakers. It is good that we are discussing this issue but it is regrettable that it has been given a twilight slot. However, I am glad the debate was salvaged from among the other issues that were cut for discussion before Christmas and I welcome that we have marked the spot. As long as it is a marking of the spot and the debate will resume at a future date, then it is an indication of a welcome move because if society is to deal with these complex issues, there must be a debate, which articulates some of the complexities around it. There are contradictions at play. Domestic violence is a crime and it is not a private matter. As in any criminal matter, people seek to turn to the Garda first when they experience crime. Other Members alluded to the recent report, which has revealed shocking instances of what happens when people do that. Gardaí are not equipped to adequately deal with these issues and that needs to be addressed from a training perspective.

There are two options when violence occurs in the home before we consider why it happens. The first is how to facilitate victims to leave and the second is enabling them to stay, which means dealing with the perpetrators better than we do currently. This relates to the legal issues flagged by other Members. They need to be made more straightforward and enforceable to deal with the perpetrator. There is a sad irony that the best and safest route for many people is to leave. Against a backdrop of austerity and the homelessness and housing crises, that is not an option. I have no doubt that women remain in violent relationships out of concern for their children as they do not want to move them from schools and so on because no alternative accommodation is available in the area. They will put up with the beatings, the psychological torture and so on because leaving is not a viable option. It is regrettable that some of the positive measures even in the context of temporary accommodation are not being addressed because of a lack of resources. Deputy Catherine Murphy would have mentioned the Teacher Tearmainn facility in Newbridge, County Kildare, where two brand new apartments are unavailable for use because of staffing problems and so on. A sum of €80,000 would sort that out. The current situation is not good enough when hundreds of children are being turned away from the facility.

These issues need to be examined but we need a broader discussion on why domestic violence happens. Violence against women perpetrated by people they know is the most common form of violence experienced by women. I will not repeat the horrendous statistics but this happens because of the way society unnaturally places the family in a position where, on the one hand, it is the resource we rely on the most because the State does not support us in many ways while, on the other, we allow things to go behind closed doors. It is not an accident that we have this problem. It is less than 25 years since rape within marriage was outlawed. It was not a crime before that because society could not envisage how that could be the case given a woman was a man's property. He was entitled to have sex with her whenever he liked and, therefore, she could not say "No". It is no accident that we are only catching up now with what goes on in the home when the attitude was that women and children were the property of men.

Alcohol and drugs should not be used as an excuse. I disagree with Deputy Ó Cuív because soft drugs do not result in violence and so on. Prohibition is not a solution to any of society's problems. We must examine the pressure we put on relationships and families, for example, the pressure of being a male breadwinner, who in a modern society may not be able to deliver and who may experience feelings of inadequacy and frustration.

This is not in any way a justification but it does point to some of the roots.

There is, obviously, violence against men in a domestic scenario. This is a growing phenomenon and to mention it is no disrespect to women. We will grapple with some of these issues in the new year.

It is opportune that we are discussing domestic violence. The Christmas spirit is normally associated with the season of goodwill and harmony but we know that it is a time of particular difficulty for many people, particularly those subjected to domestic violence. These are mainly women but increasingly men suffer domestic violence. We have quite a lot of statistical information from the extent of calls to helplines, the numbers of people availing of support from agencies and the number of admissions to refuges. The saddest statistic of all relates to those who apply to refuges but the refuges are full and cannot take them in.

We tend to think of domestic violence as being physical and sexual but we know there are other forms like bullying and emotional and verbal abuse. Economic violence is another form. I came across someone who had been in a very controlled environment relationship and never really knew what it was like to have money of her own or to be able to decide how that money would be spent. I remember her sharing her elation when she was able to get out of that relationship with support, when she actually had money in her hand that was her own and she could make decisions as to how she was going to spend it. It is probably not regarded as being as serious as physical and sexual violence but she also suffered.

Verbal abuse also does not get the attention it deserves. The old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is completely wrong. I have seen people who have been reduced to abject feelings of worthlessness because of the words that were used to and about them. What will be particularly challenging is the way technology such as home and mobile phones is being used to monitor, read messages, control and intimidate the movement of people. It can involve people being stalked through social networking sites and these sites being used to spread lies and attack reputations, sometimes using graphic sexual images, some of which are real and some of which are imposed. This will be difficult to address.

International research shows that 25% of women who experience domestic violence are first assaulted during pregnancy. A couple of years ago, the Rotunda Hospital carried out a similar study which showed that one in eight women had first been assaulted during pregnancy. Abuse does not just come from current partners. It also comes from former partners. We also see relationships where both partners are abusive.

There is no doubt that alcohol in particular plays a huge role in domestic violence. An EU report this year showed that Denmark, Sweden and Finland had the highest rates of domestic and sexual violence in Europe. We know that these countries have problems with alcohol, as has Ireland. Following on from what Deputy Clare Daly said, it is a fact that when both Finland and the US introduced prohibition, the rates of domestic violence fell dramatically in the first few years.

Power and fear are at the root of all domestic violence and abuse. There is control on one side and fear on the other and fear will paralyse. It stunts emotional, intellectual and psychological growth and development. The answer begins at the cradle and with empowering people and giving them from early childhood the confidence, the self-esteem and the skills not to get into that particular situation, and if they were in that abusive situation, the confidence to get out of it. We also know that there are women and young girls who knowingly go into relationships with men with a reputation for violence. This comes back to confidence and self-esteem. We know the numbers who withdraw charges and the numbers who go back into abuse sometimes thinking that it is better for the children.

My next point is about language and young men and boys in particular. Sometimes they do not have the language skills to communicate how they feel. It does not excuse what they do but sometimes their only way to express themselves is through their fists. In many cases, this is learned behaviour so we see cycles of domestic violence because there are young men who do not know any other way to behave towards young women except through violence. This cycle must be broken. The debate is good and welcome regardless of the hour and time.