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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Apr 2018

Vol. 968 No. 1

Domestic Violence Bill 2017 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages

I remind Deputies that they may speak twice on each amendment or group of amendments.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 37, to delete lines 19 to 31 and substitute the following:

"Continuation of proceedings

42. (1) Where on the coming into operation of Part 2, proceedings referred to in subsection (2) have been commenced under the Act of 1996 but not determined, those proceedings shall be continued as if they were civil proceedings under this Act.

(2) Subsection (1) applies to the following proceedings:

(a) proceedings for the making, variation or discharge of a safety order or a barring order;

(b) proceedings, consequent on the making of an application for a barring order, for the making, variation or discharge of an interim barring order which relates to the application;

(c) proceedings, consequent on the making of an application for a safety order or barring order, for the making, variation or discharge of a protection order which relates to the application;

(d) any proceedings by way of appeal or case stated which are related to proceedings to which paragraph (a), (b) or (c) applies.”.

I thank the Members for the debate on this important legislation thus far. They will recall our earlier debate when I stated that a number of amendments would be introduced by me and the subject of deliberation on Report Stage. I am pleased to put four amendments before the House this evening. Amendment No. 1 is a technical amendment arising out of Committee Stage proceedings when a definition of "civil proceedings" was inserted in the Bill at section 2 along the lines of the definition in the Domestic Violence Act 1996. The effect of amendment No. 1 will be to ensure that the transitional provision in section 42 will apply to all civil proceedings under the 1996 Act which have been commenced but not yet determined when Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with court proceedings, comes into operation. This will ensure there is no uncertainty in relation to the continuity of applications for the variation or discharge of orders under the 1996 Act or with regard to any appeals which may be applicable to orders under the 1996 Act and under way on the commencement of Part 2.

I support the amendment. It makes sense. The whole purpose of the legislation is to ensure that individuals who have already engaged in the process of application to the court under the Domestic Violence Act 1996, as amended, are in a position to continue with those applications. As such, it is very important that there is no suggestion that those applications are in any way invalid because new legislation has been put in place which will have the effect of repealing other legislation. It is an important amendment which Fianna Fáil will support.

Sinn Féin will also support the amendment. The amendments proposed on Report Stage are generally drafting amendments. I commend the quick progress of the Bill from the Seanad onwards. That is because of the desire of organisations such as Women's Aid, the Rape Crisis Network and SAFE Ireland to see it progressed. A great deal of good work was done in the Seanad. I commend Senators on that work and the Minister and the Department for their constructive engagement with some very valuable amendments, in particular amendments relating to a course of control. That has improved the Bill. I commend the lobbying organisations on a very successful exercise on their part in seeking amendments and getting them into the Bill.

As the Minister and Deputy O'Callaghan said, amendment No. 1 ensures proceedings under the 1996 Act can be maintained. In its most recent report, Women's Aid highlighted the barriers and dangers women face when trying to leave an abusive partner. The report contained a proposal which I think is not included in the legislation. If it is not, I ask the Minister to provide an indication as to whether he is open to it. I refer to the proposal for a rule of no contact until contact is safe. That relates to the fact that it is currently possible for an abuser to persistently contact the person who has been abused provided there is no direct threat of violence. Whereas persistent contact in and of itself may be intimidating or abusive, it is not currently prohibited. I ask the Minister to comment on that and indicate whether he is open to the idea of a rule on no contact until contact is safe. Does he intend to pursue that?

I thank the Deputies for their support for the amendment. The point made by Deputy Ó Laoghaire does not pertain to the amendment under discussion, but it is an issue which was the subject matter of debate when my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, was dealing with the Bill in the Seanad. I am satisfied that the matter of no contact is already catered for in our criminal law. Deputies will be aware, however, that I have invited parties in recent weeks to participate in a review of offences and practice and procedure in the area. I have already consulted on this issue extensively and it was a point that has been raised with me by a number of interested parties. I would be happy, in the context of ongoing reform of the law in this area, to pursue the point as raised by Deputy Ó Laoghaire but I note there is provision in law already for such a procedure. I am satisfied that it is a matter of practice and that it is robust. If there are weaknesses or points giving rise to a need for further improvement or review, I am, of course, happy to accommodate that. I would be pleased to keep the Deputy informed on the specific issue he raises.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 41, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Schedule 3 to National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012

52. Schedule 3 to the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 is amended by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph 1:

“1. An offence under section 17 of the Domestic Violence Act 1996 or section 33, 38 or 39 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018.”.”.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, refer specifically to Part 4 of the Bill, which will replace references to the Domestic Violence Act 1996 in existing legislation with references to the corresponding provisions in the Bill before the House. Since the legislation was published, the Mediation Act 2017 and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 have been enacted. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are technical amendments to replace the references in those Acts to the 1996 Act with references to the Bill when enacted.

Amendment No. 2 provides for the amendment of Schedule 3 to the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012. Schedule 3 to the 2012 Act was inserted by section 29 of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 and sets out a list of offences which are excluded from the application of section 14A of the 2012 Act. Section 14A provides for circumstances in which certain convictions are not required to be disclosed in the Garda vetting process. The offences listed in Schedule 3 are offences which would give rise to a bona fide concern that a person could pose a threat to a child or vulnerable person. The offence of breaching an order under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 is listed in Schedule 3. Amendment No. 2 proposes to add the corresponding offence under this Bill and the new offences of coercive control and forced marriage. Amendment No. 3 is a mere technical amendment on the matter of reference to the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and the Mediation Act.

I support the amendments. Amendment No. 2 seeks to amend the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act in order that offences under the legislation we are introducing now are included. That is appropriate. It is also appropriate that proceedings under the Domestic Violence Act should be excluded from the terms of any prospective mediation. Section 3 of the Mediation Act sets out the scope of that Act and indicates to what mediation shall not apply. It would be entirely inappropriate if a person who was the victim of domestic abuse but who was not successful in maintaining a criminal prosecution was forced, because of these civil proceedings, to engage in mediation with an abusive partner.

Accordingly, amendment No. 3 also makes sense and we will be supporting it. The same applies in respect of amendment No. 4.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 42, after line 9, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 3 of Mediation Act 2017

54. Section 3(1) of the Mediation Act 2017 is amended by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (h):

“(h) proceedings under the Domestic Violence Act 2018;”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 42, after line 9, to insert the following:

“Amendment of section 2 of Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017

55. Section 2(1) of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 is amended in the definition of “protection measure” by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (c):

“(c) advice regarding safety orders, barring orders, interim barring orders, emergency barring orders and protection orders within the meaning of the Domestic Violence Act 2018;”.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

I wish to again record my appreciation, as well as that of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for Deputies’ contributions in what was a high degree of constructive engagement at the various Stages during the Bill’s course through both Houses. Members will agree that this is one of the most important Bills to come before the Oireachtas this year.

We all know domestic violence can have devastating physical, emotional, mental and financial consequences for victims, as well as for society as a whole. Protecting and supporting victims has been a key priority for the Government. The enactment of this Bill is a key part of the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence 2016 to 2021. The Bill builds on the protections for victims provided for in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. In developing this Bill, my Department and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, have engaged closely with groups that support victims of domestic violence. I acknowledge the work being done by these organisations and their ongoing contribution to strengthening the provisions of this legislation. The support and assistance these organisations continue to offer the victims is hugely valuable to people who find themselves in difficult, and often extremely vulnerable, situations across society.

The Bill will allow us to proceed further on the important issue of ratifying the Istanbul Convention. Ratification of this convention remains a Government priority. As soon as the Bill is enacted, only one more legislative action will be required to enable the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, namely, the Bill on extraterritorial jurisdiction for certain offences. I hope to publish this legislation in the coming months.

For too long, domestic violence has been seen primarily as physical abuse. The new offence of coercive control sends a clear and consistent message that non-violent control in an intimate relationship is criminal and will be treated as such. The effect of such behaviour may be as harmful to victims as physical abuse because it is an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship. Explicitly capturing this in legislation will also help victims identify that the behaviour they are suffering is wrong, encourage them to report it and cause perpetrators to rethink their controlling behaviour. Another important provision will ensure that an intimate relationship between victim and perpetrator must be regarded as an aggravating factor in sentencing for a wide range of offences. This new provision sends a clear message that society will no longer tolerate the appalling breach of trust committed by one partner against the other in the context of an intimate relationship.

On 1 January 2018, the financial contribution required from applicants for civil legal aid in domestic violence cases in the District Court was removed. This practical change will help to ensure that victims of domestic violence feel more confident about turning to the courts and remove an obstacle and a barrier to access to justice, which resulted in unfairness.

This legislation will help to improve the protection of victims of domestic violence because it puts the needs of victims first and foremost and will make a difference to both men and women across our country. I look forward to its enactment and implementation.

I again acknowledge the constructive contributions of Members on all sides.

I welcome the passage of this legislation through both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister is correct in stating that it is significant legislation. We need to recall that it is 22 years since the first domestic violence legislation was introduced back in 1996. We had amending legislation subsequently in 2002. It is important that the Oireachtas updates legislation in respect of this area and ensures that domestic violence is recognised as being unacceptable in our society.

Now that the legislation has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, it is my hope that it will be signed promptly by the President. After that, it is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality to determine when particular sections should be commenced. I hope the commencement orders will be made promptly. It is important the legislation is put into force and into use as quickly as possible.

The Minister indicated that the legislation is there for the protection of all persons involved in domestic arrangements. However, it must be recognised that, regrettably, in our society domestic violence is predominantly perpetrated against women. There is also violence outside domestic arrangements and against women which is equally unacceptable. We need to recognise that there is a problem not just in Irish society - sometimes we think problems are exclusive to this country - but also internationally in the context of violence by men against women. It is a problem that goes much further in terms of trying to resolve it than with legislation. It is important on occasions such as this to record the fact that there is significant statistical evidence of the violence by men against women in domestic arrangements.

In 2016, there were approximately 3,500 incidents of physical abuse against women in the domestic environment. In a European Union study carried out in 2014, it was reported that 14% of women in Ireland have experienced physical violence by a partner since they attained the age of 15. Up to 6% of Irish women have experienced sexual violence by a current or former partner while 31% of women have experienced psychological violence by a partner. We do not have to rely upon European studies to identify the fact that Irish women are subjected to domestic violence. The National Crime Council conducted research which found that one in seven women has experienced severe abusive behaviour of a physical, sexual or emotional nature from a partner at some point.

In a report conducted by the European Union on the campaign against domestic violence, it was noted 25% of all violent crimes reported involved a man assaulting his wife or partner. This is a problem that society needs to address. In fairness to politicians, we cannot resolve it exclusively on our own. However, it must be recognised that legislation is part of the solution. It is important to note that in Ireland since 1996, when the first domestic violence legislation was introduced, 216 women have died violently. Up to 63% of those 216 women were killed in their own homes. In the resolved cases where there was a determination of culpability, 56% of women were murdered by a partner or an ex-partner. Another 32% of women were killed by someone they knew. It is instructive to note that of those 216 women who were killed in Ireland over the past 22 years, 40 of them were aged between 18 and 25 years of age. Recently in my constituency, a woman, Joanne Lee, was brutally murdered as a result of domestic involvement. That was a tragic case which also revealed not only the violence that is sometimes perpetrated by men and women but also the association between such violence and alcohol and drugs.

In order to deal with the problem of domestic violence, or any violence, we must approach the problem of alcohol and drugs consumption and abuse. When one analyses those acts of violence, a high percentage of them are perpetrated by people who have taken drugs or are in a drunken state due to alcohol.

Considerable numbers of acts of sexual violence are perpetrated against Irish women. We know from the Women's Aid impact report of 2016 that there were 695 disclosures of sexual abuse made to the Women's Aid services in 2016 including 316 disclosures of rape. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre's national helpline received 11,500 contacts in 2015 and 76% of callers were female. An Garda Síochána also has records in respect of sexual offences. It recorded 2,500 sexual offences in 2016.

I commend An Garda Síochána on how it deals with domestic violence and abuse. The Garda often comes in for criticism in this House. Domestic disputes are an extremely sensitive area, even before they are elevated or transferred into violence. My experience, and what I hear from interest groups in the area, is that An Garda Síochána plays a vigorous and professional role in dealing with examples of domestic violence.

I welcome the legislation. It is important that we re-emphasise the unacceptability of domestic violence or, indeed, any forms of violence. The only way that we will resolve the problem and ensure that domestic violence is reduced is through a legislative response - that is what we have here - but also to educate and inform young men of the unacceptability of using violence against women, and that they maintain that throughout their lives. Unfortunately, there are men in Irish society who think violence against women is acceptable. I suspect many of them grew up as children in environments where domestic violence was perpetrated against the women close to them. In a way, it is a vicious circle where violence begets violence but we need further response to this. We need to educate and to have parental responsibility to ensure that parents know the impact they have on their children as they grow up is enormous.

I commend all the parties who contributed to this legislation. It is very fine legislation, which I hope will be of use and will help protect all people in Ireland who find themselves unfortunate enough to be subjected to domestic violence.

I welcome this Bill and the co-operative and constructive way it progressed through the Oireachtas. It is significant legislation that is urgently needed. One stark statistic highlights its importance: one in three women has experienced psychological abuse by a partner while 15% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner.

There is a case with which the Minister for Justice and Equality will be very familiar. The woman involved is Siobhán Phillips, a woman who was shot and grievously wounded in October 2015, in the same incident that saw Garda Tony Golden murdered and Adrian Crevan Mackin take his own life. Siobhán was the victim of sustained domestic violence. Two days before she and Garda Golden were shot, she went with her family to Dundalk Garda station. She had been the victim of two days of sustained assault by Crevan Mackin. She had been beaten and slashed and was in a distressed state physically and emotionally. According to her family's account, despite Siobhán and her father telling the garda concerned that Mackin had threatened their lives, the officer refused to take a statement and insisted that Siobhán go to Omeath the next day and speak to Garda Golden. The family was also deeply upset because their conversation, which was of a very intimate and personal nature, had to take place in the public hallway of Dundalk station in front of other members of the public.

I made numerous representations to the current Minister for Justice and Equality and his predecessor. Last December, I was advised that the policy of An Garda Síochána on domestic abuse intervention had been revised. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, wrote to me to say that An Garda Síochána had established a divisional protective services unit in three Garda divisions, including Louth. When I subsequently raised this issue in Dundalk station with senior gardaí, they acknowledged that the station was still inadequate for dealing with this kind of situation. They told me they had applied for funding to correct this in order that gardaí could meet victims in a proper, fitting and more therapeutic environment. They told me the funding had been refused.

I have no doubt of the Minister's sincerity in moving this Bill. However, a genuine commitment to facilitate the victims of domestic violence to report their abuse and seek help must also ensure not only that this Bill is passed but also that it has the financial supports needed to ensure it can be implemented effectively. I appeal to the Minister to order a review of the existing facilities in Garda stations for victims of domestic violence to tell their stories.

Finally, I commend SAFE Ireland, Women's Aid and the statutory and voluntary activists who work to provide a safe place and a safe place for victims of domestic violence and who campaign every day in support of victims of domestic violence. I want to acknowledge the bravery and strength of those victims who speak out against their abusers.

I echo the comments of Deputies Adams and O'Callaghan. Domestic violence is a particularly heinous crime. In Ireland, our understanding of it as a society has evolved in recent years. It is not terribly long ago that it was not possible for someone to be charged with raping a partner or spouse. It is extraordinary to think that this was ever the case. There has been a lot of change since then but until relatively recently there was quite a dangerous misconception in parts of society that the fact that violence or aggression occurred in a home or between two people who were supposed to love each other, could be considered a mitigating factor. On the contrary, it is rightly considered to be a very serious aggravating factor and this legislation reflects that. It is an act of the greatest betrayal and appalling violence. There are still significant problems here and elsewhere of violence against women and children. Much needs to be done to address that.

I welcome this Bill, which is good legislation. I have already commended SAFE Ireland, Women's Aid and the Rape Crisis Networks on their work on it. They successfully lobbied the Department on many issues. Nevertheless, there is more to do. It is important to ratify the Istanbul Convention, we need to ensure that the protective services unit is properly resourced and other legislative interventions are required. It is important to ensure funding for the sexual abuse and violence in Ireland, SAVI, report. I also commend two institutions that are often criticised for their work on this, namely, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Seanad. It is fair to say that the Seanad has earned its corn on this legislation. It brought in several significant amendments which improved this legislation. Nevertheless, there is a great deal more to do.

The Minister referred to the review that is beginning in relation to sexual offences. It is not quite the same area but there are close connections in the area of violence against women and sexual offences. I have a proposal for the Minister. Yesterday evening, it was announced that a similar review would be undertaken in the North. This is a unique opportunity which would allow us a close alignment between the legal situation as exists here and in the North in any reviews that take place. Naturally, any changes should be upward and there should be no diminution of protections if stronger protections exist in this jurisdiction as opposed to the North, but there is room for close collaboration to ensure as much commonality as possible and I hope that will take place.

I welcome this legislation. It is important legislation but we must go beyond it in terms of resources and further legislation to ensure that domestic violence is something that is not acceptable in our society and is properly prosecuted.

I want to say, on behalf of the Rural Independent Group, that we are supporting the passage of this Bill. For too long this has been tolerated. We need more than this legislation however, as Deputy O'Callaghan and others have said, because this issue needs to be approached from the cradle to the grave including through education in the national and secondary schools and through all other fora as well. It is a problem for both those who are male and those who are female, though mainly the latter as we have seen from horrific cases in the past. The situation in Dundalk in which a garda lost his life while protecting a very distressed and traumatised woman was mentioned.

On facilities in Garda stations, I see the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is present. He knows from his visit to a Garda station in Clonmel that it is not at all suitable for any kind of person on any kind of business, especially not business of a sensitive nature.

It is being dealt with.

There will be a new station in Clonmel. It was announced last week by Deputy Lowry.

I know the Minister said that but it has been announced several times by Deputies Enda Kenny and Lowry, by the Minister himself and by a few more, perhaps including the Minister of State, Deputy Moran. When will we see the sod turning? I had reason to be in the station a couple of times recently and there is no space for anybody.

I am looking for a date in my diary for it.

Neither the Minister nor the Deputy should be inviting interruptions.

I am not inviting any interruption. I am just saying that Garda stations need to be more user-friendly and such issues must be dealt with in a room or space where there are no other people within earshot. As I have said, I am supporting the social workers and all those services that need to be rolled out to deal with people in distress, from whatever side they come, in situations like that. As far as the comments of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, go, betwixt and between Deputy Lowry and his new Fine Gael candidate in Tipperary, one would not know to whom the Minister would give the news first, but it is fake news that he gives most of the time. When we see the plans, designs and procurement and when we see the sod turning and a builder appointed, then we can crow about it.

Question put and agreed to.

A message shall be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly. I thank all the Deputies for their co-operation.