Domestic Violence: Statements

I very much welcome this opportunity to discuss with Members this important but profoundly disturbing topic. Domestic violence is a scourge on our society. While it is not always immediately visible or spoken about by victims, the fact is that it affects people from all walks of life in all age groups. Last week, my Department was involved in a conference organised by the National Observatory on Violence Against Women, which focused on aspects of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Garda Commissioner also addressed this important event where he highlighted the disturbing fact that domestic homicides have outpaced murders in the context of organised crime, although they generate far less coverage and discussion. I fully agree with his analysis, which is why today's debate is very important. I think it is fair to say that public awareness of this insidious crime is gradually and at last increasing.

This Government has made a major priority of tackling domestic violence through a multiplicity of actions. That comprehensive approach is essential as there is, it is sad to say, no one law or initiative that can eradicate domestic violence from our society. I would like to take the opportunity now to update the House on some of our initiatives. Indeed I am confident that in the future, 2019 will be recognised as a landmark year in the struggle to prevent domestic violence, to punish perpetrators and to protect and care for victims.

The year began with the commencement of the Domestic Violence Act on 1 January. This Act brought in wide range of new protections to victims under both the civil and criminal law. The key part of this is the creation of the new offence of coercive control. It is also significant that this year Ireland ratified the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which I was pleased to announce on International Women's Day. Ratifying the convention delivers on a Government commitment and sends an important message nationally and internationally that Ireland will not tolerate these sort of crimes. This year has also seen the opening of a significant number of divisional protective services units, DPSUs, by An Garda Síochána. These units have specially trained officers responsible for engagement with and interviewing of victims. It is anticipated that there will be a DPSU in each Garda division by the end of quarter one of 2020. I will return to some of these developments later in my statement.

A number of important pieces of research have also been commenced in 2019 in this important and sensitive policy area. In May, I launched a major independent in-depth expert research study on familicide and domestic homicide reviews. My Department has also internally commissioned and prepared research projects that explore victims' interactions with the criminal justice system. Domestic violence has been a strong feature of this research. This research review focuses on best practices with victims in general and exploring victims' experiences at each stage of the criminal justice process, namely, the initial police contact, investigation, prosecution, trial, sentencing and parole. A focus on studies conducted with victims with specialist needs such as victims of intimate partner violence, sexual violence and victims at the intersection has produced very informative data. All of this research is intrinsic to supporting the development of more evidence-informed policymaking. In this context, I acknowledge the valuable contribution of NGOs working in this field.

Stepping back, historically, it is fair to say that there were serious deficiencies in the way we collectively dealt with domestic violence here in Ireland. While victims suffered, we as a society too frequently pretended we did not see it. Oftentimes we looked the other way. The term "behind closed doors" is regularly used when discussing domestic violence, but that can and will no longer be the case. The creation of the first and second national strategies on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence represented key milestones, and their implementation provides a concrete example of the priority placed on these issues by Government. The bulk of the strategy's actions are aimed at changing societal attitudes through awareness raising to help prevent domestic and sexual violence, improving services to victims, and holding perpetrators to account. This is being achieved through the implementation of the actions set out in the strategy, including the enactment of legislation. The strategy is very much a living document that informs the direction that the Government, working in partnership with civil society, is taking to tackle these issues head on.

A real high point for me in my term to date as Minister for Justice and Equality was signing the statutory instrument to commence the Domestic Violence Act 2018. I strongly believe that this legislation will help to improve the protection afforded by our laws to victims of domestic violence. The Act puts the needs of victims first and foremost. It does this in a number of ways, first, through the creation of the new offence of coercive control. The devastating psychological impact of controlling behaviour, emotional abuse, humiliation or intimidation of victims is often a defining feature of domestic violence. We know how damaging this abuse is to victims. Creating a specific offence of coercive control sends a clear, consistent message that this behaviour in an intimate relationship cannot be tolerated.

Another particularly valuable aspect of the 2018 Act is that an intimate relationship between victim and perpetrator can now be regarded as an aggravating factor on sentencing for a wide range of offences. This sends a message to perpetrators, victims and indeed wider society that we will no longer tolerate the appalling breach of trust committed by one partner against another in perpetrating crimes in an intimate context.

The Domestic Violence Act also improves aspects of access to barring orders. Safety orders are now available to persons who are in intimate relationships but who are not cohabiting. The Act also recognises the serious impact of domestic violence on children, and the courts will have the option of appointing an expert to assist the court in ascertaining the views of the child.

The landmark Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, which transposes the EU victims directive, is another legislative support for victims of domestic violence. The Act, which was passed into law in November 2017, introduces for the first time statutory rights for all victims of crime, including victims of domestic violence. The legislation gives all victims of crime an entitlement to information about the criminal justice system and their case and, very importantly, information on victim service supports and the progress of the investigation and any court proceedings.

This legislation has been put in place to better protect victims. As I have said, the Garda Commissioner recently addressed the Irish Observatory on Violence against Women conference and made an important speech on the importance of focusing resources on domestic violence. He stated that An Garda Síochána is now responding to 30,000 domestic abuse calls every year. Those figures are stark, shocking and disturbing. Each one of those calls is made by someone who is experiencing a deeply traumatic incident, reaching out for help at a time of crisis. Significant policing changes means that An Garda Síochána is now in a better position to provide the help those callers need.

I mentioned divisional protective services units, DPSUs, and additionally, over 2,700 front-line gardaí have received training in how to identify and investigate the new offence of coercive control and this number is set to increase.

As well as this, a domestic violence risk assessment matrix is being rolled out by An Garda Síochána on a phased basis in early 2020 which will allow gardaí to identify victims at a high risk of harm and perpetrators at a high risk of committing a domestic violence offence. At the same time, An Garda Síochána is developing policies and procedures to inform the overall policing approach to domestic homicides. This includes a domestic homicide review team in the Garda national protective services bureau which is examining a number of domestic homicides of relevance for review. The intention is that this will result in an improved response by An Garda Síochána in the handling of domestic violence or abuse into the future and ultimately reduce the number of domestic related homicides in our society.

Separate to this, I announced, in May of this year, the establishment of an independent, in-depth study that will provide a solid framework for how the State can better support families and local communities who fall victim to familicide. This specialist research, being led by Norah Gibbons, will look at the provision of supports to families who are victims of familicide. The research will identify international best practice in the conduct of domestic homicide reviews and this will help inform our own approach to the introduction of such reviews here. The expert study is progressing well and I want to thank all the victims and non-governmental organisations, NGOs, that have engaged with Norah and her team to date and of course I thank Ms Gibbons and her expert team.

The study is due to be completed in May. It will help us better ensure that victims of familicide are supported in as compassionate and timely a way as possible. This will include the families of the victims and local communities who experience the horror of familicide cases in their local areas.

I acknowledge that the landscape of domestic abuse in Ireland has finally begun to change and 2019 has been a landmark year in implementing that change. We have greatly improved how we support victims of domestic violence. Many changes have been made to right the wrongs of the past but the reality is that we will be required to continue to tackle domestic violence on an ongoing basis. These issues can no longer remain behind closed doors. Domestic violence is a problem that no one should have to face alone. I hope that the changes to the law and the significant changes made by An Garda Síochána as to how it handles these crimes, as I have outlined, will make victims of domestic violence feel they can rely on our justice system in their greatest time of need.

Is Deputy O'Loughlin sharing her time?

I will take the first block of time and my colleague, Deputy Browne, will speak later.

I am here to give voice to those without voices, who live in fear of speaking up and speaking out. We are here to argue for and demand proper services for women in crisis. These are women who are at risk, who have gathered their courage to make life-altering decisions and who are holding their lives and safety and those of their children in their empty hands. These women have taken the momentous step of contacting, or escaping to, women's refuges, looking for support, a way out, a roof and shelter.

We could talk endlessly about statistics and figures which are stark, bleak and disturbing. We should be disturbed because we, as a society, need to be shaken out of our appalling apathy in relation to the services provided to these women and children. We need to call out the Government on its failures to implement fully the Istanbul Convention, despite what the Minister has said, its failure to build, create and maintain refuge places and its failure to support these women through the court system.

Those of us who have not been through such a situation cannot fully imagine the courage it takes for a woman to run away from an abusive partner. The toxic power struggle these women endure is unimaginable but tonight we must, for them, imagine ourselves in that situation. We must imagine what it is like to be drowning in a life of fear, never to be able to relax in one's own home, never to know what is coming next, whether it will be an assault or an attack, an attack on one's children, or for those children to witness an attack on oneself. These women summon their courage, make plans and put their very lives on the line by walking out the door to what they think is a place of safety, only to be told there is no room at a refuge.

This is not Bethlehem and there are no friendly innkeepers and mangers out the back. This is an island of 10,000 homeless people who are ahead of the woman who has left an abusive partner in the race to find accommodation. Some 24% of women escaping domestic violence are pushed and forced into homelessness. We come back again to the stark, bleak figures. According to Safe Ireland, the national social change agency working to end domestic violence, victims of domestic violence had to be turned away because services were full on 3,256 occasions last year. That is an average of approximately nine requests denied per day. Aoibhneas, the largest refuge in Dublin, turned away 365 families in 2018; one for every day of the year. Cope Galway turned away 119 women and 204 children because of a lack of capacity. Teach Tearmainn, in my constituency of Kildare South, turned away 78 women and 114 children.

Let us step away from the figures and walk in these women's shoes. What does a woman do when she has walked out of her home, away from her abuser, sought refuge and been denied it because of the failures of the Fine Gael Government, the abject, callous inaction of an inept administration? The only place that woman can go is back to that house and abuser. Is it any wonder that the figures for femicide are so high? A total of 126 women were killed in the last 32 years by a current or former partner, which is an average of four women per year. The Garda Commissioner said last week that domestic homicide is outnumbering gangland murders by two to one. Gardaí respond to 500 to 600 calls every week.

The Istanbul Convention that Ireland signed up to in 2015 and only ratified in March of this year has still not been implemented, despite what the Minister said in his opening remarks. Ireland, as a signatory to the convention, has an obligation to provide refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence. The number of refuge spaces that are provided by a state is determined by the population of the state and that brings us back again to those stark, bleak figures. There should be 472 places available, but there are only 141.

Something the Government could do to help these women and children would be to listen to the calls made this week for a new family law court in Smithfield with new facilities and services, such as specialist legal advice services, the provision of on-site legal aid and mediation services, the creation of a child-friendly environment and the provision of a sufficient number of rooms to cater for private consultations, particularly to facilitate safe spaces for people and families who are experiencing domestic violence and abusive situations.

At the invitation of one of the organisations that deals with domestic abuse, I visited Dolphin House approximately two years ago and I was appalled when I saw the conditions there. Victims of domestic violence, often accompanied by their children, were standing in a hallway one or two feet away from the people who perpetrated abuse on them because there is no space for anybody to confer with their solicitors or advisors. The commitment was made four years ago that a new family law centre would be delivered by 2020 but we are absolutely no nearer its provision.

The leniency of sentences handed down to men convicted of abusing their partners needs to be highlighted. A Women's Aid report from this year showed three in five such men get suspended sentences. Most women interviewed for the report were dissatisfied with the sentences passed down and did not believe that justice was carried out.

We need not only a properly funded and resourced family law court in Smithfield, we also need to have such courts rolled out across the country. We need a refuge in every county so that we do not have a situation like the one in Kildare where women from Carlow, Offaly and Laois and even Tipperary are trying to get into a refuge with only four apartments. We need full-time court accompaniment workers for every refuge so that front-line staff are not pulled away from their vital work when they go with women to their court appearances. Every refuge must open on a 24-hour basis. Women do not decide to leave their partners and their homes solely between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Refuges do much more than provide a place of safety. They are the foundation stones that allow women to piece their lives back together. Those lives have often been shattered by years of mental and physical abuse. Refuges help women to get their benefits, regain their financial independence - some for the first time in years - and to bring their cases to court.

We need to look at the court system and the staggering chasm between orders sought and orders granted. The future of a woman's life, her safety and the lives and safety of her children can come down to the decision of one judge. Those women have no other avenue to pursue if an order is not granted. The stress, trauma and misery visited upon them by judges who do not protect them by issuing orders against their partners who are inflicting violence upon them is unbelievable. The court system is difficult to navigate and terrifying for many women. Change needs to be made on this from the top down. We need to look at how our justice system could be a pier onto which women can alight following an arduous journey through stormy seas. It should be a haven and a place of respite. Instead of helping these women and ensuring their safety, the courts spit them back out into a cruel and pitiless world. There is so much that can be done to help these victims. The courts are a major source of trauma for women seeking to get their lives back together. If the family law system were reformed and properly resourced, it would ensure that the safety of children and the non-abusive parent are at the centre of family law proceedings where there is domestic violence.

We must reform and resource the criminal justice system to make it responsive to the needs of survivors of domestic violence. I was shocked to learn that women seeking legal aid are only entitled to one application per year. If a woman needs to go back to the courts for maintenance or access, she must wait a year to do so or pay for it herself. It is blindingly obvious that this restriction should be immediately lifted.

When the courts award supervised access, are they aware that there are no facilities for supervised access? Barnardos had such a service but, inexplicably, funding for it was cut years ago. Women have to supervise access themselves, coming back to the same situation from which they are desperately trying to escape.

I will briefly mention the impact of domestic violence on women's health. The World Health Organization states that women who have experienced domestic violence are at an increased risk of depression and suicide attempts, physical injuries, psychosomatic disorders, unplanned pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Some 30% of women who experience domestic violence in Ireland are physically assaulted for the first time during pregnancy. Reported physical abuse included being gagged, kicked, beaten, choked, strangled, stabbed, slammed against the wall, spat on, having hair pulled, being scalded, beaten and raped while pregnant. Evidence shows that 49% of women injured by their partner's violence required medical treatment and 10% required a hospital stay.

What does it say about us as a society that these troubled, tormented, terrified women present at our so-called places of safety, our refuges and our courts? I use the word "our" because we, as a society, provide them, or in this case fail to provide them, with the security and safety they so desperately need.

Fianna Fáil is calling on the Government to allocate the necessary funding for the establishment of a dedicated family law court as a matter of urgency. The conditions in which family law and childcare cases are currently being heard are totally unsuitable and are damaging to victims. We are calling for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, which would allocate the proper number of spaces in refuges that are required. We are calling on the Government to stop perpetuating the cycle of abuse inflicted on these women and children. I accept that are abused by their partners but in its criminal neglect of failing to provide for these women and children, the Government is not only failing to alleviate the abuse, it is practically perpetuating it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard Durkan)

I call Deputy Ward. Is the Deputy sharing time?

Yes. Ireland's ratification of the Istanbul Convention was a landmark for victims of domestic and gender-based violence and abuse. Ratification is a commitment by this State to protect and support victims in the first instance, and to work towards the eradication of this horrific and insidious crime.

Domestic abuse remains rife in Irish society. Worse still, it continues to be shrouded in shame. One in five women will experience violence in her own home and 41% of women know someone in their circle of family or friends who has experienced partner violence. Men also endure domestic violence or coercive control by an abusive partner, albeit in significantly smaller numbers.

Safe Ireland's message to the Government yesterday was blunt - promises and recycled budgets will not respond to the needs of women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse and coercive control. Safe Ireland's data tells us that nine requests for refuge accommodation went unmet every day last year because services were full. That is 3,256 victims of domestic abuse or violence who, having got themselves to the point of asking for help, were unable to secure safe accommodation and support when they needed it most.

I have seen first hand the incredible work done by the Tallaght-based Saoirse Women's Refuge. It provides short-term crisis refuge accommodation and 24-hour support for up to six families at a time. It also provides an outreach service for women who cannot or do not come to the refuge, as well as post-refuge support. Last year, Saoirse could not accommodate 287 families because the refuge was full. Saoirse also has to rely on fundraising for the general upkeep of its premises. This puts added pressure on an already overworked organisation.

Saoirse also informed me of the stress a woman has to go through in the legal system. The process of obtaining a safety order can be very difficult logistically but also mentally. Often, a physically and mentally abused women will have to bring her already traumatised children into the family law courts. There is no privacy, no space and they often feel unsafe. One woman described to me how the perpetrator sat through the proceedings - these are her words - eyeballing her and leaving her feeling re-traumatised and re-victimised. A simple, humane solution would be to allow a video link from the refuge to the family law court to apply for safety orders. Sinn Féin's alternative budget included an additional capital investment of €9 million for domestic violence refuges and an additional €2.8 million for domestic violence housing support services for 2020.

When speaking at a presentation in support of Sinn Féin's legislation in respect of domestic violence paid leave in the audiovisual room last week, domestic violence advocate Emma Murphy spelt out in plain terms what women face when leaving an abusive relationship. She stated:

She has to look for a safe roof for herself and her children. She most likely will have to see a doctor. She most likely will have to go through therapy or counselling, including for her children. She will have to have a meeting with Tusla regarding the abuse the children have witnessed. She will then have to go to Dolphin House to get an interim safety order, then follow up with a hearing date. She may have to file for maintenance. She will have a meeting with key workers, support workers, social workers and so much more. This is not even mentioning the trauma or distress she is going through inside from leaving her partner.

My colleagues, Deputies McDonald and Quinlivan, introduced legislation last week that provides for a statutory entitlement to ten days domestic violence leave.

This legislation, if enacted, will enable victims of domestic abuse to take the necessary time off work to seek support, find accommodation or attend court in a structured and supported environment. Victims have a right to a pathway out of abuse without fear of losing their jobs. As legislators, it is our responsibility to deliver on that right and ensure the supports and services victims access are in place and properly resourced.

We all have long experience of speaking on this issue. I was a member of Leitrim County Council for many years. Many people came to me privately to talk about the situations they were in. I have great respect for the domestic violence advocacy service in Sligo. I have had to direct many people there many times. The level of funding received and the way in which the service considers it is neglected by the State in respect of all of that is a shame on everyone. This Government needs to step up to the mark in this respect.

The family law centre in Smithfield has been mentioned. I believe it would be more than appropriate to ensure a solid commitment to make that a reality. When many of the women I have spoken to go to court they find it a traumatic experience. Having to go to court is a cramped experience. They find themselves close to the perpetrator of the violence. The experience is retraumatising for them. This is one of the obvious situations that needs to be dealt with.

It is about a year ago since a particular woman came to me. She was from a different part of the country and she had moved to Leitrim. She had two little boys. She told me of her experience. For many years she had been living with a partner who had abused her and controlled her. He followed her to work every day. He picked her up from work in case she talked to anyone. He totally dominated her life. Her two little boys were the reason she stayed for so long. Sometimes when the violence would get bad, he would go out, get into the car, put the two boys in the car with him and drive off. He might not come back for hours or sometimes for two days. She would not know where he was or where her children were. She was in such terror over what would happen to them. Eventually, she found the strength she needed. Finally, she had a close friend who assisted her in getting away and she got away. The first time I met her she was with me for an hour or more. It was a hard experience to sit and listen to someone who had been terrorised in that way.

I remember another woman who was a friend of my mother - my mother is in her 80s now. The woman told me how she lived all her life with a man who beat her. Given the type of society we had at the time she figured she could do nothing about it. The thinking was that was simply the way it was. A certain atmosphere existed in our society in the past. People were told that they had made their bed and had to lie in it. That was the attitude. We have to be far better than that. However, it is not only a matter of the attitude we have - our attitude has improved a great deal, in fairness - it is also about the supports we provide. We must ensure that when people have the courage to break out they can come to a place where they have comfort, support and generosity. They need to feel included. There must be no obstacle in their way to find another life. Often that is precisely what they need to do; often they need to find a completely new life. The woman I referred to earlier with two small children could not go near the part of the country where she had lived. She had to break all contacts with her friends and work colleagues. She had to live a new life. It was very difficult.

I realise the Minister of State, like everyone in the House, has come across similar situations. However, if we are going to make a difference we have to change what we are doing. Clearly, the system in place at present is not working for so many people. Women's Aid and other organisations have come forward and raised several things that need to be done. One relates to the Bail Act. When a person is charged with domestic violence, more often than not it is in the District Court and so the Bail Act does not apply. Even if the Garda maintains that the defendant is in danger of recommitting the violent crimes that he has committed against his ex-partner, the Bail Act will not apply if the punishment is a sentence of less than five years. All domestic violence cases should come under the Bail Act. That is something that can be done as a practical measure.

Women's Aid highlighted another issue that would be easy to work with. The organisation said linkages should be developed between the family and criminal law courts so that information on domestic violence related to criminal offences is communicated properly to the family law courts determining access and custody matters. I read that recommendation in a document some months ago when it was released by Women's Aid. Around that time a woman told me that her former partner had been beating her for years. He was able to go into the family law court. The fact that he had been convicted in the criminal court for attacking his partner was inadmissible. There is a great deal we can do. We do not require vast amounts of legislation or time to bring these measures through in the House. There must be a focus on this. I appeal to the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Department to sit down and work with the non-governmental organisations. In fairness, many of the organisations have the answers but they are not being listened to in the way they need to be listened to. Whether there is a fear that it will cost money or whatever, I do not know. In any case, the amount of money it would cost is negligible compared with the amount of pain that could be resolved.

This debate is welcome but we have a great deal of work to do. We need to come together collectively to make a difference.

I am sharing time with Deputy Bríd Smith.

It seems to be the time of year again when the Dáil has its annual set piece on domestic violence. It is usually late into an evening. Usually, it is in the run-up to Christmas and usually it follows International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This is also the time of year when women in violent relationships live in fear and dread at the onset of Christmas and the season to come. This is because emotional manipulation, financial pressure and the added likelihood of physical violence all spike at Christmas because of many different factors.

I have been at several debates on this topic in the Chamber. I beg to differ with the claim from the Minister for Justice and Equality when he introduced this topic. I could not believe what he said. He said the Government had made a major priority of tackling domestic violence and he was confident that in the future, 2020 would be recognised as a landmark year. What planet are those in the Government on? In fact, the whole domestic violence sector gets one quarter of the funding that the racehorse and greyhound industries get each year. In fact, the sector gets less - it gets €20 million. The idea that this Government has made it a priority is risible.

I find it hard to think of a greater contrast to Government complacency than the outrage that exists on this internationally. I also differ with what was said in the Fianna Fáil contribution about apathy in society on this issue. Tens of thousands of people marched on 25 November in Paris, Rome and throughout Europe. Millions of people have been marching in Latin America with the Ni una menos movement. Right now, there is a viral video - I imagine people have seen it - called "A rapist in your path". It began with women performing it on the street and it has gone viral. It was performed in Dublin on Saturday. There is major concern over this issue but we are not getting the interest of the establishment. We continue to see victim blaming in the courts. We continue to see no action in funding bar a small increase this year. That increase in no way matches the increased demand arising from more disclosures as a result of the #MeToo movement. As I said, €20 million is given to the domestic violence sector and €5 million is given to the sexual violence sector. These are pitiful amounts of money. That is why nine people per day are being turned away from refuges.

I wish to highlight briefly the Sonas refuge in Blanchardstown in my constituency. I paid a visit there some months ago and met the chief executive. I was horrified when she told me that from that refuge alone, which is in the Taoiseach's constituency, up to 500 women are turned away every year. While those operating the centre do their utmost to find safe houses for the women, several of those women stay in violent relationships.

Because of the housing crisis, many women must leave the refuge after their stint is done and become homeless. What kind of a system is this? The Minister tells us it is a priority for the Government. That is seriously difficult to listen to.

We also should have outreach workers who work for these services and who assist women in getting barring orders etc. They go into schools educating young people about what a toxic relationship is and trying to prevent gender violence happening in the first place.

We should have a rape crisis centre in Dublin West. Today, a number of women from Blanchardstown came to the Dáil. They have these hundreds of letters, that were signed by local people, to go to the Taoiseach. I have them wrapped in tinsel. They wrapped them for him. The aim is to get 500 local people to sign 500 letters to symbolise each of the families that is turned away from the refuge each year. Arising from that, people are showing window posters in their houses in Blanchardstown. They are also collecting up more letters. They are discussing this issue. They are bringing it into their workplaces. They are bringing it into the crèche and they are showing it to other women. That is the type of network that we need in order to force the establishment parties to take this seriously. The message from today from that group was: not one more turned away. I ask the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to consider seriously why he is under-funding this area to such a degree and why he is refusing to do serious education and prevention work.

If anybody has looked at the Women's Aid website on the 16 facts for the 16 days, they are, indeed, stark. One-in-two women murdered in Ireland is killed by her partner or ex-partner. One-in-three women experiences emotional abuse from a partner or ex-partner. One-in-eight women is abused while pregnant. Ireland has only one third of the refuge space required for this outrageous problem. Children experience domestic abuse. Violence against women, Women's Aid finishes with, is a human rights issue. Like many areas, we are failing poorly on our human rights record.

We also have a situation where nine out of the Twenty-six Counties in the so-called Republic do not have a refuge. Women have to travel for secure refuge, uprooting children from school and taking themselves away from their own immediate friends and support networks.

The number of unmet requests for refuge services in 2018 was 3,256. I do not have the figure for 2019. With only 21 refuges in the country, we provide a mere 31% of that recommended in the Istanbul Convention.

My cousin worked for almost 30 years as an assistant for Women's Aid. She was appointed to take women and their children to the courts. She retired recently. She said that the saddest aspect for her was when she left the job she was increasingly sending women back into the arms of their abusers, the reason being that there are no homes for them to go to. There are not enough refuge spaces and the housing crisis has exacerbated this tragedy. For people who work with them, and more for people who suffer under it, this is a terrible tragedy. It was not like that 20 years ago. It is now exacerbated by the terrible housing crisis that we have.

I will mention two particular instances. County Carlow does not have a refuge. Women's Aid states that an independent report launched last year and commissioned by Carlow county development was highly critical of the lack of a refuge. Tusla is refusing to acknowledge the need for a refuge in Carlow and is instead advocating for safe accommodation. How can that be acceptable, considering the national deficit of refuges and an independent report which is stating otherwise? Tusla stated that in the case of Carlow-Kilkenny needs analysis there are a number of recommendations one of which was the provision of additional domestic violence safe accommodation and that it is important to note the distinction between safe accommodation and refuge accommodation which are two different models of service provision and in this respect the needs analysis did not identify or recommend the provision of refuge accommodation. Safe accommodation is where a woman can go in the middle of the night, which of course is badly needed, but it does not offer longer term secure accommodation for women or children. Women in Carlow who can access that sort of accommodation have to go to the Amber centre in Kilkenny. The reason I raised it is because I was asked to do so. Fr. Peter McVerry will be attending a rally there this weekend. It will be taking place at the fountain at 2 p.m. That rally is to advocate for the establishment of a refuge dedicated to Carlow town.

Something our Councillor Adrienne Wallace pointed out to me when she wrote and asked me to raise this was the €60 million of funding that was ring-fenced for children in need and handed back by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to the State leaving 6,000 children without a social worker. It might seem a moot point but it is directly connected. I also have a letter from a former worker in the Dóchas family centre in Liscarne in Clondalkin made redundant due to - guess what - funding issues. She worked directly with parents and children and often the families were referred to her due to protection concerns. Most of the clients who attend the centre have addiction issues but due to the significant loss of funding, as funding was withdrawn from the centre, two or three social workers were made redundant. However, the need has not gone away. In one of the most deprived areas of the city, the need still exists. The Dóchas centre should be fully staffed and funded and providing for the people of Clondalkin. In his response, the Minister might explain not only that this is an accountancy issue but where is the morality in €60 million that was dedicated and ring-fenced for children in need being handed back by Tusla to the State when there are over 6,000 children who need social workers and there is only one third of the provision for refuges for victims of domestic violence in this country?

Like Deputy Coppinger, I was inspired by the feminist uprising that is taking place from India to Chile, to France, to Italy, to Spain and I hope spills over here. Women are now demanding an end not only to domestic violence, but to the disregard of their needs and the funding that is required to help empower them and their children.

I am sharing time with Deputy Connolly.

First, I acknowledge the time of year, Christmas time, which for many is a happy and joyful time of year, but for some women experiencing domestic violence and their children, can be the most violent time.

Alarmingly, the Stop Domestic Violence In Ireland organisation has stated it is already on course to record its busiest ever December after it was inundated with calls over the past few weeks. Services helping victims of domestic violence were unable to meet more than 3,000 requests for safe accommodation last year and this is a story repeating itself year after year due to the fact that the Government continues to starve funding to support services across the country.

I will speak of the situation facing domestic violence services in my constituency of Donegal. Currently, the Tusla domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services programme provides funding to three services in County Donegal. However, it provides only a marginal amount of funding to the vitally important domestic violence service in Inishowen, known as Lifeline.

Lifeline Inishowen domestic violence service provides a community response offering a first step to support women and children in Inishowen who are experiencing domestic violence. This is because Tusla believes that funding additional domestic violence services in Donegal, such as to Lifeline, would lead to a so-called "duplication of service provision in the Inishowen area and a risk of fragmentation of services if several organisations were to provide similar services within the same geographical area."

Without adequate funding for Lifeline services, the nearest refuge or support centre is in Letterkenny which could mean a two-hour drive for women coming down from Inishowen. So that the House knows, Inishowen is the size of Longford. One is talking about a small part of Donegal the size of a county in another part of Ireland. That is not practical for women experiencing domestic violence or abuse and yet Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs insist that providing funding to Lifeline in Inishowen would be a duplication.

The Government is putting women and children's lives at risk by not adequately funding the support services. For example, no funding was provided for the domestic violence sector in budget 2020. Fine Gael and the Government is continuing to starve the professional support services of the funding and resources these organisations need to deal with the increased numbers coming forward experiencing domestic violence. Furthermore, many professionals within the services are also struggling to maintain and recruit staff because of the low pay parity in the sector.

I will conclude by referring to the Istanbul Convention, which was put forward by the Council of Europe and which Ireland ratified on 8 March this year. The Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence provides actions obliging State to do all that is in its power to combat domestic violence. Interestingly in the case of Lifeline, the convention states: "Parties shall recognise, encourage and support, at all levels, the work of relevant non-governmental organisations and of civil society active in combating violence against women and establish effective co-operation with these organisations." I hope the Minister will reflect on this aspect of the convention and compare it to the current view as stated by Tusla with regard to Lifeline Inishowen as well as other domestic violence services.

I do not welcome this opportunity because taking part in statements on domestic violence is disturbing and upsetting. Let me start in a positive manner. I welcome the progress. I welcome the Domestic Violence Act 2018 that introduced a new offence and extended the range for barring orders; the Garda divisional protective services units and note they are being rolled out; and the Minister's statement that domestic violence is a priority. Then I look at his speech overall, which runs to the three pages of small print with a lot of content, and consider what is in it and what is left out. I am afraid the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is present to take my contribution. The Minister talked about domestic violence being a scourge on our society. That might explain why the prevalence of domestic violence has remained so high. I would not use the word "scourge". Domestic violence is abuse and a crime. The manner in which we have dealt with it as a society is wrong. We make our statements in the context of the 16 days of action. Can the Minister of State imagine that we need to have 16 days of action year after year, nationally and internationally, to bring home the point that women are not safe, especially in their own homes? The 16 days finished yesterday. I make this contribution in the context of a Minister telling us he is committed, although his speech contains no reference at all to the lack of refuges. There is no mention of the fact that we are supposed to have 472 refuge spaces but there are only 141. I wish we did not need any of them but according to international data and figures, we require 472 refuge spaces to allow women and children to go to a place of safety, yet we have 141.

I will turn to the estimated annual economic cost. I like to do this maybe to appeal to the male mentality more than the female, although I do not mean to be disrespectful, in the hope that figures might grasp the Deputies. The estimated annual cost of domestic violence to the economy is €2.2 billion based on EU estimated costs for each member state in respect of health bills, policing, loss of productivity and court procedures. However, Safe Ireland and NUIG in collaborative research have said that the estimated cost of domestic violence is far greater. The research is currently examining the economic and social costs of domestic violence across three phases of a survivor's journey from living with the abusive relationship to relocation and recovery. Dr. Caroline Forde, a researcher at the Centre for Global Women's Studies in NUI Galway, stated:

Domestic violence is more than a human rights violation and public health issue. By exploring its wider economic and social impact, we highlight the often invisible or ignored consequences for individuals, households, the community and society.

I recall Erin Pizzey's book, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear, which left a lasting impression on me. That was more than 40 years ago and women are still screaming quietly to prevent the neighbours hearing, unfortunately. On 8 May of this year the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs was told that refuges are turning away more women and children than they are accommodating. Margaret Martin, executive director of Women's Aid, stated that 52% of women and children - I doubt that figure so I will have to check it - who turn up to women's refuges are turned away. They are told they are full. The fact that they have fled the abusive partner puts them at even more risk. Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, reports an explosion in demand for the centre's therapeutic services. It is not just a regular increase. The number of people who are disclosing sexual violence and seeking the treatment they need has increased enormously. The Garda figures are seriously deficient and problematic. We know this from their appearances at various committees. Misclassification of some domestic crimes has left victims of abuse at risk of being attacked again. In total from 2003 to May 2017, there were 89 additional homicides that had not been counted in official Garda figures. The CSO is publishing Garda crime figures under reservation, with the director general of the office telling us at the Committee of Public Accounts that the doubts around those statistics will not be lifted next year or in all likelihood the year after that. We are talking about a number of years. Some 10,782 women and 2,572 children received support from domestic violence services in 2018. I have to quote the figure for those who were turned away - 3,256 requests - because the refuges were full.

I do not know how any Minister can come in here and tell us he is making it a priority, which I want to welcome, without basing it on fact or evidence and without going through some of the gaps that exist on the ground and without looking at homelessness. Women who do get places in refuges are not even included in the homeless figures. I have a great difficulty with that. I also have a great difficulty with many Ministers coming in making statements and not backing them up. Then we are subjected to Science Foundation Ireland in the audiovisual room, who put an extraordinary and proper emphasis on evidence-based policy. The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, report of 2001 or 2002 is frightening as it highlights the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence. We begged and appealed and did everything possible for the past three and a half years to get the Government to review that and bring it up to date. Finally we succeeded in a piecemeal fashion and the up-to-date report is going to come at some stage in the future - I think in 2025. We must look at the figures on the ground and the cost on a human level and on an economic level and realise that we need to deal with it and that it makes sense to deal with it in a more efficient and effective way. I would be with the Minister if he had said "Look, we realise that", but we got three pages of a speech that tells us the Government has approved this legislation and that legislation without looking at the operation on the ground or listening to Safe Ireland and all of the other organisations. I will finish with Galway, where we have Domestic Violence Response, DVR, in Oughterard doing sterling work and struggling on the ground with a tiny funding. A report commissioned by Tusla was never published. Through parliamentary questions, I have learned it might be published some time in the new year. If the Government wants to create trust and an environment where we can work together, the facts have to come out. The organisations on the ground are struggling to survive and without them, we would not even have the services that we have.

I am sharing time with Deputy Troy. One in four women in Ireland experiences physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner. Over the past 32 years, 126 women have been killed by a current or former partner. The Garda states that domestic homicides have outpaced gangland murders by almost two to one in the past three years. The Garda responds to between 500 and 600 domestic abuse calls a week. These statistics are horrific. It is clear that the women of Ireland are being failed. Women and children are being turned away from refuge centres due to a lack of space and professional support services. Despite this, budget 2020 failed to provide any additional funding for the domestic violence sector. The Government must commit to meeting its obligations under the Istanbul Convention. Under this, there should be 472 refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence, yet Ireland only has 141, less than 30% of the required spaces.

Nine counties have no places for women seeking refuge. To escape, women need somewhere to go. This also affects men, albeit in smaller numbers, but it is every bit as serious when it happens to them. Fianna Fáil calls on the Government to allocate the necessary funding for the establishment of a dedicated family law court as a matter of urgency. The conditions in which family law and child care cases are heard are totally unsuitable. I practised family law as a barrister for approximately seven years and experienced the lack of privacy and dignity for people looking for justice, help and support in many family law courts throughout Ireland. I commend the Government for bringing in the Domestic Violence Act 2018. That was a very important step.

People who have suffered domestic violence are more likely than others to suffer from mental illness, depression and anxiety. This may be obvious but it is very important because psychological violence is also very real and serious. The abuser knows what buttons to push. It is important to address mental illness and mental health effects to help people's recovery.

I recently attended the launch of the exhibition at the Wexford omen's refuge for the 16 days of action opposing violence against women. It was a very powerful exhibition. The most powerful exhibit was probably the plastic shopping bag with only a few items of clothing. It reminds us that when people flee domestic violence they very often have to flee with no notice, at the first available opportunity. They leave with almost nothing. Other exhibits were the broken phones with messages of hate and control on them, a smashed car window and one message which read, "The real monsters never lived under my bed, they held me close and told me they loved me." That was a very powerful message. I compliment Pauline Ennis and her team and all the people who work in, support and contribute to the Wexford Women's Refuge in Wexford town. They do phenomenal work and deserve as much support as possible.

Deputy Martin Kenny raised an important point about the admissibility of evidence. As someone who practised criminal and civil law, I argued this point before judges and have seen others argue it. There is confusion in our courts over the admissibility of a criminal conviction in a civil court. Lay litigants, as many in the family law courts are, may not be aware of the Supreme Court judgment in the Catherine Nevin case in February this year. Several years ago, the then President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, found that a criminal conviction was admissible in the case that was brought to disinherit Katherine Nevin. That decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and on 7 February 2019, the Supreme Court, in a judgment by Ms Justice Iseult O'Malley, upheld that appeal. A criminal conviction is admissible in a civil case as prima facie evidence of what that conviction is for. I have given the date of the decision in case people need to use it. It is always a matter for the judge to decide whether to admit that as evidence but it is important that the judgment be available. I thank Deputy Kenny for bringing up that important point which I had forgotten about but it does arise regularly. I hope that judgment can be used by people who need it.

This is an important issue but, as a previous speaker has said, it is unfortunate that statements such as this tend to be used almost as fillers at the end of the day or on occasions in the Dáil that are not conducive to maximum attendance for various reasons. When commencing the debate, the Minister was very self-congratulatory about the work the Government has done, citing the ratification of the Istanbul Convention earlier this year. The convention was ratified by the Council of Europe in 2011. It took us until 2015 to sign it and a further four years for it to be ratified. It is one thing to ratify a convention but it is another to back it up with adequate resources and the legislation to give it effect.

Not one of us knows the women or men affected daily by domestic abuse. The figure has been quoted of one in four women in Ireland experiencing physical and sexual violence from an intimate partner. That is a striking figure but we do not know the figures for men. This week a gentleman was brought to my constituency office by his siblings. He had to leave the family home for his and his children's well-being. I filled out the housing application form but because he owns a house and his name is on its title deeds, it will take time for the council to process that application and to ensure he can avail of a housing assistance payment, HAP. The same happens to women who have to leave a house in a hurry for their own safety. It takes too much time.

The obligations under the Istanbul Convention state that we should have 472 refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence but we have only 141. We are only meeting 30% our target and when people come to our offices for assistance, the system prevents us from providing it. I have no doubt that across the political divide we do our level best to get assistance. That needs to be considered. There should be greater flexibility to support people in this situation.

I compliment the good work of Teach Fáilte in Mullingar as a centre for women who suffer domestic abuse. The recurring theme in the debate is that these centres are not adequately resourced. While Teach Fáilte is celebrating a significant anniversary this year, it would not be there were it not for the hard work and dedication of a voluntary committee who have to go out day in, day out to raise critical funds. Without those fundraising events, those doors would not be open and if they were not open, more women would be left in precarious, dangerous situations for much longer. Sharon O'Halloran, the chief executive officer of Safe Ireland, said earlier this week: "Recycled budget announcements and grand statements of commitments will do very little for the women and children coming to our services every day." The Minister should cease the self-congratulations and commit to adequately resourcing these centres so that when women who find themselves in a precarious situation present, they will not be turned away.

Once again I raise the non-provision of a refuge in Cavan-Monaghan for victims of domestic violence. I have raised this issue through parliamentary questions and in other Dáil debates over recent years and, unfortunately, little or no progress has been made in that respect. Women who are victims of domestic violence from the wide geographical area of Cavan-Monaghan have to source emergency specialist accommodation in other areas.

Some of them look for help in the neighbouring counties of Louth and Meath, where the centres are already under huge pressure. Women in north-west Cavan have to seek out accommodation or specialist support from services in County Sligo. Similarly, in our neighbouring county of Monaghan, people must look to the services in counties Louth or Meath for help. That is not acceptable.

Like Deputy Troy, I acknowledge the great work done by the many voluntary organisations. They do receive some support from Government, through several Departments, but they depend very heavily on fundraising. Tearmann Domestic Violence Services in County Monaghan provides a range of community-based services for victims of domestic violence, including emotional and practical support, advocacy and accompaniment and support in court. It also provides an outreach service in Cavan town. I commend the people who founded that service and who work there, as well as the people who support its necessary fundraising efforts.

In line with requirements under the Istanbul Convention and commitments made under the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, there is a need to expand the region of distribution of services, including accommodation services. I have had correspondence from Tusla, following parliamentary questions to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, which clearly outlines its concerns about the unevenness in the availability of specialist emergency domestic violence accommodation across the country. There are nine counties, including Cavan and Monaghan, which I represent, which do not have a specialist service. I welcome that Tusla has had some contact with stakeholders in the Cavan-Monaghan area to explore potential options for taking forward the provision of emergency accommodation in the area. I appeal to the Minister of State, through his Department and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, to ensure adequate funding is provided to Tusla so that practical progress can be made. We need to see centres being identified and established and the necessary support staff put in place. Nationally, Tusla is undertaking a domestic violence provision review. I hope that review will result in safe accommodation and services for people affected by domestic violence where there is currently a total lacuna in terms of provision.

Unfortunately, in the last correspondence I had from it, Tusla indicated that funding will not be available for significant service developments in 2020. However, the agency will, I was told, continue to plan towards and resource future developments in line with commissioning priorities. I have heard that type of promise before. I ask the Minister of State to consider the huge geographical area encompassed by the borders of the counties of Cavan and Monaghan, which stretches practically from the west to the east coast, without a service in any part of either county. As I outlined, we are depending on services in neighbouring counties which are under pressure as they are. I urge the Minister of State to ensure that areas like Cavan and Monaghan are prioritised when future services are being developed.

My colleague, Deputy Browne, noted that one in four women in Ireland experiences physical and sexual violence from an intimate partner and that, over the past 32 years, 126 women were killed by a current or former partner. Those statistics are startling, frightening and woeful. It is dreadful to consider that so much violence has been inflicted on women over the course of years. Unfortunately, that violence continues today and it is totally reprehensible. Thousands of women and children are being turned away from refuge centres due to a lack of space and a shortage of professional support services. It is an area that must be prioritised for investment. To reiterate, there are nine counties with no refuge places and the situation is made worse by the housing crisis that prevails.

Other speakers referred to the bravery demonstrated by women who have spoken out about their experiences. It must be a harrowing experience in itself to go public in that way and we owe them a debt of gratitude. One way to show that gratitude would be to ensure that adequate services are provided and that people who are suffering through domestic violence have resort to accommodation and support services when they need them. I am being parochial in appealing to the Minister of State to examine the situation in the two counties I represent. I am anxious that we make progress in providing necessary services and accommodation there and throughout the State.

This is an important and timely debate that will help to raise awareness of what Deputy Connolly described as the crime of domestic abuse and violence and the steps being taken to counter it. Unfortunately, it will be an ongoing task for all of us in this House and for society as a whole to address. While acknowledging Deputy Connolly's observation regarding the reliability of figures, I am struck by the information from the Garda Commissioner, as referred to by the Minister, that there are 30,000 domestic abuse calls every year. Those numbers reflect the instances where people had the courage to make a call. One wonders why so much of this awful criminal abuse is occurring in our society. What has gone wrong that it is happening? It is a big question.

No single Department or organisation will be able to deal with this issue on its own. The way forward is for State, community and voluntary services to work together to reduce its prevalence and effects by educating the public, supporting victims and dealing appropriately with the perpetrators. All of those aspects are vital. Several speakers referred to the domestic violence and victims legislation that was passed in recent years. I was involved in both of those debates, both in this House and in the Seanad. I was Chairman of the committee where the practice of coercive control was discussed some years ago. That awful and pervasive practice is now a crime in this country and gardaí are being trained in how to deal with it.

The Minister referred to the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which runs from 2016 to 2021. It is a whole-of-Government response to domestic and sexual violence, encompassing a wide range of actions to be implemented by Departments and agencies. Its first objective is to improve services to victims. I take on board colleagues' points about the need for more refuges and safe spaces, and the distinction between the two. The second element of the strategy is awareness raising to help change attitudes in society and prevent domestic and sexual abuse. The Department of Justice and Equality is midway through a six-year, two-part national awareness campaign, for the first three years of which the What Would You Do? campaign focused on various aspects of domestic violence. Such campaigns are helpful if they encourage people to come forward and report abuse. The third component of the national strategy is holding perpetrators to account. The CHOICES programme, which began in 2017, works with men who have engaged in domestic violence and provides support to their partners and ex-partners. It is run by MOVE Ireland, the Men's Development Network and the north-east domestic violence intervention programme. The strategy is a living document to which actions are added on an ongoing basis. Currently, there are 72 actions, 13 of which were added since its publication in 2016. The success of the strategy is dependent on the community and voluntary sector, which plays a crucial role in monitoring it. That collaboration between State agencies and the community and voluntary sector is vital if we are to tackle this issue properly.

I acknowledge the importance of funding and have taken note of the concerns raised by Deputies in this regard.

Tusla has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual or gender-based violence, with €25.3 million allocated to it for these services in 2019. It met my Department and the strategy national monitoring committee today and will carry out a review of needs in terms of numbers of spaces and other support services. It is hoped we will shortly have a response from that. Working with relevant NGOs, my Department and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the strategy monitoring committee is the forum at which all stakeholders are represented and will build a consensus on the precise approach Ireland must adopt to ensure we meet the very real needs to which Deputies have referred.

A transformation programme under way this year in my Department has changed how it approaches many issues. It has improved collaboration through a strengthened partnership with key NGOs in this area and bolstered the Department's policy capacity. As Deputies will be aware, the aim of the transformation is to create a Department that is more agile, evidence-based and open, while remaining loyal to traditional Civil Service values of integrity, impartiality and professionalism. Work in this area was carried out by Cosc recently, but the Department has reorganised into specialist teams with a focus on specific functions relating to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The intention is that the Department will be in a better position to deliver on its strategic objectives. More clearly defined roles and responsibilities will mean improved accountability, while services will be delivered in a better and more streamlined way. Information will be shared with stakeholders and the public in a more proactive way through a dedicated transparency function. The Department aims to ensure that the important issues within our responsibility, including in respect of tackling domestic violence, will be handled in a better way in the future. This renewed engagement with stakeholders will be important to ensure that those actions are achieved and will help us to look forward and prepare the groundwork for the next iteration of the strategy in 2021. It will continue to work on behalf of and for victims of these crimes.

I am grateful to the Deputies who contributed on this very important topic. I thank the Business Committee for allocating time for statements on domestic violence which has allowed me to outline the changes that have been made this year to tackle the issue. I acknowledge that we have far more to do to reduce domestic violence and tackle its awful effects. Important progress has been made this year with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the passage of legislation. All Deputies must do more on the issue. The Department and the Government, in partnership with civil society, will continue to prioritise the fight against domestic violence. This debate has been an important part of that process. I thank Deputies for their robust, honest and straightforward contributions and for bringing this very important issue to the fore again.