Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I will be sharing time. I feel very privileged to bring forward this very important legislation which seeks to deliver a much-needed support for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, a statutory entitlement to domestic violence paid leave. Today, let us not forget, is the final day of the 16 Days of Activism campaign. Quite simply, the Bill seeks to provide for a period of paid leave for people who are the victims of domestic abuse. I welcome that the Government is not opposing this legislation and look forward to working with it to bring the Bill through all Stages. I thank the staff in the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, and my colleague, Sinéad Ní Bhroin, for their work to date on this legislation. I advise the Government that this legislation will not require much by way of amendment. It is ready to go. We have already consulted widely with the sector, which had a major input into the Bill. We are all agreed that it is necessary. We all want to do the right thing so let us do so without delay.

The provision of a statutory entitlement to paid leave is an acknowledgement by legislators of the challenges that workers face when trying to escape an abusive relationship. If we are to end the epidemic of domestic abuse in this State, we need a whole-of-society response that both supports and protects victims.

Sinn Féin's legislation provides for up to ten days paid domestic leave for people who are the victims of domestic violence, whatever their gender. Importantly, workers do not have to provide proof of their abuse or documentary evidence for the leave needed as to do so would potentially act as a barrier to victims seeking the support they need. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the clock is not on.

The Deputy is very honest.

Legislation has a role in offering protections in the workplace to ensure that victims' rights and entitlements as employees are both enhanced and protected. The provisions in this Bill will enable victims to take the necessary time off work to seek support, find accommodation and attend court in a structured and a supportive environment.

I will read the words of a survivor of domestic abuse about the difference this Bill would have made and how important it is that we get it through all Stages as quickly as possible. She stated:

As a domestic violence survivor and someone who has gone through the court process, I can honestly say that 10 days paid leave is going to help so many women, it will take away a fear from potentially losing their job to go to court with their perpetrator, this will empower women and I hope encourage employers to support their staff in their court process as it is an extremely difficult process to go through. Having 10 days will help women so much and relieve some stress for the woman. This is a huge step forward into making the woman's journey somewhat smoother and less traumatic.

New Zealand, Australia and provinces in Canada have already introduced forms of paid leave. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, recently called on the Government to ratify the International Labour Organization, ILO, Convention No. 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work. Article 18 of the accompanying recommendation identifies the provision of paid leave for the victims of domestic violence, flexible work arrangements and awareness-raising about the effects of domestic violence as appropriate measures to mitigate the impacts of it in the workplace.

This legislation is an important addition to existing workplace rights. It is a workers' rights issue. It is an issue that affects women at work. It is one that I have seen in the course of my work as a trade union organiser. It is almost impossible to deal with it without this legislation. I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing this Bill. We have legislation on which we have consulted and I want to work with the Minister to get it through the Dáil and Seanad as quickly as possible and make it a reality for the men and women who really need it. This is important workers' rights legislation. We do not want to see it deflected or kicked down the road. A great deal of work has been done on it. We need to pick up from where we are now and move forward together.

These are the harrowing words of a victim for whom domestic violence leave would have made a real difference.

I was assaulted at my place of work. He pulled me down a flight of stairs in front of a waiting room full of patients, told me he had a blade. He assaulted me in the car park but I managed to get away and call the gardaí. The following day, my boss called me into her office. She knew about the assault. She was upset that I had left the clinic unattended. She asked me if I wanted to take unpaid or annual leave for my absence from work. I told her that she could decide and shortly after, I handed in my notice. I was employed by a hospital with an emergency department, a social work department and access to meaningful intervention. Instead of being supported I was shamed.

We have to face up to the fact that we have a real problem with domestic and gender-based violence in Ireland and we must do everything we can to support the victims. When a person is subjected to domestic violence they are robbed of their dignity, confidence and sense of safety. The trauma seeps into every aspect of their lives, and that includes the victim's working life. Those who suffer domestic abuse are our colleagues and often our friends. Some carry the physical and emotional impact of the violence with them into the workplace. They do so because they fear losing out on badly-needed pay or do not want to run the risk of disruption to their careers. Many cannot face going to work, some because of physical injuries - the all-too-visible bruises, black eyes and cuts - others because of the deep mental scarring. As a result they lose income and face aspersions about their reliability. Others are painfully aware of and understandably sensitive to the stigma that comes with being abused and victimised, especially when it happens at home in the place they should feel safest.

No victim of domestic violence should have to face such pressures, make such decisions or feel that they have to go to work in the immediate aftermath of being assaulted. Victims need space. They need time. They need understanding so that they can seek medical treatment and psychological help and recover in any way they can from the violence they experience. Often, they need space and time to make arrangements to escape from the abusive and violent environment in which they find themselves to get away from the beatings and mental abuse. They should be provided with these supports without having to worry about work, loss of income or damage to their professional reputation.

The perpetrator of the violence should not be allowed to take any more from the victim. Nor should it be that a victim's only option is to take annual or unpaid leave. The last thing a victim of domestic violence needs is the stress of a phone call from their boss, a light pay cheque or even the prospect of losing their job. They also need privacy and confidentiality. Being pressured or coerced back into the workplace before they are ready only adds to the distress. God knows they have enough to worry about, process, deal with and overcome.

This Bill, which we first moved a year ago, entitles victims of domestic violence to ten days' paid leave. It is comprehensive and thorough legislation, prepared in consultation with the domestic violence sectors and providing protections for employers in line with those contained in paternity leave legislation. It is legislation which I am very pleased the Government is supporting. We wish to engage constructively with the Minister to deliver this vital support for the victims of domestic violence and I sincerely hope that this is what happens.

I thank Deputies O'Reilly and McDonald and all of those who worked so hard to bring this Bill forward.

I welcome the Government's position that it will not oppose the Bill this evening. I have worked for many years in the area of family support. I was also a member of the Dublin 15 domestic violence subgroup and I have worked with many women who experience domestic violence on a daily basis. I have seen at first hand the stress and distress of many victims of domestic violence with regard to their jobs. The fear that if they take another day off, their jobs will be at risk or if they take a sick day, which many are forced to do, they will lose a day's pay that they desperately need to pay rent, put food on the table, pay the mortgage or meet the costs of items they need for Christmas or a confirmation, school clothes for their children and the many other demands faced by families, particularly women, during these times.

The effects of domestic violence and sexual assault do not stop when the victim leaves the family home to go to work.

It affects the victim 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I was reading a report today from a service which informs us all about the daily effects of domestic violence. It states that as a domestic abuse support service, it has listened to many clients who have disclosed how they have experienced domestic violence in their workplace, including stalking, excessive phone calls, threats and being dragged from their desks when working, leaving work early due to a crisis at home and absenteeism due injury or stress. It also states that victims have left their homes at night with only the clothes on their backs, stayed in a refuge that may be miles away from their support network, and have had multiple court visits to seek specific domestic violence orders.

The introduction of a mandatory ten days of statutory paid leave will show the people of the State that we recognise the need to support victims of domestic abuse in the workplace. The person experiencing abuse will be able to take time out from work without having to worry about losing wages or being forced to take annual leave or sick leave, and it will hopefully end the fear of them losing their jobs.

I fully support the Bill tabled by my colleagues, Deputies O'Reilly and McDonald. It proposes to allow for ten days of domestic violence leave. It is badly needed as the mental, physical and sexual abuse endured by women in particular cannot be overstated and is truly shocking. Conservative estimates indicate that at least one in four women in Ireland will encounter violence at some stage in her life from a current or former partner. Domestic violence and coercive control are global problems. The unprecedented levels of gender-based violence transcend all borders, age groups and socioeconomic groupings. Gender-based violence causes untold heartache and hardship for families from all walks of life. There are examples of good practice in other countries, including New Zealand and parts of Australia and Canada, which have introduced paid leave for those who have endured domestic abuse.

Many women who live with domestic abuse often see their workplace as a safe place. It is a place where they can get away from a distressing home life. It can be a vital support in enabling women to leave their abusive partners. Women who do not work outside the home often find themselves compelled to continue to live in an abusive and controlling situation. Women are more likely to be working in part-time or precarious work, putting them at greater risk of job and income insecurity if they have to take time off because of their circumstances. It has been shown that increased absenteeism often results from distressing home situations. This could be a result of injury, stress or court appearances. People affected should not have to worry about losing a day's pay and having to take annual leave or risk losing their job as a result of absenteeism in order to deal with intolerable home conditions.

It is important that employers and managers learn about the signs of domestic violence and how to support employees. Employers have a duty of care to their employees. The HSE, in conjunction with a number of domestic violence services, has developed a handbook of guidelines for employers on domestic abuse. That needs to be made available to all employers to enable them to respond and support employees who are, unfortunately, living in these awful circumstances. They need to try to make workplaces safe and supportive for those experiencing abusive home situations.

I am glad to be here to support and endorse this legislation tabled by Deputies McDonald and O'Reilly. In most cases, we know that women and children are the victims of domestic violence, but sometimes it can be men. In general, however, it involves women. They are most vulnerable in these circumstances and find themselves in a catastrophic situation when their only place of refuge is often their workplace. If they have to take time off work to deal with a terrible situation and there is no support available to them, that is terrible for a modern society. This Bill goes some distance towards showing that the State recognises and understands that.

I welcome the Minister's support for the Bill and I understand the Government will support it. I hope it will pass both Houses of the Oireachtas speedily and the legislation will be in place soon. I respect that the Minister will accept that this is only the start and much more needs to be done in this context.

Having dealt with people in our constituencies and elsewhere who have been the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, we all understand that there is a significant gap in services. Many services are provided by voluntary and charitable organisations which are struggling to provide a service. More funding is needed, especially for the refuges which women must go to and which continuously turn people away. As we approach Christmas, we are conscious that it is a time of year when refuges are under particular pressure. At this time of year, it would be appropriate for the Minister to consider what assistance he can give to those refuges to ensure they do not have to turn anyone away, especially when we have Covid and there is significant pressure on women and children to try to cope with domestic violence, coercion and the control that abusive people can hold over their lives. This legislation goes some distance towards doing that.

We are aware that many of women are in precarious employment and difficult circumstances. Their job may be the only area of their lives they have any control over. We need to ensure the workplace is a place of refuge where they feel secure and also that if they have to take time off, they will get some compensation for doing so. This is sometimes necessary because of physical injury or to try to cope with their situation. It is welcome that the Minister is supporting this Bill, but much more needs to be done. As we move into the Christmas period, it is good that we are doing something for this vulnerable group in society.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le mo chomhghleacaithe, na Teachtaí McDonald agus O'Reilly, as an mBille fíor-thábhachtach seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Dá n-achtófaí an Bille seo, thabharfadh sé ceart reachtúil ar shaoire oibrithe maidir le foiréigean baile agus tá sin fíor-thábhachtach. I thank my colleagues, Deputies McDonald and O'Reilly, for tabling this important Bill. I am delighted to see that the Government will support it.

This is an issue that we can all say has reached pandemic proportions in Ireland. According to Safe Ireland, one in four women has experienced physical or sexual abuse by a partner or non-partner since the age of 15. We also know that abused women are twice as likely to experience chronic physical health conditions as non-abused women. Victims also report higher levels of depression, anxiety, stress disorders, eating disorders and self-harm, and the list goes on. This shows how essential this legislation will be.

I can speak about my constituency, Galway West. The local domestic abuse support services have been vocal about the fact that they are still open. We need to make it known that they are still open. People are concerned about this given the pandemic but it should be clear that these services are available to provide support. We learned at a joint policing committee meeting this week that there has been an increase in the number of barring orders. The Garda has made it clear that it is willing to help.

This legislation is extremely important because it will enable victims to take time off work when they need to do so to seek support, find accommodation or attend court. We have seen similar measures introduced internationally, for example, in New Zealand, Australia and certain parts of Canada. It is high time that we did it too. It is upsetting that at a time when we are all asked to stay at home, home for some people, unfortunately, is not a safe place. We need to ensure we provide all the supports we can and send a strong message from the House tonight that we are all on the side of the victims of domestic abuse.

I thank Deputy O'Reilly and Sinn Féin for bringing forward their proposals for additional support for victims of domestic violence, which allows us an opportunity to debate and discuss this important issue. In the programme for Government agreed in June, the three Government parties called out the fact that in Ireland, we are experiencing an epidemic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. In recent months, it has been incredibly positive to see the focus on the issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, including the substantive debates that we have had in the Dáil and Seanad, and more generally across society, with the support across communities and towns for local domestic violence refuges.

The impact of domestic violence on victims and their families can be devastating physically and emotionally and a range of supports is required to help them move away from abusive situations and rebuild their lives. I have met with many stakeholders and front-line services in the domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, DSGBV, sector since taking on my current role as Minister, and have expressed my own personal commitment to doing all that I can to address domestic violence and its effects on families, on victims and on wider society.

The economic impact of domestic violence is not always to the forefront of people's minds when they consider the effect on victims but experiencing domestic violence can be a contributing factor to women experiencing homelessness and poverty. Lack of economic independence can also be a major factor in preventing a victim from leaving an abusive situation. Support for victims who are working, in the form of paid leave, could be crucial in ensuring that they retain their employment and have the economic capacity to escape an abusive relationship.

Among the extensive list of policies contained in the programme for Government that this Government will pursue, is a commitment to investigate the provision of paid leave and social protection provision to victims of domestic violence. For this reason, the Government has agreed not to oppose this Private Members' Bill.

However there are a number of difficulties, both legal and practical, with the proposals as set out and there are other issues for consideration around how best to make this leave available. The principles behind the Private Members' Bill are sound, but it is the Government's view that the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 is not the best vehicle for such a scheme. The role of the Workplace Relations Commission would also require close examination. There are other issues which arise, such as concerns for the privacy of victims who could be obliged to reveal information in order to access the scheme. Everyone will agree that it is paramount that any leave scheme protects the privacy of victims.

Bearing in mind that we must act promptly, I am proposing today that the Government will undertake an examination of paid domestic violence leave and social protection support as we have committed to do in the programme for Government. This will include a consultation and an examination of the concerns outlined above as well as a review of international best practices referred to by a number of Deputies. The process will begin immediately and will conclude within six months and I will publish a report setting out the findings. This will allow us the necessary time to consult widely with victims, with NGOs, with employers and social partners and across Departments to ensure that the proposals coming forward are victim-centred, robust and will work to genuinely help victims while preserving confidentiality.

Following on from this examination and based on the findings, I will bring forward legislative proposals for the establishment of a statutory entitlement to paid domestic violence leave. This legislative proposal will be brought to Government within a further four months of having received the consultation report. This will represent the delivery of a key element of our programme for Government commitments on DSGBV.

Progress continues on other DSGBV actions. Responsibility for this issue is shared by a range of Departments and agencies. The programme for Government commits to an audit of how responsibility for policy, services and other matters related to DSGBV is currently fragmented, with a view to the development of proposals on what infrastructure is needed to ensure that the issue is dealt with as effectively as possible. The audit will be completed early next year and following it, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I will bring forward an action plan to implement its findings.

Tusla is under the remit of my Department and has statutory responsibility for the care of victims of DSGBV. It supports some 60 organisations nationwide that operate a range of services. In 2020, my Department provided Tusla with €25.3 million in funding for the provision of DSGBV services. Two weeks ago, I was pleased to be able to confirm an increase in Tusla's DSGBV allocation in 2021 to a total of €30 million. This includes €28 million in core funding, which is an increase of €2.7 million and €2 million for Covid-19 contingency supports.

Tusla is undertaking a review of emergency accommodation nationwide which will assess current and required distribution of safe emergency accommodation in Ireland. The findings of the review will inform Tusla's future decisions with regard to the priority areas for investment and the development of services. This report will be published in April next year and I look forward to acting on its recommendations.

As I mentioned earlier, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of the key NGOs working in the DSGBV sector, and have more meetings scheduled in the new year. Last Friday, I was privileged to launch the Sonas Annual Report 2019, in its refuge in my own village of Blanchardstown. As part of this, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the organisation's clients. She took me through her personal journey - the coercive control her partner exercised over her; the rare, but still devastating physical abuse; the little steps she took to discover how she could get out; the day she finally left; the level of support offered to her by the NGO; the continuing barriers she faced; the complexity of the legal system; the struggle for money; and the difficulty of locating safe and long-term housing for herself and her family. This woman's struggle is mirrored everyday in towns and communities all over our country and for far too long, our society turned a blind eye to this. We are, however, seeing a sea-change in how this issue is approached by our society.

This Government will not turn a blind eye to the issue of domestic, sexual and gender- based violence. In the six months since taking office, we have acted swiftly. We have significantly increasing funding for domestic violence services; we are conducting an audit of policy responsibility to ensure the best possible response for victims; we are undertaking a review of emergency accommodation capacity, so we can properly target resources; we will pass within the next few weeks legislation to criminalise image-based abuse, legislation that was proposed by an Opposition Deputy; and we are undertaking implementation of the O'Malley report, to support victims of sexual violence both when they are reporting those crimes and through the court system. All of this represents a strong start, but I know that we have much more to do.

I will conclude now by thanking Sinn Féin for bringing forward this Private Members' Bill today, and I look forward to working with Deputies on all sides of the House to ensure anyone at risk of domestic abuse feels safe, secure, and supported. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I thank the Minister, and Deputy O’Reilly also for introducing this very important piece of legislation and its contribution to the debate that we are having again and again about domestic violence and how we try to approach and stop it. It is obvious and clear that victims need to be given the time to assess their situation and to determine a plan in their own best interests and those of their children. They may need to move house or schools and, if they are going to stay where they are, they need to develop a safety plan. They may need to take steps to improve supports around them because not every partner leaves. Some people choose to stay and we also have to respect that but we need to provide support for them.

We are beginning to see some cultural change on this as well as some change in our courts and legal proceedings in convictions and assessments. We have had two convictions for coercive control, one in Donegal and one in Dublin, and a five-year barring order for coercive control in Clare. Within my own constituency of Dún Laoghaire one of my constituents asked me to put on the record that she has received a no access recommendation from a section 47 assessor in a family law case, where the issues of control were at the core of the case. This was something that I honestly wondered if I would ever see when I made my maiden speech in the Dáil. It is an extraordinary change and will give confidence to other people who are looking for that type of recommendation in a very controlling situation. I am not the only person surprised. Caitriona Gleeson from SAFE Ireland expressed her surprise at a recent Law Society family law conference, as she also wondered if she would ever see a conviction for coercive control in her lifetime and now we have had two.

The next thing that we really need to watch especially over the Christmas period is the use by perpetrators of welfare checks to continue to exert control. That occurs in a situation where the victim has left the partner but the partner continues to use the offices of an Garda to check on the welfare of the child, causing enormous distress and disruption to the family. This can often happen during the Christmas period and indeed on Christmas Day. This needs to be watched carefully.

We keep focusing, correctly, on the response of the State, in bringing in this legislation, with multi-annual funding, and with the family law that I have mentioned, all of which we need to do. At the end of the day this is about perpetrators at home beating the bejesus out of their partners, whether physically or emotionally. We have to call it out and it simply has to stop. The State can only do so much and we must get across on a cultural basis that one cannot exert oneself in a controlling or physical way on any other person. The only way to address this on an intergenerational is through relationship and sexual education. I drop my son to school and I do not want to be like other parents looking around and wondering who in the next generation are going to be the abused and who are going to be the abusers.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I am sharing time with my colleagues. I want to first of all thank my own colleagues, Deputies O’Reilly and McDonald, for bringing this Bill forward. I welcome the fact that we are here and are able to say that this Bill is not being opposed. That is a good move and step on the topic of domestic violence. This Bill is about creating opportunities for those who are experiencing domestic violence to address the dangerous situation they are in and to further reduce the stigma that some victims feel.

Domestic violence robs people of their dignity and often their health, both physical and mental. These issues hide in darkness until we, as a society, create opportunities to bring them into the light. I acknowledge that men experience domestic violence but it is primarily women who are affected. It obviously has a very serious knock-on effect on children. One of the main reasons women do not leave a violent partner is because they have nowhere to go and no economic independence. In some cases, they cannot find a safe environment in which to plan their escape. Some people experiencing domestic violence can find it hard to hold down a job because of the need to take time off work. Steady employment plays a vital role in helping because it provides people with economic independence, a support network and the self-esteem derived from performing a valued role and being appreciated. Therefore, it is crucial that women have an opportunity to hold on to their employment. It is very difficult to talk about experiencing domestic violence and to leave the domestic setting but it is a matter of having an opportunity to do so.

It is important to state the proposed leave is only one step, but it is important that victims have access to it. It might even be a helpful first step in addressing the difficulty in that it might be a victim's chance to open up and speak to somebody about what is happening.

I support this Bill as a way of helping victims, in a supportive space, to deal with the impact of violence in the home and as a practical mechanism for them to access, during the working day, supports that may not be accessible outside work hours. We must strive to have a workplace culture so employees will not be afraid or embarrassed to tell human resources about domestic violence concerns and so they will be provided with flexibility do deal with the issues.

I thank my party colleagues Deputies O'Reilly and McDonald for introducing this Bill. I welcome the Government's decision not to oppose it tonight. Sinn Féin is committed to standing up for people who need us and who need this legislation.

I would like to mention all the individuals and organisations that offer support, including my club, St. Vincent's Camogie Club, and Mr. Liam Cotter from Cork, who is running 100 miles per week for 12 consecutive weeks to raise money for Mná Feasa. Groups and individuals have stepped in to support victims and organisations that support victims where the Government has failed and is not providing enough funding to support them.

In budget 2021, an allocation of €175,000 was pledged for initiatives for victims of domestic violence and the LGBTI community. This shows exactly what the Government thinks of the most vulnerable in society. The LGBTI community and victims of domestic violence should not be lumped together. These are separate groups in need of separate funds, particularly at a time when the Garda has informed us domestic violence is on the increase. I know this from attending the policing committees in Cork. The budgetary measure is an insult to both groups, despite repeated calls for further allocations.

It is all well and good coming in here and not opposing this Bill tonight but we need Government support. Deputies O'Reilly and McDonald have stated we want to work with all Deputies, of all parties and none, to get this Bill across the line because it is about supporting victims. I was contacted by a person who told me they did not go into work, or phoned in sick, because they had marks on their face. The person was ashamed of going to work. This legislation will give such a person an opportunity to have the time she or he needs.

Tonight's Bill seeks to introduce paid leave to victims of domestic violence, which should have been introduced years ago. Domestic violence services are being put under considerable pressure to meet the demand of people seeking to engage with them. That is very concerning to all of us. The failure to invest in these services in recent years and the cuts from a decade ago are still being felt across the sector, and they are being felt by many who need their help.

Victims presenting to services are being told there are no beds for them, as the Government still fails to meet its commitments under the Istanbul Convention. This Sinn Féin legislation provides for an entitlement to annual leave of up to ten days for domestic violence. This allows victims to take the time off work needed to seek support, find accommodation or attend court in a structured, supportive environment. It also addresses absenteeism and reduced productivity for employers. It may sound small but it will go some way towards supporting victims. In the programme for Government, there is a commitment to exploring the idea of paid leave for victims of domestic violence. I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing the Bill this evening.

There is a stigma attached to domestic violence, and this has prevented many from speaking out and seeking help when they are stuck in an abusive relationship. We need to be having these conversations, and we need to be having them in our workplaces. Employers need to be more aware of how they can support employees who find themselves in desperate circumstances.

Along with this legislation, there should be additional steps to ensure victims are given the support and safe environment they need to rebuild their lives and take back control.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt do mo chomrádaithe Teachtaí Dála O'Reilly agus McDonald mar gheall ar an mBille seo.

Domestic violence has a devastating impact on the victim, family unit and wider community. According to Women's Aid, one in four women has been abused by a current or former partner. In 2019 alone, Women's Aid received more than 19,000 disclosures of domestic violence, ranging from emotional abuse to rape. Domestic violence has a huge impact on the mental health and well-being of the victim, in addition to other family members. It is not just a matter of the violence because living under the constant threat of violence is emotionally draining and stressful.

Regular conflict at home destroys and destabilises families, and it can cause severe emotional harm to the children. The stress and anxiety of living in abusive relationships has caused many victims of domestic violence to turn to alcohol and other drugs as a coping mechanism. It is not unusual for many victims of domestic violence who have fled the home to end up homeless.

The effects on children living in this dysfunctional environment can lead to lifelong mental and emotional issues, resulting in depression, anxiety, aggression towards others and an inability to form positive relationships. It is clear that domestic violence has an impact on a victim's work and concentration in the workplace, affecting both productivity and performance levels. It can also result in increased absenteeism because of stress or physical injury from the abuse. This is why this legislation is so important.

The proposed legislation enables Ireland to catch up with those countries that have already introduced paid leave for victims of domestic violence, such as Australia and New Zealand. It is important that we, too, implement such legislation. Victims of domestic violence need a period of paid leave to give them breathing space to get out of the toxic environment they are in. It would allow them time to get the necessary supports they require without having to worry about the pressures of work. This legislation is not just about the economic cost of domestic violence but it is also about caring for the individual.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I also welcome this legislation.

In an era in which members of the public only ever see politics in an adversarial way, with its over and back, criticisms, bun-fighting, drama and theatre, I believe Deputies on both sides of this House should be proud of tonight's proceedings. We have a progressive piece of legislation from Sinn Féin in the names of Deputies O'Reilly and McDonald that was first moved a year ago. It today comes to the House for a Second Reading and the Minister gave a generous response to the legislation and has received sanction from the Cabinet to move on the measures within the Bill. There may be a small level of disagreement as to how best to proceed but politics works best when the Government shows a level of generosity towards a piece of legislation from the Opposition. I know that the Minster for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is working well with my colleague, Deputy Howlin, on the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill. We can work collaboratively to improve the lives of the people who sent us here to work for them.

I will refer to a study that issued on 25 November from Women's Aid. It contains a national survey that gives a picture of the seriousness of the issue that has already been outlined by many Deputies this evening. Ms Sarah Benson of Women's Aid said:

The findings of this national survey show us that we have particularly alarming levels of intimate relationship abuse experienced by young women in this country. One fifth of young women said they experienced abuse which included emotional abuse, physical violence and sexual assault, stalking and harassment. Based on our 2016 CSO data this is as many as 44,540 young women (18-25) which is shocking. Even more troubling is the fact that 51% of young women who had suffered abuse said that it began before their 18th birthday, with just 18 years old being the average age at which the abuse began.

Often when Opposition spokespersons stand up, they speak of a lack of movement from Government parties on an issue. That cannot be said in this case because the Domestic Violence Act 2018 has proved quite successful. From what I have heard from the agencies to whom I have spoken and the people involved in this sector, there is not really a call to fill legislative gaps, this legislation aside. Rather, there are issues within the system, including the courts system. Court issues remain such as the fact that a different judge in family law courts often presides over a particular issue within a case. Funding and resources can be patchy from county to county, as the Minister will appreciate. There is potential there for us to work better.

This is an issue of power. It is a gendered issue and I think it is fair to say that men are the majority of the problem here. I listened with great interest to what Deputy Carroll MacNeill had to say about the cultural background to the issue. She mentioned how it can feel to drop one's children to school and hope that there will be some element of education within the school building to challenge this type of dynamic and power imbalance. All of us have to challenge some of the norms that we have inherited in this country and see if they stand up to scrutiny.

I have touched on the following issue before and there does not seem to be much of an appetite to change what I am about to speak to. We should be serious about eliminating all the elements in our society that lead to gender inequality and situations where there can be a warped sense of power, particularly within men. That has not been confined to history and anybody who speaks on an issue that predominantly affects women will be contacted by men of all generations who have a warped sense of their role in society. We have a disproportionate number of schools in Ireland that are segregated on a gender basis. Some 17% of Irish primary school children attend single-gender primary schools. That is not a huge amount but it is completely out of kilter with the European norm. One third of our second level schools are single gender. Nobody can convince me that part of the problem is not the fact that we disproportionately separate children on the basis of their gender in the education system. The Department has not given sanction to a new single-gender school since 1998. It is not Department policy to give any new school that status and it has not happened for more than 20 years. However, one third of young people attend second level schools that are either all-male or all-female.

What people say to me when they try to defend the system is that girls do better in all-girl settings. That, at least, is the accepted, passed-down understanding of why they should be supported. I think that assumption is open to challenge because what happens with all-male and all-female second level school settings is that these issues of domestic violence, power, sexual assault and image-based sexual assault among young people cannot be challenged when students are being taught in two different buildings and not learning in the same space. A toxic masculinity can grow in a single-gender male school. I am not in any way suggesting that every school is like this, or that it is not called out in all-male second level schools, or that considerable efforts are not being made in all our educational facilities to stamp out this type of toxic viewpoint or attitude. However, when compared with progressive countries in Europe and around the world, the idea of unquestioningly pursuing this accepted norm of separating children on the basis of gender does not stand up to scrutiny. It leads to a society that is very gendered and views the other gender with a slight level of curiosity or insecurity. It leaves people lacking an ability to interact properly. Within that can arise a situation where power and dominance are sought. An entire school that is built around a dressing room culture of what boys say to boys and young men say to young men has to be challenged.

I do not say this in order to be provocative or destructive. I say it because it is worthy of us to always drill down into the root causes of toxic masculinity and explore why the issue appears to be getting worse in Ireland. Women's Aid has illustrated that many young women are suffering. People born since the year 2000 are going through this so it is not an old phenomenon that we are still dealing with from old attitudes. I have no idea how much time I have left.

The Deputy has just under one minute.

I will repeat what I have said. It is incredibly refreshing to be here this evening and witnessing what is being achieved by the Government and the Opposition together. What the Minister is doing with legislation around image-based sexual assault and the various different issues around that is refreshing. We hope it will be called "Coco's law". More of this is needed. It is worthy of us to better drill down into the State-sponsored segregation of genders in our school system, to challenge it and try to find ways to overcome it.

I welcome the opportunity to talk on this practical intervention to help victims of domestic violence and I thank Deputies McDonald and O’Reilly for moving the Bill. I also acknowledge the Minister’s announcement of a consultation which will lead to the establishment of domestic violence leave. This is one of the issues that we are all in agreement with so I hope we can move this Bill forward quickly and to coincide with the Minister’s consultation process to reach the best outcome for victims and survivors.

Domestic violence and abuse continues to be a horrific issue in Irish society. Safe Ireland has referred to it as the shadow pandemic. During the first six months of the pandemic, there was a significant increase in people fleeing domestic violence, with 3,450 women and 589 children contacting domestic violence services for the first time. West Cork Women against Domestic Violence, which provides vital services for victims in my area, saw a 35% increase in calls. This legislation represents the type of practical support that people fleeing violence and abuse need.

For too long, domestic violence has been treated as a private matter which does not impact on work life. That is obviously untrue. Domestic abuse and violence results in unimaginable physical and psychological impacts which affect all aspects of people’s lives. It also recognises that financial abuse is a very real, but under-reported, feature of domestic abuse. The National Women’s Council of Ireland highlights that 94% of survivors experience financial abuse, while employment sabotage is experienced by 78% of survivors.

Recognition by the State of these particular forms of abuse is essential to address this epidemic. The International Labour Organization highlights the need for leave that addresses economic dependence on the perpetrator, which makes the victims more vulnerable helps people attend court hearings, seek counselling and obtain medical help, and assists in moving people to a safe environment. Providing leave ensures that victims do not find themselves in the situation of having to choose between leaving their abuser and keeping their job.

The legislation before us provides for these supports with a statutory entitlement of up to ten days' domestic violence paid leave, as well as granting time to find accommodation or attend court as required. Several jurisdictions have comparable leave structures which we can learn from. A briefing paper the Oireachtas Library and Research Service provided for me outlines the range of entitlements in Australia, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and the Philippines. We can learn from their schemes to introduce the type of victim-centred supports we need. For example, Australia’s provisions are open to all employees, including part-time and casual employees. Newfoundland in Canada legally recognises the broad range of harmful and abusive acts which make up domestic violence, while in Alberta, Canada, leave is possible if employees, their dependants or a vulnerable adult in their care experiences domestic violence.

While we have agreement on this issue, there are many other challenges that need addressing and I will use my remaining time to focus on some of them. First, the principle underlying this Bill and the Minister's announcement is that victims need specialised supports. This means we need more flexibility in State services than is currently provided. We know financial abuse is an issue, which means social welfare payments that are primarily given to one partner or are means tested on both people do not consider the complexities of financial abuse. The unnecessary requirement for a public services card or proof of address implies the victim has access to these and fails to consider a controlling and abusive family member. Regrettably, public services can be a hostile environment for vulnerable people and this puts them at greater risk to forms of domestic abuse. People with disabilities or elderly people could be dependent on their abusers for transport, mobility or even care. Undocumented migrants or those with little English are also especially vulnerable and are often hesitant to come forward to police and other State services for fear of deportation. We desperately need firewalls separating immigration authorities and health and social services from the Garda.

Second, these specialised services need to be properly resourced and trained. Many workers in housing departments, public health settings and even members of the Garda do not have adequate training to properly interact with and understand the needs of victims of domestic abuse and violence. Local authorities need multidisciplinary teams to respond to the need of individuals presenting as, or showing signs of, domestic abuse. There needs to be more specialised gardaí in each division who are trained to respond to people who are the victims of these horrific crimes.

Third, we need to greatly increase our funding for support organisations. The Council of Europe’s standards on this outline that the majority of the support services should be provided by specialist women’s NGOs, which have provided the most responsive and effective services enabling women to realise their rights, to live free from violence and to overcome its debilitating effects. I have spoken to a number of organisations dealing with victims of domestic violence who tell me that they receive no multiannual funding. The year-to-year nature of the funding on which their very existence depends makes medium- or long-term strategic planning impossible. Everything is focused on immediate service provision and short-term survival. These organisations have also spoken to me about how difficult it is to retain staff when many have not even received a cost of living increase in the last ten years. They need strategic and consistent support. They are the experts with the skills and networks to help victims and vulnerable people.

Under the Istanbul convention, we are meant to provide one refuge space for victims of domestic violence per 10,000 people. Ireland instead provides one space per 10,000 women. Needless to say this means we provide 50% fewer spaces than recommended and we are the only country in Europe that interprets the recommendations in this way. This needs to be addressed immediately.

I will make two closing points on the consultation process. First, it has to be as inclusive as possible. The Department will have to engage with groups and organisations proactively. We cannot rely solely on overstretched services and survivors writing long submissions. We have to go to them and meet them where they are. It needs an innovative and empathetic process that can give groups and victims confidence that they are being supported. Second, we need to look at having interim emergency payments in the meantime. We have all outlined horrific aspects of domestic violence. We all know it is happening and we know it is happening tonight. If we recognise the need for domestic violence leave, we also need to work with the Minister for Social Protection to immediately put in place a temporary measure.

I am sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy. I thank Sinn Féin for putting this Bill down and it is very good news that the Government will not oppose it. That is welcome. We have talked about this subject frequently in the recent past, notably in relation to Covid and the huge spike in domestic violence incidents, and people and families seeking refuge in difficult circumstances. We also talked about it in relation to the abuse images we saw recently and which we will deal with next week when the Bill goes to Committee Stage.

This Bill is different, insofar as it is a workers' rights issue. That is important because of all the aspects of, in particular, women's lives that a violent relationship seeks to control, whether it concerns who they see, who their friends are, when they see their family, what they eat, what they wear or how they spend their time. A huge amount of coercive control and questioning goes on around when they leave the home to go to work. The workplace should be a place where they are guaranteed they can be safe and I heard Deputy McDonald's illustration of that lack of safety. It is also a place where she - I use the word "she" rather than "them" because it is overwhelmingly women and their children who are affected by this - gets economic independence from an abusive or violent relationship. That economic independence is paramount and to lose that will drive the individual further into depression, anxiety and a sense of lack of self-worth. Her job would be under threat if she took leave due to domestic violence. The Bill is very important in that sense. It protects the rights of workers to have leave to deal with the fallout from a traumatic experience in life.

The other aspect of the trauma that this House needs to address urgently is the question of housing and alternative safe accommodation for families who have to leave a violent situation. As it stands, homeless services do not recognise domestic abuse as an emergency and a family is not entitled to immediate choices of alternative accommodation because there is a violent issue in the background. I had a good friend who retired early from servicing the courts with women who had to seek barring orders precisely because she felt desperate that each day she was driving victims back into the arms of their abusers because there was no alternative accommodation for them. We need to address that urgently.

As has been said, there is a wider issue in our society about how women are regarded and why violence against women is so prevalent, often leading to murder and very serious consequences. That wider national campaign around domestic violence and gender equality has to begin. We have a huge duty in this House to make sure that it happens and that we educate future generations around the issues of control, violence and, in particular, consent and rape. Here the House has an obligation. In January, we will come to the second anniversary of the implementation of the Bill as a consequence of repealing the eighth amendment. There were two particular recommendations in that. One was to work towards the availability of free contraception. Probably even more important was the question of having non-ethos-based sex education in our schools. Deputy Paul Murphy will speak to that because he had a Bill before the House on that issue.

We need to move towards non-ethos-based sex education urgently. Otherwise, we will have no impact on a toxic culture in which a whole cohort of our population believe they have permission to abuse and be violent towards women.

This is an important Bill on workers' rights. We welcome it and will support it all the way.

I thank Sinn Féin for introducing this important Bill. It is vital that the State provides paid leave from work for those victims of domestic violence who need it. This is the case in New Zealand and a number of other countries around the world. There are many reasons for which those suffering from such abuse would need time off work - to move house, get legal or mental health supports, and continue being financially independent. It is unfortunate that, too often, survivors of domestic violence lose their jobs due to the abuse they suffer. Research conducted in the state of Maine in the US found that an incredible 60% of survivors reported losing their jobs due to the abuse, with many being fired by their bosses. This is why it is a workers' rights issue. The current situation is not acceptable. It is about time we supported victims of domestic violence. Providing paid leave for the time they need off work is the least that can be done.

I wish to discuss a provision in the Bill. We can deal with it on Committee Stage, which I hope we will reach as soon as possible, but there is an issue with how it is presented whereby employees should give notice "as soon as is reasonably practicable" and that notification to the employer shall "contain a statement of the facts entitling the employee to domestic violence leave." This is problematic. While I will support the Bill on Second Stage, this matter must be addressed. It would place a significant obligation on workers to hand over confidential and sensitive information to their employers. The Bill makes it an offence for an employer not to maintain that confidentiality, but there are no penalties specified as far as I can see. It would be better to have a system based on the idea that we trust victims and workers - a system based on self-certification - rather than on forcing workers to hand over sensitive information to bosses where there is already an uneven power imbalance. That set-up could be abused. The Bill could propose that disputes be dealt with by the Workplace Relations Commission like other disputes.

We have probably discussed domestic violence more over the past six months than we have in any previous six-month period. That is a reflection of the unfortunate increase in domestic violence during the pandemic as well as the increase in political attention being paid to the issue. It is essential that this issue be brought into the light and discussed fully. For too long, it was brushed under the carpet. Everyone knew it happened, but people understated the horror of it and there was an absence of will to tackle it. We know that almost one in six women and one in 16 men in Ireland has experienced severe domestic violence from a partner. The figures are even higher when all physical and sexual violence is included. It is a crisis and it demands an urgent response.

The Government's response has been lacking. We have one third the number of refuge spaces recommended by the Council of Europe. Saoirse Women's Refuge in my area is forced to undertake its own fundraising to get the funds it needs to carry out its work. This is not acceptable and should not be happening. Women's Aid reports that, of the people who called its helpline looking for refuge spaces, half were unable to find a space. There is no question that Ireland is a rich country. It is the fifth richest in the world per GDP, but the Government is more concerned about protecting billionaires from taxes than it is in investing in and supporting victims of domestic violence.

I started the clock when Deputy Bríd Smith started, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I am at nine minutes.

How much time does the Deputy have left?

Nine minutes according to my clock.

We are working as best we can with the clock.

That is not a problem. I will finish with a point referenced by Deputy Bríd Smith. The outpouring of anger through movements like #MeToo, #SueMePaddy and #IBelieveHer shows that people are not willing to accept the injustice and oppression of the past. There is a fight for change in the law and a challenging of the patriarchal culture that gives confidence to sexism and violence against women. A crucial part of this will be objective sex education. I understand that a new curriculum will be proposed in the next month or so, but the fundamental problem that is the barrier of ethos is not being addressed. The recommendation of the education committee has not been taken on board to amend the-----

The Deputy is definitely over time now. I found the stopwatch.

I thank both sides of the House for what seems to be great co-operation, which I have not seen much of in my nine months here.

All Deputies can recognise how difficult it is for victims of domestic abuse to deal with and escape from their abusers. Not only must they deal with the abuse as it is occurring, which must be a devastating experience, but they must also get the help they require, which is far easier said than done. While doing some research on the topic, I was alarmed by the prevalence of domestic abuse and violence that was reported in 2019. I was even more alarmed to learn that the figures were much higher in 2020. In fact, the recently published Safe Ireland report shows that calls to its helpline increased steadily and daily over the course of the Covid-19 restrictions. According to the Women's Aid 2019 annual report, there were 19,258 disclosures of domestic violence against women and 20,763 contacts with Women's Aid's direct services. There were 12,742 incidents of emotional abuse, 3,873 incidents of physical abuse and 2,034 incidents of financial abuse disclosed. In the same year, 609 incidents of sexual abuse were disclosed, including 288 rapes.

Domestic abuse can take many different forms. My mind is immediately drawn to the physical violence, but domestic abuse can also include threats, intimidation, manipulation, neglect, financial control, domineering behaviour and other threatening and controlling behaviours.

The National Crime Council found that one in seven women had experienced severe abusive behaviour of a physical, sexual or emotional nature from a partner at some point in her life. Its survey estimated that 213,000 women had been severely abused by a partner. These figures display the extent of the problem. Unfortunately, studies show that domestic violence is usually not a one-off event. It often involves a sustained pattern of abuse and manipulative behaviour that many victims can find difficult to escape. While the evidence shows that women are more likely to be the victims of domestic abuse, we must not forget that there are men who find themselves victims of domestic abuse. Almost 6% of men experience domestic abuse while the figure for women is 15%. These are worrying numbers. It is clear that this issue affects men and women. Therefore, we need to ensure that the support systems are for both.

We must remember the significant impact of domestic violence on children. Unfortunately, they can also be the victims of such abuse. Even in cases where they are not the direct targets of the abuse, they experience the consequences, which can affect them for the rest of their lives.

The Wexford Women's Refuge provides 24-hour crisis accommodation for women and children experiencing domestic abuse in their homes. On admission, many families present with little or no personal belongings. The recommended period for a woman and her family to stay in the refuge is eight to ten weeks. However, the refuge only has two rooms available currently. During the Covid pandemic, the demand for beds has risen, but the number of bed spaces has reduced. Any reduction in the supply of beds for victims of domestic violence is disastrous.

According to a report in The Wexford People in June, the Wexford Women's Refuge had to reduce its accommodation capacity from five families to one family due to the communal toilets and bathrooms. I understand its capacity is now for two families.

We need more services for people in these situations. Those involved in providing the service and working in the women's refuge in County Wexford do Trojan work but they need to be supported and they need the resources to meet the demand. The Garda Síochána has reported a 36% increase in the number of domestic abuse cases in County Wexford over the past year. I have often mentioned in speeches and interviews the second-line effects of Covid-19 restrictions. Domestic abuse and domestic violence are areas where the consequences of restrictions are worrying. The Safe Ireland report finds that Covid-19 restrictions led to a number of barriers to victims trying to escape abusive situations. Problems were reported, particularly with regard to travel restrictions, accommodation issues and social isolation.

I would, therefore, like to see increased supports for the sector and see victims being able to avail of supports as soon as they need them. More important, however, we need to ensure that this sector is safeguarded from the negative effects of any further Covid-19 restrictions. I will discuss this in greater detail tomorrow along with the mental health aspects but this is a good opportunity to remind the Government that we need to take a holistic approach to dealing with many of these problems because, in most cases, they are linked. We do not want this problem to get worse as it can often lead to a cycle of other issues for the victims, including substance misuse, psychological damage and trust issues for both the victims and any children involved.

We must also remember the abusers need support and rehabilitation. They may have an underlying issue, for example, a substance misuse issue. They may need medical intervention, psychological intervention, behavioural therapy and education with a view to trying to prevent them from reoffending. I am, therefore, calling on this problem to be looked at from all angles.

Finally, a message to those who may be currently experiencing domestic abuse is seek help in any way they can from the gardaí, local support services, a trusted friend or family member. Do not suffer in silence.

I welcome this Private Members' Bill brought forward by Sinn Féin. It is hard to believe one in three women in Ireland is affected by domestic violence. It is not confined to class, age, race, sexuality, religion or disability.

Reading again through speeches given by Deputies O'Reilly and McDonald in debates in November, I have learned the legislation brought forward by Sinn Féin is for ten days of domestic violence paid leave. This enables the victims to take the time they need to seek support, find accommodation or attend court. This can be a traumatic time for victims who are often vulnerable. When a person has a supportive employer, he or she should feel he or she is more cared for in the community.

I welcome the fact the debate is being opened up by creating workplace awareness of domestic abuse. I welcome also the three Rs approach for employers, that is, recognise, respond and refer. This is certainly a useful template with which to start. I have listened to all the debates this evening and all I have heard is employer-employee. Domestic violence does not stop with the employer and employee. Domestic violence can be one parent working in the home.

I commend this Bill but it does not go far enough. People who are self-employed or who are in a one-income family suffer from domestic violence. Housewives and househusbands are suffering from domestic violence. Therefore, if we must have legislation, it must cover everybody, whether working or self-employed, a househusband or housewife or whatever a person works at. There must be a system where no matter what, people can avail of a service that can help them and their families and protect them and their lives. That is what we need. I would, therefore, propose an amendment to cover all people, no matter what employment they are in or even if they are not employed.

I come from a rural background. For many years, a housewife could be at home depending on an income coming in, whether from a farm or from whatever business the family is in. We must, therefore, get this right so it covers people who are not even in employment, or who are employed within their own homes caring for their children and have made the selfless act to do so. We must make sure everyone who is vulnerable and suffering from domestic violence, even if he or she is not an employee or is self-employed or unemployed, can avail of the services. I would like to see the Government get this right. We must have supports for every single person who is suffering domestic violence. There must be a gender balance. No matter what situation a person is in, this must include everyone to make sure people know they can make that call, whether it is to a helpline, to get to where they need to go or to have an income to support them while they are going through this traumatic experience. I am, therefore, asking the Government to make sure amendments are made so that this covers everyone.

I welcome this Sinn Féin Bill, as it is definitely a step in the right direction, but we must make sure everyone who suffers from domestic violence is covered, regardless of whether he or she is an employee, an employer or otherwise.

I am pleased to support this Bill. I am especially pleased the Government will not oppose the proposal. This Bill will be warmly welcomed by victims of domestic violence who work outside the home. The figures on domestic violence in Ireland are shocking. We have heard them quoted several times tonight. Approximately 15% of women and 6% of men have suffered severe domestic violence.

Of course, as we are all aware, it is even more shocking that during the Covid-19 lockdown those numbers increased significantly. I believe the number of extra calls to Women's Aid and other groups increased by something like 25%. It is worthwhile saying that during the lockdown, real efforts were made by gardaí and advocacy groups and by the Government with the extension of the temporary rent supplement to victims of domestic violence, to allow people to escape the terror of their homes.

While it is not the issue in question here, the fact that many counties, including my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, north Roscommon and south Donegal and, in fact, whole swathes of this country, do not have dedicated refuges is a disgrace. I know the Minister is determined to do something about this but we need to do something as quickly as possible.

As I said, I am pleased that the Government will work with the Opposition and stakeholders to put legislation in place to ensure two weeks' paid leave for victims of domestic violence. This will give a small window of opportunity to victims to try to manage their lives.

Very often, the income that domestic violence victims have is their only opportunity to exert any control over their lives and those of their families. The loss of any income because victims are unable to work simply adds to the cruelty and awfulness of their circumstances. It is also important to remember that many victims may be in precarious employment and, therefore, any absence or inability to work or to deal with on-demand or shift work, split hours and so on may compound their situation. The terror that many victims experience at home is just exacerbated by their fear that they might lose their jobs, and, unfortunately, some do. Sometimes victims of domestic abuse are too ashamed to go to work because of the visible signs of abuse. Sometimes they need time to see their solicitor, go to court or just get a little support from family members and friends. It just gives them breathing space.

When we implement the measures in the Bill, we will be stepping up to the mark in regard to some of the recommendations from ILO Convention No. 190. It calls for, among other measures, paid leave for victims of domestic violence, flexible work arrangements and protection for victims, temporary protection against dismissal, and the inclusion of domestic violence in workplace risk assessments. Perhaps when we examine the Bill, we will examine some of the points I raised and consider including them as amendments.

I welcome the Bill. Gabhaim buíochas le Sinn Féin as ucht an mBille seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Táim sásta nach bhfuil an Rialtas ag cur ina choinne. Is maith an rud é sin agus is céim chun cinn dearfach í. Áfach, seo an dara uair laistigh de trí sheachtain go bhfuilimid ag caint faoi fhoréigean baile. Cuireann sé olc orm go bhfuilimid fós ag caint faoi gan beart a dhéanamh agus gan dul i ngleic leis an bhfadhb seo. Ag eascair as an bhfadhb seo, tá impleachtaí tromchúiseacha do na mná, do na páistí, do na clainne agus don gheilleagar i gcoitinne. Tá sé ráite go mion minic agam, taobh amuigh den chostas ó thaobh cúrsaí síceolaíochta agus cúrsaí sláinte, tá costas i gceist don gheilleagar de €2.5 billiún in aghaidh na bliana gach bliain.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and thank Sinn Féin for bringing it forward. It concerns one aspect of a subject that we need to tackle because of the damage it does. It is insidious on every level to women - primarily, they are women - children, families and the economy. The figure I mention repeatedly, of €2.5 billion every year, has a staggering impact on the economy. This is our second debate on domestic violence in three weeks. On the previous occasion, there were statements, including from the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and she gave us a written copy of her contribution, and now we are debating the Bill. Nevertheless, we are still talking about it and we do not have enough basic refuge spaces. The most basic thing, if we are serious about tackling domestic violence, is to have to enough safe places, because that is one of the major hindrances to dealing with domestic violence. The second is economic dependence and Sinn Féin's Bill deals partly with that, which I welcome. I acknowledge the bona fides of both Ministers but those bona fides will be sorely tested if they do not act.

Three audits have been promised, one of which will be conducted by Tusla, although I am not sure why it is necessary because we know there is a shortage of spaces. I am not sure why it will take a few months for the agency to do it but I welcome the fact that it is going to examine what spaces are necessary. There will also be reviews of the Bill and of the fragmentation of the services, which the Minister indicated will be completed in March. I welcome all that as long as it is done with a view to urgent action and to dealing with domestic violence. It must make clear that we will not put up with this, that it is simply not acceptable and that we will take the necessary steps to deal with it.

The UN Secretary General has talked about the surge in domestic violence, and for me, his words caught the way that we have treated domestic violence. He called for a ceasefire, as if that would be helpful or as if those words would appeal to any man's ears. On the other hand, he called for urgent action. It captures for me the constant contradiction in every government's approach to domestic violence. I hope the Minister will make a difference and I acknowledge she has put it at the top of her list. I will work with her, monitor her and force her to deal with domestic violence. We have to deal with it because we cannot even begin to talk about gender equality or an economy that is thriving when that level of violence is going on.

We were told at the previous meeting of the joint policing committee in Galway that there has been a 37% increase in the number of domestic incidents the county. I wish they would stop using words such as "domestic incidents". They minimise what we are talking about. There was no follow-up, not because the Garda was at fault but because there was nothing it could do. Part of that problem is that there is no place for the women to go to. There is a complete shortage of spaces. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Claire Loftus, stated there has been an 87% increase thus far this year in the number of files submitted to her office. Some 3,500 women contacted a domestic violence service for the first time during the initial lockdown. We have all these figures.

I do not like repetition but I reiterate that I really want to see action after the release of the three various reports. The most basic thing would be to roll out enough refuge spaces as the most minimum requirement.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Chun freagra a thabhairt, táimid ag dul go dtí an tAire, an Teachta McEntee agus an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Rabbitte. Ar dtús, ar son b'fhéidir gach duine atá anseo agus iad siúd nach bhfuil, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire agus lena fear céile as an dea-nuacht atá foilsithe aici le déanaí.

I welcome the Bill and discussion and the collegiate way in which we are responding to it. Christmas is fast approaching, and for all of us, it will be a different kind of Christmas for the reasons we know. While it may be different, for the vast majority of us it will still be a joyous occasion. I, along with all Deputies, am acutely aware that for many people, this can be a time of additional fear and dread. The domestic violence services anticipate a surge in demand in the run-up to Christmas. While we may be thinking about how we can hide our presents for our loved ones, many people are hiding emotional, physical, psychological and financial abuse at the very hands of those who are supposed to be their loved ones. They are completely isolated from their family, friends or abusive partner.

It is this type of abuse and violence that we want to prevent by providing supports for victims, something I have personally prioritised. I want to do more and to work with every Member of the House, including the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and other colleagues, to do that. We are committed to working collaboratively, not just with colleagues in government but throughout the community and voluntary sector and with partners, to ensure that our response is based on prevention and support and that it is underpinned by a robust legal system that supports victims.

This Government is determined to deliver on all elements of support, be it practical, physical, emotional or legal. At the same time we have to ensure the perpetrators know that we will not stop until they are brought to justice. We have made a number of commitments, and we intend to keep to them, in the programme for Government around the provision of paid leave, providing that financial support for those who cannot work because of domestic violence. I welcome the Minister's response this evening. There are commitments around social protection supports, some of which Deputy Cairns has outlined already.

The programme for Government commits to an independent audit of how services for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence are segmented across the Government agencies. It is important that we do this. This audit will, I hope, help us to build a more comprehensive and more efficient system for ensuring that anyone facing domestic abuse can access that high-quality support. The audit will be completed next March and I can assure Deputies that we will collectively act on it. Our third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will also be developed before the end of 2021, and we are conducting a review of the implementation of the second strategy so far to make sure that nothing is left behind.

Education and awareness are also key, both to ensuring victims know where and how to access supports and to changing societal needs. My Department is running a number of campaigns and we are also working on a national consent campaign to be launched next year. Deputy Ó Ríordáin talked about women's aid and Ms Sarah Benson talking about a particular piece of research recently, the launch of which I attended. It is frightening to see the statistics, particularly among our younger people, and the amount of violence that is already there in some of the younger relationships. It is important that we focus on consent and that we talk to younger people at a much earlier age.

Raising awareness through campaigns, such as Still Here and No Excuses, leads to increased calls for support services, but when an individual, be it a woman or a man, takes the brave step to seek help, we need to be there. We need to make sure the services and the supports are there for them. I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman's commitment in this regard this evening in the area of domestic violence leave.

Ensuring a high standard of support services for victims of crime throughout the State is provided for in Supporting a Victim's Journey, the plan that I recently published to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases. As part of this plan we also will map a victim's journey and examine how we can broaden our grants system. The implementation of the plan is a decisive step forward in ensuring the criminal and justice systems are victim centred. We have work to do but we have implementation meetings happening this week with all the agencies and with the community and voluntary sector to make sure that this work is done, that we do not merely publish reports and that we actually implement the recommendations. When implemented, I hope that they will also encourage victims to come forward, reassured in the knowledge that they will be supported, listened to, informed and treated respectfully throughout the entire process. Supporting a Victim's Journey also provides for specific training for An Garda Síochána, the Judiciary and lawyers so that they can better understand a victim's perspective but, most importantly, their needs.

Next week we hope to pass the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, which I intend to refer to as "Coco's law". Many of us are very much aware of the tragic case of the late Ms Nicole Fox Fenlon and the tireless work of her mother. Jackie has campaigned for years to honour her daughter's memory to strengthen the law so that others can be safer. The Bill would prevent the sharing of intimate images without consent regardless of the motivation for doing so. This is abuse. It should be stopped. I thank all Deputies for their co-operation in the assistance of passing this through the House as quickly as possible.

I truly believe that this Government will put in place the systems and structures needed to deliver on our commitment to stamp out the scourge of domestic violence. We are working on many policies in this area. I look forward to working with all Deputies in this House and in the Seanad to bring about much-needed change and reform in this area.

I thank all Members for their valuable contributions to the debate. It is clear that we all share concerns around domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The impacts this can have on victims cannot be underestimated, whether physical or emotional and often economic. It is important to consider, too, the impact domestic violence has on children who may be witnessing the abuse. They can often be forgotten victims. As UNICEF stated in its recent report, Behind Closed Doors, "Some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are the smallest." It undoubtedly has an emotional impact on children and can have a devastating impact on their childhood. As the same UNICEF report states:

... children who are exposed to violence in the home may suffer a range of severe and lasting effects. Children who grow up in a violent home are more likely to be victims of child abuse.

As the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, set out in his remarks, the Government is committed to undertaking "an examination of paid domestic violence leave and social protection support". This is part of the programme for Government. As part of this process, there will be a consultation process to take on board the views and experiences of victims, their families and organisations which provide support and services. We will also examine how other countries have addressed this serious issue and how best to address the practical concerns around introducing this kind of leave. A report will be published which will outline the findings of the examination and which will point the way to the next steps. Subsequent to this, legislative proposals will be brought to Government on the establishment of a statutory entitlement to paid domestic violence leave.

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this Bill and for generating the discussion. I hope the victims of abuse and their families will be able to access the support they need in the future and I invite them to share their experiences and views with any consultations. We need to hear from those most affected to develop a system which can address their needs for them and their families. It cannot be a system without their input.

Tá an Teachta Réada Cronin ag roinnt a cuid ama leis na Teachtaí Quinlivan agus O'Reilly.

Historically, the State is all about secrets. We have had mother and baby homes, industrial schools, Magdalen laundries and the hush-hush trips to England. Domestic violence is one of the last unmentionable secrets.

Men get hammered too, but for them it is usually even more secret. It is mostly women who get and take their beatings, and the threats, the kicks, the punches, the burning, the taunting and the raping. As I stated here last month, women lie on the floor grateful that if himself is laying into them, he is leaving the children alone, but of course, he is not. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, alluded to it there a minute ago. Children bear the invisible scars that show themselves in worry, anxiety and sadness, and, sadly, it is stored up for the future in which it will express itself.

We have all known the particular purple of a fist against an eye, the blue of a blow to a jaw, the hand prints around the neck and the branding of a woman. Women and men need leave to recover from that physical violence. They need domestic violence leave so that their injuries are not the social semaphore of their humiliation, their endangerment and their suffering. Above all, they need domestic violence leave to start healing the invisible injuries they carry inside - the terror, the disgust and, for some, a misplaced shame. That shame does not belong to the victim. That shame is wholly owned by the perpetrator.

The tenderest and the life-changing injuries inflicted on a victim of relationship violence are often psychological. I commend my comrades, Deputies McDonald and O'Reilly, on bringing forward this Bill and on bringing this subject into the light. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, stated that it has been discussed, and it certainly has since I was elected. That is good to see because the silence is how shame keeps living on. Let us not delay giving our citizens who have suffered violence in their relationships domestic violence paid leave and help give them the privacy and dignity that they need.

Last December, with my party leader, Deputy McDonald, I was proud to introduce the Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2019. Today, we can progress this issue much further. I strongly believe we must advance this much further. Therefore, I very much welcome Deputy O'Reilly and Deputy McDonald's Bill.

Covid-19 has cruelly exposed the issue of domestic abuse as a real problem that needs addressing. Domestic violence is a problem that has always been with us. It is not a problem for one socioeconomic group or ethnicity. It affects many people across our society.

Safe Ireland issued a report in November regarding domestic violence in Covid times. It showed that 1,970 women and 411 children were receiving help from a domestic violence service each month during the period of March to August. The same report indicated that there was a 25% increase in calls to the service's helpline when measured against 2018.

The first lockdown was hard for all of us, but imagine being trapped in a home without reprieve with somebody who is violent towards the person? All the services in Limerick tell me that domestic abuse has increased exponentially during Covid-19. As of November this year, there were 273 reports of domestic violence in Limerick, of which 80% of the victims were women.

In 2016, the figure for the whole year stood at 213 incidents.

The provision of statutory entitlement to paid leave is an acknowledgement by legislators of the challenges faced by workers in trying to escape an abusive relationship. If we are to end this epidemic of violence, we need a whole-of-society response that both supports and protects victims. The Bill, which I am glad the Government proposes to support, will allow for time off from work in order that victims can get the support they need, find alternative accommodation if they have nowhere to stay and attend court appointments. The challenges facing victims are massive when the violence they experience takes place in their own home and they have the additional pressures of worrying about attending work while trying to pursue all that is necessary to remove themselves from an unsafe environment. This Bill will add to existing work-based rights and give victims time to seek the support they need in the confidence that their employment is secure.

Coercive control, as recognised under the Domestic Violence Act 2018, can lead to abusers focusing their efforts on a partner's workplace for the purpose of ending his or her employment. I have met people in that situation. Legislators and employers have a responsibility to respond to this avenue of abuse by putting in place the necessary workplace and employment rights and protections for victims. I very much welcome the Bill and commend it to the Dáil.

This has been a very important debate. The people watching it may include some who are experiencing domestic abuse. They are more likely to be women. They will see a unanimity of purpose from their political representatives on this issue, given that the Government is not opposing our proposals in this legislation. That is really important. However, I would prefer if the Government were supporting the Bill rather than simply not opposing it. I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that this not a motion or a proposal; it is legislation. It was written in consultation with the OPLA, advocacy groups, survivors and workers' representatives. That is how legislation must be devised. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is right about the need for consultation, but I put it to him that we have already engaged in a huge amount of consultation. To reiterate, we have spoken to survivors, advocacy groups, legal experts and workers' representatives.

The Minister said that the principles of the legislation are sound, for which I thank him, but he added that "the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 is not the best vehicle for such a scheme". I was very alarmed to hear his colleague express the view that "The State can only do so much". In fact, the State has a responsibility for the granting and maintenance of statutory entitlements to leave, which is what this Bill is proposing, and the Organisation of Working Time Act is exactly the place for it to be done. As someone who practised industrial relations - some might say that if I had ever practised it, I would have got good at it - I understand how the world of employment works and how domestic abuse and domestic violence can impact on an worker. This Bill is not intended to be a panacea. The Government holds the purse strings and has the money to fund shelters properly and ensure women and men are not turned away. This Bill is intended to address domestic abuse as a workers' rights issue, which it is.

Anybody who has worked alongside someone experiencing domestic abuse or has been in that situation himself or herself knows that when one has to go into work with an injury, is afraid to go home or is worried that one's abuser will turn up at work, having access to statutory leave is really important. People who work alongside someone in that situation or are approached, as a workplace representative, to assist such an individual, do not necessarily know what to do. Everybody wants to help but there is no process cast in stone to which one can point. In some instances, there might be somebody in human resources who has a particular understanding of the issue, in which case one could advise the person experiencing domestic abuse to approach that individual. If there is nobody like that in a workplace, there is no concrete procedure towards which people can be pointed. There must be provision for statutory leave for people in that situation and that is why we located our legislative proposals in reference to the Organisation of Working Time Act. We did so following intensive consultation and engagement, as I outlined, with advocacy groups, workers' representatives and survivors.

It is our intention to move the Bill to Committee Stage and, in so doing, we hope we will enjoy the same non-opposition or support, whatever way one wants to put it, from the Government. I welcome that the Government is conducting a consultation on the issues. However, my fear is that it will add ten months to the process of getting these provisions into law. We had statements on this issue in the House in recent weeks, during which many speakers talked about the need for action to be taken. Consultation is important but, as I have outlined, we have already engaged in that consultation. We are happy to share all the information we have with the Government. This legislation is not something we just dreamt up. It is not a proposal but a piece of very well-crafted legislation and it was drawn up following the process of consultation I described. I urge the Government, rather than just not opposing the Bill, to support it and work with us, as we have committed to working with the Government, to ensure we make a real and meaningful difference in the lives of the people affected. The men and women in a situation of domestic abuse and watching the debate this evening need to know that they have some concrete support and a statutory entitlement to leave. They might need that support now or very soon and they should not have to wait many months for it.

Question put and agreed to.

I congratulate all involved in progressing the Bill through Second Stage.