Domestic Violence: Presentations.

I welcome everyone to the meeting, the purpose of which is to discuss the topic of domestic violence against women. The joint committee has invited five groups to make presentations and I welcome all their represenatives. The first two groups are Women's Aid and the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency. I thank them for sending copies of their presentations to the committee. They have been helpful.

I understand more than one in five women suffer domestic violence, whether it be physical, sexual or emotional, and that it is often hidden. This is a good opportunity to shine some light on the topic. At the same time, it is of interest to us so we are in a position to recommend legislative change and other changes to various rules which may be necessary. We look forward to hearing what the witnesses state and to a discussion with questions and answers afterwards.

We will first hear from Women's Aid and the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency. The intention is that each presentation does not exceed ten minutes. This will allow time for an exchange of views and interaction with the committee.

I wish to inform all groups of the rules regarding privilege. The Members of the Oireachtas on the committee enjoy parliamentary privilege. However, witnesses do not enjoy similar privilege. Please ensure care is taken not to make any adverse comment about any individual person.

I welcome the representatives from Women's Aid, Ms Theresa Sweeney and Ms Margaret Martin. I invite them to make their presentation.

We very much welcome this opportunity to address the issue of domestic violence today. As people may know, Women's Aid is a voluntary organisation providing support and information for more than 30 years to women who are physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their intimate partners. As the Chairman stated, one in five Irish women are affected by domestic violence at some point in their lives. We play an important role in giving a voice to the thousands of women who are too ashamed or afraid to speak out for themselves.

Despite a growing openness in Irish life, domestic violence is still a crime where the victims are held silent by the taboo surrounding it and often never disclose it to friends or family. Many victims never speak to anyone about it. We know from research done by the National Crime Council in 2005 that 33% of those who experienced abuse told no one. In this climate of secrecy and shame, the confidential and anonymous nature of the freefone helpline provided by Women's Aid is vital.

As well as providing the support which women so badly need, we play a critical role in providing women with information on the legal protections available to them. Our primary service is the helpline, which is available 12 hours a day, 364 days a year. In 2005, approximately 26,000 calls were made to our helpline. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources more than 10,000 calls went unanswered. It is of deep concern to us that such a significant proportion of calls made to a crisis line, amounting to two out of every five calls, were unanswered.

Does Ms Martin have figures for 2006?

We do not have them ready yet.

Are they roughly the same?

We do not know because we have not done an analysis of them. We will issue them later in the year. We have seen a pattern over the past number of years.

In addition, Women's Aid provides a one to one confidential support and advocacy service, which includes court accompaniment. During 2006, Women's Aid provided court accompaniment on 136 occasions in addition to more than 400 support visits. We also provide a large amount of support phone calls because this process can be extremely lengthy and a woman needs a great deal of support. We were glad to receive funding for work from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2005 and 2006.

The insights we gain from our helpline and support work is used to inform the training we do with professionals such as the Garda Síochána and legal and health professionals. The voice of women informs the people we work with. These insights also support our role as the specialist support agency on domestic violence with community development projects and family support agencies. We will roll out a code of practice on domestic violence nationally.

In addition, Women's Aid plays an important role in undertaking research and policy work for improved legislation. We also carry out communications work to build public awareness of domestic violence, as well as an arts programme that runs in refuges in the greater Dublin area. While an analysis of our 2006 accounts shows that approximately 60% of Women's Aid income comes from Government funds, a considerable amount of time is taken up with fundraising for the remaining 40%.

According to a 2005 World Health Organisation report, violence against women in intimate relationships — domestic violence — is the most common form of violence in women's lives and much more common than assault or rape by strangers or acquaintances. The WHO study revealed that women are more at risk from violence in the home than on the street. A debate is ongoing with regard to violence on the street but part of my reason for meeting the committee is to draw attention to the violence which occurs inside the home. Our helpline figures for 2005, which indicated no decrease in the severity, frequency or impact of physical abuse, confirm the WHO's findings.

While everyday household items or tools can be used in these acts of violence, it is more common that the abusive partner simply uses his greater physical strength. For example, one woman disclosed having her head repeatedly struck off a concrete floor. It is clear, therefore, that significant issues pertaining to fear and injury arise. People often ask why women do not leave their abusive partners but it is not commonly understood that leaving an abuser does not mean the end of the abuse. Stalking is a common tactic used to terrorise women who have successfully left abusive partners. Women have reported cases of ex-partners breaking into their homes, assaulting them and their current partners, as well as constant phone calls or texts threatening further abuse. Physical and emotional abuse often goes hand in hand with sexual abuse, such as women being beaten during sex. In 2005, 371 specific reports of rape were made to our helpline. These reports were from women who were raped in front of their children and others who were raped with sharp objects such as screwdrivers and sticks.

Any effort to deal with this serious issue is very encouraging and Women's Aid welcomes the support of the joint committee in calling for an amendment to the Domestic Violence Acts to address the restrictions caused by residency requirements. The plight of a woman who used our helpline and whom we will call Carol might help to illustrate the difficulties caused by the residency requirement. Carol and her partner Paul had been a couple for three years before deciding to pool their savings to buy an apartment together. Shortly before moving into their apartment, Carol discovered she was pregnant. A study conducted by the Rotunda Maternity Hospital found that one in eight women experience abuse during pregnancy. While they were living together, Paul's behaviour towards Carol deteriorated significantly and, two months after moving in, he physically assaulted her. Carol reported the incident to gardaí, who said there was nothing they could do until she got a safety or barring order against Paul. On calling us, Carol was distressed to learn that she was ineligible for either of these two orders because she would not fulfil the residency requirements until she had lived with her partner for a further four months.

Currently, in the case of unmarried couples, one party may apply for a safety order if he or she has been living with the other person for six out of the previous 12 months. As a safety order does not require the abusive party to leave the home, it is unclear why a residency requirement exists for this order. It should, therefore, be removed. The residency requirement for cohabitees who have an equal or greater interest in the property should also be removed in respect of barring order applications. In the case of unmarried couples living together, a barring order can at present only be sought if the applicant has lived with the respondent for six of the previous nine months and has an equal or greater right to the property. In addition, parties with a child in common who do not reside together should be eligible for protective orders. Women's Aid regularly hears from women about access visits which are being used by the child's father to abuse them. The Law Reform Commission is calling for similar amendments to those proposed by Women's Aid.

Statistics reported by the National Crime Council in 2005 showed that in 2003 the Garda Síochána recorded an average of more than 23 incidents of domestic violence each day. To put this figure into context, the average number of assaults in the same period was 11, meaning there were twice as many incidents of domestic violence. The Garda plays a crucial role in incidents of domestic violence and is the only statutory agency with a full policy on domestic violence. However, the level of variation in garda practice is a serious and ongoing concern for those working on the front line. The helpline has received reports of radically different responses from gardaí, sometimes even from the same Garda station. There were many examples of good practice, where gardaí were supportive by responding quickly to protect women where required and by keeping women's safety central through arrests for breaches of orders, taking photographs and detailing evidence of assault to build strong court cases.

Despite these good reports, women's experience was significantly more negative than positive. It is extremely worrying that this happens when we have a pro-arrest policy. In one example, a garda told an abusive man to "go for a walk and calm down". The man subsequently came back and beat up his wife and son. In another case, gardaí witnessed an assault in public. Then, after pulling the man off the woman, they told the woman that they should "go home and sort it out". On another occasion, gardaí did not even question a woman's partner after she reported his raping her, despite the fact that he had a previous rape conviction. Last year we saw the first conviction for marital rape, after 16 years.

The decrease in the level of reporting to the Garda over the past few years is completely at odds with our own experience as a front line service. While the level of incidents reported to the Garda decreased by 35% between 2003 and 2005, the number of calls made to the Women's Aid helpline increased by 37% for the same period. In the Republic of Ireland in 2005 there were just over 5,000 reports to the Garda. In Northern Ireland which has a population of less than half that of the Republic, there were 20,959 or four times more. As members will know, there are also significant challenges to the Police Service of Northern Ireland from certain sections of the community.

Of even deeper concern are the many reports of worrying responses to women by some members of the Judiciary. For example, despite it being his third breach of an order, and the woman involved sustaining broken bones, the judge released a man without sentence. In this case the woman had the full support of the gardaí who acted as witnesses for her. When the woman became distressed in court the judge threatened to hold her in contempt.

The National Crime Council research cited earlier identified substantial differences in the outcome of domestic violence order applications among some of the Courts Service regions. Some 44% of safety orders were granted nationally but this ranges from 33% in Dublin to 59% in the eastern region. The same level applies to barring orders but the range is even greater, being 28% in the Dublin region and 70% in the northern region. In addition, a Law Society survey found considerable variation among judges regarding the evidence they considered sufficient to order a protective order. As it stands the Act does not set out criteria regarding the standard or type of proof necessary to determine the granting of an order.

In addition to the amendments relating to residency requirements, Women's Aid strongly recommends that guidelines be developed on criteria for granting orders under the Domestic Violence Acts and would welcome the support of the committee in calling for this development.

I thank the committee for its time and attention. We hope it will use its influence to progress matters.

I thank Ms Martin. Her presentation illuminated a very serious situation. There are obviously many problems throughout the system. I invite a presentation from the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, following which members may ask questions.

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to attend today. I represent a different organisation from the service-providing organisation Ms Martin described as Women's Aid. There is a real need for what we are trying to develop in terms of how the systems need to be changed. I will summarise the submission sent to the committee, which will take approximately eight minutes. I will then hand over to Ms Monica O'Connor, who will speak about a specific element of the work in which the committee may be interested.

The National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency gathers information from every occasion when a particular case of domestic violence catches the attention of a public-service providing body. For example, ideally our programme would pool reports from the Health Service Executive, the Garda Síochána, education services, refuges, the probation and welfare service, etc. It would monitor the effective sharing of information so that victim safety and offender accountability are central to the work of all such agencies.

The NDVIA is modelled on the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Minnesota, a pioneering approach developed in the United States of America approximately 30 years ago that co-ordinates the responses of relevant agencies in the civil and criminal justice system in cases of domestic violence. The Duluth approach has been independently evaluated and it has demonstrated successfully its approach, whereby all agencies making interventions in domestic violence crime are more effective when they put victim safety and offender accountability at the centre of their intervention.

One critical learning point from an early evaluation resulted in ongoing monitoring of this work of agencies to ensure they continue to operate in ways that keep victim safety and offender accountability central to their approach. The most telling outcome from this work is that there has not been a domestic violence-related homicide in Duluth for over ten years. We should pause on that given the rise in the number of homicides by persons who are known to the victim in Ireland, in particular over the past five years.

Informed by Irish research into the response of the courts and the Garda Síochána to domestic violence crime, particularly a piece of research entitled Safety and Sanctions, which Ms O'Connor co-authored, the NDVIA was set up in 2003 to run a three-year pilot project in the Dún Laoghaire and Bray District Court areas. It is funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which commissioned an independent evaluation of the project in November 2005.

This evaluation was very positive, recognising the achievements of the NDVIA with the justice system and its contribution to making victims safer and holding offenders accountable. Following the evaluation, the Department funded us to complete specific objectives based on the learning from the evaluation and to complete some outstanding elements of the model.

The NDVIA recognises the central role played by the justice system in making victims safer and holding offenders accountable; for example in Duluth, for domestic violence-related crimes, the conviction rate is over 50%. This can be compared with the figures presented by Ms Martin. One can see the importance of what seems like a very simple idea, that if one correctly records, gathers and shares information, a difference can be made with regard to conviction rates and the protection of women.

The NDVIA recognises that the form used to collect information, be it by the Garda or the Courts Service, paper or computer-based, determines the information gathered, recorded and shared by practitioners. Importantly, it also determines the level and depth of information which helps inform the decisions made by the Judiciary when cases are presented.

The NDVIA has been working closely with all agencies in developing correct and improved forms to ensure that the maximum information is presented to the courts in both civil and criminal cases, and that policy and practice of the Garda Síochána, the Courts Service and the probation and welfare service are informed by a set of principles of safety. Members can find that in our written submission. Those agencies have at a national level mapped out the work done and agreed on a set of principles which would ensure victim safety.

In their independent evaluation of our work, Farrell Grant Sparks identified four stages of progress for the pilot project operating in the Dún Laoghaire and Bray areas. It indicated we had achieved stage 1, the engagement of all the agencies at the local pilot and national level. Although there are many difficulties still within the Garda, we have had nothing but excellent communication and support from both the local district level of the Garda Síochána right up to the Commissioner in supporting this work. The time taken by the Garda, the courts and the probation and welfare service to map out how they track these cases was interesting. In some cases there was a good deal of learning to be gleaned by these groups from the gaps in information gathering.

In the third stage we went on to test system change in the pilot area, for example, a new form that was piloted by the Garda Síochána to be used when gardaí arrive at the scene of a call-out. This form listed new types of information to be gathered which might indicate that an incident that initially seems to require a few moments' attention may have higher risks. Such information includes whether a pregnant woman or children are present and whether a separation case is going on. By gathering this information at an early stage the Garda may be able to provide a victim with the kind of protection that will ensure the matter does not escalate into a tragic homicide.

We have also developed an aide memoire, a small card a garda keeps in his or her notebook or hat, that provides a checklist of the key investigative risk and follow-up questions to provide guidance for work on the scene and the subsequent investigation and case file completion. This work is crucial in terms of what goes into the system and what gets presented in a court case.

The fourth stage Farrell Grant Sparks identified in the project saw us achieving system change. Anyone who has tried to change a system, whether in the Garda or the probation and welfare service, knows support from the top down is needed and we have received this. The probation and welfare service is developing a training module based on the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, NDVIA, approach to information gathering. The Courts Service has recently adopted a new guide on how to take information provided to a court clerk by a woman who claims to have a problem or that her husband or partner battered her. How such information is gathered and passed on to the judge, what the clerk asks, is crucial.

Along with working with the agencies, the NDVIA also takes referrals of victims and offenders and conducts risk assessments which are then available for the court process. We have dealt with over 40 such assessments from the Bray and Dún Laoghaire District Court areas over the period our pilot scheme has been in operation.

The Farrell Grant Sparks evaluation highlighted that agencies themselves recognise their systems could be more effective and, most importantly, that victims found the service provided by the NDVIA very helpful and supportive in assisting them. This particularly applies to keeping victims' cases going and seeing them dropped due to a lack of support or a fear that the system is not listening to them. We provide a one-to-one service that is complementary to the services provided by front-line service providers and we work closely with organisations in the pilot area. In many cases where victims had been seeking to withdraw charges they continued with the prosecution following support from the NDVIA. This is important given that many gardaí would say their lack of energy in pursuing these cases stems from the high number that are dropped once they begin to be processed.

There are obstacles to making the NDVIA approach operational at a national level. There are legislative gaps and in this regard Women's Aid has asked that the Domestic Violence Act be amended as there are specific elements we feel should be changed. The name of the agency responsible for taking sworn information should be listed in the legislation but this is unclear. The same goes for the name of the agency responsible for serving summonses and providing evidence to the court. There are a number of other such elements mentioned in the document and I will leave them for the attention of the committee.

There is an issue relating to the seizing of a firearm when an order has been granted as this is not done automatically in our jurisdiction. If an order is granted against an individual in Northern Ireland and he or she is known to be the legal holder of a weapon it will be confiscated.

There are two things the committee can do for the NDVIA. It can make representations to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform regarding the continuation of our pilot project. We have had to issue staff with redundancy letters because our funding runs out on 31 January and we still have not managed to get a definitive meeting date with the Department. We do not know if we will have staff to continue this work if and when the funding comes through; that seems a great shame.

The second thing the committee can do relates to support for Women's Aid, including our local refuge in Bray. Organisations such as that require enhanced funding to do direct work with victims. I thank members for their attention. I have supplied members with a case study which they can read for themselves.

Ms Monica O’Connor

I want to draw attention to one aspect of the work that has been demonstrated to be critical in recent years. The NDVIA is committed to learning from what has been effective in other jurisdictions. We are most interested in what prevents re-victimisation, escalation and homicide. We have particularly examined models in the American city of Duluth which demonstrate that domestic violence is a preventable homicide. That city has a population of 350,000 and there has not been a domestic violence homicide there in 12 years; that is phenomenal. We have also been looking at models in Cardiff and Belfast.

These models clearly demonstrate that if every agency centralises victim safety and offender accountability as the central focus of their work, we can put in place effective mechanisms, procedures and protocols in all of the agencies surrounding a high-risk victim. Many members will be aware of the more recent homicides reported in the media. Examining those, one can see very clear, high-risk indicators on which we have worked with the Garda. These indicators include stalking, harassment or the existence of a court order.

People often ask why women stay with abusers. Research now indicates that women are 70% more likely to be raped, severely assaulted or murdered after they access the legal system and attempt to leave their abuser. The existence of a legal order, an attempt to separate, and the abduction of children are also high-risk indicators. Threats to kill the woman or anyone who supports her are also characteristic of known perpetrator homicide. I will not mention by name the most recent case of which people will be aware, there is every indication that there are mechanisms and protocols that will enable agencies like the Garda to work with organisations such as ours in stopping such a homicide. We often know who the perpetrator and the victim are going to be. This is an unusual form of homicide as compared to stranger homicide.

In those circumstances in Belfast, for example, the woman in question would have had a police watch. This involves the "hawk's eye", which is the significant commitment the police has made to a guaranteed three minute response when the panic alarm sounds. She would, for example, be participating in a neighbourhood watch scheme relating specifically to high risk victims that would ensure any information or sightings of unknown cars or known perpetrators would be made known to the police. These are achievable, practical and workable mechanisms and the NDVIA is working with the Garda on them.

As it stands, we are only able to do this in a pilot area, but we are hoping to work with the other agencies around the country which Ms Healy outlined, particularly the probation and welfare service, the Garda and the courts. Therefore, when a case comes to court and the high risk indicators have been noted, a higher level of intervention and a heightened response is put in place. A PSNI inspector said that once something is designated as high risk, it should be seen as pre-homicide as opposed to an incident, which is how it is currently recorded.

This was just one aspect of the work I wanted to draw to the attention of the committee.

Thank you, Ms O'Connor. I appreciate the fact that you did not name any names. For the benefit of those who arrived late, I reiterate the question of privilege and ask that no names arising from current cases are mentioned.

I thank Deputy Lynch who was rapporteur for this committee at the recent meeting of representatives of European parliaments. She was instrumental in developing the committee's interest in the matter.

It was clear at the meeting in Strasbourg that the aim of the Council was not to eliminate domestic violence in a period of one year. We all agree that while that would be welcome, it is unlikely to happen. It is about highlighting the issue and ensuring women know there are protections available and agencies to work with them. That is what we were asked to do. We were asked to bring this to the attention of Parliament. Without any persuasion, the Chairman agreed that whatever resolution was adopted by the committee it would be brought to the floor of the Parliament.

This exercise is worthwhile. It is interesting to hear the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, as a new organisation, and Women's Aid, with which we are all familiar, outline the interagency elements and how putting the safety of women at the core of everything that happens can work. It is worthwhile doing this at the beginning of the new year because last year was awful. The same can be said about previous years. However, we must be careful in that regard because investigations are ongoing in some cases.

I read all the submissions received before the meeting. I put the following question to the representatives of Women's Aid. Does the organisation refer people on? Has it identified those who are particularly helpful to women in certain districts? Does it have a bank of solicitors which it uses? Does it have contact with the Garda? Does it prioritise calls? If someone is on the telephone saying, "He has gone to the pub but he will come back and kill us", is there a priority system in place to deal with such a case? It would be interesting to know how the organisation deals with such calls. I note it has stopped taking referrals. What is the reason for this?

I ask the representatives to bank the questions to allow us hear from a number of members.

My questions are to the representatives of Women's Aid in particular. Has any progress been made on the issue of funding? The submission outlines the impact of the lack of funding in terms of the provision of the helpline but has it affected other services such as support visits and calls?

The National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, NDVIA, presented a model to the committee. Does it see the logic of adopting that model in other areas? I have not seen the evaluation but is there logic in adopting it, especially in regard to one of the concerns of the agency about Garda practice? We heard that in the area it covers there is a good Garda response. Is that the road we should follow as soon as possible?

I welcome the representatives of Women's Aid and the NDVIA and commend the organisations for their work, particularly in supporting women and women's groups. I wish to raise two issues initially. Have the organisations encountered many instances of young male teenagers being excessively violent towards their mothers? This is something I have encountered. The level of violence used by 14 and 15 year olds on their mothers, particularly where there is a dysfunctional family or a major problem in the family, is an issue that has emerged.

My second question relates to the connection between domestic violence and drug abuse. With the increase in the use of cocaine and cocktails of alcohol and cocaine, is there a new level of excessive violence and brute force used against women and children?

The National Crime Council figure of 33% for those experiencing abuse who tell nobody about it is very worrying. One third do not disclose the abuse. This has an effect from both the women's and the children's point of view. The children go to school every day, which results in silent hurt in the classroom. We must have people in schools who can be supportive. Some disadvantaged schools have some progressive and creative programmes to assist such children. However, if we do not help them at four, five and six years of age, they will progress to drug abuse, violence and even suicide. We must help them at that age. Do the representatives agree with that scenario and on how we should deal with it?

With regard to calls, two out of every five could not be answered. Women's Aid is answering calls 12 hours per day, every day of the year. How is it that calls are missed? What is the hidden story?

Perhaps those questions can be answered briefly. A number of members want to ask questions and we wish to deal with all of them.

To reply to Deputy Lynch's question, given how the helpline works, it is a matter of concern that we have no information on missed calls. We know nothing about 40% of the calls, some of which would be crisis calls. On those who get through, obviously we have a woman's safety in mind. All the volunteers and staff are trained and professional in how they approach the matter. They have contacts within the Garda and recommend refuge accommodation. What is worrying is that there is not always accommodation available when it is needed. Whether there are services available depends on the part of the country in which one lives.

The increase in the number of calls appears to be tied to the increase in the level of awareness. We do not have a benchmark for the number of calls dealt with 20 years ago. We do have one for the number dealt with ten years ago, in 1995, when it was one in five. We do not know if there has been a huge increase in the levels of violence but we do know that with greater awareness more women are using our services. When our services are advertised, there is a direct correlation in the number of calls. We refer women to local services; many wish to make contact with local support services and, perhaps, a local refuge.

On the funding issue, a sum of €4.5 million has been allocated in the budget but we have no information on it. We are still trying to get information from the HSE on whether we will receive further funding and what will happen with it. We have staff on contract to deal with the helpline but do not know whether we can offer them further contracts. It poses a significant dilemma.

We fully support the work of the NDVIA and see the logic of it. It is a matter of getting all the players in the system to work together. It is a matter of making women's safety central, which has proven to work in other jurisdictions. It also brings to this country information and expertise we did not previously have. We absolutely support it. We certainly believe that as the NDVIA is rolled out, Garda practice will improve because it has a focus on that.

Deputy Finian McGrath addressed the question of the abuse of mothers by their sons. We have seen much evidence of that. Elder abuse has certainly become a feature of calls to the helpline and it is really worrying. In some cases there would have been an abusive father and the son mirrors his father's behaviour. He may have even left the home and the woman believed that she was much safer, but in some cases that is not so.

On the issue of domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse, certainly we know from research that the level of abuse is significantly more severe once alcohol and drug abuse is involved. It is a risk factor that is identified in so many jurisdictions. If somebody is in a relationship with a person who is using either of those or a combination of them, it is not the cause of domestic violence but the situation is considerably more volatile.

The 33% who told nobody are of great concern. That is why there is such a need for ongoing awareness. It was really interesting, when we were funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to take part in a three-week advertising campaign run by the Department. Our helpline was one of those involved. Within weeks the numbers dropped. One of the lessons we learned is that to get and keep that information out there, one needs a constant ongoing campaign. Being part of a 16-day or annual campaign is really important and often women will keep a newspaper cutting where they come across the helpline number, but many women are struggling and trying to manage, and they will not do that. They need to know when it comes into their head that this might be an option.

The NDVIA stopped taking referrals at the end of October 2005. I refer the committee to the independent evaluation of our work. Farrell Grant Sparks noted in the evaluation that despite a Government commitment to fund the NDVIA for three years, that funding was given to us in an irregular and unplanned manner. Its administration caused great difficulties for our operation. It affected our work to such an extent that due to the uncertainty of the funding, and the ethical concerns arising from taking new referrals, we had to stop taking referrals from October. We did not get our 2006 allocation until mid 2006. We then began again to take referrals between July and December of last year. We have had to stop taking referrals again because our funding effectively finishes on 31 January and we have issued redundancy notices to staff.

I thank the delegates for their presentation. It is an important area and I congratulate them on their work.

Deputy Finian McGrath alluded to alcohol and drug abuse. Have studies been done on the causes of male violence? Are there a significant number of male sociopaths in Irish society? One can state that alcohol and drugs make people who are inclined towards violence more violent, but presumably it does not make them violent in the first instance. If we are to address this in a long-term and effective way, we must look at what causes somebody to be violent in the first instance. Are there studies in that area?

The other point I found astonishing was Ms O'Connor's reference to a woman being 70% more likely to be subjected to greater violence if she engaged with the legal system. If that is the case, are we looking at a complete failure of the system, both within the Garda Síochána and within the courts system, to protect Irish women? One cannot then be surprised that many Irish women fail to report and that, according to her, we are seeing a decline of 35% in the number of reported instances between 2003 and 2005. Would she comment further on this?

It is a matter which is relevant for me. I engaged with a family in my constituency during the course of 2006 where a daughter had married into a situation of extreme violence to the point that the daughter after each incident was brought to a different hospital to be treated so that the case against the husband could not be built up, but that family had come to terms with the belief that this woman was going to be murdered by her husband and she could not find it within herself to leave him. We should actively engage in doing anything we can do as a committee to help develop our legal system and make the systems in place more effective.

I will focus on the role of the Garda. When discussing community policing the committee heard the Garda do not regard community policing as real police work. The vast majority of members of the Garda Síochána do not regard dealing with domestic violence as real police work but as something that should be dealt with by a social worker or somebody else. It was stated the Commissioner and Garda had been co-operative in a pilot scheme. How long will it take to change the attitude of the whole force and to make it clear to gardaí in general that this is a central part of their duty and is as important as any other task they undertake? The committee should highlight this, discuss it with the Commissioner and see what is being done to inform gardaí of how to deal with this matter. Likewise, at a training level it is necessary to ensure new recruits are capable of dealing with it.

I join other speakers in welcoming the deputation and its presentation to us. Is it possible to categorise the different types of personality involved where abuse occurs or would this be unwise? Women and men often stay in abusive relationships because they love and are attached to their children and in some cases to the abuser. It is alarming that the only policy of many of the agencies is to engage the Garda Síochána. The Garda has an important input but this does not appear to be an exclusively "Garda intervention" set-up and health intervention may be warranted. I presume many of these abusers suffer and perhaps with treatment a situation could be corrected. I accept it is important to ensure those individuals with potential to become psychopathic would be taken in hand at an early stage by the Garda. How best can this be addressed within the system?

How much money is allocated in this area currently? How much of the €4.5 million allocated will Women's Aid receive? How much does the organisation need to ensure that the two out of every five people who are not answered are answered? Women's Aid says that more than 400 support visits were made in 2006. Of what does a visit comprise? It was also said a code of practice on domestic violence is being developed. What will be included in it?

Women report ex-partners making constant threatening phone calls and sending text messages. Is there any way service providers can help or do something in that regard? What action can be taken at Government, local authority or Garda level to reduce that problem?

In 2005 women disclosed 371 specific reports of rape. What is the Women's Aid estimate of the number of unreported cases of rape? The Garda plays a crucial role. It is the only statutory agency with a full policy on domestic violence. We have heard the Garda is inconsistent in how it deals with domestic violence. It does not appear that the full policy, if there is one, is being applied. Has it ever been thought that a Deputy Commissioner should be appointed to ensure that domestic violence is treated as a very serious criminal matter and that the full rigor of the law should is brought to bear on the offenders?

Women's experiences with gardaí were more negative than positive. This ties in with the question on the Garda that has already been asked. What can be done with judges? With what numbers and areas is the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency dealing at present? Are the issues of the Kilmainham and Rathfarnham District Court areas being dealt with? It appears that Farrell Grant Sparks dealt with the programme in the Bray-Dún Laoghaire area.

Is domestic violence more common in disadvantaged communities?

That question has been taken.

On the question of causes, I honestly believe the main cause is that men abuse women because they can get away with it. In this regard, consider what has been done to make driving safer. The strong pressure required to get motorists to wear safety belts shows that one must have deterrents in place. There are no deterrents in place for men who abuse women.

A combination of other factors can be in the mix but the reality is that if one in five women is being abused by a man, a very significant number of men must be abusing their partners. They are not all suffering from some psychological condition, nor are they all suffering as a result of a bad childhood or anything else one mentions. The factor that will result in change will be an effective sanctioning system.

The representatives of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency will discuss the Garda. I strongly support the introduction of a policy for all the key players. This should encompass health services, local authorities, housing agencies and any other agencies with which women interact. This and education are really important.

Ms O’Connor

I refer to Deputy Ó Fearghaíl's comment on the fact that a woman is 70% more likely to be subjected to violence if she engages with the legal system. This statistic is borne out by international research, not Irish research. It has been demonstrated that the purpose of violence is almost always intentionally to control another person. It is to dominate, control and make someone do what one wants her to do. This could involve bullying. In the case of male domestic violence, it is very clearly a question of physical and sexual control. It is therefore logical to assume that the period in which the victim begins to seek help and starts to move away from the level of control she has been experiencing is very dangerous for her. This is probably what the research has demonstrated and it supports what women have always said, "I am afraid to go because he will kill me". The young woman in the Deputy's example is in a high risk, potentially homicidal, situation.

The National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency believes this issue should be a priority in the policing plan of every EU member state. This would cause a significant shift towards giving it priority for members of the force. I have trained so many gardaí in the past two years that I feel I am almost a member of the force. While there is good practice and good practitioners, this is erratic. A shift in emphasis away from family mediation or minor incident crime to effective policing of a serious crime is required. Some committee members have said correctly that this is not regarded as real work in the way that drug law or other kinds of law enforcement are. The NDVIA is trying to change the language, to state effective policing involves preventing serious crime, rape and homicide.

I have had the privilege of having informal lunches with members of the Judiciary in the past couple of years. The separation of powers is very clear and we cannot influence the Judiciary. However, it accepts that the NDVIA has worked with other agencies to ensure maximum information on the crime is available to the Bench. It is no longer the case that a woman goes into court and says what happened. Medical evidence is available and the Garda will have recorded evidence accurately and moved away from reporting this simply as an incident. In Belfast, for example, one domestic violence incident results in an 18 page file for the court, which changes the way a judge perceives the crime. The file contains photographs, medical reports and information from every relevant agency, making it similar to a book of evidence.

The absence of the probation and welfare service in the family law courts has been a serious loss to judges because in the past they could have commissioned a probation report which would have given them an accurate risk assessment. Ten years ago I worked in a refuge. For the seven years I was there probation and welfare officers were involved in the family law courts and beginning to engage in safety planning and risk assessment. They delivered effective reports to judges. Now some judges say it is a question of his word against hers. They have no evidence before them and do not know whether a case carries a low or high risk. Some say they do not know whether when they pick up the newspaper they will see that a woman to whom they have refused a barring order will be reported as a homicide case. Some members of the Judiciary are deeply concerned that the necessary evidence is not presented in the family law courts where civil orders are made. They are also concerned that when the Garda presents a criminal case in Kilmainham or the District Court, it does not do so on the basis that this is a serious indictable crime. It is presented as a breach of an order.

That is the shift we are trying to effect. In many of the cases I studied in which there was a breach of an order the Garda could have brought charges on at least five other criminal counts, for example, attempted murder. An inspector with whom I work is putting in place significant measures to examine the level of evidence his young officers record on the scene. He tells them that it is not just a breach of an order but a threat to kill or a stalking offence which carry more severe penalties and which the judges would take more seriously. It is hard to give the whole picture but I urge the committee to argue that what we are doing on a pilot basis be extended nationwide.

I will finish at this point, although some questions may not have been answered. A record and video recording of these proceedings will be available. We would appreciate it if the NDVIA would respond in writing to some of the questions asked. This has been an eye-opening exercise. I thank the representatives of the NDVIA for coming and look forward to improvements in the system. I also look forward to the delegation returning to further brief the committee on those developments.

The committee will now hear presentations by local groups at the coalface of treating the problem of domestic violence. I welcome Ms Phil Devereux and Ms Deirdre Lawlor from the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service. I also welcome Ms Mary Crilly and Ms Dola Twomey from the Sexual Violence Centre, Cork, and Ms Deborah O'Flynn and Ms Mary St. Leger from the One Stop Shop, OSS, Cork. I draw attention to the fact that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Ms Phil Devereux

Our organisation's mission is to offer a first step to support women who may be experiencing violence in their homes. Our aims are to deal with the issue of violence in the home; to provide a safe, confidential space to enable people to break the silence of violence and oppression; to provide information and offer confidential non-judgmental support, advice and guidance. Consultations were held in the Kimmage-Walkinstown-Crumlin-Drimnagh area in 2001. At those consultations women were asked what was most needed. The top two requests were child care and somewhere safe where a woman could receive support and information on domestic violence.

Following this process a group of community activists established the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service. They comprised the manager of the local Citizens Information Centre, the ARC co-ordinator, a representative of the Kimmage, Walkinstown, Crumlin and Drimnagh Area Partnership, a member of the HSE, a social worker from St. James's Hospital, the JI co-ordinators and a Garda inspector from the Dublin 12 area. One community activist provided a room free and a free telephone line, while training was provided for management members by Women's Aid. Volunteers were recruited and trained by Women's Aid and the helpline was opened in August 2002. We received the fourth call in September 2002, with the line officially launched in November of that year. We started with three mornings per week, and we now work five mornings, from 9.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. We offer a free, one-to-one service to women, providing confidential support and information. The service was developed through demands from the women ringing the helpline. Some women prefer the anonymity of the telephone, while others opt for a face-to-face consultation. We also hold fora in our area, the aim of which is to break the silence surrounding domestic violence in the community. Those fora are held every three months and are very well attended by various voluntary, community and statutory agencies in the Dublin 12 area.

We have fairly strong links with the Garda and work hand in hand with gardaí at the four stations in the area. When a garda is called to a domestic incident, he will give out our card. We do not tell a woman what to do, simply giving her information and support. If we hear of a particularly good or bad response from a woman to the gardaí, we will call the station and provide feedback. We have fairly good links with the Garda. The local inspector is 100% committed to our service, sitting on our management committee along with the local community garda.

We have strong links with the social workers in the Health Service Executive. Ms Lawlor and I work to support women alongside social workers. The women do not see us as a threat. We take them from where they are rather than from where we think they should be. We also have links with social workers in the hospital. If a social worker believes that a woman may be living with domestic violence, or she has been admitted as a patient, Ms Lawlor and I will go to the hospital to meet her and offer her support and information.

Our Lady's Hospital is a children's institution, and we know that children are affected very badly by domestic violence psychologically. If a child has been admitted to Our Lady's Hospital with stomach pains, for example, social workers will recognise that they may be psychological in origin. As one professor said, we feel tension in our heads but children feel it in their stomachs. There is a strong link with Our Lady's Hospital.

We provide two hours of education awareness training for schools and women's groups within the HSE. Ms Lawlor and I conduct a two-hour training session with primary and secondary schools. We learn from the teenagers and they learn from us. They are very much aware of domestic violence. We also hold sessions with teachers on home-school liaison committees, who ring our helpline very regularly if they find themselves dealing with a woman living with domestic violence, or if they seek support. If they are already supporting someone, they may require reassurance that they are doing or saying the right things.

The HSE recently set up a domestic violence working group, which is the first of its kind. We hope to develop policies on best practice in the health board. It is a pilot programme, with 13 of us involved, including social workers and community care workers.

Ms Deirdre Lawlor

I want to say a few words on funding. We are a voluntary organisation established by the community for the community. As such, we very much depend on community grants and trusts, as well as on our own fund-raising efforts, such as coffee mornings, bag-packing, and women's mini-marathons. We receive great support from the women in our community who come out to run the marathon for us.

When the service was set up in 2001, we received a small amount of seed funding from the Kimmage, Walkinstown, Drimnagh and Crumlin Area Partnership, the KWCD, to train managers and volunteers. The South Western Area Health Board, now part of the HSE, covered the initial costs of printing leaflets, cards and other material. In 2002, through the health board representative on our management committee, the HSE provided funding for a part-time worker. We also needed another worker, so the management committee decided to fundraise. With the support of the local community, coffee mornings, bag packing, etc., we were able to employ another part-time worker. This worker was on contract for a month, three weeks and three months and her contract was never secure. It showed her commitment to the service. Fortunately, since 2005 she has been employed, like myself, on a part-time basis by the HSE. That came about through our HSE representative on the management committee.

We decided to have the service evaluated to see whether we were going in the right direction and what lessons could be learned in the event that we were going wrong. It took two years to secure funding for this, but eventually it was done in 2005. We hired an external evaluator to undertake this task. The document was launched in February 2005, with funds received from the domestic violence section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This was a great event and was really well-attended.

One of the recommendations in the evaluation was that funding should be made available to the service to secure appropriate premises, as otherwise the service could not continue. As Ms Devereux has mentioned, one community group gave us a room, an office we shared with a nurse working in addiction services. We had access to it three mornings a week. The HSE took this recommendation on board and gave us funding in 2006 to rent premises. We now have three rooms instead of one, but we do not know whether this funding will be ongoing. The €20,000 the HSE gave us was for office furniture. We had a telephone but no furniture. We are very lucky to have three rooms instead of one. It would take too long to mention all our funders over the years.

The committee might indicate to the Government on our behalf that much time and energy goes into funding applications. Most community grants are very small and once-off. Much time and energy goes into them when we could be working in another area. We are continually looking for funding. We are therefore asking for long-term funding because we do not enjoy the same financial security as other services and therefore cannot plan for the long-term. We should like to have a three-year plan and have our own premises where, as well as the helpline, we could offer one to one support and have a drop-in facility for women. We should also like to employ helpline staff. At the moment we are linked with other services. There is a community employment person who works on the helpline as well as a part-time administration worker. We should like to have funding to extend the helpline from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. We want our own premises because we do not have security of tenure at present. We are renting rooms in a building that could be sold at any time.

The other matter which has been mentioned before in the context of dangers facing women is the fact that domestic violence is a crime. We should like the Government to recognise this and hold men accountable. We hear regularly on our helpline about increases in the levels of danger. If a man is taken to court and released, which happens often, the danger for the woman concerned may be considerably escalated. We have heard other speakers refer to this.

We hear a good deal, too, on the helpline about what we call dual abuse. That is where a man abuses a woman during access visits to the children. Such abuse could be physical or emotional. We want the courts to take into consideration the effects of this type of domestic violence, not alone on the woman but also the children, during such access visits. Many women report that after these visits a child can appear very unsettled and be very angry towards the mother. It may take her a week to get the child settled and then it is time for another visit, so that the situation is replicated. Women are actually being abused during these access visits and the issue of granting access to a violent man should be looked at.

I thank Ms Lawlor. We shall now hear from Ms Mary Crilly from the Sexual Violence Centre, Cork.

Ms Mary Crilly

I will not keep the committee too long because I know everyone is getting tired at this stage. My background is that I was involved with the national task force ten years ago. I have worked with the Sexual Violence Centre, Cork, formerly the Rape Crisis Centre, since 1983. I am also a member of various committees dealing with domestic and sexual violence. There is always an overlap between these two categories of violence. I was also a founder member of OSS Cork, and members will hear from representatives of that organisation later.

It is important to recall the work done by the national task force, of which Ms Monica O'Connor was also a member. The report of this task force was published ten years ago, in 1997. Its brief was to examine in detail the needs of victims of domestic and sexual violence and to make recommendations to address those needs. The membership was made up from statutory sector organisations with responsibility in this area and agencies working on the front line. It was a phenomenal committee that did phenomenal work.

In regard to domestic violence, its recommendations came under the following headings: the extent and nature of domestic violence; barriers to women in dealing with violence; seeking self-helping options; personal safety; the role of the Garda Síochána; legal issues; refuges and support services; prevention and education; health and social services; developing a national strategy; and, most importantly, working together to effect change.

After working on this project for two years, we were assured that our report would not be filed away and that our recommendations would be implemented. There was a promise of Government support and funding and there seemed to be genuine political will to make progress under the various headings. A decade later, it is time to examine what was achieved in the interim. We must revisit the report to assess what remains to be done and the successes and failures that have arisen out of this work. We have heard about various successes in this area today. It is vital to evaluate such successes so we can learn how to make further progress.

Our objective was to make a difference in the lives of victims of domestic and sexual violence now and in the future. My personal and professional opinion is that the impact of the recommendations of the task force to address the issue of violence against women has been far less than was hoped when they were published in 1997. It is from this perspective that I address the committee today. The most important question we must ask ourselves is what, if anything, has changed for victims in the past ten years?

When considering this question, I have in mind a fictional woman whom I shall name Mrs. Murphy. This person, who has three children, is being abused by her husband and does not know where to turn for help. She is afraid to leave her violent partner but is also afraid to stay. She has no independent income and her family and friends have long since learned to stay away. A large part of her feels responsible for what is happening; if she did not irritate her husband so much, he would not react the way he does. That is what he tells her and she believes him.

Life is getting progressively worse for Mrs. Murphy. The barriers facing a courageous woman like this in removing herself and her young children from a violent relationship were recognised in the report of the national task force. The wonder is that a woman such as this can or does, as many others have and will, leave this violent relationship. The barriers experienced by Mrs. Murphy were sufficient to retain her in a violent relationship, as is the case for many women in similar positions.

This was all supposed to change after 1997. Ten years later, however, the question remains whether anything has changed for women such as Mrs. Murphy. Are services any easier to access and has their availability improved? Are they delivered in an integrated, co-ordinated, professional and dignified manner — as promised — and tailored to the needs of each victim. Are perpetrators held accountable or does society continue to excuse and turn a blind eye to domestic violence?

We must also consider whether the increase in funding allocation has improved service provision for victims. A decade ago, all the voluntary sector organisations which continue to work with victims of domestic violence were working entirely on a voluntary basis. Some, with the small level of funding they received, were finally able to begin paying their staff. This is one small improvement. Without wishing to criticise any of these organisations, however, we must ask whether services in general have improved.

In 1995, according to the task force report, 4,500 barring orders were applied for and 2,000 were granted. In 2005, according to Courts Service statistics, 3,083 barring orders were applied for, of which 1,265 were granted. This constitutes a reduction in applications for what is meant to be the main remedy available to victims of violence. While international studies show that approximately 15% to 20% of people will take such a route, most will not. Moreover, as marital rape was mentioned earlier, it is worth noting there has only ever been one conviction for marital rape in Ireland.

Apart from the criminal justice system, there are no data available on access to or usage of the range of voluntary and statutory agencies by victims of violence. The importance of gathering data was also mentioned previously and no evaluations of such services are conducted. Significantly, the experiences of victims of violence continue to be individual, silent, unresearched and hidden. The question is moot as to whether increased funding has resulted in the removal of barriers to accessing such services and leaving a life of violence. In itself, funding can only ever go so far. The barriers faced in Ireland by women such as the fictional Mrs. Murphy have a strong structural component and the extent to which they have been addressed is questionable.

The third question pertained to how this was meant to happen. The task force recommended the establishment of a national steering committee, as well as committees in each region, to work towards the implementation of the recommendations on a regional and national basis. Such committees were to draw their membership from the voluntary and statutory sectors and were to be dynamic interagency bodies that would ensure continued development and improvements in the field. However, in my opinion, these committees have neither fulfilled their brief nor the hope and enthusiasm with which they were initially embraced. Had they so done, I would not be posing this question today. Had such committees been effective, they would have posed such questions in the intervening ten years and would have come up with the answers during that time.

The final question pertains to future directions. I have worked with the unified midwifery services in Cork for the past year, which has been highly productive and progressive. I have been working with an amazing group of midwives and medical social workers in Cork hospitals who were concerned and who had realised that frequently, domestic violence starts with pregnancy. People do not believe this and young women will never recognise domestic violence as a problem that pertains to them if a man is abusive during their relationship. They simply rationalise to the effect he is an awful mullah who might come from an awful home and that everything will be fine when they settle down, especially if they have a baby. Unfortunately, that is when domestic violence begins.

We sought to introduce routine questioning in Cork in order that anyone who visited the hospital because they were pregnant would be asked immediately on their first visit whether they were a victim of, or had encountered, domestic violence. I have been doing this for the past year and it has been very productive. Policies and procedures have been put in place in all maternity units in Cork. However, I was fascinated and somewhat stunned by one finding. As Cork is a small place, people tend to be aware of the locations of places and services. In a random sample, 280 women who entered the hospitals were asked whether they knew the locations of the services for domestic violence and 85% did not.

This finding shocked me to an extent. It brings me back to a question, namely, for whom did I do this ten years ago? For whom did we all do it and of whom were we thinking? I again refer to Mrs. Murphy and as far as I can tell, very little has changed for her. I would like to be persuaded that I lead a blind life in Cork and that much has happened which I have not come across. However, answers must be found. We must return to the drawing board to evaluate, plan, implement and re-evaluate maturely. We must build on the successes, learn from the failures and such successes and failures must be identified.

While I am not a committee woman and do not believe in sitting on one committee after another, or in having committees for this, that or the other purpose, this issue must be revisited. Another task force, of the same calibre as the aforementioned one, must be set up. All that needs to be done is to review and re-evaluate the contents of this report, which contains recommendations, priorities and everything else. It would be a step forward to set up another task force to identify successes and ascertain the direction to take, as to not do so would be to stand still or to run around in circles. If we stand still, run around in circles or bay for increased funding, the media will add to the hopelessness of people such as Mrs. Murphy, who believe there is no help available for her. Unfortunately, all that women are hearing is that there is nothing available for them.

I thank Ms Crilly. We will now hear from the representative of the One Stop Shop, OSS, Cork, Ms Deborah O'Flynn.

I am the co-ordinator of the OSS, Cork. I am accompanied today by my colleague, Mary St. Leger. On behalf of the OSS, I thank the committee for the invitation to discuss the issue of domestic violence against women, in particular as it is experienced by our service and service users in Cork city and the surrounding area.

Violence against women is one of the most serious forms of gender based violations of human rights. The Council of Europe has as its fundamental concern the safeguarding and protection of such rights. Domestic violence undermines this value, hence it is incumbent upon Europe, its individual states and governments, societies and individuals to take all reasonable efforts to "prevent, investigate and punish all forms of violence against women, including in the family and domestic unit". That quote is from the 2006 blueprint.

Domestic violence occurs across all levels of society and manifests itself across a spectrum from physical assault to psychological abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and social abuse. It often takes place in secret. A person may experience only one or a combination of the above to a greater or lesser degree at any one time. Indeed, the nature of the abuse may change during the course of a relationship but at its core is an individual's attempt to assert their power and control over another while at no stage taking responsibility for their actions. It places the victim in a position of fear, creates dependency and reduces their self-esteem and ability to make decisions.

The OSS was established in July 2000 in response to the recommendations of the task force report mentioned by Ms St. Leger earlier. It commenced life as a six month pilot project and in the intervening years it has been mainstreamed and has secured a service agreement with the Health Service Executive southern region, which in turn provides core funding via the Southern Regional Committee on Violence Against Women. Since 2005, we have been in receipt of some ancillary funds from the Victims Commission which facilitates the training of volunteers to perform court accompaniment work.

The OSS is ideally located in the centre of Cork city within walking distance of the courts, the refuge, local authorities, social welfare offices, health services, etc., and any agencies to whom we refer clients and from whom we receive referrals. Proximity to public transport maximises access for service users to the OSS and the city centre location adds to the anonymity clients often seek.

We are open on a part-time basis only from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and are currently seeking to extend the full complement of services to the afternoon. The service is provided free of charge and it is confidential. We operate a walk-in appointment and telephone helpline service.

The service itself is tailored to meet the needs of the individual and will vary from situation to situation, always having as its priority the health and safety of the client which cannot be compromised. We provide both emotional and practical support to victims of domestic violence through supportive listening, where the abuse can be disclosed in a safe and secure environment to experienced and sensitive support staff.

The OSS provides appropriate information whether about legal options, though not advice, financial entitlements or housing routes and will assist with applications where necessary. The OSS provides accompaniment to court, which can be a daunting and intimidating experience for clients, albeit a sometimes important and essential one.

It is a one stop shop but where the information or a service required is not available in-house, an appropriate referral will be made. The OSS actively advocates on behalf of its clients both at an individual and societal level. The end goal is to empower the client to change their circumstances by whatever means.

The OSS does not discriminate on the basis of gender, recognising that men can be victims of domestic abuse although admittedly the number of disclosures by males to the service is far less, as evidenced by the statistics. In 2005, it was about 7% of our clients.

The client groups are not limited to marital relationships nor to co-habiting couples. We have assisted parents with abusive children, teenagers with abusive parents, older adults being abused by adult children and, occasionally, victims of sibling abuse. Furthermore, a number of our clients would be post the relationship but suffering the after-effects or still experiencing violence, often through child access issues and non-payment of maintenance.

Throughout the six and a half years the OSS has been in operation, a number of issues have emerged as concerns through our experience of our clients' experience. Furthermore, through the exchange of information at the Cork interagency group and the southern regional committee meetings we are aware that these experiences are not unique to the OSS and are shared by other agencies and their clients in both the Cork and Kerry regions.

There is no actual crime of domestic violence. The onus is on the victim to obtain the protection of the State. For those victims who report the abuse, the response from authorities has on occasion been less than positive. Furthermore, those clients who take the legal measures necessary to secure their safety have found the experience has sometimes been disappointing and, indeed, this would appear to be worsening. In Cork in 2005, 78 barring orders were granted, down from 103 in 2004, and 44 safety orders were granted, a reduction of 23 from the previous year. There is also a dangerous delay between application and hearing, from two to three months in Cork city, in which the abuse often intensifies and the strain on women becomes intolerable. Sanctions following the reported breach of an order have also not been consistent.

Most glaring is the lack of legal protection for persons who continue to be abused, who either have never co-habited or who are post a co-habiting relationship and beyond the time criteria to apply for either safety or barring orders. This situation is greatly compounded when the couple have a child or children in common, due to the ongoing contact and communication that results.

There is a need for counselling services for children specific to domestic violence. One of the greatest challenges facing us is the lack of such services for children, who certainly suffer emotionally, psychologically, socially and educationally as a result of living in a home with domestic abuse. In 2005, a total of 454 children came in contact with the services of the local refuge and the HSE southern region with regard to issues of domestic violence.

There is a need for supervised access facilities. Unfortunately, it is the experience of many of our clients that their safety is compromised during child access when they might be subject to verbal abuse, not to mention the financial abuse applied and the difficulties that arise when child maintenance is not honoured. This experience can be exacerbated when the child is questioned and manipulated by the abusive partner.

An increase in the amount of transitional housing and emergency spaces is required. The task force report recommended an increase in "the availability of second stage housing". There is a decided lack of such housing and refuge spaces available in Cork city and its surrounds. Sofia Housing provides transitional homes in the form of 11 family apartments and two single ones, while the local and only refuge, Cuanlee, has units to house a mere six families in an emergency. Private rented accommodation appears to be the only option available to OSS clients and this requires registering on the housing list and availing of rent allowance from community welfare officers. Unfortunately, the financial ceiling appears not to have kept abreast with inflation and actual cost of rents, making the locating of suitable accommodation in Cork an onerous task on already stressed individuals and, indeed, homelessness a stark possibility.

More recently, as with all services across the country, our client base has broadened to include a larger non-national community. This has brought with it the attendant challenges of ethnic difference and language barriers, where options presented may be culturally unacceptable and interpreters a financial burden that may not even be feasible for the organisation's budget. In Cork, the average costs for interpretation per hour are approximately €60. There is also a lack of comprehension of, or fear of exercising, the person's rights.

The habitual residence criterion greatly compromises those non-nationals who are not habitually resident in Ireland for two years. Preventing a person's access to financial assistance in the form of, for example, rent allowance or supplementary welfare allowance reduces their options for escape and may trap them in a violent situation. Some of our clients have resisted applying for orders due to their financial dependence on their spouse and fear that barring them will place them in financial jeopardy.

While our wish list is long, the OSS would recommend the following main points for consideration. The OSS, Cork, seeks an increase in funding to extend the full complement of services to the afternoon to meet demand, to employ additional support workers to cover the cost of interpretation and to promote a publicity and information drive. There is a paucity of services available to clients outside office hours and at weekends and we wish to meet that challenge.

Domestic violence must be criminalised and the Garda needs a more proactive policy and practice. Expecting an already vulnerable person to take responsibility for securing their own legal protection is inappropriate, dangerous and unrealistic. A reduction in the waiting time between application and hearing is essential to encourage women to take action in the first instance.

The Domestic Violence Act requires amendment to offer protection to non-cohabiting persons who currently present as one of the groups most at risk, particularly when there are children in common. Training for the Judiciary and adjunct agencies is vital if a standard of service is to be made available and the proper sanctions put in place and adhered to. This is a fundamental of good practice and it is one of the recommendations in the task force report. The task force also proposed the establishment of regional family courts, which would lend itself to maintenance of standards, shorter waiting lists and consistency of sanctions.

Services for children are imperative. The blueprint of the Council of Europe campaign states that domestic violence damages not only women but also future generations. The cost to society and its future will be immeasurable if we do not protect the next generation. A counselling service for children, specific to domestic violence, needs to be established to increase the options available to women who attend the OSS in helping their children recover from the effects of domestic abuse. An increase in the availability of transitional and emergency housing is required, both in Cork and nationwide, if we are to improve women's options of escape and avoid either homelessness or the trapping of families within abusive environments.

The changing face of Irish society has created a vulnerable population group compromised by cultural, linguistic and financial difficulties. As a first step, a relaxation of the habitual residence criteria is necessary where domestic violence has been demonstrated as the mitigating factor for people seeking State assistance.

The OSS wishes to acknowledge the many positive changes that have taken place in the past ten years. As the catchphrase states, however, there is "A lot done, more to do". A concerted and joint effort would help to reduce and aim to eliminate domestic violence against women. In the long term this would benefit the State by reducing pressure on the judicial and health systems and increasing productivity through a healthy and happy workforce.

The European Council has called for "men's active participation to combat violence against women". In light of this, it is wonderful to see such an initiative and to see so many men present.

I thank the joint committee for the invitation to make a presentation and we wish it well in its work.

Problems relating to domestic violence are consistent throughout the country. If such problems can be resolved in Duluth, one must wonder why systems similar to those which operate there are not put in place in Ireland.

I welcome our guests. It is interesting that the representatives of the three groups represented each have different opinions on the same subject. Great credit is due to the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service, which developed out of the holding of coffee mornings and which is now extremely active in dealing with this problem in the community. It is easy for groups of this nature to go under and the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service is surviving against the odds and providing a worthwhile service. The Sexual Violence Centre, Cork, is probably the only group to appear before the committee today that did not request increased funding, which is unusual. I am extremely familiar with the OSS and its history.

I wish to pose a question to the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service and the OSS. I am already aware of the position of the OSS, Cork, on the matter. Do the representatives of the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service and the OSS believe that there should be a root and branch review of the 1996 report? With the exception of Ms Crilly, the representatives of the various groups stated that they have wish lists. It is clear, therefore, that the recommendations of the very successful committee that produced the report to which I refer have not been put in place in their entirety. There is a clear and obvious need to examine what has and has not been done and the action that must now be taken. Situations do not remain static and events move on. If, for instance, the Dublin 12 group or the OSS adopted a five-day week, would the number of callers increase?

How much funding is available to both groups? How much would be needed for both groups to operate five days a week? Who are the funders? I do not expect donations by local businesses to such services to be included in that list but I would like to know how much is provided by State agencies. Is everyone agreed there should be a review?

Clarity is needed on the funding available and this must be presented by the HSE at some stage. Many groups are doing vital work but they are distracted by having to fund raise. It is terrible that this happens in this day and age. Every group must fund raise to supplement State funding. However, clarity is needed on the core funding so that groups whose work is evaluated and appreciated are enabled to operate on a full-time basis, especially in the provision of helplines and so on, which are required outside regular office hours. There are ways in which that can be done.

Given that the 1997 task force report was mentioned as a benchmark earlier, how far have its recommendations been advanced over the past ten years during the Celtic tiger era? While Ireland has prospered economically, a cohesive official response to sexual and domestic violence has altered little and the Government has responded inadequately to the 1997 recommendations. The increase in the number of barring orders sought between 1997 and 2005 indicates the problem has worsened but the reduction in the number granted indicates a problem with the official response.

The OSS submission stated the problems relating to the housing of victims of domestic and sexual violence remain because voluntary agencies do not have a guarantee of ongoing funding and, therefore, of their existence. This is still a problem ten years later and it was also a problem 20 years before the report when the voluntary response took the form of a Band Aid solution.

While Ms Crilly stated revisiting the report would be a good starting place, implementing the recommendations might be a better place to start. If the funding was in place to implement them, it would go some way towards addressing the problems that continue to worsen.

I apologise for being late as I was delayed at another meeting. However, I have been raising questions on this issue for some time. I am concerned about the official recording of incidents of domestic violence by the Garda. In 2003, the Garda recorded the number of incidents, arrests, persons charged, persons injured and persons convicted. This has not been the case in the annual Garda reports since then. Only incidents of barring orders have been recorded. We have the lowest incidence of conviction for domestic violence in the EU. Is this matter being brushed under the carpet? Why did the Garda change the way of recording incidents of domestic violence? I have called on the Minister to tell me why this is the case. If we do not know, from officially published Garda records, how many incidents occur, how many arrests are made and how many people are charged we are working in a vacuum. I am alarmed by this state of affairs. I will be interested to hear the reactions of Ms Devereux and Ms Lawlor to this.

If people feel they can get away with domestic violence it will happen more often. However, if there is a clear sanction for the crime and if perpetrators are likely to be caught and charged they will think twice about resorting to violence. This involves looking at the problem from a different angle but we must look at this side of the issue too. I am concerned that our society is brushing the issue under the carpet and trying to pretend it does not exist.

We must put more resources into tackling the problem. I support the call for a new task force. As Deputy Lynch said, we must look at this issue again. The Minister should do this, set a timeframe for the task force's report and put someone in charge who will be accountable for making things happen. This is a serious issue. Representatives of other groups have come before this committee and told us of people who suffer all kinds of horrors but whom they cannot help because they do not have the necessary back up.

Ms Devereux, would you like to deal with these questions?

Ms Devereux

The number of calls to us would certainly increase if our office was open five days a week from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The message on our answering machine gives the telephone numbers of Women's Aid and of women's refuges so that women can access those services after our hours. Our answering machine always has a large number of messages.

I will ask Deirdre Lawlor to answer the questions regarding funding.

Ms Lawlor

We depend on volunteers. At present we have between ten and 14 helpline volunteers. Some can work one morning per week and some one morning per month. If we did not have volunteers we would not have a service because Phil Devereux and I are the only two paid workers. We have to do all the other work, such as supporting women and looking after the training of volunteers. We need considerably more staff. We also need premises with security of tenure so that we do not continually have to seek small amounts of funding.

Our own fundraising efforts are not as tiresome as filling out application forms for €500 here and there because we also view them as awareness raising events. They allow us to get out and raise awareness of the issue. Off the top of my head, I would say we need a further €500,000.

How much funding does the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service receive?

Ms Lawlor

In 2006, we received €20,000 from the Health Service Executive to set up the new offices and buy computers, which is how that money was spent.

Including salaries, overheads, advertising and other expenses, what is the total amount of funding?

Ms Lawlor

As well as the €20,000 that we received in 2006, Phil Devereux and I are employed by the HSE, which amounts to approximately €70,000, and we received approximately €5,000 in other small grants.

That amounted to approximately €95,000 in total.

Ms Lawlor

Approximately €75,000, and we also do our own fundraising.

How much would be made through fundraising?

Ms Lawlor

We raise approximately €3,000 from bag-packing and €3,000 from the mini marathon. Bag-packing involves standing on one's feet from Thursday to Saturday or Thursday to Sunday.

It is very hard work for that amount of money.

It is also a form of advertising of the service. There is approximately €75,000 in funding from Government sources.

Ms Lawlor

Yes. The majority of that covers salaries.

It is important for us to know that fact.

Creating awareness is also very important. The T-shirts are excellent.

Ms Lawlor

I agree that creating awareness is important.

Many questions were raised about the task force report, its implementation and whether there should be a new task force. Would Ms Crilly like to answer some of those questions?

Ms Crilly

We should do both. I agree with Deputy Boyle that we should go ahead and implement the recommendations, but it is important to remember, as with any report, that funding is not needed for every recommendation. We proved that in Cork last year with the programme we put in place with the midwives. That was a significant move, but there was little cost to it.

I felt excited in 1997 because I believed the different agencies would work together and women would be given a dignified response wherever they went. For example, although a woman going to a Department to seek help might meet decent people, the response used often be, "Sorry Mary, I know your problem, but I will have to get the person who deals with that, it is not me". That sort of response was supposed to change and that is the reason it is so important to review the situation. At the same time, some recommendations could be put in place straight away, while others could be worked on within a timeframe.

We are all of the same mind with regard to the need to review the task force report as we are ten years down the line. I mentioned earlier the outstanding recommendations such as transitional housing, etc. The Council of Europe recommends that a senior person in Government should take responsibility for the issue and be held accountable in that regard in order to ensure the work is done. That would seem a matter of good practice.

We were asked whether we would experience an increase in the number of our clients if we had funding to open in the afternoons. I believe we would. Our service is part time, but as the co-ordinator I am often on the premises full-time and receive calls while I should be doing other work or people call to the door seeking appointments I cannot offer on the spot. Often, these people in violent situations have grabbed the bull by the horns and taken their opportunity to access the service. It is soul-destroying for me to have to tell them that I am sorry I cannot see them because I am on my own and for health and safety or insurance reasons cannot do so. I am always conscious that I may lose the opportunity to help these people as they may give up hope.

The first time a person discloses their situation to a person or professional in a position of authority, the response received is vital if the person is to be encouraged to follow through on some course of action. If the person gets a resounding "No" or encounters someone who is not interested in the problem or cannot offer a service, it is likely the person will go straight back to the problem situation.

There is also the matter of the quality rather than just the quantity of the service. We are under pressure in our morning time slots between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to see the number of people we see. I often feel we rush them in and out. We must also consider staff well-being. Sometimes we do not have time to say hello to each other as we rush the next person in, almost like on a conveyor belt. Some mornings are quiet, but when we are busy, we are extremely busy.

Deputy Lynch referred to how small our premises are — our office space doubles as our client room and at times there is little breathing space between our appointments. Perhaps client appointments should be more spread out. In addition, it is difficult for some clients to access our services because they are in employment and cannot attend in the mornings.

It is a two-pronged issue. Our numbers would rise but I also believe that quality is an issue.

Is there any specific item Ms Twomey or Ms St. Leger may wish to raise which has not been raised?

Ms Mary St. Leger

If abusers are not brought to court and made to take responsibility for their actions, while they may leave their partner they will continue to abuse a new partner so they become serial abusers. We are aware of situations where people come to us having heard about a partner's previous relationship. This is very worrying as it means that one individual can be abusive to quite a few people.

I do not know whether there is any solution to the problem of women who are forced to bring their children with them. This is very difficult because we only have one room. We do not wish to have the children present when things are being disclosed because it is not right. A support worker must amuse the children while the other support worker is assisting the client. This is very difficult for the support worker and for the woman because these children are quite nervous.

The groups before the committee are bringing what is still essentially anecdotal evidence, being our experience at the frontline. The same questions are being asked now as were asked five and ten years ago. There is still much information which is not available to us. I am completely in agreement with Ms Crilly that the report of the task force on violence against women published in 1997 is a wonderful document and a wonderful blueprint. It was implemented in the main, although some parts were not implemented. It would be most telling to examine what was implemented or what was meant to be implemented and to see the results. This would give more answers than any number of us coming to the committee could give. It is a wonderful blueprint. People were sent off to do their thing and the starting point should be to find out what was actually done.

I would be accused of not promoting the cause of Cork if I did not ask this question. How much funding does the centre receive and how much would be needed in order to expand the service?

We were very fortunate last year in that the HSE gave us an increase in our section 32 grant. However, it is unfortunate that this money did not come until the end of the year. We are now in receipt of €120,000 per year. The main cost involved with opening hours in the afternoon is the cost of engaging another support worker to work in the afternoons. This amounts to approximately €40,000 to cover all costs.

What is the significance of section 32?

It governs charities. We are a company limited by guarantee but we have charity status.

The funding amounts to €120,000.

I thank each of the groups and hope they will benefit from this opportunity to address the committee. I assure them that the civil servants in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Health Service Executive will note today's proceedings. I hope this meeting will benefit the groups as they make their applications for funding. I thank the various representatives for attending. Ms Phil Devereux and Ms Deirdre Lawlor did not have far to travel but I thank them for coming. I particularly thank those who took the time to come from Cork for this meeting which has been tremendously enlightening and deepened and widened my knowledge of the issue of domestic violence. The committee will take a much greater interest in the problem. Many problems need to be solved and many developments need to happen. The committee will examine the matter over time. Regardless of the outcome of the general election in May, the clerk, Mr. Ray Treacy, and his staff will work with the next committee to ensure it will focus on various topics. I thank the delegations for attending and ask them to leave at this point, as the committee is about to go into private session to deal with another matter.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.35 p.m. and adjourned at 4.40 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 24 January 2007.