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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Vol. 223 No. 2

Domestic Violence: Motion

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, back to familiar surroundings.

I move:

"That Seanad Éireann:

— notes the incidence of domestic violence in Ireland and the devastating consequences that it has for both the individual victims and survivors and for the wider society;

— notes and commends the immense work being done to support victims and survivors of domestic violence by many State and non-governmental organisations;

— commends the Minister for Justice for his commitment to reform of the law on domestic violence; for his introduction of important changes through the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 2011;

— further commends the Minister for recently securing agreement on the introduction of a European Protection Order; and

— calls upon the Government to support the Council of Europe Convention on prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention);

— calls upon the Government to consider improving and extending eligibility for both Safety and Barring Orders to ensure full protection for those at risk from domestic violence; and

— calls upon the Government to endeavour to protect funding in this year's Budget for Domestic Violence Services and to ensure the provision of appropriate andadequate services for women and children at risk from domestic violence.".

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I had hoped that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, would be here. However, the Minister of State is welcome.

I am pleased to move this important motion in this House on behalf of Labour Party Senators. It seeks to encourage a comprehensive debate on the issue of domestic violence, a subject which, in my view, rarely gets enough political attention and one which sadly remains a serious blight on our society, wreaking havoc in homes up and down the country.

Domestic violence is a crime that involves various forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence or that threatens the safety or welfare of family members and persons in domestic relationships. There is strong evidence that this is an under-reported crime in Ireland.

Even as an under-reported problem, the statistics are truly shocking. Over 11,000 women and children sought safety from home violence in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available from SAFE Ireland, which does invaluable work in the area of domestic violence. Some 11,000 in one year is over 210 women and children every single week seeking refuge from abuse and violence. The 2011 figures represented a 56% rise on 2007, when such statistics were first recorded by SAFE Ireland. Disturbingly, also some 3,000 children also receive support from domestic violence services in 2011. The data for 2012 will be available later in the year. As their chief executive of SAFE Ireland, Ms Sharon O'Halloran, has correctly remarked, the figures are a horrific and sad indictment of society.

It is only right that I would acknowledge the significant strides that have been made in this area in terms of legislation in recent years. I commend the Government and its predecessor for the provisions of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill 2011 which allow parents with a child in common to apply for a safety order regardless of whether or not they are cohabiting. It also provides that cohabiting partners can apply for safety orders without any specific duration of cohabitation required. However the specific duration clause also needs to be removed when applying for a barring order.

I also commend the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and his European colleagues for agreeing, only two months ago, a series of measures allowing for the mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters across the EU. Significantly, this will ensure that a woman or man who holds a barring order against a partner can avail of the effect of that order if she or he takes up residence in, or moves for a short time to, another EU member state. I welcome this agreement as a clear statement that domestic violence and gender-based violence is unacceptable across the EU.

While I welcome these arrangements, there is much more that can be achieved. One of the key changes urgently needed in this country is a provision to allow a woman to apply at a weekend for an emergency barring order or protection order, something she cannot currently do. If a woman is a victim of domestic violence on a Friday night, she has to wait until Monday morning when the courts open to seek judicial protection from a violent partner. At weekends, when a barring order or even an interim order is being sought, we should put in place a system which would allow the on-call judge, in conjunction with the Garda, to arrange for the issuing of an emergency order to protect that woman until the courts open the following Monday. This change would be a major relief for many women or, as the case may be, men who find themselves trapped in a domestic violence situation over the weekend, a time when incidents of violence in the home often reach their peak.

I invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to revisit an aspect of the 2011 legislation. Couples living apart who have a child in common are protected under the legislation, but I am concerned the same provision does not exist for couples who have never lived together and who do not have a child. A member of such a couple, in an intimate relationship, is ineligible to apply for a safety order if a violent situation exists. This brings me to the crux of the problem. It is remarkable that domestic violence is not defined as a crime on our Statute Book. Nobody in Ireland can be charged with domestic violence. Nobody can claim in law to have been a victim of domestic violence. No official statistics about the extent of domestic violence can be gathered by the authorities because it is not a criminal offence in itself. It is only if a barring or protection order is breached that a crime has been committed.

An act of domestic violence is not a defined crime per se. The Council of Europe convention in this area, which Ireland has not yet signed, sets out the criminal offences which fall under the umbrella of domestic violence. It would provide a good legal template for the enactment of legislation in this area to specifically criminalise domestic violence in law. The Minister should examine the Swedish model. The Swedish Government has created a crime to deal with a gross violation of the integrity of a woman, which is a greater offence than a public assault and prosecution for which carries a sentence of five years. I encourage a comprehensive debate in the House, and in society in general, on the need to make domestic violence a clearly defined crime punishable by law.

I encourage the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to move up on the Government's agenda the Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The convention is the most far-reaching international treaty to tackle the problem and sets out the ambition of achieving zero tolerance for such violence throughout Europe. Significantly, the convention recognises violence against women as a violation of human rights and means states are held responsible if they do not respond adequately to such violence. Preventing violence, protecting its victims and prosecuting the perpetrators are the cornerstones of the convention. To date, 29 out of 47 countries have signed it. Will Ireland make it 30, particularly when we hold the Presidency?

There is no disguising that the many services which cater for the victims of domestic violence are under financial pressure. At a minimum in this year's Estimates and budget we need to protect the statutory funding available to refuges and support services throughout the country. Alarmingly, in approximately 2,500 cases in 2011, services nationwide were unable to accommodate women because they were full or there was no refuge in the area. In my county, only six beds are available at any one time at the women's refuge in Tralee run by ADAPT Kerry, and these beds are often full. Only six beds in the whole of Kerry are available for people who need help. If an entire family moves in, it can be a week or two before they find alternative accommodation and thus the beds are unavailable for others who many need them.

I commend the work done by the staff of ADAPT Kerry and so many other similar services throughout the country on a daily basis. Staff are regularly confronted with traumatised, petrified and browbeaten victims of domestic violence, and the care and sensitivity they provide can be of immense support to the people affected. I also want to commend the many McKenzie friends who accompany women - and occasionally men - to in camera court hearings and help them through a very traumatic situation where they have to confront the perpetrator of the violence for the first time since the act was committed.

At present, many agencies which deal with domestic violence in Ireland are concerned there is too much fragmentation in funding and legislation in the area. There have been calls for a dedicated funding stream for domestic violence services as well as an overhaul of the legislative provisions in the area. The Minister, Deputy Shatter, is very dedicated to such a review of Government provisions and I suggest that now more than ever, at a time of economic pressure which can often lead to tension, stress and sometimes violence in the home, our commitment to legislative and funding provisions should be greater than ever.

There are many bureaucratic barriers for women trying to access State support when they seek protection, and a significant contributing factor to this is related to the lack of provision in housing legislation to address domestic violence. I will take up this issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and suggest we should amend our housing legislation so domestic violence is recognised as a primary cause of homelessness.

I encourage my colleagues to engage in this debate constructively, and with the sensitivity it deserves. Let us park party politics and defend the families of Ireland who are the victims of this evil which manifests itself through cowardly domestic violence. My colleagues will deal with some of the other aspects of the motion, and perhaps at the conclusion of the debate I will have time to revisit some of the issues I have mentioned. I commend the motion to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend my colleague, Senator Moloney, for tabling the motion and I am pleased to second it. It is an issue with which I have been much involved in terms of support and raising it. As Senator Moloney stated, it is an issue which does not get raised often enough. We are making a contribution today, not only through raising the issue again, but through asking and continuing to lobby for matters we believe are important to the very many women who struggle and are victims of domestic violence in Ireland today.

I am not very good at maths, but by my calculations every day approximately 18 women, and it is still mainly women who are affected, in the country go for help in some way, shape or form. This is a staggering figure. We tend to think in terms of thousands, and sometimes this stops us realising what we really mean. Very often, the women and their children who reach out for assistance do not receive it. When it comes to violence against women in Ireland we seem to surpass ourselves. We do not seem to be content to allow violence against women to happen, and as Senator Moloney pointed out it is not properly categorised as a crime, but we seem to have a hierarchy of treatment for women who have been subjected to violence and each level of this hierarchy is a new low. The treatment in the 21st century is still nothing short of disgraceful.

In this House and beyond we have wept and lit candles for women living and dead who were abused at the hands of the church, the State and doctors, some of whom were complicit with the church. These tears and candles were appropriate, but they cease to have any meaning in a society which still treats victims of domestic violence as if they were a cross between lepers and banished people. Whether the incidence of domestic violence is increasing or reporting is increasing does not matter a jot to the individual women who reach out for help. There are more now than there were five years ago but budgets are set to be cut again this year for the fifth year in a row. This cut in funding is not one which leads organisation to state they cannot manage. It has two very direct knock-on effects, as centres simply cannot operate phone lines as often as normal so they cannot pick up the phone, and they must turn women away. Last year the Domestic Violence Advocacy Service Sligo, Leitrim and West Cavan turned away 31 women who had to return to share accommodation with their abuser.

Across a great swathe of the country, nine counties still do not have proper refuge provision for women. These counties include Longford, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Cavan and Monaghan. Sligo now has one safe house suitable for one family, perhaps a mother and her children, and we may have another by the end of the year. This is all there is. Otherwise, if it is absolutely overwhelmingly urgent, people must be shipped out of the county and therefore lose any contacts and small support they may have had. I know of two children who did the junior certificate last year who were removed from their schools and sent to another county because of the situation in their homes.

We speak about terrible events happening in India to young girls, and they are terrible, but terrible events are also happening here to women and children and we seem to have stopped caring. When these women go home perhaps they hope it will not be as vile or violent as it had been, but of course every time it is just as vile and violent as it was before. I applaud the robust efforts of the Domestic Violence Advocacy Service based in Sligo under the stewardship of Niamh Wilson, because it has reached out and secured accommodation against all the odds, but it is not enough.

Some women who have been subjected to violence have no claim to help. As the Minister of State will know, if they have a share in the family home, either as partners or wives, they are not allowed to apply for assistance such as housing support, emergency payments or crisis bed and breakfast accommodation.

A community welfare officer has discretion. They can try to use it, but very often they do not have any money left or they use their discretion and say to the woman that, on this occasion, she will not get any assistance. Again, the woman and her children are returned home.

There is no clear and transparent process that a woman can expect if she finds herself in this position. Since she is in a relationship with someone who owns a house, that is deemed to be somehow or other sufficient. As a matter of urgency, we need the ruling on housing support to be altered in order that women who present seeking support and crisis accommodation can be treated as women who, effectively at that moment in time, have nothing and have been deprived of everything by the person who has perpetrated the crime. It is the worst sort of violence because they are being violent in the home, and when the woman presents for help, she is yet again the victim of another kind of crime, which is that the State says it cannot help.

If that was not bad enough, what about the women who fail to meet the habitual residency conditions? They cannot get help either. Even if they have a right to reside here, that does not give them any right to help if they need it. If there is a doubt about habitual residency, and let us face it that the system is riddled with the doubt option when it comes to habitual residency, these women are effectively hoping for some kind of charity or a kind hand. They have no rights.

There is this hierarchy and it goes on to those women in direct provision. Who are they? It seems that we do not care at all about women in direct provision who present with difficulties related to domestic violence. They are very often the women who are going to be victims of domestic violence. It is not enough that they endure incredibly difficult conditions in direct provision, a matter which many of my colleagues in the Seanad have raised, but when it comes specifically to domestic violence, it is the women in direct provision who are at the bottom of this appalling hierarchy of abuse where no help is being given.

We should not be proud of the system we have created, a system that at every level does very little to make real change for those who are the victims of domestic violence. Around Ireland, many people are working very hard to provide for these women. I applaud them, and I am proud to have been able, in some small way, to support the work that they do. I am delighted that Safe Ireland is in the Chamber today. We marked International Women's Day in the Seanad this year and last year with Safe Ireland. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, with Safe Ireland, launched the Safe application for Android telephones. I am proud to offer my support for the domestic violence advocacy service in Sligo and for the work that many people do in a very hidden way, but they are not solving the problem. They are not making a breakthrough and we are not making any progress. With budget cuts, all that is happening now is a kind of fire-fighting.

I know the Minister of State is not directly responsible for the matter but we are grateful that he is present for the debate. I know that he has enormous compassion and that he will join others to see if a way can be found in the next year to address some of the urgent matters that Senator Moloney and I raised. For too long we have sat very comfortably on some fence of shame, so to speak, when it comes to women in Ireland. If we really want to show that we have moved on, have learned lessons of the past and appreciate and value all women, then we need very prompt change.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. In contrast with the reticence of my Labour Party colleagues, I believe we should be proud and honoured that he is a former Senator who understands the workings of the House. I am sure because of his legal training, that he also understands in great depth and as well as anyone the nature of this motion.

Fianna Fáil supports this motion to help to address the appalling problem of domestic violence and the need to protect funding for this area. Violence against women in all of its manifestations and domestic violence is a deeply traumatising act that demands Government action. When Fianna Fáil was in government, it introduced a national steering committee on violence against women, established Cosc and launched the national strategy on domestic violence as part of a series of steps to tackle the problem. The Government should underline its commitment to the issue by signing up to the Istanbul convention and protecting funding for this area.

I would also like to place on the record that domestic violence is not a monopoly of or exclusively men against women, even though that is so in the majority of cases. In a minority of cases, regrettably, and I am aware of this from my experience as a Member and having chaired a constitutional committee that dealt with the family, there is also violence against men. When we are dealing with this, I would like the Minister of State to encapsulate that any kind of violence in the home would be condemned. I have understood from a number of people that the difficulty for men is that, regrettably, most are afraid to come out and admit that they have been either emotionally or psychologically damaged by violence in the home. While I accept that it is probably less then 5% of cases, it does exist. In some instances, I have no doubt it leads men to have suicidal tendencies, if not actually to commit suicide, because they cannot cope.

This was highlighted in a recent episode of "Fair City", a programme I rarely watch, although I have looked at it once or twice. A great deal of time was devoted in the episode to violence against a particular man. It went on for some time and the programme portrayed a lot damage being done. Violence against men does exist, and without devoting too much time to it and while also acknowledging that violence against women is a major issue, perhaps the Minister of State in his response would refer to and allude to the fact that there is violence against men and ensure, in so far as is possible, that it is stamped out.

I come from a large family in current terms, being the youngest of 11 children and having the good fortune, or perhaps misfortune, of having seven sisters. When I was a child, my father, in training his sons to have respect for women, would often say to us that any man who does not respect and love his mother can never respect another woman. It may have been only an anecdote but at a time when we had no television - I was 21 before we got electricity where we lived - and where one would listen to the family chatting beside the fireside at night, these little aguisíns, as we would say, often resonated with me, and they continue to resonate with me that it is probably a fairly important matter on which to give young people training.

The Government must ensure it protects the funding for the area in the October budget. That is critical. Domestic violence devastates lives and households across Ireland, and without funding, initiatives to alleviate the problem will be crippled.

As I already mentioned, the Istanbul convention needs to be adopted by the Government. The Fianna Fáil Party has a relatively strong record in challenging the grave difficulties of domestic violence having established Cosc in 2007. That was a first step and a lot more must be done. Regrettably, domestic violence is an ongoing problem and we cannot say that if the Government does X, Y and Z, that will eliminate domestic violence. Unfortunately, it will not. We need to underpin the existing facilities. That is important, going forward.

Fianna Fáil has taken a lead in setting out an holistic cross-departmental response to domestic violence. The problem does not straddle one Department but crosses many divides. The first national strategy on the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence was published in March 2010 and incorporated the recommendations of the 1997 task force report on violence against women, which perhaps should be broadened to include men and women. The actions required to tackle domestic and sexual violence primarily cut across the justice, health, education, housing and non-governmental sectors. Progress must be made in the context of a common vision to ensure that those affected receive the benefit of a proper, overall holistic service. Integrating key groups is an essential part of ensuring an holistic approach in taking on the issue. The task force considered it essential that the national advisory committee would include representatives from the key organisations in the sector operating on a national basis, such as Women's Aid, national representative bodies for women's refuges, and rape crisis centres.

A tremendous amount of support has built up. I see this commonly in my constituency, where 30 years ago it would not even have been heard of.

I see support groups in towns around west Cork, which would not have existed even 20 years ago. Such groups provide a listening ear for victims of domestic abuse, who are primarily women. Counselling is also available and not before time. It is a horrible thing to see a woman who is afraid to live in such an abusive relationship. I met a woman recently and we were chatting in the aftermath of a wedding. I know her background and she told me that for nine years she lived in a relationship - she was not married at that stage - where domestic violence was common. I asked her why she had not left after it happened the first or second time. First, she was obviously in love with the man, which I find hard to believe if he would pound the daylights out of her from time to time. Second, she was afraid that if she left she would have no support. That is an appalling vista. This happened 25 years ago but she is much wiser now. It is amazing that that could go on and still goes on today.

Some men are bullies and control freaks. They like to control women by putting them down or, as they would say long ago, putting her in her place. Those days are long gone, however, and I hope women will now stand up for their rights. The basis for a good relationship, whether it is co-habitation or a marriage, is natural love, affection and a basic respect for the other human being. Once that breaks down things can, unfortunately, go wrong.

I appeal to the Minister to do everything possible to counter domestic violence. I support the motion before the House and there is very little that Senator Moloney or Senator O'Keeffe said with which I would disagree. I cannot do so. We can offer different political slants but this is an issue that society as a whole must tackle. We must be ever vigilant to what is going on. We will never have a utopian situation where domestic violence is eliminated but we all can, in our own way, be it politically, via Departments or otherwise, try to stymie the damage that has gone on to date.

In modern society there has to be mutual respect and a partnership, whereas 50 or 100 years ago that was not the case in what was a more patriarchal society. Historically in the Beara Peninsula, there was a Lord Beara, called O'Sullivan Beara. It is common knowledge that, according to historical anecdotes, he had the right in the barony to spend the first night with any newly married bride. That was accepted in those days, although it was deplorable. At least we have moved on from there.

In our day, there are intolerable situations which need to be tackled in any way we can. I am speaking on behalf of our party in support of this motion. I urge the Government to deal with domestic violence. Without funding, however, the necessary supports will disintegrate. The Minister of State should not allow that to happen.

I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, is here. He is very understanding and his presence is as welcome as that of the Minister, Deputy Shatter. The Minister of State should tell his senior Government colleagues to maintain necessary funding for relevant support groups. Without such funding, things can start slipping, in which case women, and some men, will suffer again.

The Minister of State is very welcome. I am delighted to follow on from the previous three speakers and support what they have said. I think it is fair to say that we will have unanimity on this issue in the House. Domestic violence is a serious local and national problem. Violence in the home is almost exclusively committed against women and children, though not totally. I have been working with COPE in Galway and have run fund-raising events, including coffee mornings, for National Women's Day. When I think of what the women in COPE have to do so that they are not identified, it is phenomenal. For example, if we had a photographer there, they could not have their photographs taken in case the partners of the women they were helping recognised them.

Those women have taught me what I know about this issue. Some of the women who came to those coffee mornings were victims of domestic abuse and had suffered, as had their children. Women and children are frequently vulnerable because they depend on a partner for money and shelter. Senator O'Donovan asked a woman why she had not left an abusive relationship. Sometimes they cannot leave because, first, they have nowhere else to go and, second, they have no money. They are completely dependent. As Senator O'Donovan also said, they still have a grá for the person involved in the abuse.

No matter what, people enter relationships, including marriages, with the greatest intention of making them work, despite the fact that there could be grave problems with a partner. Dependence and lack of respect is at the core of this issue. We must take this on board. Senator O'Keeffe said that 18 women every day go for help. According to Safe Ireland, 3,000 children were helped in 2011.

The way the State has treated women over the years has been less than commendable, and it will take a long time to shake that record off completely. We are making some amends with the Magdalen laundries women, and the same applies to those affected by symphysiotomy. Yesterday, however, an Oireachtas committee held hearings and ruled against a request by women who have had abortions who wanted to tell their stories, in camera, about why they had to choose abortion. The committee said it did not want to hear those women. That is appalling. What have we learned? It took 40 or 50 years of abuse before we listened. I am glad of this opportunity to tell the Minister of State that the Joint Committee on Health and Children ruled against that matter. The Minister of State might bring that to the attention of the Minister for Health. Women who have had abortions have told me how voiceless and invisible they are. Perhaps they, too, have been victims of domestic violence.

I would like to cite some local, up-to-date statistics about Galway. In Galway city and county last year, 600 women and their children experienced domestic abuse. They were provided with support through refuge and outreach services. Some 86 of those women were accompanied to court to avail of legal protection. While that assistance is wonderful, it is an example of the scale of the problem in one county alone. COPE's refuge in Waterside House was unable to accommodate 214 women with 319 children due to lack of space. Those families were offered referrals to other refuges. The nearest refuges to Galway are in Athlone, Limerick, Castlebar and Ennis. It is not always a realistic prospect for victims in crisis to leave their homes and all their supports to travel by bus to a strange city with which they have no connection. COPE Galway covers the city and county areas but also accepts referrals from other appropriate areas, for instance, if a woman has been tracked by her abusing partner to a local refuge and then needs to access safety away from the perpetrator.

Safety orders are welcome and it is also helpful that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, has signed into law a provision whereby the protection victims would have in other countries will now be replicated in their current country of residence. However, it is not helpful that cohabiting partners do not have protection, so that aspect should be examined.

I have been stunned by one statistic, which is that 60% of women who experience abuse in this country do so before the age of 25.

This tells us these are young women. Something must be done in this regard. In his summing up, the Minister of State might address what can be done. A subject called relationships and sexuality education, RSE, forms part of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum. That letter "R" stands for relationships and healthy relationships must be built among the young people. One must describe what is a healthy relationship and what it is like to be respected as otherwise, there will never be equality and the culture of domestic violence will continue.

The Senator's time has expired.

Finally, and I beg the Acting Chairman's indulgence, I commend COPE Galway on having a new premises gifted to it by the Magdalen laundry within the past two weeks. In itself, that constitutes a renewal but the Minister of State should note COPE Galway now requires money for funding. More details will come to the Minister of State and while this is good news, it needs money to-----

-----renovate in order that it can avail of the additional capacity.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also give my full support to this motion and thank the Labour Party group and Senators Maloney and O'Keeffe in particular, who have proposed and seconded it. I can wholeheartedly endorse everything they have said. The first point I wish to raise pertains to the Istanbul convention, that is, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. It has been open for signature since May 2011 and as Senator Moloney has stated, 29 Council of Europe member states have signed the convention but only four have ratified it to date and it requires ten ratifications to come into force. The convention is the first legally-binding instrument providing a legal framework to protect women against all forms of violence and includes obligations on the State with regard to prevention, protection and provisions of supports and assistance. It recognises violence against women as being gender-based violence and discrimination. It also recognises that equality between women and men is a prerequisite for prevention. Moreover, the convention obliges the State to address fully all forms of violence and to take adequate measures for prevention, protection and prosecution.

In preparing for today's debate, I tried to work out the reason Ireland will not ratify this convention because these are all laudable and worthy aims, which everyone in this House has echoed thus far and which also are echoed within the counter-motion. My understanding is that Article 52 of the Istanbul convention, which is relevant to emergency barring orders, has some conflict with property rights under the Irish Constitution. I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on what precisely are the problems. As Ireland is part of the Council of Europe, why was this issue not raised when the convention was being drawn up? Can our laws be clarified to ensure its ratification because it is unacceptable to me that Ireland is not in a position either to sign or to ratify this convention? Consequently, I seek clarity and am all too tired of hearing that the Irish Constitution is a block to doing good things and to doing the right thing, as this is the right thing to do.

Previous speakers have mentioned the situation for women and for men. Given my background in children's rights, I have all too often seen the direct effect of domestic violence on children, either directly or as witnesses to direct domestic violence. The Safe Ireland figures from last year showed that nearly 8,000 women and more than 3,000 children sought safety from domestic violence in Ireland. I will focus on that word, "safety". I tried to put myself into that position in the context of looking the resources available and the laws in place in Ireland. Were one to be in a situation of domestic violence, the likelihood is it could be at a weekend. Addiction issues often are an intertwined problem, whether it be gambling, alcohol or drugs, and consequently they also can play a part. Where are the services and supports in respect of such issues? When one calls for the Garda to help, what can gardaí do? Members are aware of the pressures on Garda resources. Where are the refuges? Several previous speakers have mentioned the issue of refuges. There are none in many rural areas or where they do exist, they are being run by volunteers, that is, by dedicated women who have come together to provide a local support but who are receiving no support from the State. Moreover, the person concerned, who in the most usual case is a woman, must give a statement either there or within 24 hours. I refer to the facilities for so doing in an appropriate place where the children will not be a witness to that statement. What of all these intertwining issues, including psychological and counselling services or safe refuge? Moreover, this should not be limited to the city of Dublin, as such safety and places should be available nationwide for those in an abusive situation who pick up the telephone. Such situations are not planned and while people might say those involved have their wallets or could check in here or could do this or that, such situations can arise.

I will counter by noting that in 2007, the then Office of the Minister for Children, which has been incorporated into the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, produced an excellent report entitled, Listening to Children: Children's Stories of Domestic Violence. What alarmed me in that report was that several mothers reported violent episodes while they were holding young children. This raises obvious concerns for their physical safety and child protection concerns. One mother of two children, who were aged four and six, outlined an incident in which she returned home from hospital with her newborn baby. As this State report notes, she stated:

He took to ranting and raving and screaming and shouting around the bed ... I was holding [the baby] in my arms and I was feeding him ... [The father] jumped out of the bed and he came over and he grabbed [the baby] and he had him out, like this, so that his little head was hanging down and his little legs were ... [it] was very traumatic for me because I sort of felt that I am a mother now and I couldn’t protect my own child.

When such a woman seeks help, what are the resources the State has in place? How can such resources be ensured because it is known that domestic violence involves repeated victimisation? The woman does not necessarily pick up the telephone and get everything sorted out on the first call. Members are familiar with all the reports and the figures and it is a question of where will one will get help.

It also is a question of where should attitudes be changed. On that issue, I recently related a story on domestic violence to a colleague and am still stunned by the response. The colleague asked me whether they would not give the relationship a second go. This attitude must be challenged in society. I refer to suggestions that the woman should give the relationship a second go or perhaps was a little more complicit or perhaps had she the dinner on the table, it would not happen. As I stated, there are many countering factors and one must ensure the provision of adequate responses with both refuges and the wrap-around supports and services for the women and for the children. They also should be in place for the men whether they are victims or equally, are abusers. It is known that young children in particular have conflicting emotions. They love their dad and still want to be part of it. Is it safe that they are still there and will the dads be supported? This must be considered as a family issue and not simply in isolation. Consequently, I wholeheartedly endorse this motion.

Tairgim leasú a 1:

To delete all words after ‘‘Seanad Éireann’’ and substitute the following:

‘‘— notes:

the alarming incidence of domestic violence in Ireland and the devastating consequences that it has for both the individual victims and survivors and for the wider society and that according to Women’s Aid, 1 in 5 women in Ireland over the age of 18 will experience physical, emotional and sexual abuse in her lifetime;

that SAFE Ireland recorded that in 2010 more than 7,235 individual women and 2,850 individual children received support from domestic violence support services. This represents over 40% increase in demand for these support services over three years with some services experiencing up to 35% cut to their funding during this period;

that according to Rape Crisis Network Ireland, in 2011 there was an 11% increase from 2010 in survivors and others seeking counselling and support from their specialist services, on top of a 9% increase from the previous year;

that the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre reported calls to the National 24 hour helpline operated by the centre increased by nearly 10% in 2011, an overall increase of 25% since 2008. This increase coincided with a further reduction in the statutory funding received from the HSE;

that it is essential that services that assist women in this situation are adequately funded to be able to respond appropriately. Refuge provision remains inadequate and many women and children are unable to access refuge accommodation each year;

that the Council of Europe recommends that there should be a target by member states of at least 1 refuge place per 10,000 of population, that Ireland is a considerable distance from this target, and that according to Safe Ireland on over 3,236 occasions in 2010 services were unable to accommodate women and their children because the refuge was full or there was no refuge in their area;

that the baseline prevalence study on sexual violence, the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) Report was published in 2002 and though has since acted as a key informant of Irish policy in relation to sexual violence, it is now considerably out of date;

— notes and commends the immense work being done to support victims and survivors of domestic violence by many State and non-governmental organisations;

— commends the Minister for Justice for his commitment to reform of the law on domestic violence; for his introduction of important changes through the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 2011;

— commends the Minister for recently securing agreement on the introduction of a European Protection Order, but notes the considerable shortcomings in domestic protections for women at risk, and notes the failure, thus far, of the Government to sign the Council of Europe Convention on prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention); and

— calls upon the Government

— to support the Council of Europe Convention on prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) during Ireland’s presidency of the EU;

— to improve and extend eligibility for both Safety and Barring Orders to ensure full protection for those at risk from domestic violence;

— to return the Budget for Domestic Violence Services to at least pre-budget 2013 levels, and to ensure the provision of appropriate and adequate services for women and children at risk from domestic violence;

— to return funding to advocacy organisations working at a representative, policy and support level to at least pre Budget 2013 levels;

— to bring about legislative change in order to improve eligibility for safety and barring orders, addressing the lack of emergency protection when the courts are not sitting and particularly at weekends, addressing the need for guidelines to improve consistency on the granting of orders, addressing the protection of children from domestic violence in the context of separation and divorce, and improving legislation on stalking, particularly to take in issues such as stalking within a dating context;

— to ensure access to safe emergency accommodation for those experiencing violence, with a target of at least 1 refuge place per 10,000 of population,and resources ring fenced to make progress towards that target;

— to take action to ensure that there are adequate safeguards in Direct Provision accommodation centres to ensure that any potential for domestic violence is minimised, and to ensure that the residents of such centres have reasonable and effective access to supports and resources, including access to shelters where they are suffering from domestic violence; and

— to bring about a SAVI II report in relation to the nature and extent of sexual violence in Ireland and research into the economic cost of domestic violence in Ireland.’’

While the motion tabled by the Labour Party is not without merit and while it would be difficult to disagree with it in the abstract, Sinn Féin considers that it falls far short of what actually is needed. This opinion is not drawn from my own thoughts but from discussing the issue with people who work in the area. When I showed them the motion that was being tabled, they were quite disappointed by it. While I can understand to an extent that the Labour Party in government is under certain limitations, one cannot allow such a motion to be debated without highlighting the considerable shortcomings that exist with regard to the protection of those suffering from domestic violence. Sinn Féin's amendment outlines the prevalence and high incidence of domestic violence and violence against women specifically. Domestic violence against women is a particularly pervasive problem in Irish society, which affects approximately one in five Irish women. Since children are also frequently affected, it contributes to generational cycles of violence. Domestic abuse includes not only physical violence but also sexual, mental and financial abuse. It is a core cause of poverty and homelessness among women and children. One in three women who attempt suicide in the North have been victims of domestic violence. It has been estimated that perhaps as many as 44% of people know someone who has been a victim of domestic abuse and most people are reluctant to intervene if it affects someone outside their close circle of family or friends.

Domestic violence is a brutal, callous and cowardly act that has severe physical and mental repercussions. Everyone should have the right to feel secure in his or her own home and no one should be obliged to live under the threat of violence under his or her own roof. Austerity economics have exacerbated the position. As times have become harder, domestic violence rates have risen further, whereas vital support services are being curtailed by the Government and the statistics in this regard are frightening.

I spoke to a professional in this area last week and asked what the main cause for the increase was and he replied that it was because men have more time.

The other issue that was raised is the anomaly in social protection, as mentioned by Senator Moloney, regarding housing. Many women who want to move out are unable to because the supports are not available as a result of anomalies in the rent supplement scheme. It would be an excellent idea to recognise domestic violence as a cause of homelessness.

In 2010, Safe Ireland recorded 7,235 individual women and 2,850 children who received support from domestic violence support services, a 40% increase in three years, despite a 35% cut to its funding over this time. According to Rape Crisis Network Ireland, there was an 11% increase in 2011 compared to 2010 in survivors and others seeking counselling and support from their specialist services, on top of a 9% increase in figures from 2009-10. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre reported calls to the national 24 hour helpline operated by the centre increased by nearly 10% in 2011, an overall increase of 25% since 2008. This also coincided with the further reduction in the statutory funding received from the HSE. According to COPE Galway, as Senator Healy Eames mentioned, in 2012, more than 600 women and children were supported through both the refuge and outreach service, with 86 women accompanied to court for legal protection orders. The refuge, however, was unable to accommodate 214 women with 319 children and these were referred elsewhere. Specifically, there were admissions to the refuge of 140 women, with 131 children. Its outreach service dealt with 120 women provided with 303 appointments, while it also dealt with 128 drop-ins for women plus 93 children. We are talking about a situation that is close to crisis level at this stage, and there is an urgent need for action.

Internationally, while we are happy to commend the Minister on securing the introduction of a European protection order, we note the Government has yet to sign the Council of Europe convention on prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention. The Government must ratify this convention immediately and there is an obvious conflict between the position of the Minister progressing this matter internationally but failing to sign Ireland up to the convention when so many of our neighbours have. The Minister must rectify this.

There is a need for legislative action. There must be a radical overhaul of how the law deals with domestic violence to ensure the justice system caters to the needs of abuse victims and keeps them and their children safe. We support the call by Women's Aid and other organisations for the Government to urgently review domestic violence legislation, including eligibility criteria for safety and barring orders. We must look at addressing the lack of emergency protection when the courts are not sitting. Clearly, there must be emergency and interim actions that can be taken to protect women at risk of violence. It is also clear that guidelines must be introduced to improve consistency in the granting of orders and the legislation on stalking must be improved.

Aside from legislation, we recognise there is a need for resources to be put in place. As we have noted, the Council of Europe sets out a recommendation of at least one refuge place per 10,000 of population. We are currently a considerable distance from that target. The organisations on the front line combatting this crisis are also under enormous pressure. They are now facing more and more people coming to them while their resources are being reduced year on year. We call for a return to at least the levels before the budget for 2013 and likewise call on the Government to ensure the relevant advocacy groups are equally resourced.

The motion also notes the need for a SAVI report, which I will not go into due to pressures of time, but I would draw attention to the situation with domestic violence in direct provision centres. The women in direct provision centres have no control over their domestic living conditions and are particularly vulnerable when it comes to domestic violence. I call again on the Minister for Justice and Equality to deliver on his pre-election promise with regard to changing the direct provision system, which is degrading and inhuman, and could lead to an inquiry along the lines of those into the Magdalen laundries if the Government fails to act on those commitments.

We do not oppose this motion; we feel it does not go far enough. I call on other Senators and on the Government to support our amendment. We hope Fianna Fáil and our other colleagues will do that. We commend the motion but feel it should be strengthened.

I thank my party colleague Senators for bringing forward this motion and thank all Senator who have spoken, Fine Gael Senators, Taoiseach's nominees, Senator O'Donovan and Sinn Féin representatives.

I might comment briefly on the amendment but it was tabled in the spirit of a wide degree of agreement and support for the measures that are being taken. Senator Ó Clochartaigh said himself that Sinn Féin would prefer more to be done by the Government but we have said a lot in terms of the actions we are taking on this hugely important area.

Once again the Seanad has done a considerable service on this issue by placing it on the agenda and having such an informative and insightful debate. It is vital the issue of domestic violence is focused upon and debated publicly on a regular basis. By doing so we encourage those suffering from such abuse in its many forms to seek assistance. We also encourage those who are aware of others suffering abuse to help by seeking information. Most importantly, we must inform abusers, through these debates, that their behaviour is not to be tolerated by us as a society.

The motion notes the devastating consequences of domestic violence on the individual and on society, as well as noting and commending the work being undertaken to support those affected by such violence. The extent of the effect domestic violence has on society can be clearly seen from the number and range of State agencies involved in actions to address the issue. Six Government Departments, associated agencies and more than 50 non-governmental organisations are involved in work addressing domestic violence. The Government sector includes the Departments of Justice and Equality, Education and Skills, Health, Children and Youth Affairs, Social Protection and the Environment, Community and Local Government. The principal State agencies dealing with the problem are the Garda Síochána, the Courts Service and the Health Service Executive.

Since the establishment of Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, we now have a focus point to coordinate the State's response to this problem. Cosc is part of the crime directorate in the Department of Justice and Equality. With the participation of all the Departments and State agencies involved in this area, and with the co-operation and input of the non-State organisations providing services, it has developed a national strategy that addresses many aspects of the problem of domestic violence and sets out actions to prevent such violence. The strategy is the principal focus for the State's work on ending domestic violence. It overlaps with and cross-references other national policies on elder abuse, child protection and homelessness.

Cosc sits on advisory and monitoring groups dealing with these issues. The national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence 2010-14 concentrates on a better inter-agency approach. Improving collaboration among services is essential to providing better protection for victims of this abuse. The objective is to reduce the occurrence of domestic violence and, ultimately, to end it. It was always recognised, however, that there would be an increase in the reporting of domestic violence if the strategy was effective in bringing this issue more into the public domain. By highlighting that domestic violence is not a private matter for families to deal with alone, reporting to the authorities and seeking support is strongly encouraged. Guidelines devised by Cosc on awareness raising aim to encourage a shift from a focus on activities relating only to the victim, vital as this is, to an inclusion of a focus on the perpetrator and bystander, while also ensuring information on support services continues to be made available to victims and survivors.

The national strategy has four high level goals. It aims to promote a culture of recognition and prevention through increased understanding of the behaviours associated with domestic violence, raising awareness of what constitutes domestic abuse, including the supports available in law, and personal support measures as one of the primary areas being addressed.

This approach includes the development and dissemination of information on service availability, better information between services and improving the availability of data on the problem. Cosc is working with national agencies to develop information across a wide range of educational establishments, including schools, universities, vocational education facilities and State services. For instance, I understand the Department of Education and Skills is finalising a module dealing with domestic violence to be given to junior cycle secondary students under the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme to which a previous speaker alluded. This module is to be further developed for senior cycle students.

The national strategy also envisages the development of improved legislation in the area of domestic violence. The Government made a commitment in its legislative reform agenda to provide reformed and consolidated domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation in a way that provides protection to victims. Cosc is progressing preliminary work towards this commitment through consultation with State and non-State organisations, principally the national steering committee on violence against women and its legal issues sub­committee. The steering committee has a wide-ranging membership drawn from the relevant Departments and State agencies and principal civil society agencies. The national steering committee on violence against men also has an opportunity to make an input to the process. A bilateral meeting has also taken place with Women's Aid. The proposals for legislative reform will be progressed as soon as possible, having regard to the need for consultations and other legislative priorities.

In addition, the Law Reform Commission is considering, at the request of the Minister for Justice and Equality, a possible amendment to section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997, which deals with harassment. This arises from reports of difficulties in bringing successful prosecutions for domestic violence under the section. The Law Reform Commission has indicated it expects to complete a discussion or consultation paper on its consideration of the provision in the first half of this year. The paper is also expected to address whether stalking should be provided for specifically in legislation.

The Minister for Justice and Equality has made important amendments to the Domestic Violence Acts 1996 and 2002 through the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011. The first amendment allows for a parent to apply for a safety order against the other parent of his or her child, even where the parents do not live together or may never have lived together. This amendment ensures the protection of the law is available where access to a child is an occasion of intimidation or even violence between disputing parents. The Minister has been informed that this amendment has been very well received.

The second amendment extends the protections of the Acts to same-sex couples who have not registered a civil partnership on the same basis as had previously been available to unmarried opposite sex couples "living together as husband and wife". This amendment also removed from the provision a residency requirement that couples have lived together for at least six of the previous 12 months before an application for a safety order could be made.

Domestic violence legislation is contained in more than one main Act and, as with other legislation, amendments made to the Act are not automatically inserted in the published Act. This can make understanding of the protections more difficult for the person seeking those protections and those advising them. For this reason, it is important that the legislation be consolidated. The views of Senators will be welcomed, noted and acted upon in progressing this work.

During our Presidency of the European Union, Ireland has successfully negotiated an agreement with the European Parliament on the European protection order, a civil law measure which will ensure that victims of domestic violence and other forms of violence, harassment and intimidation can avail of national protections when they travel to other EU member states. This sends an important signal that domestic violence, harassment and intimidation are unacceptable throughout the European Union.

It is necessary to improve data on the occurrence of domestic violence and the outcomes for those affected by it, primarily women and their children. Again Cosc is facilitating work in this matter and the Government's reform agenda will also be of assistance. Appropriate reporting of general information from family law in camera cases has a great potential to improve our knowledge base and provide valuable information on the operation of the law in this area.

The Courts Bill 2013, which was introduced in the Seanad in March last, will provide for the modification of the in camera rule, which prevents members of the public, including the news media, from being present in court when family law and child care proceedings are being heard. This proposal is in furtherance of the programme for Government commitment to reform and modernise aspects of family law. The Bill aims to provide for a careful balancing of the need for privacy for persons involved in family law and child care proceedings with the need to ensure access to important information on the operation of family and child care law in our courts.

Domestic violence is most often associated with spouses or partners. Violence by the male partner against the female partner is the more frequent occurrence, especially in more serious cases. There are also serious instances of women being violent against their male partners. Children are frequently caught in the middle of domestic violence and, as Senator van Turnhout noted, they sometimes become victims of violence. Physical violence is accompanied by psychological trauma when a child witnesses parents being violent against each other or one parent perpetrating violence against the other. This is an issue that often arises in the family courts in proceedings associated with separation and domestic violence.

As with all State and State funded services, our economic difficulties have undoubtedly had an effect on the level of services that can be provided. I note that many Senators' contributions focused on their concern about funding for services, which is perfectly understandable. Despite the current financial constraints, the Government has continued to provide substantial funding for services in this area.

The Health Service Executive is the primary funder of work in the area of domestic violence, providing the bulk of the funds for the operation of refuges and domestic violence support services. The agency allocated €13.89 million in 2012 to domestic violence refuges and support services, including the national network for such services, SAFE Ireland. I congratulate and thank SAFE Ireland for the commitment and dedication it shows in this area. I understand a national review of these services, which was carried out by the HSE, is due to be published shortly and will inform the future funding of these services.

A new child and family agency has taken on the role of the Health Service Executive in the area of domestic violence. Cosc liaises with the chief executive of the new body, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, and the national lead on domestic and sexual violence in the new agency. The child and family agency will come under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

In addition, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government provides funding for the operation of accommodation and associated services for homeless persons, including victims of domestic violence. This funding is known as section 10 funding. Some 90% of costs arising in respect of homeless services are provided by the Department, with the remaining 10% provided from within local authority resources. This funding is drawn down by local authorities rather than paid out directly by the Department. In 2012, a sum of €2.47 million was provided under section 10 funding for domestic violence refuges and transitional housing. I am informed that total section 10 funding for all homeless accommodation increased substantially from €12.6 million in 1999 to approximately €50 million annually over the past decade. While there has been a reduction of approximately two thirds in overall Exchequer housing investment, the effective maintenance of section 10 funding has meant there has been no reduction in the provision of services.

Cosc currently funds a number of organisations to provide domestic violence perpetrator programmes, with a variety of court mandated and other programmes in existence. The perpetrator programmes are delivered through a combination of community and voluntary organisations and the Probation Service. A total of 13 programmes are operating and in 2012 Cosc allocated to them almost €625,000 or 93% of their total funding.

Cosc also operates an awareness raising grant scheme which provides funding for local awareness raising campaigns that increase understanding and recognition of domestic, sexual and gender based violence. Cosc supports collaboration between organisations in raising awareness as an effective communication tool in that it provides an opportunity to reach a wider target audience to reinforce a common message. In 2012, it provided grants totalling €241,820 to 59 successful applicants throughout the country. Applications for the grant scheme for 2013 closed last week and are now being assessed. I take on board the observations and appeals of Senators with regard to the ongoing requirement for funding in this area. The point was well made by colleagues from all sides.

I will briefly address the Istanbul convention. Ireland supports, in principle, the aims and terms of the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The national strategy is in line with the Council of Europe approach to a multi-sectoral solution covering legislation, co-ordination of services, awareness raising at many levels and data collection.

I can confirm to Senators that we have, in our Presidency role, supported the signature and ratification of the convention at international level. However, there is an issue for Ireland which we have brought to the attention of the Council of Europe during the negotiation process. It presents a particular problem which is not theoretical but a genuine problem from a constitutional standpoint. It relates to the issue of emergency barring orders. Although signature to the convention imposes no obligations on the State to implement any of the provisions of the treaty, Ireland would normally only sign those treaties that are compatible with the Irish Constitution, whose provisions may therefore be implemented. The Minister favours an approach to the convention whereby Ireland would sign only when it is clear we are in a position to ratify it. The proposed consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to which I referred may be an appropriate vehicle for some of the legislative changes which may be necessary to enable Ireland to ratify the convention. The issue of signature of the convention will be submitted for decision of the Government once this process has been completed, and any issues resolved with the advice of the Attornev General. It is unlikely, however, that signature will be completed during the Presidency of the EU given the present legislative workload. Some 29 Council of Europe member states have signed the convention and four have ratified it. It has not yet entered into force as this requires at least ten member states to ratify.

As Senators will appreciate from my comments, the Government continues to give high importance to the work to address domestic violence. It forms an important part of the work of the crime directorate in the Department of Justice and Equality but also involves and requires the attention of Departments and agencies across the board, including the Department of Health where I have the privilege of being Minister of State. An aspect that occurred to me in the course of the debate, to which I am sure we will return as we have had some very good debates on it in the past, is the issue of alcohol and alcohol misuse. There is no doubt there is a proven and documented connection identified between alcohol misuse and domestic violence. I know I and the Government will have the support of Senators in regard to the measures that require to be, and will be taken, on foot of Government decisions in the coming weeks. One such is that a public health alcohol Bill will finally be introduced in these Houses that will address the major challenge and scourge, if I may so describe it, of alcohol misuse. There is certainly a connection between that agenda and the one Senators are discussing today.

I am not sure if there were any other specific issues to which I wished to refer. For the record, Senator Healy Eames raised an issue in respect of the Oireachtas health committee. I point out that neither I nor the Minister for Health has any involvement in regulating or otherwise determining the agenda of that body.

I call on Senator Kathryn Reilly to second the amendment put by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. I should have done so before calling the Minister of State - I apologise.

I second the Sinn Féin amendment.

For many years violence in the home was seen as something that was nobody's business; it was a private matter between a man and his wife. What happened in the home stayed in the home. The blame game culture of blaming the woman who is actually the victim became too commonplace. As mentioned, there were questions as to what she had done, that she must have brought it on herself, she was nagging him, she must have provoked him, there was something going on, there was a reason. This was a very dangerous thread in Irish society and it is necessary that we move beyond it. It still baffles me that if I were to be assaulted on the street on a Friday night I would get better legal protection from my abuser than would a person abused in the home on the same night. I reiterate the point that was made and also referred to in the motion, which I cannot emphasise enough, namely, that the lack of access to emergency protection is a considerable issue for women, especially when the courts are not sitting. Many women's shelters and aid groups will report specifically that weekends are particularly problematic and that many women are abused on a Friday evening, for example, with the abuser safe in the knowledge there will be no court open nor any possible intervention for some days. That is very worrying, and is a frightening set of circumstances for those being abused.

Like Senator Ó Clochartaigh, when I was doing some research for this motion, I looked at local statistics and the accommodation status of new service users. What we find is a very high number of service users staying in the abusive relationship, which is worrying. We have to wonder if this is because there is no greater protection for the women. Do we believe the violence was a once-off instance? It is very worrying.

There are ongoing issues in terms of habitual residency problems for non-Irish nationals and those Irish people who return home after spending a period abroad. There are financial barriers in regard to living in rented accommodation without financial support for at least six months before becoming entitled to rent allowance. There is the issue of leaving the family home. If a person's name is on the deeds there is no entitlement to go on the local authority housing list. In addition, there is the ongoing threat of cutbacks and the impending publication of the review of domestic violence nationally, and what that will mean for services in the future. Senators mentioned that Sonas Housing Associaton reported that four of every five women seeking refuge have been refused because of the chronic shortage of emergency accommodation. We are not meeting European standards in terms of the necessary refuge places required, which is very worrying.

There is a story I would like to put into the debate regarding how we need to change societal attitudes and how this can start with public figures. Last year a rapper, Chris Brown, was to play in the O2 and an Irish band, The Original Rudeboys, was asked to support him. The band refused to do so because of his background of assault on his then girlfriend. The band's album features a song, Blue Eyes, which is about domestic violence. When asked to comment on why the band would not support Chris Brown at the venue, which would have been a huge gig for it, band member Sean Walsh said, "Domestic violence goes against everything we are about as a band. Supporting Chris Brown would send out the wrong message to our fans". Statements of this kind chip away at the old ingrained notions of domestic violence that are embedded in communities the world over. It is only when we take a no-tolerance approach and see it illustrated by prominent members of society that we will start to stamp such violence out for good.

I will follow up on some points made by Senator Ó Clochartaigh which refer to the motion and its call for SAVI to issue a new report. SAVI, the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, made a report which was vitally important at the time as it offered a baseline measure and gave us an evidence base for policy decisions and approaches. However, the report is now 11 years old, has become very dated and is rapidly dating further. Statistically, evidentially and policywise it needs to be updated so that we can have a clear picture on which to make evidence based policy decisions in this whole area. A report into the economic costs of domestic violence in Ireland, similar to studies in the UK, could also be considered as a useful measure to cost such behaviour throughout the State, reveal the amount of health care and policing time taken up in dealing with the situation and indicate whether preventive measures would be a far more economical way of using the State's resources in this regard.

I thank the Labour Party for tabling this motion. It is important that we put these issues out into the public domain and talk about them, and that, rightly, we try to chip away at the ingrained notions that exist. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh stated, we support the motion but believe it needs more debate which is why we tabled our amendment. I hope other Senators will also support it.

Some time ago I did some research into fathers' rights. While I was trying to put in place a structure to strengthen the rights of fathers I kept finding myself stuck in the same position. Unfortunately, if there was a history of abuse, strengthening and codifying the father's rights effectively meant ensuring there was an abuser in the life of a victim.

It got to the stage that I was not capable of advancing the father's rights because of that. I say this with the greatest respect for the Minister of State, who, I believe, would like to do something about this. However, not enough has been done on domestic violence. The abuse is mainly by males against females, while there is some abuse in the opposite direction. We need more analysis on where we should do more. I am glad that a group structure is in place under Cosc to advance that analysis.

However, we need most analysis in the area of the courts. I am told that some judges do not issue barring orders and because the courts operate in camera for family law cases, it is very difficult to know if any analysis is being done. That analysis should be done on the basis of how many judges are dealing with these cases and how many issue the orders. I am told that some members of the Judiciary will only issue a barring order if the offence is at the very highest end of the scale. I am not trying to cross over to the area of separation of powers. However, analysis needs to be done to see how the Judiciary is dealing with this. At the moment there is an information deficit. If some members of the Judiciary issue almost no barring orders, analysis needs to be carried out. We need to ask why some issue much larger numbers of barring orders than others. I do not have the information, although it may be available to the Department of Justice and Equality. However, if it is the case, the question needs to be asked. While a safety order may be granted it has considerably less effect than a barring order.

In this evening's debate, I do not believe we have focused enough on the emotional and psychological abuse of victims. While the refuges are available they are not easy to get into because unfortunately they are full most of the time. I will not mention the Department's budget because I know every budget in the country is stretched to its limit. Some voluntary groups are doing Trojan work. There is practically nothing available for those people - primarily women - being abused emotionally and psychologically, and that issue needs to be considered. While there has been considerable analysis and discussion of physical and sexual abuse of children the third leg of that stool is the emotional and psychological abuse. There is also not enough analysis of such abuse of women and there are inadequate structures to ensure women have the opportunity to be dealt with.

Unfortunately for quite some time I have been dealing with too many cases of domestic abuse. On every occasion, as a public representative, I need to ensure the appropriate authorities are informed. Sometimes that is not easy because unfortunately the victim of the violence might not want the Garda to be contacted, but there is no grey area and the Garda must be contacted. Depending on the extent of the abuse and the concern on the part of the public representative, the HSE may also need to be contacted. There is no grey area - it must be done. Even on occasions when the person who approaches me does not agree, I must do it. To do otherwise is not acceptable.

Senator Reilly correctly said that there may be more protection under the law for somebody who is physically abused on the street than there is for someone being abused in the home. When the Garda hear of a domestic incident it is very slow to get involved, which is not good enough. Because it is slow to get involved on too many occasions I know of gardaí visiting houses six, eight or ten times, which is not good enough. Abuse in the home - physical or emotional - is abuse. While I do not have analysis on this, it should be much clearer and the Garda should bring cases on the higher end of the scale of grievous bodily harm or actual bodily harm against the abuser. However, it rarely happens and it should be dealt with much more actively in the appropriate manner. If a person - male or female - is abused in the home the Garda should prepare a file and send it to the DPP. On too many occasions that does not happen.

As the Minister of State mentioned, drink is a major contributory factor. In my experience I always receive some complaints during holiday periods in the summer and over Christmas. It tends to be the case that too much drink is consumed by a husband who comes home and causes problems. His wife usually tries to keep it together for the Christmas for the sake of the children but unfortunately that does not happen.

The Senator's time has concluded.

It is important for the Garda to deal with this in a more streetwise way, which means that if abuse occurs in the home a file should be prepared just as would happen if the incident happened on the street.

Just to wrap up-----

The Senator is almost two minutes over his time.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank the Labour Party Members for tabling this motion, which we support. That is not to rain entirely on the amendment, but we feel it more appropriate on this occasion to support the motion rather than the amendment. I believe that Sinn Féin could usefully do the same in this instance.

When we were on the other side of the House it used to gall me to read some Government motions that commended and welcomed Government actions. I love the one from the Government that acknowledges our collective failure in an area rather than pats ourselves on the back. While there has been some progress much of it is superficial. We might have a committee on this, a steering group on that and something else on the other. However, this is another area where we are losing the battle. That is not to be overly critical of this Government or absolve any previous governments. It is one thing to have the report and the roadmap, but it is another thing not to implement it quickly enough.

Many Members talked about the number of refuges. One wonders what the issue is when we consider that in the north west where I live there is no refuge - although in these weeks there is the opening of two apartments to cover the Sligo, Leitrim and west Cavan area. While this is welcome it is a long way short of the original plan and what was hoped for or indeed what is needed to meet the demand in the area. I believe this is replicated elsewhere in the country. However, our problem is not with the supply of vacant properties and one wonders why an innovative cross-departmental team could not make use of these resources given that budgets are beings slashed and it is a loaves-and-fishes exercise for all Departments. When we have all of this property available is it not possible to dip in and use it at least on a temporary basis for some kind of preferential rate and make it available to people? I know there are legal issues and challenges around that and I appreciate it is not that simple.

There are a lot of intelligent people in Ireland, the Government, political parties and Departments who could come up with ways of connecting the boxes and the legislative amendments that may be required to facilitate that kind of flexibility, which seems all too foreign at times when it comes to Departments and legislation. We need to embrace that.

Senator Reilly raised the issue of people falling between two stools whereby the wife or, more rarely, the husband has to leave the family home in a situation of negative equity or mortgage arrears. Such individuals are not eligible for the housing list or rent allowance because the boxes do not connect. It will not cost anything to deal with that challenge. It is a scenario that arises despite the best efforts of housing officers and directors of services who want to help and may have suitable accommodation but cannot even make an assessment due to the rules and criteria. The Minister of State could usefully engage with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in this regard. I do not doubt that the introduction of greater flexibility would present legal challenges in that somebody in a different scenario could argue for similar treatment. Nobody said it was going to be easy but it is an issue that we need to prioritise.

The question of funding is ongoing. I am involved in the domestic violence advocacy service in terms of chairing a group that is trying to advance the provision of a refuge. The service does brilliant work and, apart from the training it provides in the counselling of victims of domestic violence, 70% of its work is in the area of fund-raising and other activities separate to what it would prefer to be doing because it needs to earn the money to keep the lights on in its offices. It is, however, in receipt of some funding from the HSE. I do not underestimate the funding challenge and this is why I call for a more innovative approach to certain tasks. We have no shortage of offices, houses and hotels. Last Monday, while wearing a different hat, I went to see a hotel that is for sale in Sligo. The hotel contains 32 apartments and the guide price at auction is €150,000. If it is going to sell at anything close to that price, the HSE should be at the auction because the price is a steal in an era when we are looking for accommodation for refuges and social housing generally.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House for this debate and do not condemn him for his response. Similar responses were given when Fianna Fáil was in government but this is not a subject on which we should pat ourselves on the back. We have failed collectively in this area. I appreciate that the Government faces funding difficulties but we must be more innovative in our approach. The housing eligibility issue is crucial for women who have had to leave the family home and the issue of provision of refuges could be addressed by dealing with NAMA, even if on a temporary level.

I thank Senator Moloney for tabling this motion and welcome the representatives from SAFE Ireland and Women's Aid who are in the Visitors Gallery. Domestic violence is an abuse of power where one person in a relationship uses a variety of tactics to gain and maintain control over the other person. An abuser will use a variety of tactics, including physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, to retain control. Domestic violence involves a pattern of this type of behaviour, often over a long period of time. Many abusers' tactics are subtle and their impacts can be difficult to recognise. Sometimes they can be people who are close to us and we do not know what is happening until it is too late.

The statistics provided by Women's Aid are shocking, regardless of how many times one reads them. One in five women in Ireland over the age of 18 will experience physical, emotional and sexual abuse in her lifetime. In 2011, the Women's Aid national freefone helpline answered over 11,000 calls, 8,399 disclosures of emotional abuse, over 2,000 disclosures of physical abuse, over 1,000 disclosures of financial abuse, 477 disclosures of sexual abuse and 184 reports of rapes within relationships. A further 892 disclosures of emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse were made to the Women's Aid one-to-one support service in 2011. A total of 13,500 disclosures of abuse were made to Women's Aid in 2011, reflecting the growing incidence of violence against women in Irish society. What is even more shocking is the estimate that only 10% of those who suffer will access services. While over 11,000 women accessed domestic violence services in 2011, more than 100,000 experienced abuse but did not seek support.

I welcome the Minister of State's comments on the initiative by the Department of Education and Skills to bring a module into the SPHE programme for junior cycle students. Early intervention is the best way to cope with problems and if we educate our children to recognise and stand up to domestic violence, we can reduce the problem for future generations.

Research indicates that people are generally reluctant to intervene in other people's business. People say they would only intervene if they witnessed abuse or knew a relative who was being abused. We only have to consider recent events in Cleveland, Ohio, to understand that the abuse occurred in a house whose occupant socialised with neighbours. Abuse can often be cleverly disguised. People do not want to step into the intimate arena of other relationships because they do not want to judge the woman and her choices or because they fear they will make matters worse.

The woman concerned may believe she still loves the man and she may have children or other economic dependants. Even in this day and age enormous social pressure is often brought to bear on a woman to avoid breaking up the family. She may feel shame at being in her situation and, as other speakers have noted, the sexist attitude remains in Irish society that she made her bed and must lie in it. Women who experience abuse often minimise it and do not believe their case is bad enough to report or do not think they will be believed. They may repeatedly dismiss incidents as once-off events or make excuses for the perpetrator.

As citizens, we have to say that domestic violence is not acceptable. It will remain pervasive as long as silence surrounds it but it will wither with knowledge and disclosure. I acknowledge that the Government has been proactive in supporting State and non-government organisations in their efforts to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence.

The Man UP campaign, supported by SAFE Ireland, is one such initiative which, for the first time, switches the focus from the needs and views of survivors, most of whom are women and children, to the actions and words of those who control and abuse, most of whom are men. The idea behind this campaign is to try to get the message across that most men celebrate and protect women and that behaviour which is controlling and abusive is just not acceptable.

Despite everything to which I refer, there is so much more to be done. In Dundalk, where I live, some 219 people availed of support services in 2012 but a further 225 requests for help went unanswered. Those who run the support services in Dundalk estimate that 115 people have already been refused assistance in 2013. They are of the view that this will climb to 300 during the remainder of the year. It takes a great deal of courage for people to come forward. When they do find that courage, it is a major setback for them to be told that there is no help available. The Minister of State referred to the funding that is available. However, there is a great deal more which must be done. As previous speakers stated, it is important that the level of funding be maintained in the forthcoming budget.

The Senator must conclude.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I just need one more minute.

The Senator is way over time.

The Minister of State indicated that the convention will not be signed, which is both unfortunate and regrettable. I hope we will be able to rectify that soon.

I am going to confine my comments to the housing issues which arise for women and children who are the victims of domestic violence.

I apologise for interrupting but this is supposed to be Senator Keane's speaking slot.

That is okay. I will speak after the Senator.

Senator Hayden may continue.

I have worked in the field of housing and homelessness for a number of years. I am aware that among the main difficulties faced by women who experience domestic violence is not just the challenge of leaving their homes but also that of remaining outside them once they find the courage to depart. The way we deal with women and children who experience domestic violence in the context of the housing system is part of the reason they find it difficult to leave their homes and move into the mainstream secure housing market as quickly as possible. In recent years, there has been a lack of good quality and substantive research on the specific issue of housing and its availability. The main report in this regard dates back to 2008. However, the findings it contains are as relevant now as they were then. The report in question indicates that aside from the difficulty women face in the context of accessing emergency accommodation - their experience in this regard is particularly variable and depends on the part of the country in which they live - they also encounter other problems which relate to the local authority area in which they reside. While some local authorities have specific customs and practices which would be defined as being well organised, others do not.

The response received by people with a housing need when they approach their local authority varies considerably. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is because domestic violence is not specifically defined within the housing legislation. I take this opportunity to raise an issue with the Minister of State. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 contains a provision whereby, for the sake of argument, there is a disregard for lone parents in respect of their existing housing conditions. This means that if such parents are living at home with one or other or both of their parents, they are not deemed to be adequately housed purely because they have housing available to them. I request that a similar disregard should be applied to women who are the victims of domestic violence. As a result of the fact that such women may often be the co-owners of their homes or may have an interest in a rented property by virtue of the fact that they are joint or co-tenants, their position is difficult to assess in housing terms. This is particularly true in the context of their ability to access social housing. A disregard similar to that which applies in the case of lone parents could be extremely beneficial in the context of dealing with the specific needs of women who experience violence. It would, for example, allow them to be assessed as being in need of housing at the earliest possible opportunity.

One of the main difficulties faced by women in situations of domestic abuse is that they require an immediate response from the authorities and they need to be provided with safe housing. In terms of what is available to these women, I am aware, from my dealings with the rented market, that one of the other problems they face relates to the length of time it takes for them to be granted rent supplement. A potential way to deal with this would be for a ministerial directive to be issued to community welfare officers, CWOs, giving them specific discretion to deal with the needs of women who are the subject of domestic violence. CWOs can exercise such discretion at present but they can only do so if they provide a direct explanation to the Minister as to their reasons for doing so. If one is obliged to explain to a Minister why one is exercising one's discretion, one is not going to exercise it very often. My proposal for a ministerial directive represents a practical way in which women who experience domestic violence could be assisted by the system in obtaining secure housing as quickly as possible.

In light of the current housing crisis, the women to whom I refer are experiencing particular problems. In essence, these women find themselves in family and housing situations which are unsustainable. The needs of women and children who are the subject of domestic violence must be taken into account in the context of the overall position with regard to mortgage arrears, etc. The code of conduct in respect of mortgage arrears must take into account that relationship breakdowns occur. It must also take cognisance of the particular circumstances of those who are involved in such breakdowns and who are experiencing domestic violence.

In the context of the 1997 legislation on anti-social behaviour, there is a need for clarity as to what constitutes such behaviour. Some local authorities have used the relevant provision in the legislation to exclude violent spouses. In effect, others have used it to make both spouses homeless. There is a need to re-examine the legislation on housing in particular to discover how it might be changed to facilitate the transition to secure housing - as quickly as possible - for women and children who experience domestic violence.

I apologise to Senator Keane for not calling her earlier.

There is no problem. I welcome the Minister of State. This is an extremely important debate. There is not enough discussion of domestic violence, which takes so many forms and which affects those of all social classes. I accept that it may affect one social class more than another but it obtains across the board. Domestic violence takes many forms. A person, for example, might not have a black eye but she may be suffering this type of violence, which can often be hidden and which can take many forms such as verbal abuse, financial abuse, denial of contact with family or friends, etc. We are all familiar with the film "The Field" and the silent treatment meted out across the kitchen table by the main character. That is a form of abuse which is hidden from view. People are often too afraid to speak up about being abused and are not aware of the supports that may be available to them. Senator O'Keeffe was very eloquent when referring to the many services which could be made available but which are not currently available. We all recognise the position in this regard. The Minister of State referred to the four goals and the strategy relating to prevention. A great deal is being done but there is also much more to do.

A previous speaker referred to gardaí visiting particular homes nine or ten times and seeking witnesses because it is often a case of taking the word of one spouse or partner against that of the other. Women can sometimes be at a particular disadvantage if the witness's statement is taken in front of the abuser. There is a need for privacy in this regard.

Women always want to protect their children and will go to great lengths in the context of suffering abuse for the sake of their families. People must be made aware that there are services of which they can avail and that their children will be protected and will be able to continue to attend school. There is no point in informing a person who has suffered abuse that the local refuge is full and that she can try the refuge in the neighbouring county.

If the child cannot continue with friends, family and school it will stop a person taking up an offer of availability in another refuge. We need to consider all of these issues and see how to address them.

It is often the case that all people are looking for is a safe house. I realise we would prefer all services with bells on them, including counselling and whatever, but initially a basic safe house may be enough in circumstances where a woman is abused. I acknowledge the abuse of men as well because there are circumstances of male abuse but predominately it is a case of the abuse of women. What is needed is a safe house where a person can go to hide away for a period of two or three weeks until the main services are available. Often this is what people are looking for.

The Minister of State referred to the various changes in the Domestic Violence Acts 1996 and 2000 which the Minister with responsibility for justice has brought forward. The Minister of State has referred to these and therefore I will not dwell on them. The Minister referred to the second amendment of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 which extends protection to same-sex couples. I welcome the fact that Ireland has successfully negotiated an agreement with the European Parliament on the European protection order, a civil law measure which will ensure that victims of domestic violence and other forms of violent harassment and intimidation can avail of national protection when they travel to other member states. This was one of the difficulties. Some time back the Immigrant Council of Ireland referred to this issue and the arrangements have been changed and I welcome that. The Minister of State also referred to the Courts Bill 2013.

I acknowledge the work of non-governmental organisations. There are two representatives in the Visitors Gallery today from Women's Aid and SAFE Ireland. I acknowledge all of the work that has been done by them, often on a wing and a prayer. The Minister of State made reference to guaranteed funding for various organisations. Organisations must make five-year plans for funding the facilities they will be able to make available either by way of counselling or education and all of the things we want to do and which are in the programme for Government. Non-governmental organisations play a major role in ensuring that these services are put in place. The Saoirse Women's Refuge in Tallaght plays a great role in this regard. These organisations need to be assured that the funding they receive today will continue tomorrow and in five years' time in order that they can plan. I am not referring to the services that we should be making available, including further safe houses and so on.

Other speakers have referred to the signing of the Istanbul convention at the Council of Europe. There is no point in signing or ratifying a convention and then leaving it on the shelf if a country cannot put it into play. The convention is to be welcomed but we must ensure that we are in a position to put it into play. I call on the Minister of State to tease out further the problem in respect of its constitutionality and the difficulty we have with it. The Minister of State referred to barring orders and I call on him to outline the position in more detail. It would be great if we could ratify the convention in the year when we have the EU Presidency. We should push the boat out as far as we can. It would send the right signal to the effect that we are serious about this.

This is a major problem. Up to 100,000 cases are not reported and there are still more cases where those involved do not come forward at all. They cannot be counted and they do not want to be counted for the sake of their families. I thank the Minister of State and welcome him. I believe we are going forward with a holistic, all-inclusive response to this major problem.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. Much of what I had wanted to say has already been said and I will not labour the Chamber with repetition. However, I welcome the opportunity to make some points. I welcome the comments of the Minister of State, especially those on forthcoming legislation on alcohol and public health. He identified that a major and significant contributing factor to domestic violence is alcohol, and anything we can do to ensure the responsible consumption of alcohol at a policy level should be welcomed.

I appreciate the Sinn Féin amendment to the motion we tabled. This is something that we can agree on in principle, there is no question about it. It goes a little further than the motion before the House from the Labour Party. The main contention is how to implement the Istanbul convention. I recognise, as did the Minister of State in his contribution, that there are some issues with the implementation. We must be careful to ensure that if we ratify it, there will be no obstacle to our implementing it in a meaningful way. I take the point made by the Minister of State that we need to be careful in our deliberations. I urge that we hasten our deliberations somewhat and ensure that we can have this done as quickly as possible.

The words of the Minister of State about the need for an open and wide-ranging discussion about domestic violence in a public forum are important. It is important that society stands up and denounces domestic violence in all its forms, often and wherever we find it. More important, as a society we need to challenge many of the attitudes because a culture of tolerance, down-playing or underestimating the effects of domestic violence is sometimes fostered. It is important to tackle this in a society which, up to recently, has been rather patriarchal in construction and which, I contend, remains so today. It is important to consider where our attitudes lead to. Sometimes, we see a casual carelessness around domestic violence. Often people who do not experience domestic violence do not fully understand or appreciate the devastating consequences. Silence and stigma are the partners of domestic violence. As a society we need to confront this openly at all times, discuss it and make clear that we will not tolerate it. That is important in tackling the issue as well.

As a former psychiatric nurse I have seen the consequences of domestic violence all too often. Long after the physical wounds or bruises have healed, the psychological trauma goes on. Sometimes this is the case even when the offending party to the domestic violence has been removed from the scene. The long-term effects of it and of the unequal power relationships associated with it have an ongoing effect.

I was taken by the comments of Senator MacSharry and my colleague, Senator Hayden. The burden with regard to formal supports falls largely on the victim of domestic violence with regard to providing proof to the authorities. I have encountered this in my constituency office frequently, as has the Minister of State and every colleague here. It seems that sometimes in the case of housing, the issue raised by Senator Hayden, when people try to remove themselves from a position and look for social authority housing support, there is a requirement for them to prove legal separation has occurred or that there are Garda reports available. The placing of such an onus on a victim who is already traumatised is unfair and something we must redress. The balance should always be in favour of the victim. That is the main point.

It is up to us as a society to challenge our attitudes towards domestic violence. We have come a long way in the past 30 or 40 years, there is no question of that, but I wonder whether we have really measured our progress and what measure of our progress has been taken. The casualness and carelessness that are sometimes portrayed in the language used in this debate might be a measure of the ongoing problem we have.

I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. Others have raised the issue of domestic violence and abuse. However, there is another type of abuse, namely, the abuse of the courts system. I have witnessed this as a practising solicitor. I am familiar with a case in which there are more than 25 court orders and the case is ongoing. This problem is particularly acute in cases where there are Supreme Court appeals and where there is a delay of up to four years. Some people are now using that process to delay a conclusion to the matter. This is something to which we need to give priority. I realise there is a proposal from Government, which is facing into the appointment of two extra Supreme Court judges. Priority should be given to dealing with the outstanding family law cases and, in particular, cases which have been waiting for some considerable time.

We cannot interfere in the courts system, but there are people who are familiar with it, in particular lay litigants who have used it very effectively for delaying conclusions in family law matters. It is an abuse in its own way because it is emotionally, mentally, physically and financially draining. The family law system is trying to provide the maximum amount of protection for people, but there are people who have become all too familiar with it and are using it for their own self-interest. The courts need to examine this issue. It is something about which I am extremely concerned.

It needs to be dealt with in order than people cannot misuse the system while others suffer for long periods of time. Everyone else has made valid points. We always need to be conscious that where there is a need for change it is implemented. One such area is the appeal system.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend my colleagues, in particular Senators Moloney and O'Keeffe, on proposing and seconding the motion. It is very important that we take time to review the way in which the Government is dealing with the very serious incidence of domestic violence.

We have taken time to commend what the Government has been doing. The Minister set out very clearly and comprehensively the measures it is adopting, but we also need, as he said, to contribute to the debate on a codifying piece of legislation on domestic violence which the Minister, Deputy Shatter, has promised, and on which he is working. There have been a number of reforms, which are welcome, but they have been made on a very piecemeal basis. It would be of great benefit to everyone, in particular victims and survivors of abuse, if we could introduce a complete statute in which all protections and supports for survivors and victims are set out.

Senator Moloney's comment on introducing a new offence specifically to deal with domestic violence is one that should be given serious consideration. The label "domestic" is difficult and problematic, and there is a good deal of literature on that point. There is also the problem that few acts of so-called domestic violence are isolated events and, like offences of harassment or stalking, the criminal law, which is designed to deal with one-off offences, is not best suited to deal with it. It is something with which we have to grapple. It is a bigger question which can only be dealt with in codifying legislation, but as our motion suggests there are also many other aspects to dealing with domestic violence, alongside criminal legislation. We are very grateful to the Minister of State for addressing other aspects, such as funding for support services, training, monitoring and the need to tackle the perpetrators and prevent the abuse from occurring in the first place, and the need to focus Government policy on that, something which the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, has spoken about extensively.

We have had a fantastic debate. Everybody who spoke has a great grasp on what domestic violence means to families around the country. We all know domestic violence wreaks havoc in families on a daily basis in Ireland, but often slips off the political agenda. It is, without doubt, a silent crime and a taboo subject. Often people do not want to speak about it.

The Minister of State referred to funding which has been made available. I know he is not at the Cabinet table, but I urge him to speak to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, about the fact that funding is not adequate. The current level of funding should be retained. The matter will end up back in the lap of the Minister of State because health boards and local authorities are involved when people have nowhere to go. In Kildare, a new refuge centre is waiting to be opened but the doors remain closed. Everything is in place but there is no funding. Last year and earlier this year, 66 adults and 138 children were turned away because the doors are closed. It is an example of the funding shortage.

A study carried out on women who entered refuges found that the top priorities of women were staying safe, information support and housing, making decisions about their lives, healing emotionally and understanding the impact of domestic violence. Unfortunately, there are very few statistics on domestic violence, because it is not a crime on our Statute Book and, on many occasions, solicitors reach agreement on the steps of the courts. Often perpetrators will tell their victims that they know they love him or her, which is a key weakness. Victims do not want to take their partners to court and have their cases highlighted in newspapers, rather they want their partners to change. They did love them and lived with them, and want to return to that.

There is more than just one way of identifying domestic violence. For example, there is psychological abuse. Some people are told every day of the year that they are stupid, thick, worthless and that nobody would want them. One can imagine how that would affect one mentally and how it would destroy one's confidence. Broken bones and black eyes will eventually heal, but psychological abuse can last a lifetime. I know of one woman, who is in receipt of a small pension and has €20 a month to live on, but does not receive a penny from her husband. With that money she has to get her hair done and buy clothes and toiletries. She has lost many friends because she cannot go out for a cup of coffee or to an event. She is a prisoner in her own home.

As I said, the system regarding domestic and sexual violence needs a good overhaul. It is not good enough that the perpetrator of a sexual assault can be given a slap on the back of the hand, told to pay a fine and go home. As a woman, I, and I am sure, many of the women here, take such an attitude as an insult. No woman who goes into court and has to give graphic details of a sexual assault does so for money, rather she goes to court for justice and to ensure the perpetrator will never offend again. We have to deal with the issue of money now.

Traditionally, the State and religious organisations have let women and children down. I refer to symphysiotomy, the Magdalen laundries and child sexual abuse. We must not let this issue go on the back burner. We must step up to the plate and make changes in the judicial system now. I do not want others to apologise to people in 30 or 40 years' time because we did not act. Now is the time to act. We have seen what has happened over the years.

During my research on this motion I spoke with many organisations which assist women, and I thank them for their help and co-operation, in particular SAFE Ireland, which is represented here today, and Women's Aid, which gave me a lot of help, advice and information. SAFE Ireland has done a lot of work on this issue for many years and soon it will present its findings and proposals to overhaul the system to an Oireachtas committee. I ask that we all wait until that happens, and row in behind them if we agree with them to ensure the proposals are brought to fruition.

I thank all Senators who supported the motion and contributed to the debate. The issue has been dealt with sensitively and with the integrity it deserves. I trust the Minister of State will take all the sentiments expressed in the debate to the Minister.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 33.

  • Crown, John.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Kathryn Reilly; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator O'Keeffe voted in the wrong seat and Senator Byrne voted in place of Senator Darragh O'Brien.


Neither vote changed the result.

Motion agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ag leath uair tar éis a deich maidin amárach.