Domestic Violence Bill 2017: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am very pleased to introduce the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 in this House and I look forward to the discussion during the course of its passage through the House.

Tackling domestic violence has been a priority for me throughout my career, going back to my days as a social worker in inner city Dublin and London. What was true then is true now. Domestic violence is a pernicious evil that has devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims as well as society as a whole. It is not acceptable that anyone in Ireland is subjected to abuse, fear and intimidation.

The purpose of this Bill, which has been a key priority for me, is to consolidate and reform the law on domestic violence to provide better protection for victims. I am also very glad to advise that the Bill also includes provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. These include a new provision for emergency barring orders and a new offence of forced marriage.

The Bill is part of a larger package of measures aimed at dealing with the scourge of domestic violence in our community. As Senators will be aware, I am also funding a major national awareness campaign on domestic and sexual violence called “What would you do?” which is a part of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021. I pay tribute to the many stakeholders and those working on the front line in dealing with domestic violence, some of whom have joined us in the Gallery today, who came together the other day to have a very useful consultation on the campaign. This campaign calls on us as relatives, friends, neighbours, bystanders and witnesses to say collectively that domestic violence is not right and it must stop. It is an opportunity for each of us to start a conversation about what we would do if we came across situations such as those we see on the television and radio advertisements. It is not enough for us to turn a blind eye. We must all step in to support victims and make domestic violence unacceptable in a civilised society, and it goes without saying that we must do so in a way that is safe.

I would like to outline the main provisions of the Bill. Part 1 contains standard provisions. Part 2 deals with the various orders that can be applied for under the Bill and the various court procedures we need to provide for to make sure it works for victims.

Section 5 provides for the making of safety orders to prohibit violent and threatening behaviour. Safety orders were first introduced in the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and section 5 largely re-enacts those provisions. The main change is that the scope of the safety order will be expanded to allow a court to impose as well a prohibition on electronic communication, where necessary, and that is very important. Safety orders can remain in place for up to five years and a further safety order can be made for a subsequent period of up to five years. Where a safety order is made for the protection of a dependent child, it will remain in force after the child reaches the age of 18 until the order expires. I advise Senators that I intend to bring forward an amendment to section 5 on Committee Stage to ensure persons in intimate and committed relationships but who are not cohabiting can also avail of safety orders. There has been a good deal of discussion about this and many requests. I have had it examined legally and I am very pleased that I am going to be able to bring in an amendment in that regard.

Section 6 provides for the making of barring orders to direct a person to leave a place where the victim resides, or not to enter that place. Statutory barring orders were first introduced in Ireland by the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976. These provisions were replaced by the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act 1981. As most Senators know, the Domestic Violence Act 1996 further strengthened the law in this area. The main change being introduced in this Bill is the removal of the six-month minimum cohabitation requirement in cases involving persons in cohabiting relationships. The scope of a barring order will also be expanded to allow the court to impose a prohibition on electronic communication. Barring orders can remain in place for up to three years and a further barring order can be made for a subsequent period of up to three years. Where a barring order is made for the protection of a dependent child, it will remain in force for the period I outlined.

Section 7 provides for the making of interim barring orders where there are reasonable grounds to believe a person is at immediate risk of significant harm. They were first introduced in 1996 and this section re-enacts those provisions, which were amended in the 2002 Act. If an interim barring order is granted without notice having been given to the person against whom it was sought, it will have effect for up to eight working days. In all other cases, an interim barring order will continue to have effect until the application for a barring order has been determined.

Section 8 provides for a new emergency barring order - this is a very important new section which is quite transformational - which will put life and limb ahead of property and allow a person in a dangerous situation to get a temporary barring order even if they have no rights to the property. It has long been discussed as to whether this is feasible. I am pleased we are introducing it in this legislation. It is an important new provision which must be enacted if we are to be able to ratify the Istanbul Convention. A person can apply for an emergency barring order where he or she has lived in an intimate and committed relationship with the perpetrator without being their spouse or civil partner or where he or she is the parent of an adult perpetrator. The most significant element of this new provision is that a person can apply for an emergency barring order even if they have no legal or beneficial interest in the place concerned or if they have an interest which is less than that of the person against whom the order is sought. Emergency barring orders will only be granted where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is at immediate risk of harm. An emergency barring order may be granted without notice having been given to the person against whom it is sought and it will have effect for up to eight working days. Once that emergency barring order has expired, another emergency barring order may not be made until one month after the expiry of the previous order, unless the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances. This is to ensure this order will operate as an emergency, temporary measure only. If there are extraordinary circumstances, it will be up to the court to decide that in terms of granting another one.

Section 9 provides for the making of protection orders pending the determination of an application for a safety order or barring order. A protection order can be made where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the safety or welfare of the person who applied for the order or a dependant are at risk.

Sections 10 and 11 allow for applications by the Child and Family Agency for safety orders, barring orders and emergency barring orders. Those sections re-enact provisions contained in the 1996 Act.

Sections 12 and 13 provide protection to spouses and civil partners against disposal of household effects in the period between the making of an application for a safety order or barring order and the determination of that application. Members will realise how important that would be in these circumstances where a person could lose their personal effects. This is to provide protection against that.

Sections 14 to 20, inclusive, relate to the hearing of applications, the date on which orders take effect, the delivery of copies of orders, appeals from orders and so on. We are also trying to make the court process less difficult for victims of domestic violence when they are applying for civil orders under the Bill and also in cases where an order is breached and a criminal prosecution follows. This complements what we are doing in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill, which I hope to introduce later today. It was meant to be introduced in the Dáil yesterday but I hope it will be introduced later today. That will provide for victims giving evidence in criminal proceedings. These are various protections we are giving to victims and we are trying to ensure our courts and all the criminal justice agencies become more victim aware and victim centred.

We have a section providing for the giving of evidence through a live television link where an application is being made to the court for an order under the Bill.

We also have a new section, which will be very supportive to individuals in these circumstances, which allows a person who applies for an order under this Bill to be accompanied in court by a person of his or her choice, in addition to any legal representative. That is to make sure that people in these circumstances feel supported.

Another important provision, which I believe will be welcomed by everybody, will enable the court to seek the views of the child when certain orders are being sought on the child's behalf. This is another important element of the legislation. It is very much in line with the constitutional changes we have made in regard to children and the work we have done in the Children and Family Relationships Act, in the development of which Senators were very involved, where we wanted to ensure the view and the voice of the child in circumstances where they are affected would be heard in the courts. The courts are engaged in working out how they can best do that.

That work is ongoing. We also have the new Hammond Lane family courts which will be developed over the next number of years, where we will have much better facilities for the hearing of family court actions and cases. That is very important also as the current conditions people are working in are far from satisfactory. We have made a decision in regard to the capital for that new development and this will be very important in terms of having better provision for witnesses and better conditions so people do not come face to face with perpetrators and there is no inappropriate contact. It will make a big difference when we have that new service.

My Department is currently finalising regulations which will set down the criteria for appointing child view experts under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. Those regulations will also apply to the appointment of experts under this section.

There is another new provision in line with the EU victims' rights directive and the victims' rights legislation I am bringing in. This requires the Courts Service to provide information on domestic violence support services to victims, which is where the very important work of victims' rights organisations comes in. People can be made aware these organisations are available because the courts will have an obligation to tell them about these services. As we know, specialised services for victims of domestic violence can play an invaluable role in providing support during the court process. The Courts Service will have to direct people and make sure they are aware these services are available.

Section 25 provides that the court may direct a person against whom it makes an order under the Bill to engage with a programme or service to address issues relating to his or her behaviour. This could be a programme for perpetrators of domestic violence at an addiction service or a financial planning service. The court now has the power to direct a person against whom it makes an order to avail of these services and it can monitor that.

Part 3 provides for offences under the Bill and its sections provide for various provisions. For example, section 31 is a new provision to provide privacy for victims in cases where there is a criminal prosecution for breach of an order. The judge will be required to exclude all persons from the courtroom except persons directly involved in the case, court officials and bona fide members of the press.

Section 32 provides for arrest without warrant where a garda has reason to believe that a breach of an order is being, or has been, committed under section 29, following a complaint from, or on behalf of, the person who applied for the order in question.

Sections 33 and 34 provide that where proceedings are brought for an offence under section 29, it will be an offence to publish or broadcast any information or photographs which could lead to identification of the victim or the person charged, or a dependant of either of them. Anyone who breaches this anonymity requirement faces strong penalties. Again, that is being very protective in regard to the victim.

There is another important new provision I am pleased to be able to introduce in this legislation, namely, the provision in regard to forced marriage. While the inclusion of this provision is necessary to enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul convention, I believe it is important to send out a message that such behaviour is not acceptable in 21st century Ireland. It will be an offence to use violence, threats, undue influence, duress or coercion to cause another person to marry. It will also be an offence to remove people from the State with the intention that they will be forced into a marriage abroad. Obviously, the courts will have to look at the evidence and decide on each individual case. However, if we think about the kind of trafficking we know exists at present, which so often happens with the threat of forced marriage, it is extremely important to have this provision in Irish law so it is accessible for young people who might find themselves in this situation.

I will bring forward an amendment to this section on Committee Stage to clarify the jurisdiction of the forced marriage offence. The amendment will make it clear that a forced marriage offence committed outside the State against an Irish citizen can be prosecuted in Ireland, provided the act in question is also an offence in the place where it was committed. I have had to take extensive legal advice in this regard and I will table an amendment to deal with that situation.

The Bill contains transitional provisions, as is normal. There is also an important amendment to remove the exemption for underage marriage. At present, section 33 of the Family Law Act 1995 allows an application to court for an exemption to the requirement that a person must be over 18 to marry. We are removing the underage marriage exemption, which should help to protect minors against forced marriage, as requiring both intended spouses to be at least 18 should assist in ensuring that potential spouses have the maturity to withstand parental or other pressure to marry a particular person. It will also be necessary to change the Civil Registration Act 2004 and section 42 provides for this. The validity of marriages which have already taken place under the exemption will not be affected.

The remaining sections in Part 4 amend other legislation. These are routine changes which are needed because of the changes I am introducing in this Bill.

Like so many other speakers, I have had experience of many cases of domestic violence over the years. At a certain point, I perhaps naively thought we could end domestic violence and that we would not see it increasing. Unfortunately, what we see are increasingly complex cases of domestic violence where drugs, alcohol and various addiction issues come into play, and where violence continues to be used. We need a multifaceted approach to this. It is about changing societal and individual attitudes. It is also, however, about having the legislation in place. We need to work on many different levels to eradicate this evil and to continue to fight it in our society. Undoubtedly, the law has an important role to play. I believe this legislation will help to improve the protection in law for victims of domestic violence as it puts the needs of victims first and foremost. I hope Senators will support the Bill and that we can see it enacted as soon as possible. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister. This is a very comprehensive Bill and I have no doubt that, when it passes, it will leave a great legacy. It is legislation that has long been called for and has been in the melting pot for some time. As the Minister knows, Fianna Fáil has quite a strong record in this area. It had the first national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence back in March 2010, and that had been progressed following the recommendations of a task force in 1997. We were certainly happy to bring that forward at the time and many bits and pieces have been added over the years. I believe it will be very comprehensive legislation, which I welcome.

My party and I support this Bill which seeks to address the appalling problem of domestic violence. Violence against women in all its manifestations, including domestic violence, is a deeply traumatising act that demands Government action. While the Minister said there will be amendments and changes to it, in principle, we are happy to support the legislation, which is very timely. As a society, we will have to look at the greater ills that are leading us to this position. From talking to gardaí, it is clear domestic violence is close to out of control and, not to put too fine a point on it, it has become unmanageable in recent years. Perhaps it could be argued that it had been hidden and unreported for a long time and it was not something people liked to discuss in the open. In ways, life has become cheaper due to social media and other factors, and people can be seen as objects at times, which does not help. The Bill is certainly a step forward but we may have to look at the greater ills that are leading us to this position. I thank the Minister.

I welcome the Minister to the House for what is an exceptionally important Bill. At this stage, I would like to put on record our acknowledgment of the work she has done, not just as Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, but when she was a social worker. That is the type of hands-on knowledge that influences legislation in order to ensure it is good and does the right thing.

People would probably be shocked to learn that one can go to court and apply to allow somebody younger than 18 years to marry. Society has moved on to such a degree that it would not even resonate in the consciousness of most, but this legislation will ensure it will no longer be possible to do so. If somebody is not old enough to vote, how can he or she be old enough to make a decision on marriage? However one views it, it is abuse. People are not compos mentis, no matter how good they are or what their background is to make a lifelong decision of that nature at that age. This legislation brings together much of what should have been done years ago but was not. Our job, as legislators, is to do what should have been done in many cases. If a person's home is not safe, it is up to the State to make sure the necessary legislation is in place to ensure adequate protection.

The point about barring orders and a property to which somebody would not have a legal right makes sense. People, however, have gone to court to defend a request for a barring order on the basis that the person looking for it has no legal right to the home, even though he or she may have lived in it for several years. It does not make sense and the legislation deals with that issue. We have a responsibility to constantly review the legislation dealing with domestic violence. I have no doubt that when the Bill is enacted, it will achieve a lot, but there will probably be other anomalies that we will have to address in a couple of years, if we are all lucky enough to be still here. It is an evolving process. The Minister said she once thought we could eliminate domestic violence. That should always be our goal. It is not a naïve aspiration but something we should all want. Society should be foolproof enough to ensure the minute it raises its ugly head it is dealt with, but that is a Utopia we will probably never see.

I commend the bravery of the many who have spoken out recently about domestic violence. After Christmas Clare FM ran a week long campaign to highlight the work of the Rape Crisis Network in dealing with child sexual abuse and domestic violence. I raised the issue here with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. People who speak out, whether they have been affected or are whistleblowers or conscientious members of the media, must be encouraged because as a result of their bravery society can, should and I hope will become a much safer place.

I look forward to the Minister's necessary amendments when the Bill is taken on Committee Stage. I am fairly confident that the Bill will receive unanimous support in the House because we have a tradition of coming together to do the right thing. If any Member identifies amendments he or she believes are necessary, I have no doubt that the Minister will engage on them. We will deal on Committee Stage with the technical amendments her officials have identified.

My party and I truly welcome this domestic violence Bill and thank the Minister most sincerely for all the work she has done in bringing the Bill to the Oireachtas. Domestic violence can happen to anybody. It happens to men and women. It can happen to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community, an issue about which my colleague will talk in a few minutes. It can happen in any social stratum. For want of a better word, I will use the word "victims", but I like to think of people who experience domestic violence as survivors, whether they are surviving it at the moment or have come out the other side.

I hope the Bill can be improved further as it passes through the Houses of the Oireachtas. My Sinn Féin colleagues and I will not be found wanting in helping to make the Bill as good as it can be. I thank Safe Ireland and welcome Sharon, with whom I have worked. I also thank Women's Aid and all those working in women's refuges and rape crisis centres throughout the Thirty-two Counties. I have met women from the Shankill Road and Cork who work in the area and have experienced domestic violence. I thank the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Amnesty International and others with whom I have worked for campaigning tirelessly for changes to legislation and the wonderful work they do every day for survivors of domestic violence.

Don Hennessy from Cork has done exceptional work and wholly and completely captured the evil dynamic when perpetrators of domestic violence set to work on their victims. His book, How He Gets into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser, helps to make sense of the question many ask: why does she not just leave him? We know that, on average, it takes seven years for a woman to leave a situation of domestic violence. Mr. Hennessy helps women experiencing abuse and violence to recognise the power and control games being played to destroy their self-esteem.

Above all, I acknowledge the courage, strength and resilience of the women and children who have experienced domestic violence, those who continue to live with abuse and those who have managed to leave. I want us to remember the 209 plus women who have died violently in Ireland since 1996 and all those who died prematurely because of the violence and abuse inflicted on them. I acknowledge their suffering and that of their families. I acknowledge those adults who were robbed of their childhood and have survived domestic violence.

Domestic violence is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed. It is a crime that is repeated day after day, night after night for years and sometimes decades. We often express shock and outrage about one-off incidents when violence is inflicted on a victim, rightly so, but why do we turn a blind eye to domestic violence? Why do we have an inherent tolerance for sustained attacks on human beings just because the violence occurs behind closed doors or because it is inflicted by a perpetrator who is known to the victim? What does that say about our society and us, as legislators? Someone said the Bill was timely, but it is 100 years too late. The barriers that prevent many from leaving much sooner than they should should be removed and appropriate supports put in place.

I speak about these barriers from an experience of working with women and children and experience in the area of domestic violence over a number of years. The lack of alternative accommodation is one of the biggest barriers. This ranges from the shortage of refuge beds to the lack of transitional housing to spiralling rents. Women and children who flee domestic violence must be exempt from the red tape and bureaucracy that surrounds housing applications. The woman may be the joint owner of the house, but if she is fleeing for her life then she can hardly call it home. To this end, all housing officers should have domestic violence training in order that they truly understand the dangers and dynamics of the situation of the woman who is sitting before them.

Reference was made to the property test. We need to remove the property test for co-habitants when applying for a barring order where the best interests of the children of the family so requires. If there is a strong pragmatic reason this cannot be done, we need the duration of the short-term barring order to be at least six months for the co-habitant applicants who do not satisfy the property test. The maximum duration of a barring order should be extended to five years.

Gardaí must be allowed to apply for out of hours barring orders to an on-call judge. The return date would be the next sitting date in the nearest available court. This would enable those victims of domestic violence to be protected out of hours and would strengthen the power of gardaí who often try to deal with domestic violence without having the legislation they need to do the job they want to do and ensure the safety of victims. I hope this legislation can do that. Gardaí must be empowered to deliver safety and barring orders as a matter of course. The practice of the person who is suffering the abuse having to deliver the order to the perpetrator is absurd. We know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is trying to leave. The practice of the perpetrator who may be barred from the house having unsupervised access to the children is terrifying. It is imperative that the risk posed by the perpetrator of domestic violence to the children of the family, and the impact of such abuse on them, is assessed and that immediate interim measures are taken to protect children.

I welcome the fact this Bill recognises violence and abuse inflicted by perpetrators who are living separately from the victim of the domestic violence. Considering all that can be done to abuse a victim through social media and so on, it is past time that this was done. These are just a few of the elements we need to shore up this Bill. On Committee Stage Sinn Féin will have a number of amendments to enhance this Bill. The Minister has our assurance that we will continue to do everything possible to expedite this legislation.

Most importantly, this legislation must be underpinned by additional resources for front-line services. When the budget is being discussed I want the Minister to say to the Minister for Finance in the context of this legislation that she has done all this good work and now we need the resources to be able to make it meaningful. This involves getting additional funding for refuges, helplines and cross-agency and community training. This training would include mandatory training for judges, about which I will speak at another stage. According to Safe Ireland, 5,000 requests for refuge places were refused last year. This, in itself, is criminal. I thank the Minister for all the work she has done and we look forward to working with her on the Bill over the coming weeks.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and I thank her for bringing forward this legislation. I welcome its introduction and I especially welcome the new protections for applicants for domestic violence orders, such as the ability to give evidence by video link for those aged under 18 and for others in certain circumstances, the right to court accompaniment, the extension of safety orders to applicants in dating relationships, and the introduction of emergency barring orders. In my work with the RISE Foundation I sometimes deal with people who are prepared to stay in a violent relationship because they feel there is no alternative. They are not financially independent and fear they will become homeless with their children if they try to escape the violence experienced in the home. The lack of support for these people needs to be addressed and their housing and financial needs have to be met.

The introduction of this legislation is to be welcomed as the provisions in the Bill will allow Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention or the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. We all know the statistics. A recent European Union survey on violence against women has found that 14% of women in Ireland have experienced physical violence by a current or ex-partner and 6% of women have experienced sexual violence by a current or ex-partner. The survey found that 31% of women have experienced psychological violence by a current or ex-partner. In Europe, 73% of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or a previous partner indicate that their children have become aware of the violence. The scale of the problem in Ireland can be seen when we consider the fact that in 2015, there were 12,041 contacts with Women’s Aid, in which 16,375 disclosures of domestic violence against women were made, including emotional, physical, financial and sexual abuse. The extent of the problem can be seen when one considers the recent solved murders of Irish women, of which more than half were murdered by their husband, partner or ex-partner. Domestic violence is a crime and domestic violence is everyone’s business. Domestic violence kills our women and children. Women deserve to be protected in their own homes. I appreciate, however, that men are also suffering from domestic violence, as my colleague Senator Conway-Walsh has said.

All too often there is outrage and condemnation when a woman is assaulted in a public place, but most violence suffered by women is in their own homes. A strong zero tolerance message should be sent out to anyone who commits, or intends to commit, violence in the home. It should also be considered that a second or subsequent conviction of an offence of domestic violence would be punished by a doubling of the maximum sentence. This legislation will reinforce the message that domestic violence is a crime, that perpetrators will be punished and victims protected. These policies must focus on the protection of children and address the impact on children of violence in the home. Criminalising domestic violence sends a clear message that violence is not a private matter and that it is unacceptable. It is essential that protective laws are enforced and offenders held accountable. Violence against women recognises no racial, cultural, economic or religious borders.

The human and economic cost of violence against women is enormous. The personal cost of violence against women can manifest itself in health problems such as depression, poor overall health, eating disorders, gynaecological problems, substance and alcohol abuse and attempted suicide. The particular impact of domestic violence on children must be taken into account by all Government agencies responding to violence in the home. Resources must be specifically allocated to support children who are exposed to violence in the home, within the overall context of prevention and support for adult victims of domestic violence. Interventions that support children who are exposed to domestic violence are crucial in minimising the long-term harm. Staff who work with children need to be trained to detect early warning signs and to provide appropriate responses and support. Early detection programmes that train health care workers to ask women about domestic violence can also help to break the silence and encourage women to seek help. Providing services and support to adult victims of domestic violence can benefit children, especially when the specific needs of children are considered. Support for locating safe housing, income assistance, access to health care and referrals for psycho-social support services should be considered as means to assist all victims of domestic violence.

The link between child abuse and domestic violence has been clearly established, with domestic violence being a very common context in which child abuse takes place. It has also been found that the more severe the domestic violence, the more severe the abuse of children in the same context. International research documents the co-occurrence of child abuse with domestic violence and the impact of domestic violence on the developmental needs and safety of children. Exposure to domestic violence is recognised in itself as a form of emotional abuse with detrimental effects on children’s well-being. I welcome the emergency barring order in this Bill because it puts safety ahead of property rights. When barring orders are granted to protect a woman from her abusive partner, there is often no assessment process looking at the safety and well-being of children of the relationship. For example, in many cases the perpetrator may be barred from the house but still have unsupervised access to the children and use that access to continue abusing the children. It is imperative that the risk posed by a perpetrator of domestic violence to the children of the family, and the impact of such abuse on them, is assessed and that immediate interim measures are taken to protect the children. When granting a barring order, the safety and well-being of any children should always be considered and appropriate interim measures should be put in place to protect them from further abuse.

When examining the issue of domestic violence, it is essential that we not only deal with acts of physical and sexual violence but also acts of psychological and economic abuse, including stalking and other forms of harassment, and acts which are undertaken to exercise coercive control.

Indirect forms of harassment, including posting online of harmful private and intimate material in breach of a victim’s privacy or impersonating them online are also forms of abuse.

At present there is a lack of measures to provide for immediate protection in an emergency when the courts are not sitting. For example, if a domestic violence incident occurs on a Friday evening, there is no recourse to the courts until at least the following Monday. This may be longer outside Dublin where courts may not sit every day. It may be unsafe for a woman and her children to remain in the home with the perpetrator and with no protection for this length of time. While in certain cases gardaí may make an arrest, the perpetrator is usually granted station bail within a few hours.

In the absence of immediate protection, the woman, often with children, may have no option but to leave the family home and seek protection with family, friends or refuges. However, family and friends may be unable or unwilling to shelter her and refuges are often full. The current crisis in emergency refuges and homelessness more generally can mean that women and children who are forced to leave their home may take a long time to secure new accommodation and may be forced into emergency transient accommodation for a long period. In extreme cases, women and children may find themselves homeless and living on the streets. In other cases, they may return to the abuser, not having any other realistic alternatives. Immediate protection and prioritising the victim's safety does not sit well with having to wait, possibly for a few days, for the courts to open. There remains a clear and unmet need for orders to be available outside of traditional court hours in order that victims of domestic violence do not find themselves in an emergency without protection for extended periods.

The commitment included in the Minister's press release to table amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage to extend access to safety and protection orders to those in intimate and committed relationships who are not cohabiting is very welcome. I thank the Minister for bringing this legislation forward. It is badly needed.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward such comprehensive legislation. I wish to talk briefly about my own experience of work in the legal profession. While I have not specialised in family law, I have been involved in it. In dealing with any family law matter, a careful balance has to be met. It is not a very nice situation to be in. This occurred to me when I was acting for someone and waiting for the case to be called and received a note that the person I was representing had just committed suicide. Another colleague was involved in a matter being dealt with in court. During lunch, one of the parties involved in the case committed suicide. We must be very careful about how judges have to deal with these matters. It is not all black and white and it is not all straightforward. It can be very difficult.

This is very comprehensive legislation. When we talk about domestic violence, we can talk about cases in which there is no physical attack and where people are abused mentally. We can deal with that through legislation. Another issue arising is that the courts system is being used to wear people down. I am just coming to the end of a case for which I have been in the courts for 16 years. We have gone from the District Court to the Circuit Court to the High Court to the Supreme Court and back around. There is no mechanism in place, as far as I am concerned, which prevents this from happening. That whole process is about using the courts system in an improper manner. It is something for which we do not have legislation and I do not think we can put legislation in place. In that particular issue, a Circuit Court judge was judicially reviewed on two occasions to the High Court. That is all within the law. It is one of the ways in which family law can become complicated. It is not all black and white such that a clear line can be drawn.

I welcome the provisions in the Bill. I particularly welcome section 21, which allows for evidence to be given by television link. That is a welcome development. Section 22 allows for an applicant or aggrieved person to bring someone along to court. That is also very important. Section 23 allows for seeking the views of the child. Going back to my own experience more than 20 years ago, there was a matter in which there was a very good judge who decided he wanted to take on board the views of the child. He took the child out for a burger during lunch to find out the child's views. The judge gave a very reasoned decision to accommodate all parties, but in particular to accommodate the views of the child. It is very important to see how that judge was able to deal with what was a difficult situation and used what powers he had available to him in a very good way.

I am a little unclear about the issue the Minister included under section 35 regarding a forced marriage. That relates to a non-Irish citizen who lives in this country and for whom, for some reason or other, arrangements are made to travel abroad. I am not clear if this section will cover that individual if he or she is taken outside of the country and enters a marriage. The Minister might explain that. I have heard of situations where a person who is not an Irish citizen but is living in Ireland, is taken out of the country by questionable means and put into a forced marriage. I ask the Minister for some clarification on that and whether we can table an appropriate amendment to this section to deal with that.

I welcome the Bill. It is very comprehensive. It relies very much on the experience of all those involved in in the courts over the past 30 or 35 years. The first family law Bill was produced when I was in college in 1976. At that stage, there was no legislation at all. We have come a long way in that time and that is welcome. This is very welcome legislation. I thank all those in the Department and in the Office of the Attorney General who have been involved in bringing this comprehensive legislation to Government.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I commend her on her long-standing commitment to reform in this area. I know from many engagements with her on this issue just how much of a personal commitment she brings to the issue of domestic violence, to tackling it and to seeking to ensure better legal treatment of the victims and survivors of this appalling violence. I commend her on that. I welcome the Safe Ireland representatives and those in the Visitors Gallery who work in the area. I commend all those involved in working on this Bill. I and a number of others on the justice committee held extensive hearings on domestic violence and produced a report in 2014. I know some of the issues in the report have been addressed in this legislation.

This is a very welcome Bill and is a long-awaited codifying reform of the law on domestic violence, repealing and reforming as it does earlier legislation, including the Domestic Violence Act 1996. As the Minister said, the Bill is also necessary to enable us to ratify the very important Istanbul Convention. It is very welcome legislation. It is also welcome to see it being introduced in the Seanad. I thank the Minister for that also.

As others have done, I commend the bravery of those survivors and victims of domestic violence who have spoken out publicly, especially in recent years when we have seen a great deal of increased awareness around it. I welcome also the Minister's awareness raising campaign that she mentioned in her opening remarks. As she said, a huge amount of the issue around domestic violence relates to societal attitudes and myths around domestic violence. We need to tackle those through other means as well as through legislation.

Speaking at the Safe Ireland summit on domestic violence in the Mansion House last November, I was very struck by the bravery of those women who spoke out about their experience of domestic violence. They were very clear about the inadequacies of the legal system currently. At an earlier seminar at a 2015 launch of a Safe Ireland research document entitled The Lawlessness of the Home, we heard the stories of 13 individual women who had experienced appalling abuse at the hands of their partners. They also experienced very negative aspects of the criminal justice system in its legal response. It is important that we challenge societal attitudes and that we also address the inadequacies of the legal system. That is something that is being done in this important Bill.

Many have conducted research on the way in which domestic violence is regarded in society.

There are those who have spoken about the phrase "domestic violence" as tending to trivialise or minimise the impact of this very serious violence and suggested that other phrases might be more appropriate, such as, for example, speaking of it as violence in intimate relationships. From extensive research, we are aware of the gendered nature of the violence and that women tend to be much more likely to experience it. Recent statistics from Women's Aid show that there were 12,000 contacts with it in 2015. A recent EU survey on violence against women showed that 14% of women have experienced physical violence by a current or former partner. We know how prevalent the issue is. As Senator Kelleher has said, we know the extensive and sometimes fatal violence perpetrated on women and children in the home and we know the gendered nature of this violence.

I will turn to the inadequacies of the current law and criminal justice system. In one presentation before the Safe Ireland event in 2015, we heard of a woman who had been eight years before the courts. This involved 44 separate appearances on her part, all relating to issues of domestic violence. Senator Colm Burke has spoken of his own experience. Those of us who have worked in the family law courts are aware of the lack of joined-up thinking and connectedness. We are aware of child custody applications being heard by judges with no awareness of parallel proceedings on breaches of barring orders or maintenance applications. Unfortunately, all of these applications have tended to be dealt with in piecemeal fashion. I declare my own interest. Anyone who has practised in Dolphin House is aware of how utterly inadequate the facilities are. The Minister has addressed that. It is great to hear that Hammond Lane will be coming on stream in coming years. Many of us have taken instructions in fraught and awful cases in crowded corridors where there is not the space to deal with the harrowing emotions and personal circumstances individuals bring to the court.

I welcome the procedural provisions in sections 14 to 20 of the Bill, which aim to make the court process easier for victims and survivors. I welcome other aspects such as the live television link that will be provided for and also the provision around hearing the views of the child. Barnardos has made a submission on the Bill and has welcomed the recognition of the need to hear the views of the child.

I also welcome the substantive changes the Minister has spoken about in the Bill in terms of the extension of safety orders to those in intimate and committed relationships who are not cohabiting, namely, the removal of the six-month cohabitation requirement. The Minister has said she will bring forward an amendment on the removal of the cohabitation requirement, which I very much welcome. It is something that Women's Aid and others have looked for. I also very much welcome the new emergency barring order provision which is necessary to ensure we can implement the Istanbul Convention. All of these will give rise to real and substantial changes for victims and survivors.

I will turn to the issues of forced and child marriages which are addressed in sections 35 and 39 of the Bill. I welcome the new offence provided for in section 35. I give a particular welcome to section 39 because it is an issue I have worked on for some years and which I have spoken about with the Minister many times. The Minister may have been in the Seanad in 2014 to deal with this when former Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Katherine Zappone and I raised the issue of the need to ensure protection for children against coercion into marriage. We were very alarmed that between 2004 and 2014, 387 children were married in Ireland under the exemption provided for in the Family Law Act. That exemption will be abolished under section 39, a development I really welcome. There is currently no minimum age at which a child can seek an exemption from being allowed to marry. We know that 302 of the parties under 18 who got married in that period were girls. There were 33 applications for exemptions in 2015 alone. A significant number of children are continuing to marry in the State despite 18 being the nominal minimum age of marriage. I welcome this change, which we called for in 2014 and which the Minister undertook to examine at the time. The High Court had previously criticised it in 2013 so I welcome that it has now come together in this important provision in section 39 which will make 18 absolutely the minimum age for marriage.

Will the Minister look at some of the recommendations made by Women's Aid in its submission on the Bill? It talks about the need to ensure that when granting a barring order, a court would consider the safety and well-being of any children of the relationship. It is an important recommendation to ensure more joined-up thinking and it comes back to the point about the need to ensure a better experience in the courts for victims and survivors of abuse. I welcome Women's Aid's suggestions on the amendment to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act to ensure that a past history of domestic violence would be seen as an aggravating circumstance. There is a great deal more work to be done on the consideration of aggravating circumstances in hate crimes. That is another piece of work but is something that could be looked at, particularly for domestic violence, in the context of this Bill.

I will conclude by saying how much I welcome the Bill and how much I hope it will result in a change in approach to domestic violence whereby it will be taken extremely seriously - as, I know, the Minister takes it - across society in general. I also hope that there will no longer be evidence of the sort of attitude that one survivor of abuse described to me whereby other women in the playground of the school said to her "Sure it was only a slap." Unfortunately, that attitude, which she expressed very eloquently to me some years ago, is still prevalent. At the justice committee, a former colleague of ours, himself a victim of domestic violence, said how awful it is that women and children are still the people who have to leave the home while the perpetrator remains. This Bill will do a lot to tackle that situation. Together with the awareness campaign and changes in policing practice, it will result in a real sea-change in attitudes.

I welcome the Minister. In the 21st century, we often think we have advanced a great deal in terms of issues such as domestic violence. However, I was horrified a few weeks ago to learn that Vladimir Putin had introduced legislation in Russia which means that if there is a situation of domestic violence, it will not be considered a criminal attack unless bones are broken. It is horrifying that this should be the case. I am old enough to remember a time in this country when if the guards were called to a situation of domestic violence, they just said that it was a family matter and that they could not intervene so they just left. I am very glad we are progressing this Bill. I congratulate the Minister, who has a passionate interest in this matter because of her professional background. She said that the Bill will enable us to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which is actually very strong on certain issues. Article 52 of the convention states:

Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the competent authorities are granted the power to order, in situations of immediate danger, a perpetrator of domestic violence to vacate the residence of the victim or person at risk for a sufficient period of time and to prohibit the perpetrator from entering the residence of or contacting the victim or person at risk. Measures taken pursuant to this article shall give priority to the safety of victims or persons at risk.

This is a very important aspect for us to consider.

I welcome very much the removal of the six-month cohabitation requirement. It is a considerable advance. The Minister said that once the emergency barring order has expired, another emergency barring order may not be made until one month after. It is extraordinary because the first order is the result of an emergency. What makes us think that an emergency evaporates after eight days? A person cannot get another one for a month. I do not understand the logic of it.

The issue of forced marriages is something that had not really struck me at all. I presume it is mainly people who originated in other jurisdictions. Are there any figures because it had not crossed my horizon at all that there were forced marriages in this country unless one goes back to things like in John B. Keane's "Sive"? The figures are really quite staggering - 14% of women have experienced physical violence by a partner; 6% have experienced sexual violence by a partner; and 31% of women have experienced psychological violence by a partner. Of those, 73% say their children were also involved. We have to take a very strong line with regard to the protection of children. There were 5,900 - just under 6,000 - disclosures of child abuse to Women's Aid in 2015.

I would like the Minister to address the question of the property test for cohabitant applicants. A cohabitant applicant must have an equal or greater interest in the property. I do not see why property should come into this at all. I am delighted to see the Minister nodding. Perhaps she will introduce an amendment.

Again, we must consider in this situation the rights and welfare of the child because the child has no property interests and needs to be protected. A provision should be made in the Bill to amend the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act so as to include aggravating circumstances. Such aggravating circumstances could include the presence of a child when the act of violence was committed - which makes it much worse - the fact that the offence was committed repeatedly, the fact that the offence resulted in physical or psychological damage and the fact that the violence was part of a pattern of repeat offending.

Domestic violence clearly does not only occur during office hours or at convenient times. In that context, we need to have a system where, in an emergency situation, an applicant can apply for an out-of-hours barring order and there should be a panel of on-call judges available for this. On attending a domestic violence incident, a garda of an appropriate rank should be able to authorise the calling of an on-call judge. This is logical. Why should the system only operate on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. basis? In every situation, the welfare and interests of the child should be taken into account.

Indirect means of harassment, such as the use of e-mails and other forms of electronic communication, are also worthy of consideration. It is important to note that children are at the heart of all of this because we know that children who experience domestic violence are more likely to become perpetrators themselves. I have heard a number of children speak about this but I will not put their views on the record of this House. The systematic inclusion of the impact of domestic abuse on children should form part of every assessment. I have already referred to the availability of an out-of-hours panel of judges. I have also raised the issue of the extension of protection to couples who are not co-habiting.

I welcome the fact that the Minister, who was a distinguished Member of this House previously, has chosen to introduce this legislation in Seanad Éireann.

I welcome this legislation and thank the Minister for bringing it forward. I commend the work of all organisations supporting survivors and victims of domestic and sexual violence. I also commend the victims and survivors themselves who have spoken out.

Domestic and sexual violence is a poison. It touches every part of our society. It demands that we shine a light, raise awareness and go above and beyond the call of duty in providing support to victims and survivors. I say that in the context of refuges which are under sustained pressure. As Mayor of South Dublin I learned of the work of the Saoirse Women's Refuge and was proud to support it but that refuge had to turn away 80% of the women who came to it for support in recent years. If we are serious about women's rights and LGBT rights, then this is an area that needs our continued and increased support.

In our election manifesto in 2016 - some of which is being addressed in this legislation - Sinn Féin made a commitment to significantly increase funding to domestic violence support organisations. We also made a commitment to implement the Istanbul Convention. Further, we promised that should survivors be named on a mortgage with their former abusers, we would remove any obstacles to them accessing social housing. We also committed to ensuring that gardaí are adequately skilled and trained to enable them to protect and support vulnerable people, including victims of child sexual exploitation, vulnerable adults, domestic violence victims, victims of trafficking and people with mental health difficulties.

In its report entitled Burning Issues 2, the National LGBT Federation called for the introduction of mandatory LGBT equality and awareness training for all public service providers. The Rape Crisis Network produced a report last year highlighting the barriers facing victims of sexual violence and noted that such barriers were significantly higher for LGBT people. I commend the network for that report.

Above all else, it highlighted the need for hate crime legislation in efforts to address racism, sectarianism and homophobia in society. It is a critical report, containing very important expert information and research, commissioned by the Rape Crisis Network, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, and Gay Switchboard. The report highlighted the added vulnerability of members of the LGBT community in this sphere. All victims of sexual and domestic violence face barriers when contacting support services. However, it is critical that we take into account that this experience can be significantly worse for LGBT survivors, 50% of whom wait more than ten years before reporting abuse compared with 20% of heterosexual survivors. We must ensure that our public policy is in line with international best practice and information such as that contained in the aforementioned report is critical in this regard. LGBT people face a consistent struggle for visibility against persistent erasure and for that reason, I thank the Rape Crisis Network and all feminists who were involved in preparing that report.

Ms Lynn Boylan, MEP, has been to the fore in the European Parliament in calling for paid leave for survivors of domestic violence. This is a valuable idea and such a provision has already been introduced in Australia and the United States of America. The European Parliament voted in favour of such a provision last year. We need determined efforts to combat domestic violence on the part of the European Commission and member states, including considering the introduction of paid special leave for victims and survivors of such violence.

I again thank the Minister for bringing this legislation before the House. As Senator Conway-Walsh has already mentioned, Sinn Féin will be proposing positive amendments as the Bill moves through the legislative process that we hope will improve it. It is also my hope that LGBT-proofing of public policy, including policy relating to sexual and domestic violence, will become the norm and Sinn Féin will seek to aid that process.

I thank the Tánaiste for coming to the House today. I welcome the introduction of the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 and the opportunity to provide some feedback on its contents. Like the Minister, my background is in social work, in both Ireland and England, and I know that domestic violence cuts across class, region and age. One of the statistics that stood out for me when I was reading the very useful briefing note prepared by Safe Ireland and other civil society organisations was that 31% of women have experienced psychological violence by a current or ex partner. That is one third of women, which is a huge number of people experiencing something with which they should not have to live.

The fact that this Bill, as well as dealing with the physical violence that we all know and will not tolerate, also takes seriously the issue of psychological violence is very welcome. The Bill also takes seriously the impact of domestic abuse on children. As Senator Norris said, trauma not transformed is often trauma transferred. Very often children who witness domestic violence become victims or, tragically, perpetrators themselves in adulthood. The fact that the Bill takes into consideration the views of children and the impact of domestic violence on them is very welcome. The improved law will be accompanied by an awareness campaign to shift behaviour and attitudes so that we no longer tolerate domestic violence in this country and that is also very welcome.

Other aspects of the Bill which I welcome include the provisions for court sittings to be held in camera, for evidence from children to be given by video link, which could be extended to all ages, and the rights of victims to be supported and accompanied in court. I also welcome the new provisions on forced marriages and on emergency barring orders which will offer protection from adult perpetrators, who are sometimes sons or daughters of older people experiencing domestic violence.

Of particular importance is that, in the digital age, much harassment in an intimate context is now done by electronic means. Protection against this kind of behaviour is badly needed. This could be strengthened to include communications with third parties, to catch the awful behaviour popularly known as "revenge porn". These protections being strengthened would be very helpful.

The Bill should include a clear and comprehensive definition of what constitutes domestic violence. This definition should not only include physical, including sexual, but also psychological and economic abuse. This is all the more important given the prevalence of psychological abuse. Coercive control should also be included in the definition. This happens to a great number of people, but it is very hard at times to get action taken on it. Organisations at the coal face have found it difficult to get orders resulting from non-physical forms of violence. That is important.

I welcome that the Minister is going to amend the section affecting former dating partners and people who are not co-habiting.

The National Women's Council of Ireland recommends developing guidelines on criteria and considerations for granting orders under the legislation and that these should be broadly phrased to take account of individual and novel circumstances. There is a concern that, without a clear set of criteria, open list judges will act inconsistently. There should also be mechanisms to restrict the ability of a respondent to delay or interfere with the course of a domestic violence order application. Senators Bacik and Burke talked about cases going on in court for years and years, leaving people in a terrible limbo. Changes should be made so the perpetrators are prohibited from directly interrogating their ex-partners during court proceedings. I have a concern over possible unintended consequences under section 33(3). The section is drafted so broadly that it could criminalise any innocent mention of a case, including the accused's identity, by the complainant to anyone. This could merely be an email to a relative or friend in the course of ordinary private correspondence. The wording of the section could be tightened up.

In regard to barring orders, the phrase "putting in fear" is open to many interpretations. It should be clarified that it refers to the fear felt by the applicant and-or dependants of any future violence or abuse, or threats of same, by the respondent.

Many speakers have referred to situations which occur out-of-hours and the fact that abuse does not happen 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Monday to Friday. In every instance and at every point of proceedings, the impact on children should be taken into consideration. There should be a presumption of capacity of applicants with any form of learning or intellectual disability to give instructions and evidence. The case of Grace this week is a timely reminder of how important that element would be. Fees should not be a barrier to people accessing justice.

I look forward to working with the Minister on the Bill. It is very encouraging to know that the Minister has taken the Bill so far, and that she is using her position to push this through. It is much needed.

As there are no more Senators offering, I ask the Minister to conclude the debate.

I thank all the Senators who have spoken on the Bill and for the general support from the House for the passage of this important legislation. I have already taken on board a lot of the issues that have been in the public arena in recent months and years in terms of what people would like to see in the legislation. As I said, I will also be tabling some amendments at a later Stage.

I am struck by the common themes that have been addressed in the course of the presentations today. Senator Conway-Walsh, along with other Senators, spoke about how there are no boundaries on this issue. It is all across the country and across gender. We have heard the LGBTI issues about it. We have heard about age from Senator Kelleher. We have heard about the complexities in the court situation. Senator Colm Burke described the complexity of cases. Senator Bacik spoke about the period of time that cases can take to go through the courts. She stressed the need for more joined-up thinking, whether it is custody and access, or domestic violence issues. There are very big issues here in terms of ongoing reform of the courts to ensure that there is joined-up thinking and joined-up processes within our courts systems to enable people have a better experience overall.

There is really good work being done on court reforms, and we are seeing those coming through. It is clear there are huge demands on our courts. We are trying to give them extra resources so that, for example, technology can be used more effectively, so there is more efficiency, and that people do not have the delay in waiting times. The physical conditions in Dolphin House were also discussed by Senator Bacik. Those conditions need to be changed as quickly as possible.

Most Senators also spoke about how the scale of the issue and how it is almost hard to believe that scale. According to the statistics, 4,103 orders were applied for in 2015. There were 7,564 orders granted. Almost 2,000 complaints of breaches of orders were initiated in 2015. According to some research 300,000 people are experiencing severe or very severe domestic violence in their lifetimes. That figure was quoted by Watson and Parsons in a 2008 study done by the ESRI for the National Crime Council. Many people will find that extraordinary. It is clear this is a very big issue which we are speaking about more openly now than in the past. This legislation, along with the new victims' rights legislation, is intended to support victims.

A number of particular issues were raised by Senators. I will try and run through some of those. We will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to tease out some of these issues. I will look at all the submissions I have, including those I received very recently.

Senator Colm Burke asked about forced marriage. If a person is taken out of Ireland for the purposes of a forced marriage, that will be an offence, whatever the nationality of the victim. If an Irish citizen commits a forced marriage offence anywhere in the world, whether or not the victim is an Irish citizen, the perpetrator can be prosecuted here. We can address that a little further. Senator Norris asked about its prevalence. Obviously forced marriage is very hidden. It is hard for the Garda or others to know precisely what numbers might be taking place in Ireland. Every year over the past few years a very small number of cases have come to attention. However, that may be the tip of the iceberg. As our culture and society become more diverse, it is clear this is something that we need to be aware of. It is important to have legislation in place.

The issue of coercive control is not included in the Bill, and I do want to address that. It is accepted that behaviours in the domestic setting that involve emotional abuse, humiliation and fear can be as harmful to victims as physical abuse, as they are an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship. This issue was considered in the context of the Bill. There was consultation on this issue, as with many sections of the Bill, with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service. To be effective and enforceable, an offence needs to have a clear definition. It was decided not to include an offence of coercive control as, given the complexity of relationships and the range of behaviours that could be considered coercive or controlling, it would be very problematic to define that in statute. Further, given that the harm caused is non-physical, obtaining evidence of such behaviour and the harm caused, sufficient to satisfy the criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt, is likely to be extremely difficult. That is the advice I have.

Difficulties in securing convictions could send a very negative message to victims. We need to be very aware of that. It must be remembered that courts can already take into account such behaviours when sentencing in domestic violence cases. The Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act of 1997 already provides for offences relating to harassment and threatening behaviour. It is not that this issue has not been considered. It is worth putting the views regarding that on the record.

The question of defining domestic violence is something I have of course considered. I have taken legal advice on it, and I have linked with the Office of the Attorney General, with the Garda Síochána and with the DPP. I have looked at this very seriously. Domestic violence covers a very wide range of behaviours. We have heard that from Senators here today.

It covers physical behaviour such as assaults, rape and sexual assault as well as psychological abuse, intimidation, harassment, mental cruelty and economic abuse. A number of existing offences capture the range of behaviours associated with domestic violence. Obviously, physical violence is captured by the legislation I mentioned and sexual violence is covered under other legislation. I do not propose to create a specific offence of domestic violence in the Bill because of the complexity of defining in statute an offence of domestic violence. I have carried out a great deal of consultation on this. There is also the possibility of such an offence giving rise to unintended consequences, especially for the victim. It is not that I have not considered this option and taken advice on it but I am strongly advised that from a legal point of view it would not be helpful to the victim and would lead to other complexities. That should be put on the record.

The question of resources has been raised a number of times. Resources are increasing and clearly must increase. The national budget for domestic and sexual violence services increased to €20.6 million in 2016 and is being increased further in 2017, arising from the provision of increased overall funding to agencies. We must continue to examine the resources in this area. I am aware that many of the front-line organisations found it very hard to continue to support victims over the past seven years when the economy was failing. Like the Senators, I thank them for the work they have done in providing front-line services and for the way they continued to reach out to victims during that period.

I should point out that in exceptional circumstances a judge can be accessed out of hours via An Garda Síochána. There are some recommendations that this service should be more comprehensive. That is something we can examine. It is a resource issue.

I thank the Senators for their support for the Bill. I hope I have clarified why certain things are not in the Bill at this point. I look forward to Committee Stage and further examination of these issues.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 7 March 2017.
Sitting suspended at 2.05 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.