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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Vol. 257 No. 11

Domestic Violence Bill 2017: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I welcome the Minister to the House. I also give a warm welcome to Deputy Fitzgerald, who as Minister was centrally involved in this very detailed legislation, and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton.

I have a couple of technical points I would like to make. These amendments, particularly amendment No. 1, do clarify the situation and anything that clarifies the situation is very welcome so I will certainly be supporting these amendments. However, I think Members will have a certain technical difficulty in dealing with these amendments for the following reason. What we have is the Bill as passed by the Dáil so it is different to the one that was originally presented to the Seanad. That is fair enough. The text of amendment No. 3 is, "In page 9, line 21, "and committed" deleted." However, line 21 just refers to subsections 2 and 3 of section 29. I do not have the slightest idea where "and committed" could possibly fit in so I am at a loss as to how to deal with this amendment. Amendment No. 8 just says, "In page 18, lines 21 to 24 deleted." The same is true of amendments Nos. 9 and 12 and a whole lot more. Because we have the Bill as passed by the Dáil, they are already deleted, as I understand it, so we do not actually know where they fit in. I am not sure what the way around this is.

I am advised that the Senator should use the version as passed by the Seanad.

Sorry about that.

That is very helpful.

We do aim to please.

I am enormously pleased. The answer was very helpful. I thank the Minister for his guidance.

It helps to allay the uncertainty in the mind of Senator Norris.

I join the Chair in welcoming our visitors from New Zealand. They are very welcome to Ireland and to our Upper House. I had the opportunity of visiting New Zealand before Christmas, just after the general election there, and was very pleased that I was able to arrange a bilateral meeting with Mr. Andrew Little, the Minister for Justice, on his first day in office. I would be grateful if our guests could convey my personal regards and the best regards of my Government colleagues, and the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, to Prime Minister Ardern and our colleagues in New Zealand. I hope our guests will enjoy their visit to our Parliament and the city of Dublin. They should take the opportunity to travel throughout the country during their visit.

I was indicating to speak on group 2, so I will wait for that. I commend the Minister again and will speak to those issues on group 2, when they arise.

Does the Minister wish to speak on group 1?

I am happy as long as Senator Norris is happy.

Laois is happy.

The Minister has pleased Senator Norris enormously.

It is rare enough that he expresses happiness.

Not at all. I am the jolliest person around.

I will sit down lest I provoke the Senator into an unacceptable disposition.

We will move on to group 2. These are amendments relating to the term "intimate and committed relationship".

These amendments relate to the use of the term "intimate and committed relationship". They are Dáil amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 18 and 19. Senators will recall that during the debate on the Bill in this House, concerns were raised about the use of the term "intimate and committed relationship" in the provisions that specify who may apply for orders under the Bill. The background to the matter is that section 60 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 introduced access to domestic violence orders for persons living together in intimate and committed relationships. These replaced the provisions in the Domestic Violence Act 1996 that applied to persons living together as husband and wife. The intention was that same-sex couples who are not civil partners would have the same access to the protections of the 1996 Act as opposite sex unmarried couples. The wording was taken from the definition of cohabitant in section 172 of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. The term "intimate and committed relationship" was framed in order to provide a threshold to which the court must have regard in deciding whether to make an order. This matter was considered again, in consultation with the Attorney General, in the context of the Bill before the House. It would not be in the interests of victims of domestic violence if perpetrators could try to avoid having orders made against them by arguing that the relationship was not committed because, for example, of their sexual activity with a third party or because the victim of violence had previously sought to end the relationship. This is particularly relevant to safety orders in view of the fact that section 6(1)(a) will remove the cohabitation requirement for couples who are not married or who are not in civil partnerships.

Dáil amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 18 and 19 provide that the term "intimate and committed relationship", where it appears in the Bill, will be amended and the words "and committed" deleted. Dáil amendment No. 2 inserted a new subsection (3) into section 2 to ensure protection for victims of domestic violence who are or were in an intimate relationship which is no longer sexual in nature. Subsection (3) makes it clear that a relationship does not cease to be an intimate relationship for the purposes of this Bill by reason only that it is no longer sexual in nature. The text of the new provision is drawn from section 172(3) of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.

I welcome the Minister. I am very happy that so many of the debates we had in the Seanad were reflected in the shaping of this Bill. For example, I am particularly happy that the crime of coercive control, which was debated in this House, is contemplated under the Bill. It is a credit to the Minister and his Department that he engaged on all of those issues and that they are now reflected in a stronger Bill which will do good work for people in Ireland. One of the issues we debated that was of particular importance to me was my concern regarding the phrase "intimate and committed" and how it might be used. The Minister was not in a position to accept amendments in the Seanad but I am very happy that he took those concerns on board and consulted the Attorney General. The end result is that the content of those amendments is now reflected in the Bill. It is very important, particularly in situations where a relationship may serve as a consideration in sentencing, for example, as an aggravating factor, that there should not be any ambiguity or any potential for debate on the question of the commitment status of a relationship. The Minister has addressed that issue. People will have different perceptions. We have to also consider violence that might be occasioned by former partners. This really helps to address and clarify the issue. I am glad the relevant term has been deleted.

I also welcome a measure added in the Dáil, which we had not discussed in detail in the Seanad, namely, the clarification that, for the purposes of the legislation, an intimate relationship does not cease on the basis that it is no longer sexual in nature. The Bill recognises that an intimate relationship - and, indeed, a relationship in which coercive or controlling behaviour may be taking place - is not necessarily one which requires ongoing cohabitation or an ongoing sexual relationship. It can last even when new relationships have been formed by one of the parties. This is a very positive strengthening of the Bill and it is indicative of the collaborative approach taken. Those who are seeking safety, security and support from the State will be grateful for all of these changes and for the openness the Minister has shown in taking them on board.

I welcome these additional amendments. In the context of what Senator Higgins just said, I recall a couple of battles here - I believe we won them by vote - when the Government opposed what we were doing. It entertained me greatly to see Government spokespersons on the television afterwards wallowing in the approval that was given and taking credit for it. I thought their performance was majestic.

Amendment No. 2 is very good. For the avoidance of doubt, a relationship does not cease to be an intimate relationship for the purposes of this legislation by reason only that it is no longer sexual in nature. I can speak from personal experience here. I had a relationship with an Israeli citizen, Mr. Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, for many years, and it was only sexual for the first three years. We continued to share an apartment in Jerusalem, to make meals together, to go on holidays together and to go for walks together. It was an intimate and loving relationship. The sexual element just evaporated. I am glad to say there was no domestic violence but, of course, in these situations there could easily have been. It is very important that the Bill is extended to cover these, and I welcome the amendment.

I am concerned that we have a limited amount of time today. I would like a short period at the end to address the Bill in its entirety. I want to make clear that I am going to support all of the amendments and would like to see them going through as quickly as possible.

I welcome the Minister. I acknowledge the presence earlier of his predecessor, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, who have both done so much work on this Bill.

I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh that it is important that we move swiftly through the remaining Stages, although there are some important issues in these amendments. I want to express my support for them. I acknowledge the work of Safe Ireland and its support for the amendments, which clearly strengthen the Bill. In particular, I welcome the tightening up of the phraseology around intimate relationships, along with the specific new provision that Senator Norris has spoken about, which I think will assist victims and survivors of abuse within intimate relationships. I refer to the new provision that a relationship does not cease to be intimate merely because it is no longer sexual in nature. That is very worthwhile. As the Bill has gone through lengthy debates in this House and the other House we have made numerous improvements to it, to strengthen protection for victims and survivors generally. I will limit my remarks to that. I support the amendments in the groups put forward from the Dáil, and I hope we will have an opportunity to briefly address the Bill in its entirety at the conclusion of the debate.

I acknowledge what Senators have said. I agree with the point raised by Senator Higgins on behalf of everyone, that is, that this Bill is all the better because of the collaboration and debate. That is really what the essence of parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary debate is all about. I welcome that.

Group 3 comprises amendments relating to out-of-hours courts sittings and to the inclusion of provisions for offences by a person in authority.

Group 3 includes Dáil amendments Nos. 8 and 13. These relate to arrangements for out-of-hours sittings of the District Court in urgent cases. Senators will recall that a new section relating to out-of-hours barring orders was inserted on foot of an amendment tabled by Senators Black and Ruane on Committee Stage. That new section, which was section 10 in the Bill as passed by the Seanad, provided that An Garda Síochána may communicate with an on-call judge to apply for an out-of-hours barring order. My Department, in consultation with the Courts Service, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, examined the new section to see what improvements and adjustments would be needed to ensure that the provision is legally clear and will be workable by An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service.

A new section 24 was inserted by Dáil amendment No. 13 to provide for the arrangement of out-of-hours District Court sittings. It provides that a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of sergeant may request the Courts Service to arrange a special sitting of the District Court for the purposes of an out-of hours application for an interim barring order, protection order or emergency barring order. The section goes on to provide that the Courts Service may, with the consent of a judge of the District Court, arrange such special sittings of the District Court in the relevant District Court district as may be necessary in the circumstances.

This new section will apply to applications for interim barring orders, protection orders and emergency barring orders. It would not be limited only to cases where a Garda attends an incident. It is also broad enough to include cases where a victim of domestic violence walks into a Garda station and seeks assistance. The new section would replace section 10 of the Bill as passed by the Seanad. Dáil amendment No. 8 provides for the deletion of that section.

In presenting this section, I acknowledge the contribution of Senators Ruane and Black, who brought forward the amendment in this House. I hope that what we have done accords with the import of their view. I know we changed the wording somewhat but my view is that we changed it for the better and I hope it meets the Senators' approval. I acknowledge their contribution in that regard.

I thank the Minister for being here this afternoon. I wish to start by welcoming the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 back into the Seanad. It is progressive, strong and wide-ranging legislation that sends a signal to domestic violence victims in Ireland that the State will act and intervene on their behalf to safeguard their dignity and safety and that of their children. I compliment the Minister on shepherding this Bill through the Oireachtas and on how receptive he and his Department have been to open engagement on it, especially during its Seanad Stages. I am incredibly proud of the Bill. It is something that is very close to my heart. It is a testament to the Minister's work and that of his officials, so I congratulate him on that. I am proud to have played a part in improving it, along with my colleagues across the House.

Amendments Nos. 8 and 13 relate to the issue of access to emergency barring orders outside of normal court sitting hours. We debated this issue extensively on Committee Stage and I thank all those who supported the proposal put forward by Senator Ruane and me to insert section 10 into the Bill. We felt that timely access to barring orders for victims of domestic violence in the middle of the night or at weekends had to form part of this major reform of this area of law. That was the spirit in which our proposal was tabled. These are often the times when people most need urgent help and we have to be aware of that. I appreciate the engagement of the Minister and the constructive proposal outlined in amendment No. 13, which will allow for a special sitting of the District Court for such orders to be issued. While I recognise that this will allow for the orders to be issued outside of hours, which is welcome, I wish to express some disappointment, as this is not what Senator Ruane and I envisaged in our original amendment. It is a step back from what was initially proposed and agreed by this House. If a barring order cannot be issued on the spot by an on-call judge by electronic means, every practical and procedural step required for a special sitting of the court, including transport, legal preparation and a wide variety of other issues is a potential danger to a victim of domestic violence, no matter how soon it can happen outside of hours.

That said, after reviewing the Safe Ireland legal briefing on this issue during the debate on this section on Committee Stage in the Dáil, I recognise and accept the legal issues that could arise when these orders are issued ex parte and based only on hearsay evidence. I also recognise the drafting issues referenced by Deputy O'Callaghan during the debate and I thank him for that.

As a result, Senator Ruane, who would love to have been here but cannot make it, and I will accept the Minister's proposal on the issue and will not oppose amendments Nos. 10 and 13. We recognise the Minister has made a considerable effort to meet our concerns and those of Safe Ireland, which we really do appreciate.

All I ask is that this area is kept under close scrutiny when the Bill is enacted, that significant resources are put into making these special sittings accessible to victims outside of hours and if issues arise, that we come back quickly with reforms and legislative change. Many thanks are due to the Minister for his assistance and engagement on this issue. He has done an incredible job. We can all be collectively proud of the Bill and I commend it to the House.

Group 4, comprising amendments relating to the service of orders by An Garda Síochána, can be discussed with group 5, amendments relating to the application of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, and group 6, amendments relating to replacing references to the Domestic Violence Act 1996 in existing legislation.

I thank Senator Black for her remarks. I do not wish to delay the House but I do wish to record something of a response in respect of the disappointment that she expresses on the matter of electronic applications. There really is a difficulty there, although of course we will review it in light of ongoing and further developments, because this is an evolving body of law. The interests of justice demand that the court has an opportunity to assess the demeanour of the applicant for any order, and for this to be done on a face-to-face basis. This is particularly important in cases where applications are made on an ex parte basis, with only one side being present. I cannot see how it could be considered appropriate or proportionate to allow application for a barring order by telephone or email, given the seriousness of the consequences for the person being barred from his or her property. That is a reality of everyday life. Allowing applications to be made by telephone or on foot of an email, where it would be difficult to verify the identity of the applicant, could give rise to very serious legal consequences. However, I take what Senator Black has said into account. We will have further opportunities to examine this in the future.

I will move rather speedily to group 4. These amendments relate to the service of orders under the Bill by An Garda Síochána. Senators will recall a new section, subsection (3) was inserted into section 19 on Seanad Committee Stage on foot of an amendment tabled by Senator Norris and others. The new subsection provides for the service of orders by An Garda Síochána. My Department, in consultation with the Courts Service, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, examined the new provision to see what improvements and adjustments might be needed to the text. Dáil amendment No. 10 therefore inserted a new subsection into section 19 to provide that a court may direct personal service of an order by An Garda Síochána. That will apply in cases where the respondent was not present when the order was made and where there are reasonable grounds for believing that he or she may evade service or where there is any other good and sufficient reason to direct that the order be served by a garda.

It should be noted that section 19 provides that if a respondent is present in court when the order is made, he or she will be taken to have been notified at that stage of the existence of the order. Dáil amendment No. 9 provides for the consequential deletion of subsection (3).

In group 5, Dáil amendments Nos. 16 and 21 relate to the application of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 and to proceedings for offences under the Bill. Section 34, as passed by the Seanad, provided that certain sections of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 would apply also to criminal proceedings for the breaching of a domestic violence order. Senators will recall that section 30 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, which was enacted after publication of the Domestic Violence Bill, provides for substantial amendment of Part 3 of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 which related to special protective measures for the giving of evidence by victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings for violent sexual offences.

Dáil amendment No. 21 inserted a new section to amend section 12 of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, which defines the relevant offences to which Part 3 of that Act applies. This new section will ensure that all of the protective measures of Part 3 of the 1992 Act will apply in criminal proceedings for the offences of breaching a domestic violence order, or coercive control or in respect of forced marriage. Dáil amendment No. 16 provides for the consequential deletion of section 34.

Group 6 amendments relate to Part 4, which will replace the reference to the Domestic Violence Act 1996 in existing legislation with references to the corresponding provision in this Bill. Since this Bill was published the Mediation Act and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act have both been enacted. Dáil amendments Nos. 23 and 24 are technical amendments which replace the references in those Acts to the 1996 Domestic Violence Act, with reference to this Bill.

Dáil amendment No. 22 provides for the amendment of Schedule 3 to the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012. Schedule 3 was inserted by section 29 of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016. This sets out a list of offences that are excluded from the application of section 14A of the 2012 Act. Section 14A provides for circumstances in which certain convictions are not required to be disclosed in relation to Garda vetting. The offences listed in Schedule 3 are offences which would give rise to a bona fide concern that a person could pose a threat to a child or vulnerable person. The offence of breaching an order under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 is listed in section 3 and Dáil amendment No. 22 proposes to add the corresponding offence under this Bill and also new offences of forced marriage and coercive control. These amendments are merely to ensure there is not any conflict, contradiction or lack of certainty with other pieces of legislation which have gone before it and also to acknowledge the enactment since the publication of the original Bills of the Mediation Act and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister for coming to the House today to discuss this Bill. I also thank Deputy Frances Fitzgerald who started our journey in taking this most important Bill through this House and the other House. In addition, I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for his interest and willingness to work with all of us to get the Bill to be the best that it can possibly be. I acknowledge the work of all of my colleagues in the Seanad and in the Dáil. I also acknowledge the great work of SAFE Ireland, the rape crisis centres, Women's Aid and all of the other front-line services which have worked so hard to bring this Bill together. Above all, I thank the women who have shaped this Bill because, mostly, the Bill has been shaped by women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence. I also remember the women who have died violently in this country in recent years, and their families, today.

Like many others, I have waited for a very long time for this Bill to be processed through the Houses because, like them, I recognise that domestic violence is a crime - one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed. It always has been a crime but the difference this Bill will make is that coercive, controlling and abusive behaviour perpetrated against an intimate partner will be a crime as well. That gives me some assurance that women and children will be safer as a result of the Bill, and not only women and children but also men. I acknowledge the increasing number of men who come to me who are experiencing violent and abusive behaviour. The Bill will protect people in all such situations.

The success of this Bill is dependent on two things. One is that it is enacted as quickly as possible and that the details within the Bill permeate right through the system. Training must be provided for the Garda and also for judges so that everybody is absolutely aware of what the Bill means and how it can protect people in the future from the crime of domestic violence. That must be done immediately. Of course, in order to do that the Bill must be underpinned by resources. There needs to be a re-examination of all the cuts to front-line services that were made during the years of austerity in particular. That is not to say that there is not austerity now but severe cuts were made to front-line services such as community development projects and family resource centres and they need to be re-examined. The Bill must be underpinned with real finances in order to do the job in terms of the training and supports that are required for women.

I encourage more women and men to come forward. There is no need to lead a life of abuse and violence, which has meant lives have been cut short. I have no doubt the Bill will save lives. The Bill is just a step in the right direction. There are many other things that we need to do. We need an all-island approach to domestic violence. I urge the Minister to examine the issue. Clare's law was recently passed in the North. It is a fantastic law which allows women to find out if their partner has a history of abuse. If a person is concerned about his or her sister, friend or somebody else who is close to him or her, it is possible to find out that information. Again, that makes people safer. I thank the Minister.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Today is a very good day for women, children and men, including young men and all those affected directly or indirectly by the horror of domestic violence. It is not always a matter of the person at the receiving end; it is also about the child looking on and learning terrible lessons for life. As a result of this ground-breaking Bill, soon to become law, homes and the places where domestic abuse and violence take place will be off limits. Those who commit these dreadful, horrible, life-limiting, life-threatening acts will be clear that they are committing a crime and are now on notice.

As a result of this legislation, Ireland will be a safer place. All credit is due to Safe Ireland for its campaigning, guidance and wisdom in bringing the legislation to where it is today. It was inspired by the women it represents and the horrific stories it was told and it knew something had to be done. The women of Safe Ireland with whom I and others were proud to work inspired us in turn. Shauna is here today. I thank Catriona Gleeson, Caroline Counihan, Sharon O'Halloran and Simone George, in particular. They are amazing women. They worked with us, as legislators from all parties and none, from spring into summer and then into the autumn and winter. It felt like a long haul at times. We formed a great team. I must thank, in particular, Mr. Pádraig Rice and Mr. Aengus Ó Maoláin for their hard work and dedication in producing this Bill. I also thank Charlotte Simpson.

Safe Ireland was inspirational and an absolute privilege to work with. I acknowledge the work of Women's Aid and the National Women's Council of Ireland. I acknowledge the good work done in the Seanad to improve and strengthen the Bill. Working together collegially, we introduced important measures to an already good Bill. We worked hard so the Bill would include the offence of coercive control, recognising the undermining and unrelenting chipping away of a person by controlling and manipulative behaviour, gaslighting, making victims doubt themselves, isolating victims and cutting them off from their friends and family, monitoring a partner's telephone use and interactions, and slowly and deliberately destroying a person, most often by destroying a woman's confidence and freedom to be herself. That this kind of heinous, controlling behaviour is now an offence is momentous. This is a huge cultural shift regarding what is and what is not acceptable.

Another important provision in the Bill that we fought hard for in this House will ensure an intimate relationship between victim and perpetrator must be regarded as an aggravating factor in sentencing for a wide range of offences. There is welcome recognition in the Bill that an intimate relationship applies when people are not cohabiting and not having a sexual relationship. Statutory guidelines for making judgments on domestic violence, crimes and offences and their punishment are also welcome.

I particularly thank Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who was so pivotal and central in getting the ball rolling with this legislation and shepherding it. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, especially also and, of course, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, and his officials for being open to persuasion.

Let us remember again why this domestic violence legislation is so important and needed. In 2016, there were approximately 3,500 incidents of physical abuse against women in the domestic environment. An EU study in 2014 reported that 14% of women in Ireland had experienced physical violence by a partner since they attained the age of 15. Up to 6% of Irish women had experienced sexual violence by a current or former partner and 31% of Irish women, or a third, had experienced psychological violence by a partner; hence it is so important to establish coercive control as an offence.

It is worth noting that since 1996, when the first domestic violence legislation was introduced, 216 women have died violently. Up to 63% of those women died in their own homes. Where there was a determination of culpability, 56% of these women were murdered by a partner or an ex-partner. Another 32% were killed by someone they knew. Therefore, domestic violence in all its forms - psychological, physical and life ending - is a real and present threat. That is why this law is so urgently needed. All credit is due to the Government for acting with speed to put it in place to protect all those whose very lives could depend on it. We look forward to this Bill being signed into law by the President of Ireland, commenced and enacted. The Bill's becoming law takes us one step closer to ratifying the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention. In 2015, the then Minister of State, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, signed the convention. The passing of this Bill means we are one step closer to ratifying it, thereby adding our names to the 30 countries that have already done so, including Germany, France and Denmark. Iceland ratified in April and Croatia is very nearly there. We do not want to be in the company of countries that lag behind, such as Hungary. Ratifying the Istanbul Convention is important because it means an independent expert group will monitor the implementation of all the articles in the convention. States are legally bound by it.

It was a proud moment for me last week when I was able to say publicly at the Council of Europe that we were close to passing very progressive domestic violence legislation and that Ireland would be soon in a position to ratify the Istanbul Convention. I understand from the Minister's speech in the Dáil last week that only one more legislative action is required to enable ratification of the convention, namely, the Bill on extraterritorial jurisdiction for certain offences. I would like to know when the Minister plans to publish this legislation. Can he make a commitment that the Istanbul Convention will be ratified by the end of this year, making 2018 a truly great year for all those experiencing domestic violence, in whatever form? It would make Ireland a much safer place.

I did not realise I was letting myself in for Second Stage speeches at this stage. I do not believe we can have a further debate with the Minister but I am giving everyone an opportunity.

I will just make a few brief comments to note the passage of the legislation. It is ground-breaking. I commend the Minister and his officials who worked so hard on it over a lengthy period. I commend the Minister's predecessor, former Minister Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on her pioneering work in steering this legislation into the Oireachtas initially. As others have said, there has been a great deal of legislative scrutiny and legislative improvement as the Bill has passed through both the Seanad and the Dáil. I commend all my colleagues involved in this, particularly Senator Colette Kelleher, who really did so much to co-ordinate our efforts in the Seanad to ensure the legislation was strengthened and improved as it passed through. The Senator has expressed very eloquently the really pressing need for this legislation in terms of the impact of so-called domestic violence or violence in an intimate setting on so many women across Ireland, including, very tragically, the women who died at the hands of partners or former partners. We are all very mindful of the really serious nature of the abuse, assault and criminal activity that we are seeking to deal with in this legislation.

I very much welcome the creation of the new offence of coercive control, which we debated extensively in this House, the identification of an intimate relationship as an aggravating factor in sentencing, and the fact that we will now have a list of factors and circumstances for judges to take into account in determining applications for a domestic violence order. The latter was a crucial provision that many of us sought.

I welcome very much the procedural changes we have brought in through the legislation. I refer to the restrictions on cross-examination of a person, the power to hear evidence by video link and the power to hold breach hearings in camera. All of us will recognise the improvements these measures and others will make in practice for the very many women and others experiencing domestic violence.

I look forward to working in the future to ensure the implementation of the legislation and to ensure we will meet our commitments under the Istanbul Convention so we can ratify it. I echo what Senator Kelleher said in this regard. I thank the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, for their commitment on this issue.

On behalf of the Fine Gael Senators in the Seanad, I would like to commend the Minister in the first instance for being the person who has committed to ensuring we got to the stage. I pay tribute to the former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for her significant role in this and also to our colleague and current Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton. Even when the Minister of State was Chairman of the Oireachtas committee, he had done significant preparatory work on this issue in terms of bringing in the stakeholders, hearing their stories and producing the report, which was important at the time. I was a member of the committee with Senator Ivana Bacik and others, and very important work was done. I also pay tribute to our former colleague, Tony Mulcahy.

Sometimes, during the legislative process, people give testimony. All of us in the justice committee will remember Tony Mulcahy's personal testimony at the time. I was in contact with Tony last week. He is very pleased that we have reached this day. On this important day, I want to remember his contribution here.

We have done tremendous work in this House to enhance the Bill. I wish to pay tribute to everyone who played various roles on this, including Senators Kelleher and Bacik. There is no point in naming everyone, they will know the work they did. It was a collaborative effort. It is an important example of why the Seanad should not have been abolished. Great work has been done since the referendum. We are always looking for ways of improving but sometimes it is good to acknowledge the positive, extremely important contribution that the Seanad continues to make in improving legislation. I have no doubt that the legislation that we are passing today would not have the strength, depth or effectiveness, were it not for the contribution made by Members of Seanad Éireann. It is a great day. I congratulate the Minister and everyone involved.

I believe my colleague, Senator Kelleher, already spoke very eloquently and covered all the points. There is a suite of measures. Even since the Bill passed through the House, new areas and measures have evolved in the experience of women in particular and victims of violence, including intimate and sexual violence, which is passing through the courts.

Progressive and strong as it is, I think we all recognise that this legislation may need to be further amended in future to strengthen and reflect the review being undertaken in this area, for instance. I wish to echo the point on training which will be fundamental to ensuring that when this legislation is enacted it has a meaningful effect. I also wish to add to the point on resources. I echo Senator Conway's point. This is an example of in-depth collaboration between civil society groups, which have already been named, and legislators from all parties across the House. At times the Government worked with us, and resisted at others, although it later took the relevant points on board. It could serve as an example to other Departments on how it is important to listen and recognise that good ideas and improvements can come from all sides of the House. I hope we can put in place the resources and training that will create an environment that will make this legislation effective, meaningful and ensure it has full effect.

I thank the Minister and commend the passing of the Bill.

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, and especially our leader, Senator Catherine Ardagh, our spokesperson on justice Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, and on my own behalf, having followed the debate with great interest although I did not contribute, I welcome the passing of the Bill. I compliment the Minister for steering it through, as I compliment his predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton on the part they played. I commend my Seanad colleagues from all parties, particularly those from the Independent group, and the women of the House. Notwithstanding the valid point made by Senator Conway-Walsh, the legislation is primarily important from the perspective of women. It is another step in the right direction for bringing about equality for women. We have shamefully treated women in this country as second-class citizens. The big debate of the day on cervical smear tests raises further concerns. We have a long way to go but this is an important step forward and I commend the Bill.

I commend all Members of the House for their participation in this very important legislation. I commend the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, on his engagement, for listening and stewardship. It is important that, as Senator Higgins said, it is a single piece in the jigsaw but it sends out a very clear message from the country's Parliament. It addresses the needs of women and children primarily, but as Senator Conway-Walsh noted, it also affects men which we should not forget. There is a duty on us to work collaboratively with all the organisations. I want to pay tribute to Noeline Blackwell for her work. It is also important to recognise former Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for what she did in her time in the Department. It is important to pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. It would be easy for a Minister immersed in a Department with a list of controversies or issues, to put such a Bill to one side, but he did not do that. He prioritised it, for which I thank him.

As a society, we need to look at this issue in the context of our national relationship with alcohol, addiction and gambling and how we can improve mental health. Senator Conway was correct in commending former Senator Tony Mulcahy on his bravery and his immersion in the Bill when he was a Member of the previous Seanad. I thank him. It was the personal stories such as Tony's and also of so many women that helped to shape minds and bring about change. I thank the officials in the Department. They are often criticised but they also deserve credit. Senator Conway was correct that this is a good day. The Oireachtas delves into legislation and makes positive changes. I thank all Members of the House. We can put aside our political difference on other issues, this is something that unites us. We may have a different approach in how to get to the end, but we are united in our aim to improve the lives of our citizens and, in this case, primarily women and children.

I will speak very briefly to add my words commending all those who have been mentioned, including the Minister and his predecessors and their officials, who have brought a very positive and co-operative frame of mind to this process, which predates my own involvement.

I echo the remarks made by Senators Buttimer and Conway-Walsh that this is an issue which also impacts on men, and there must be a space for their voices in this debate. We have a particular role. I have noted with great respect and deference the leading role played by our women colleagues in this House, something that is not unique to this legislation and is probably the case with most items that come before the Seanad, but I have found this a learning experience. I found it informative and at times an emotional process, given the subject. If, in the course of outworking this legislation, we accept and concede that the vast majority of victims of domestic violence, intimidation, abuse and harassment are women, then we must also recognise that the vast majority of perpetrators are men. That is why I think male colleagues' powerful contributions and interventions on the debate in this House are important.

Like any other legislation, as welcome and significant as its passage is, it is worthless unless we can make a tangible difference to the lives of the women and other victims. We need to continue to work in the collaborative and proactive way that we have through the Stages in this House. As this now plays out in broader society, we need to recommit and rededicate ourselves to keep a watching brief on this issue and keep alert to it. As Senator Higgins rightly said, we need to work with our colleagues in the NGOs to ensure we face down the issue of domestic violence. We need to use whatever influence we can in supporting victims. We need to use the full rigour of the law to bring those responsible before the courts.

Without opening up the debate in any way, the Minister might like an focal scoir.

I would. It gives me great pleasure not to open up the debate, but to close the debate on this important legislation.

I reiterate my appreciation to Senators for their contributions and constructive engagement during the various Stages of the Bill. In particular I highlight this afternoon's contributions by Senators Norris, Conway-Walsh, Kelleher, Higgins, Conway, Ó Donnghaile, Buttimer and Ned O'Sullivan. This is one of the most important items of legislation to come before the Oireachtas this year. I know we are all pleased that we have reached the point where the Bill is about to be passed by the Oireachtas.

I do not suppose there is any criminal or family law legislation enacted in the past two decades that does not have the fingerprints of Senator Bacik on it and this is no different. She continues to make a valuable contribution along with everybody else, in ensuring we acknowledge that domestic violence can have devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims, as well as society as a whole.

Protecting and supporting victims has been a key priority for the Government. The enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill is a key part of the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The Bill will allow us to proceed further on the important issue of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, as Senator Kelleher mentioned. I want to see the convention ratified as a priority. The Bill will help us meet many of the requirements of the convention. A final piece of the legislative jigsaw will be a short technical Bill dealing with extraterritorial aspects.

Yesterday I received Government approval for the heads of the criminal justice (Istanbul Convention) Bill. It is my hope that this legislation can be advanced quickly. I would be happy to keep Seanadóirí fully informed and briefed. I hope we can have early publication and consequent debate.

I was pleased to ensure that from 1 January the financial contribution required from applicants for civil legal aid in domestic violence cases in the District Court was removed. This practical change will help ensure that victims of domestic violence feel confident about turning to the courts and it removes a possible barrier to access to justice. Senator Conway-Walsh is right in saying that now that we have passed the Bill, we need to ensure that people are informed about it.

Senator Conway-Walsh also mentioned an all-island approach and I agree. The Senator will know that I do not have an opposite number with whom to engage in Northern Ireland. I dare say the Senator and her party can probably do a bit more than I can about the restoration of the Executive in Northern Ireland to ensure that there is a justice Minister in Northern Ireland with whom I would really like to have a very early and important meeting.

I acknowledge the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and the former Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, who as Minister for Justice and Equality, made tackling domestic violence a personal priority. She published the general scheme in 2015, brought forward the published Bill last year, introduced it in the Seanad and joined us earlier this afternoon. I take this opportunity to say that throughout her life, Deputy Fitzgerald has worked to advance the cause of the vulnerable in society. She has been particularly active in advancing women’s rights as a social worker, as an advocate and more latterly, as an active and senior politician. She continues to do great work in that regard for which I thank her.

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is an exceptional colleague and an invaluable help to me in our busy Department bringing an understated compassion and sincerity to the many challenging issues on his desk. In developing the Bill, my Department and my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, have engaged closely with groups who support victims of domestic violence. Many of those have been mentioned here today. I acknowledge the work being done by these organisations, some of whom I have met very recently, and their contribution in strengthening the provisions of the Bill.

For too long, domestic violence has been seen primarily as physical abuse. The new offence of coercive control sends a clear, consistent message that non-violent control in an intimate relationship is criminal. The effect of such behaviour may be as harmful to victims as physical abuse because it is an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship. If I omitted to mention Senator Black earlier, I want to acknowledge her great contribution in the changes we managed to bring about at her request - or dare I say at her insistence - on earlier Stages of the Bill.

Another important provision will ensure that an intimate relationship between victim and perpetrator must be regarded as an aggravating factor in sentencing for a wide range of offences. This new provision sends a message that society will no longer tolerate the appalling breach of trust committed by one partner against the other in an intimate context.

I thank my officials in the Department of Justice and Equality, many of whom worked hard to ensure we got to this point in the spring of this year. In particular I highlight the senior officials, Greg Heylin and Tracy O'Keeffe.

This Bill, soon to be enacted, will help to improve the protection of the law for victims of domestic violence, as it puts the needs of victims first and foremost. Like all Seanadóirí here, I look forward to its enactment and implementation.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 3.58 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.