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.