Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 7 May 1981

Vol. 328 No. 11

Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Bill, 1981: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The object of the Bill is, as the Long Title puts it, to make further provision for the protection of a spouse and any children whose safety or welfare requires it because of the conduct of the other spouse. It does this by making three important changes in the present law relating to barring orders. These orders exclude a spouse from the family home, usually because of violence.

Perhaps I should first indicate what the three changes are. Section 3 of the Bill will enable a spouse, while awaiting the outcome of an application for a barring order, to obtain an injunction-type order, called a protection order. Breach of this order, like breach of a barring order, will be a criminal offence. Second, section 7 provides a power of arrest without warrant for breach of either a barring order or protection order. Third, if a person charged with breach of such an order is given bail and then commits one or more such breaches while on bail, any sentences of imprisonment imposed under section 8 will have to be served consecutively.

Other provisions of the Bill deal with such matters as giving the courts greater flexibility in dealing with applications for barring orders and providing for expeditious hearings in barring order cases and other improvements that experience has shown to be necessary. I shall refer to these other provisions later on.

The barring order procedure was first provided by section 22 of the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976, which was welcomed on all sides of the House as providing protection for spouses and children in cases of domestic violence. Since the passing of the 1976 Act, there has been an opportunity of reviewing its operation. I have received various representations, mainly from some women's organisations, that their experience suggested that the system needed strengthening. Initially, it was thought the problems might be solved by a more active involvement of the Garda Síochána in the issuing of summonses for breaches of barring orders, and instructions on those lines were issued to the Force by the Garda authorities. Unfortunately, while an improvement was achieved in this way, it has been found not to be enough and that is why we have this Bill now.

In the preparation of the Bill, there have been consultations with the President of the District Court and district justices with experience in this area: it is, of course, the District Court that handles the bulk of the barring order applications. The Garda authorities have also been consulted and account has been taken of recent developments in England and Scotland.

The proposals in the Bill have emerged as a result of this review. I think I can say that they take into account as far as reasonably possible the various helpful comments and suggestions made by the persons and bodies concerned. I think it better not to single out any particular group or individuals for special mention, but I am grateful to all of them.

I should now like to refer to the three main provisions I have mentioned, the first of them being the protection order. This is a new type of order provided for in section 3. It can be made in favour of a spouse who has applied for a barring order where the court is of opinion that the safety or welfare of the applicant or of any child of the family requires it. The protection order itself is an order in the nature of an interim injunction directing the other spouse not to use or threaten to use violence against the applicant spouse or a child, or molest them or put them in fear. The court may make an order at the time of the application for the barring order or at any time before the case is heard and whether or not the summons in relation to the application has been served on the other spouse. Once the application for the barring order is disposed of the protection order will cease to have effect but, if a barring order is made, it may contain a prohibition to the same effect as the protection order.

The point may be made that a protection order is no more than an order to observe the law or, rather, not to break it by using or threatening violence on the other partner. The answer is that it is a very solemn warning to the spouse concerned. It creates a situation where a breach of it constitutes a criminal offence and renders the offender liable to arrest without warrant and to heavy penalties.

The proposed protection order is a response — I think an effective response — to representations that a spouse who has been assaulted would remain at risk for some weeks until the court made a decision on the application for the barring order. Experience has shown that some form of protection, some form of court intervention, is often necessary at this stage, bearing in mind that an application for a barring order is usually made only when the spouse concerned has suffered violence over a fairly long period.

To grant an interim barring order in that situation would be open to most serious objection. It would, in fact, amount to an eviction order without notice. What the protection order will do is to direct the other spouse, as I have said, not to use or threaten to use violence or molest or put in fear. The existence of such an order, coupled with the criminal sanctions that will attach to it, should effectively deter violent spouses from committing further acts pending the hearing of the application for the barring order and will, perhaps, help to make some of them realise the seriousness of their conduct.

The second important change is the power of arrest without warrant being conferred on the Garda by section 7 for breach of either a barring order or a protection order. This provision has often been advocated as the cure for any shortcomings in the barring order procedure. I think that by now we can say that experience has shown it to be a necessary provision but it would not, by itself, be a solution. Indeed, without any other provision, it could make matters worse. For one thing, arrested people can normally get bail and might very well resort to violence again. The fact that they had been arrested might make them more prone to commit further acts of violence.

Accordingly, it was necessary to provide some deterrent against breaches of the others committed while on bail. One possibility was to provide an increased penalty for an offence committed by a spouse while released on bail. Another was to make a sentence for such an offence consecutive on any sentence for the original offence or, perhaps, to have both an increased penalty and consecutive sentences in these cases. Minimum penalties were ruled out as these are open to objection on a number of grounds. Of the two other options available, it was considered that a term of imprisonment substantially greater than the existing maximum term of six months would not be justified for breach of a barring order or protection order, even when committed while on bail, bearing in mind that if there is bodily harm a more serious charge — triable on indictment — may be brought and that that would be the correct course where the facts warranted it. The solution adopted in section 8, that is that any sentence of imprisonment for a breach committed while on bail will be consecutive, is, I believe, the right response to the needs of the situation.

Section 8(2) caters for the possibility that a spouse may commit more than one breach while on bail. It removes the limit of twelve months on the aggregate of consecutive sentences that may be imposed by the District Court. While I hope that the provisions of section 8 will not have to be invoked very often, if at all, I believe that their existence will be justified by the strong deterrent effect they will undoubtedly have.

I realise that there will be some concern at the extension of the power of arrest without warrant to a breach of an order given in what are basically civil proceedings. This applies also to the proposed mandatory imposition of consecutive sentences for offences committed on bail. I understand that concern, but in my considered view these provisions are essential to ensure respect for an compliance with barring orders and protection orders and the proper protection of spouses and children from domestic violence.

I should now like to menton some of the other provisions of the Bill. Two of them have been taken over from the Courts Bill which has now been passed by both Houses. The more important of them is, I think, that allowing the District Court to make barring orders for a period of up to 12 months, instead of up to three months, as at present. This provision has already been approved by this House and I do not think the House will want me to reopen the discussion. It is a very important power but then so also is the long-established power of the District Court to impose sentences of imprisonment of up to twelve months.

The other provision taken over from the Courts Bill transfers the existing High Court jurisdiction in relation to barring orders to the Circuit Court, as recommended by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. The transfer is effected by the definitions section (section 1) which defines "the Court" as the Circuit Court and District Court only. It will help applicants for barring orders to get speedy redress.

The Bill contains a number of ancillary provisions designed to improve the efficiency of the present procedures. For example, the courts are being given greater flexibility in dealing with applications for barring orders. Section 2 (2) provides that a barring order may be made subject to exceptions and conditions, such as those giving limited access for visits to the children in the family home or for paying a short visit for a particular purpose such as collecting personal possessions. This flexibility is particularly necessary having regard to the extension to twelve months of the maximum period for which a barring order may be made by the District Court. Again, it is being made clear by section 2 (6) that a spouse can get a barring order even though not residing in the family home because of the conduct of the other spouse. Moreover, section 12 ensures that proceedings must be taken in the circuit or district where the applicant spouse resides or where the family home is situate. Accordingly, a spouse who has had to leave the court district where the family home is situate can apply for the barring order in whatever district that spouse has gone to live after leaving the family home. At present the spouse can take proceedings in the new district only if ordinarily resident there, and ordinary residence might be difficult to establish for a spouse temporarily living in a refuge or with friends. In section 13 provision is made for making rules of court to enable barring order cases to be heard expeditiously and for dispensing with the statutory requirements for service of documents in such cases.

I think I should mention also the special provision made in section 4 regarding the taking effect of barring orders and protection orders. The fact that a power of arrest without warrant is being provided makes it essential that a person liable to be arrested should be aware of the existence of the order. In the case of barring orders, both parties will normally have been present at the hearing and no problem of notification will arise. Sometimes a barring order is granted in the absence of the offending spouse and, of course, this will almost invariably be the case on the grant of a protection order. Section 4, therefore, provides that a barring order or protection order will take effect when the spouse against whom it is directed is notified. It further provides that oral communication to that spouse by or on behalf of the applicant spouse of the fact that a barring order or a protection order has been made, together with production of a copy of the order, will be taken to be sufficient notification. Moreover, section 5 provides that the court shall cause a copy of the order to be given or sent as soon as practicable to both spouses and to the local Garda station but non-compliance is not to affect the validity of the order. These provisions are all designed to ensure that the powers of arrest will be invoked only when the spouse concerned has been made personally aware of the fact that the order has been made. A further safeguard is that the power of arrest may be exercised by the Garda only on a complaint by or on behalf of the applicant spouse. This is to cover the possibility of a reconciliation having been reached in the meantime.

Finally, as I am dealing with these ancillary provisions, I might mention that section 6, in addition to making breaches of barring orders and protection orders an offence, also makes it an offence for a spouse to refuse to permit the applicant spouse or a child to enter and remain in the family home or to do anything to prevent them entering and remaining there. This situation might arise where the spouse and child in question, after having had to leave the family home, would find, after a barring order had been made, that they could not enter it because the locks had been changed.

There is one further matter to which I would like to draw attention. It arises on section 14 (1) of the Bill, which provides that proceedings under the Bill shall be heard otherwise than in public. This provision corresponds to section 25 of the 1976 Act, which applies not only to proceedings for barring orders but also to maintenance proceedings. It has now come to notice that in some cases prosecutions for breaches of barring orders have also been heard in private and that there are differing views on whether the 1976 Act, when it speaks of proceedings under that Act being heard otherwise than in public, is referring only to proceedings relating to barring orders or maintenance orders or whether it applies to criminal proceedings for breach of barring orders as well. Clearly, I cannot say authoritatively or in any formal sense what the intention of the previous Government was in this regard but I understand from the information available in the Department that there is nothing to suggest that it was ever the intention to introduce such a radical change in the criminal law as would be involved in having criminal proceedings under that Act heard in private. Moreover, the Family Home Protection Act, passed later in 1976, although also creating a criminal offence, confines court hearings in private to civil proceedings under that Act to which both of the spouses are parties.

It is a fundamental principle that criminal cases against adults should be heard in open court. The only exceptions are cases affecting national security or public morality. The law does not make exceptions merely because of possible embarrassment to an accused person or a witness. I should make it clear, perhaps, that the matters which give rise to the making of the barring orders or protection orders in question should not ordinarily be relevant to the criminal proceedings for breach of the orders. The only issue of fact would be whether or not a breach had occurred, that is did the defendant enter the family home in breach of the barring order or, as the case may be, contravene the protection order by using or threatening violence? Incidentally, I also think that, quite independently of this issue of principle, the fact that criminal proceedings will be in public could itself act as a deterrent to a violent spouse. I propose, therefore, to move an amendment on Committee Stage which will make it clear that the only proceedings that are to be heard in private under the Bill will be those related to applications for making, varying or discharging barring orders or for making or discharging protection orders.

Because of the extreme complexity of human relationships and domestic situations, no legislation can be expected to deal satisfactorily with each individual case of domestic violence or discord. Nobody will pretend that the law can by anything more than a contribution to assisting in those cases which have become so serious that the safety or welfare of one of the spouses or of the children requires intervention by the court. I am fully aware that arrest can make reconciliation difficult or even impossible but I am assured by people with long experience in this field that a power of arrest will have real value, both as a deterrent and as a sanction, in many of the situations that now arise. The hard fact is that by the time a case gets as far as the court there will have been a history of marital discord and probably, to a greater or less extent, of violence. The court is there as a last resort and, when its jurisdiction is invoked, it has to apply the law. I know that the courts do not neglect any possibility of reconciliation and often help by adjourning cases or giving sympathetic advice or admonitions or a mixture of both. I am very conscious of the value of the marriage counselling being carried out by a number of voluntary agencies. They are making a tremendous contribution and I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute in this House to their work, but at the end of the day situations arise, here and in every country, where the sanction of the law, even of the criminal law, has to be invoked.

In conclusion, may I say that I hope the Bill will commend itself to Deputies on all sides of the House as a genuine improvement of the existing law, based on practical experience of its operation. I look forward to a constructive debate so that in this area of family law we shall continue to have legislation that is well up to — indeed in advance of — the best international standards in relation to the protection of spouses and children from domestic violence.

The Bill that is before us is in some ways a little like the whole Dáil at present. It is somehow out of its time, a little less than essentially relevant to the real problems. But, despite the slight air of unreality which hangs around these portals these days, we will try to deal with what is in front of us.

Let it be clearly said that the Bill is a very minor Bill. It is a belated attempt to patch up a problem which arose years ago. It is grandiosely named, and in fact its title is a misnomer. To call this Bill, which in the normal course of events should be classified as a Bill designed to plug a loophole, the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Bill, 1981, is, to put it mildly, a euphemism. There is not a scintilla of a suggestion anywhere in the Bill about the protection of children and the essential idea is here, the essential element — and I hope I am wrong in this — will not give the protection it is designed to give. That essential element is the ability of a spouse — more usually the wife, as we know from experience — to obtain a pre-emptive order or injunction prior to the barring order proceedings which in many cases come too late. It strengthens also the powers of the Garda and removes what we might say was a certain doubt about their capacity to act in terms of arresting somebody who offended against the barring order procedures. But if we had done a real study of the root problem here, of the problem of a spouse who is violent and abuses his wife — or indeed in some cases a spouse who abuses her husband — we would know that if the threat of court proceedings, and indeed the barring order itself, had not been effective until now in some cases, it is extremely unlikely that a timorous wife communicating at the door of her home with her children hiding behind her skirts to an enraged and deranged and irate husband that she had got a protection order would mean that he would go off with his tail between his legs and she would be protected. From that point of view it is a very naive Bill and I have no doubt whatever but that we will be back in this House again trying to deal with the real issues.

The central element in the Bill is an attempt to give this legal sanction at an earlier stage, and more easily and more readily, to the spouse. That in itself is a good thing if such legal sanctions were going to work. However, the nature of family violence is not one that is usually amenable to such a rational, non-emotional, logical approach. The Bill attempts to plug a loophole in legislation at present on our Statute Book and it arises because of the clear evidence from members of the Judiciary, from voluntary associations working in this field who have been calling for change for years, from individual politicians and members of society and, most of all, from beleagured and brutalised wives of the need for protection in such situations. I do not think we should distort the overall pattern. It would be wrong if it should go forth from this House that there was a majority of marriages here in which such violence obtained. It is of course impossible to be scientifically accurate about it, because nobody seems to be bothering to take any statistics except those voluntary agencies to whom the Minister has given credit, though I would wish that the credit that we all give on these occasions would be supported by a similar sympathetic response when they come to us looking for funds to do the work which they are doing and which nobody else is doing. But that does not happen to the degree that it should happen.

How serious is violence here in terms of family violence? AIM, an organisation which has a fine record in tackling this problem, explains some of the difficulties. In the context of what they are saying we should bear in mind that they are dealing only with Dublin city and parts of Dublin county, and there is no reason to believe that this problem is not a national one. Indeed, what one might call a sociological insight into the nature of the problem might indicate that in some cases there would be reason to believe that certain aspects of the lifestyles of people living in isolation or in loneliness or alienation or in areas where community development is not at a high level would sharpen the possibility of a couple who are not getting on with each other dealing with each other by turning to violence. So this is not just an urban problem.

I am also a little saddened by the fact that in our legislation to date — and I believe the Minister is making an effort to try to deal with these issues — we do not talk about the real problems. Why is it that our task here today is to seek to give stronger powers of arrest and stronger powers to husbands and wives against each other? While that may be necessary, the fundamental problem is to try to deal with the reason why that state of affairs has come about. Any Bill that calls itself the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Bill should deal with a much wider spectrum of relevant problems than this one does. This should have been called the Barring Order (Amendment) Bill but it is not that. If we truly want to protect families — and I believe we all do — we should ask ourselves why is it that the counselling services referred to by the Minister in his penultimate paragraph are not better supported. He talks about being very conscious of the value of the marriage counselling being carried out by a number of voluntary organisations which are making a tremendous contribution, and we would all join in the tribute paid to them in this House by the Minister.

Why is it that we do not analyse why this fundamental marital breakdown is becoming increasingly common? Is it just that we are now talking more about it? I believe that it is becoming increasingly common. Why is that happening? How can we help marriages in difficulty? How can we discourage marriages which are likely to founder from taking place — for example, in the case of very young people who may not be fully aware of the rigours and the demands, emotional and financial, and all the circumstances which point towards difficulty in marriage? Why do we not try to prevent the horrific situation arising where a wife, who on one day years before held her husband's hand on the altar and said "I do", is now being forced to seek the protection of the Garda and the courts against that same man, the father of her children? To deal with the problem only at that level is wrong. It is to deal with it in a simplistic, reactionary manner, which of course is unfortunately the way this House works, reacting usually too late and usually with miniscule efforts which are the product of compromise, the product of talking with lobby groups and asking what is the minimum they would accept.

The Minister, as well as every Deputy in the House, knows that if we really want to help the root problem in this case a much more fundamental, comprehensive and preventive approach to the problem of family violence is necessary. If we had faced up to the overwhelming evidence and had listened to the demands of people in such families, it is conceivable that the marriage which is now likely to be sundered could be saved? It is possible we could have listened to the problems, analysed them and answered them to the satisfaction of both parties. We do not do that. We rely on the voluntary agencies. Let them come looking for funds to the Government or the State agencies and they go away with pennies. There should be a major new commitment to marriage counselling and marriage protection in all its aspects. That must not be words and cheap gimmicks but must be about providing the resources and the training to do the job. That is what family law and family protection is really about, not "fire brigade" action at the eleventh hour.

The problem of violence in marriage is a serious one. I am concerned that one does not give the impression that it happens in every house in every street. I am sure that is not the case. However, one cannot but be struck by the increasing evidence of violence. That violence is of two kinds. The first violence, and the most common one, is not physical violence. Physical violence is a development of the initial, emotional and psychological violence, the violence of hostility, anger, threat, hate, alienation and being despised, the violence of being economically starved. It is a fact — I include myself in this — that most men have no idea what it costs to run a house and that most women run the house. I know of many women throughout the country who have no idea what their husbands earn. I would not wish to change that if they are satisfied and fulfilled in that situation, but there are many women who are expected to rear a family and be fulfilled on an outdated notion of what it costs to do that. Certain provisions and certain thinking in a document, which is now party policy, produced by Senator Gemma Hussey, is designed to ensure that does not continue.

The violence of being thrown a few pounds at the end of the week and told to look after the house and the children should also be considered. Family violence is not only about a drunken husband who comes in and strikes or kicks his wife. I noticed a case in the papers last week of a husband who, in blind rage, raped his wife. That is also violence, but we specifically exclude the possibility of that woman taking the same kind of action as a woman who is not that man's wife could. Let us not pretend to be doing things which we are not doing. We will have a chance to develop some of those issues in greater depth in the Family Law Bill later today.

When we talk about the protection of spouses and children let us not pretend that we are doing things which clearly we are not doing. We are amending the barring order system because it has failed. Barring orders are a court procedure which in some cases can be delayed for months while the beatings can be administered daily or nightly. We are doing it because the kind of man or, in a small minority of cases, the kind of woman who indulges in that may well be the person one has no interest in or no respect for the sanction which a barring order is supposed to afford. Extending that protection to a protection order will not work. There may be cases where it will work, but I would not like to be in the position of the wife who is looking for a new kind of order to protect her. The fundamental difference between this order and the barring order is that it is a kind of interim injunction.

The AIM group say that, in 1980, 373 women sought refuge with them and that 26 women and 70 children were living in the refuge constantly throughout the year. In 1980 that refuge cost £53,000 to run, of which £32,000 came from the Eastern Health Board. The balance had to be raised by a variety of fund-raising activities. The organisation are currently carrying a heavy bank overdraft. So much for ministerial plaudits. AIM say:

The level of family violence in Ireland is higher and its causes more complex than is generally understood or believed. Over the years, the refuge has sheltered women suffering from cuts, bruises, broken bones, ruptured kidneys, burns, electric shocks, miscarriages ... the details of the assaults are usually played down to avoid charges of sensationalism!

They also say:

Rape within marriage occurs routinely in wife-beating cases.

Will the Deputy give the source of the quotation?

It is a brochure on family violence published by AIM in February 1981. They further said:

A man who beats his wife does not automatically beat or assault his children but some do. Children are more likely to suffer from the atmosphere of terror in the home, occasioned by what they see and hear their father doing to their mother, and, if she is under great stress, by her violent or negative attitude towards them. Incest occurs in a number of cases.

The Bill makes an attempt to recognise the imperfections of the barring order system and to extend some degree of assistance to wives. I hope I am wrong when I say that I do not believe it will be successful. I would like the Minister to point out to me where in the Bill the protection of children is provided for. We are thinking of this in very simplistic, one-sided terms. It is unusual that there would not be in a home in which a protection order or a barring order had to be sought at least an atmosphere of mutual violence and hostility. It is fair to say that in that situation one might very well get reciprocal violence or, at least, the transferring of the violence from one party to the other, by the party who cannot respond on to the children. I believe the children need specific protection in such circumstances. There is strong evidence to suggest that such is the case. I will be happy to make it available.

What is our response? How genuinely concerned are we about the children? At least the women have organisations which have in recent times done very good work in bringing to the attention of a male-dominated Parliament the problems of women in the home and outside the home. Little by little there is a response. After the next general election, when presumably there will be more women in this House, their insights and perceptions will yield an even more rapid and relevant response than we have managed to produce so far.

These organisations include Women's Aid, AIM and others. Earlier I referred to battered wives being taken care of by AIM but I should have said Women's Aid. I remember visiting their hostel in Harcourt Street in the early seventies and witnessing the beginning of the work which was to flower into a protective oasis of peace and refuge for women who had nowhere else to go. I appeal to the Minister to give the necessary support to these organisations. It will be nothing more than an investment in the future of those women and their children and it will be cheap because, if one wants to be mercenary, the alternatives are very expensive.

I have tried in this House on a number of occasions to get some response on the problems of abuse of wives and children. I tried to find out how concerned we were about this and what statistics were available. The truth is there are not any which could be said to be scientific. If anyone was doing a thesis on any subject he would have to produce an array of reasonably scientific facts which would be a lot more comprehensive and helpful than the totality available to this House from the Departments involved in relation to violence in the home and particularly in relation to children.

I want to remind the House once again what we are talking about, because we cannot lose sight of this. I would like to quote from an article by Janet Martin in Magill magazine, January 1978, which outlined the obvious evidence that the barring order procedure was in many cases ineffective. The writer referred to the AIM Group in Galway, who said that violence was a particular problem in respect of 70 to 75 per cent of the people they saw. They said that a district official in the Dublin metropolitan area had, for his own information, compiled figures to show that one in three women seeking maintenance provisions through the courts cited violence.

There then followed a very harrowing account of what they meant by violence, that is, evidence not only reported violence but also of unreported violence. Many women seek maintenance or separation orders, annulments or live apart from their husbands because of violence. The same article said that the Dublin Women's Aid Organisation, which offers emergency accommodation to battered wives and their children, had in three years — and this was in 1978 — seen a dramatic increase in demand for accommodation. They said that in the year to July 1977 they provided 19,000 bed nights for over 210 families. Sadly, the article added sexual assaults on children was the latest contribution to the picture.

What did the Minister tell us about the protection of children? On 3 March 1981 I asked him a question in regard to the statistics available in his Department concerning the incidence of non-accidental injuries — another euphemism we use whenever we wish to avoid honest discussion of the real problem — in each of the last five years:

(a) the type or description of the injuries sustained; (b) the ages of the children involved; (c) the formal nature of the relationship between the abused children and the perpetrators of their injuries; (d) the professional status of the people who first suspected the injuries prior to the official contacting of the relevant Director of Community Care or officer designated by him; (e) the number of reports about and confirmations of injury victims that (i) were hospitalised and (ii) were subject to out-patient hospital treatment and (f) the subsequent outcome in respect of those children who were confirmed as victims as non-accidental injuries.

That was a comprehensive question, even if I say so myself. The answer, however, was anything but. The reply coldly said:

The only statistics in this regard available to my Department relate to the period from 1 April 1977 to 31 December 1979 and are confined to the number of suspected and confirmed cases in that period.

The Minister then gave the figures for two periods. One can only presume that before 1977 there was open season on the question of brutality to children. No one even bothered to keep count. The Minister's reply went on to say that these cases were referred to the health boards mainly by doctors, public health nurses and social workers, finally, it said that, looked at in the light of the total number of children in the country under the age of ten years, the figure of 173 confirmed cases over a period of almost three years represented an exceedingly small percentage, that is, .00014 per cent. The Minister then passed on to the next question apparently happy in the belief that all was right.

I do not believe anyone would accept that that was the extent of the real problem. The truth is that the children in the home probably suffer most. The wives at least have an organisation to turn to if they know the address. They may be able to go to a solicitor, if they understand access to the law. They may be able to get civil legal aid if they are entitled to apply for it and are willing to wait weeks until their cases are processed and if they know where to go and, in some cases, if they are literate enough to read the details of the scheme. But the children do not have any of these advantages. They are unrepresented. In these days of lobby politics that is the greatest weakness of all. There are organisations who tried to draw attention to these cases but, despite the work they have done, so far they have not succeeded as they should have done.

What we used to do in these cases, and we still do in respect of certain problems not unrelated to this area, was to hive the problem off to foreign shores. Some years ago an expression used — thankfully this is no longer the case — by British social workers was PFIs, an abbreviation for "Pregnant from Ireland". An unmarried girl who got pregnant would invariably become a PFI.

The New Statesman, in September 1979, had an interesting and relevant case of the plight of an Irish mother, a married woman with children, who had found that to get any kind of refuge she had to leave the country. I will not read it all. The case was dealt with by the magistrates in Bristol with great sympathy and compassion. The article states:

Mrs. Browne left her home in Tralee, Co. Kerry, Eire, together with her seven children because of her husband's violence. After staying in a woman's aid hostel in Limerick she had to move on yet again because her husband had succeeded in tracking her down. Her fares were paid to Bristol and the day after her arrival she presented herself at the housing aid centre of the local authority as a homeless person with a priority need for accommodation. No-one could suggest that she intentionally had made herself homeless, and yet because of the way the Act is drafted in Britain, Bristol was unable to throw responsibility for her on to any other local authority.

Whether it is by non-admission of the problem, referral to other countries or a blinkered definition of what violence in the home means, we have not in this Bill shown that we understand the extent or the basis of the problem.

In relation to children, it is clear that there is a serious problem. I should like to pay tribute to a voluntary social worker, Mr. Paul O'Toole, who in the last four years has been systematically battering at the doors of Government Departments, local authorities and statutory agencies, and indeed individual public representatives, to bring attention to a number of the problems that exist. These problems are not general; they are not about all of us being against sin and being unable to cope. They are simple problems involving deficiencies in administration on a day-to-day basis, a system of bureaucracy which works nine to five to deal with the problem which is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week problem.

This man, Mr. Paul O'Toole, highlights this problem, and I have three or four dozen letters from him. I will give an example. Some time ago there was a case of a husband and wife being committed to jail for a week for an offence. During that week their family, including a six-month old baby, were undiscovered. It was as if they did not exist. Purely by chance somebody came across two of the youngsters in a bed.

Many people have tried to make progress in this regard but the Department involved responded that they would try to ensure that whenever a family are committed, whether it be a settled family or one of the itinerant community, there would be a mandatory checking system through which they could discover if that the Garda are entitled to put matters there were children. Because of our misunderstanding of the problem, the parents are being asked if they have children. Unfortunately for some children the parents do not wish to admit the children's existence, either through fear that they would be taken from them or because in some cases, not to be too brutal about it, the children are used for begging purposes and are a means of income. That is why we find so many children these days in the streets of our cities. They have a quota to meet and if that quota is not met the children live in fear of being beaten for failure.

A checking system should be designed not just to ask parents but to provide a precaution that in any case in which there is a suggestion there might be a family somebody would be there to inspect the home, residence or abode and find out if there is a family and then ensure they are looked after. That is the kind of problem Mr. O'Toole brought to light. There are many others, all of them relevant to the limitations imposed or assumed by the agencies or authorities. For example, certain agencies will say "Child beating is not my concern, I am in the area of case work, I am in the area of counselling." We need in the first place an inventory of what is going on and then some sensible co-ordination and rationalisation to ensure not that any of the agencies are being hindered in doing their work but that they work in harmony and unison and that some cases will not slip through the mesh of their activities.

Mr. O'Toole raised all kinds of issues. His most recent one is being investigated by the Minister for Health at our request. The problem of children is highlighted by the fact that in Dublin at this moment children are sniffing glue. We have all seen them, pale faces, undernourished, whose lungs in due course will congeal due to the inhalation of the fumes of these toxic products. We pass them in the street and sometimes we look the other way.

I do not know who is responsible in the statutory sense for dealing with this problem. We could argue about the initial responsibility but that is academic in most cases. I appeal to the Minister during the debate on a Bill entitled the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Bill to take on the job of investigating the problem as a matter of urgency. It is not new. It has been going on for the past two and a half year. I am asking the Minister to solve this problem, first of all by providing the type of hostel necessary to wean those difficult children away from this slow, unknowing suicide, because that is what it is. Those children are a living reminder of the way we have neglected the rights and the protection of children.

There are other reminders. In a policy document, now party policy in my case, among a variety of provisions for the protection of children we undertake to implement, if given the opportunity, what we have called an early warning system. This is a sensitive difficult area because of the problems related to me and others by social workers show that we are unable to react to the problem until there is physical evidence of child beating. It is too late then. There are many concerned doctors and nurses who are aware that the injuries they treat may not be accidental. That is why we refer to non-accidental injuries to children. It is a nice way of referring to child abuse or child battering which has an emotive tone about it.

How can we deal with this? What is the best way to tackle it and utilise evidence that becomes available of children whose injuries may be evidence of brutality in the home. We must be very careful because it is possible that if we were to be less than very careful serious wrong could be done and serious injury to family relationships. I am asking the Minister to commit himself, as we have done, to the introduction of a register in which qualified people would be entitled, without threat of action for defamation or libel, to record evidence which if put together over a period of time would argue that at least there should be an inquiry. A sensitively evolved system along those lines without question would prevent much hurt to children. It is not a novel idea. About eight weeks ago I asked the Minister for Justice about the new Garda computer and he told me, for example, of opinion into that computer of cases that they come across with suspicious circumstances. If that flexibility is allowed in those cases, the extension of what I am talking about, which is a much more modest situation, surely is possible and would be relevant. If we are really concerned about protecting children we should not wait for their bones to be broken. I ask the Minister to kindly look at that.

The Bill also refers to violence but the weakness of omitting reference to the root of the problem means that the woman has protection only within the home. We should be able to develop a system which would allow her to walk freely and fearlessly in any part of a city or townland with her family, without the threat of being beaten or abused. If this works, at best it means she is a prisoner of a kind of domestic bastille; as long as she is there she is safe. That limitation is regrettable. Perhaps the ideal is not possible but we should concern ourselves with trying to pre-empt and initially identify the problems and deal with them at that level, offer help and make it freely available. We should let it be clearly known that it is not a shame for marriages and families to have difficulties. It is something which is understandable. A marriage without a difficulty or problem in growing together is probably dead anyway. Unfortunately we have reached a situation where anyone who has recourse to counselling might feel they are somehow imperfect. That is not the case. Real growth is not achieved without some degree of pain and some degree of working towards each other. That should be facilitated in the way I have outlined.

The lack of statistical evidence in this area is depressing because it points to the fact that we have not cared enough. I met women some time ago who were convinced their husbands were living bigamously. I do not know whether they were or not but those women believed it. They were strongly of the view that they were not afforded any protection or any legal sanction. They felt the Director of Public Prosecutions turned a blind eye. Subsequent inquiries revealed that there had not been, in recent years, any prosecution pursued through the courts for bigamy. I am not necessarily suggesting that that is the best approach but it is another facet of a multi-faceted problem of marital difficulty. This morning's Bill is shortsighted from that point of view. The Bill was introduced with a view to affording a wide span of protection and taking some courageous steps, not just for people who are physically beating each other but, more importantly, to try to ensure that that problem would not arise for many marriages which might be experiencing temporary difficulties, economic difficulties or difficulties relating to the arrival of a family. This can be a very traumatic event for many parents. We never hear about that and most of us learn the hard way.

These are all matters of experience. They are not mysteries. I appeal for help to be given to families. Perhaps we should consider, in the context of a reorganised Government Departmental system, in which many Departments are not arguably as relevant as they used to be, whether or not, to use a cliché, the fundamental institution of the family is deserving of a ministry, somebody who would take on himself responsibility for pursuing all those strands of law, in conjunction with the agencies already in existence, local authorities, health boards, voluntary agencies, concerned individuals and so on, and progressing in the areas of law reform and provision of support and counselling for marriage and for children. It is at least worthy of consideration. It is at least as important surely as some of the concepts for which we have ministries. We have them because we hold fast to certain cultural and political values from which we are afraid to move. We are afraid to move away from traditional systems which we have inherited.

One of the problems is clearly the buck-passing that goes on. When the Minister comes in he will say that the problem of child beating is a matter for the Minister for Health. I see it as a family problem. The school attendance section of Dublin Corporation will tell anyone who asks that the clear correlation which exists between child abuse, educational deprivation, family violence, economic deprivation and joblessness are all factors which knit together. They are not mysteries. We should not throw our hats at this and say there is no solution. The problems are there and are clear but they always seem to be someone else's problems. It is the Department of Justice who deal with juvenile delinquents. They built Loughan House fairly fast because there is a clear political need to meet those who, in some cases with saliva almost coming from their lips, want these children locked up.

The Minister for Education deals with special schools. This is another problem. The Minister for Health, for some mysterious reason, deals with child abuse and child beating, which of course is a criminal act or should be. It is always somebody else's problem. They say things like "we do not work after 5.30, therefore you will have to ring someone else". Do we genuinely mean what we say when we talk about the importance of the family in Irish society? If we do, let us consider some fundamental way of tackling the problem. The Family Law [Protection of Spouses and Children] Bill, 1981, will be paraded for the next two or three years as being a major step forward. The Bill is an admission that we made a mistake. There is nothing wrong with that but let us not pretend it is something which is not.

I ask the Minister also to look at an article by Denis Green in the September 1980 edition of the Incorporated Law Society's gazette headed "Legal Aspects of Non-Accidental Injuries to Children". He outlines clearly many of the problems relating to the question of fit person's orders, risk to children and various sections of the Children's Act, 1908. That article provides more information than successions of questions to Ministers in this general area.

I want to mention briefly also the very disappointing report of the long awaited task force on child care. The Taoiseach promised us a Children's Bill before Christmas 1980, we were promised it again this year. We still have not got it and have no hope of getting it before the Dáil is dissolved. The reason we have not got it is that they are too busy trying to deal with the lobby groups and the vested interests and paying a few bob here and there to keep them quiet. The report of the task force was also supposed to contain a draft Bill. That was the excuse that was last given when I asked why it had not been brought forward. There is no draft Bill. Most of them could not agree on any two items. They ducked every central issue. That is not to say that the report is not a very useful compendium of very helpful information. It brings it all together, which is very good, except that for a number of years Fianna Fáil ducked their responsibilities in this area by reference to that task force. It is there now, but there is no Children's Bill and there will not be in this Dáil. However, I give my word that there will be such a Bill during the next Dáil, that is depending on the goodwill of the people. I will deal with the general area of family law when we get to that Bill.

I regret that the Bill before this House is so slight. I hope it will work. At least there is the merit that it focuses attention on the problem but I do not believe that the protection order, which is the central element in the Bill, is what is required on its own. It does not afford the woman the guaranteed protection she needs. It is a holding operation. The woman has still to go to the courts.

In his speech the Minister was at pains to point out that the offender inevitably will be made aware that the order had been made and the impression conveyed was that the order would not be effective unless both parties were fully aware at the time of the making of the order or immediately afterwards that it was in effect. The nature of the problem means that the husband or the wife will not be in the home — in most cases one of the parties will not have a fixed abode or will be in another jurisdiction. I can see major problems in this area where people will not be aware of the making of the order. In one case in my constituency a wife is regularly sexually assaulted by her husband. He is living in another part of the city but he comes to the home whenever he likes and kicks in the door. It is naive to think that the order gives sufficient protection in that instance.

The Minister said he considered the section that clears up the powers of the Garda Síochána to arrest in such cases is good, and I agree with him. In his speech he made the following comment:

Initially, it was thought the problems might be solved by a more active involvement of the Garda Síochána in the issuing of summonses for breaches of barring orders, and instructions on those lines were issued to the force by the Garda authorities.

There is a clear implication there, which I think is probably in accordance with the facts, that the Garda Síochána do not consider themselves the best agency to implement powers of arrest in those circumstances, as they do in some cases in relation to squatters. To some extent I can understand their inhibitions. Family law is not best dealt with by the full weight of the law if there is some other way of bringing the parties together and resolving their problems. We must not forget that at one stage the people concerned declared their love for each other and joined together as man and wife. I accept that the Garda Síochána as a protection should not necessarily be the first recourse. There should be some other agency to whom the wife or husband could go with their problems. There are voluntary conselling agencies, but much more thought and support is needed.

According to the Minister, the protection order will direct the other spouse not to use or threaten to use violence or molest or put in fear. He said that the existence of such an order, coupled with the criminal sanctions that will attach to it, should effectively deter violent spouses from committing further acts pending the hearing of the application for the barring order and will, perhaps, help to make some of them realise the seriousness of their conduct. I have no doubt it will help in some cases, but the real worry is with regard to those who will not realise the seriousness of their conduct.

The success of this Bill depends on sanctions in the event of the breaking of a barring order and it also depends on an openness to logic, and on a level-headed non-emotional reaction by the parties. It will depend to a very considerable extent on the reaction of the husband. He has problems also and his brutality to his wife is a symptom of his problems. We are not talking of shutting out an enraged animal. We are talking about two people whose relationship has degenerated to such an extent that physical violence has occurred. Our protection, compassion and our attempt to heal should be extended to both parties and this can only be done by taking a fundamental view of the situation.

I do not think the Bill will meet the need although I accept it will help some people. I hope the Minister or whoever is in his place will amend the Bill if it is found to be defective. I hope it will not take another five years of beatings and brutality and calls for action before we have another slight amending measure such as this.

On behalf of the Parliamentary Labour Party, I welcome the Bill. It is a fairly minor measure having regard to the overall need for comprehensive family law reform. However, in so far as it introduces the concept of the protection order, of giving the power of arrest without warrant for breach of the order and also provides for the concurrent serving of sentence in the event of a person committing another offence while on bail, the Bill is welcomed. I was chairman of the Select Committee on the Family Law Bills and I remember the long hours we spent discussing these matters in Room 91. The Fianna Fáil Party were in opposition and the Minister was the then Deputy Cooney when we tried to thresh out the 1975-76 Bill, which was enacted eventually.

These Bills are welcomed generally. I have experience in the Dublin area of the inadequacy of the current procedures relative to barring orders. They do not get to the root of the problem in our society. We in Ireland are magnificent at dealing with the public manifestation of symptoms, in the sense that we try to make a public response and to introduce legislation to deal with the symptoms, but we do not deal with the reality of the cause of the disease itself.

When one meets a spouse who is in urgent need of a barring order and who is suffering from violence in family life, by the time one gets a garda to visit the family and take statements and take an interest in what is going on, and by the time one can assist that family, very frequently further violence has occurred. By the time one gets to the District Court the situation has deteriorated further.

Whereas this Bill is a response to certain deficiencies, it is no great response in terms of a State supportive agency for such families in dire need. I will chart the type of situation which is not unknown to virtually every public representative. One is rung up at about 11.30 p.m., or even 12 midnight with 11.30 closing time, when a substantial proportion of the violence occurs because of alcoholism on the part of the husband. The disease of alcoholism which permeates Irish society is the root cause of a good deal of family violence. We are all well aware of that.

What does one do at midnight? One rings the Garda. They are trying to catch somebody who has stolen a car in a teenage escapade and their radios are crackling. They are trying to man a station which has a reduced force for night duty. They say: "We are sorry but we cannot spend all our time trying to resolve the problem of family violence. We have no training in that area." Very often I meet members of the Garda who, with the best will in the world, are not trained as family counsellors. Most members of the Garda cannot walk into a home and say at first glance that the children appear to be suffering from physical violence. One has to be trained in this area of the detection of family violence, which very often is not easily assessable even by a family doctor.

We tend to start with the public manifestation of the problem after all the viciousness and violence has occurred. Then we suggest that we should do something about it. Let me paint the type of society we have. As a society we see no contradiction in spending £1,500,000 per day on booze while we will not spend £500,000 per day on social workers, on child care workers, on attaching to the major Garda stations family counsellors and visitors. It is not an uncommon occurrence in this so-called Christian country for the Garda to be rung up at 1 a.m. and told that a woman is bleeding on her doorstep because her husband has assaulted her violently and the children are screaming on the street. Rather than sending a squad car with a plain clothes detective, or a ban-gharda, what the family needs is an urgent visit by a qualified medical social worker to assess the situation on the spot and advise on the immediate needs of the family. There should be an ongoing case study in that area.

There is an element of hypocrisy in relation to these Bills, it is like saying to a person whose home has been flooded that he needs the fire brigade to take the water out of the house when what he really needs is a plumber to mend the leak. There are many instances in which the State should say to the spouse: "What you need is not a barring order for the next 12 months, or a legal separation, or an annulment. What you need is permanent termination of that relationship with that spouse." There may be no children involved.

We all know of harrowing cases where a woman in a flat is virtually the prisoner of her husband who may be of a particularly violent or sadistic turn of mind and who terrorises her. This may not become known for six or 12 months. What do we offer her? A barring order, a key and a lock on the front door. What she needs is a civil termination of her marital relationship. There is only one way to give her that and that is a civil divorce. Therefore, there is an element of hypocrisy in this Bill.

What the woman needs is not a visit by a parish priest, or a Garda squad car at 3 a.m., or the humiliation of court proceedings in public in a District Court, if it ever gets to that level. What she needs, and what she will get in other societies where there is less hypocrisy, is a formal civil termination of the marriage because it has ceased to exist. We all know there are many instances in Irish society where, in the best interests of the children concerned and of both spouses — if one wants to use that legal term — a barring order is not what is needed, but a formal winding up of the relationship and the assets whatever they may be. In Ireland we patch it up and keep patching it up, because we are afraid to admit that we are not different from other societies.

Let me sum up the two points I have made so far. As a society we are not prepared to pay for family supportive agencies which are necessary. We can spend £1½ million per day on alcohol, £100 million on off-course betting annually, millions each year on entertainment. As a society we are all delighted to indulge in those occupations, but we are not prepared to pay for the neighbour down the road who does not have one shilling to her name but must wait her turn in the long queue to get civil legal aid. Such people cannot even afford a taxi to bring their children to court and do not have any other means of transport. The Minister should be out in areas in south county Dublin where women must travel to Bray Court to try to collect a few bob, even a maintenance order. If the Minister went to that area he would see the type of deprivation that applies there. Of course, there are public mythologies in relation to this matter, but it cuts across all income groups from the wealthiest to the poorest in our society. There are incidents of family violence requiring barring orders in all groups in society.

It is wholly inadequate to devolve on the Garda Síochána the enforcement of barring orders and the taking of statements on alleged breaches of such orders. The Minister knows that the Garda Síochána is a predominantly male force and many of its members come from traditions and backgrounds which are somewhat removed, in the cultural sense, from urban society. I am aware from my experience of living in an urban area that the last thing gardaí want to know about are details of such incidents. A wife who is beaten up by a husband goes to the station the following morning, black-eyed and bruised, with her children in a shocked state, and complains; but very often she is told to go to see her family doctor. The family doctor, in my experience, is not the first to rush to a garda station when he knows of family violence. Do they go to Garda stations and lodge formal complaints? I would like to see some case work and research done on this matter. Family doctors may tell such people to go to see the family solicitor, but the woman at this stage is beginning to do the circle. A fortnight goes by, another fortnight goes by and the next thing is that the husband arrives home and violently assaults the woman again. In about one-third of such cases alcohol is directly related to the violence.

There are people in Irish society, and a culture in it, whereby one feels one is asserting one's marital rights and one's head of the household concept if one engages in physical violence. Many families are reared in that type of culture. Today it has practically destroyed Northern Ireland, and the culture of violence, the incapacity of thousands of Irish people to relate to one another on a verbal exchange of opinions and attitudes — that type of incapacity is not particularly unique to Ireland but has had its manifestations in many forms here — has also permeated family life. We all know that it happens in sport here. If two people disagree on the sports field, there and then they proceed to beat the daylights out of each other with the spectators looking on and regarding it as great gas. The players are sent off and on adjourning to the local pub beat the daylights out of each other again. We all know of the "hard chaw" we met when going to school and that physical violence was the manly and approved thing to be involved in. The harder the chaw the better the man was regarded as he grew up. In turn he passed on this concept of physical confrontation and exchange of violence to his own children; and if there happened to be women in the house and they got the odd kick or belt that was considered to be their misfortune, because women generally were felt to be in the way when these manly cultural Irish pursuits were being engaged in. Of course, this goes into family life. When one has an argument with one's wife and a wife retaliates, in the classical Irish sense violence ensues. With alcohol lacing the Irish culture as only alcohol can, the bravery of the Irish people begins to bubble over into great manifestations and capacity for inter-relationship. That is the reality of the situation.

When it comes to politics we have to produce our cultural weapons and, instead of engaging in physical violence, we just shoot them dead. That is what a lot of Irish people do today to resolve their religious, nationalist and personal feelings one to the other. Yet, they are a Christian and civilised society. I suggest to the Minister that the Bill be sent to Templemore and the young gardaí be told about the barring orders and the protection orders. It reminds me of the fellow who when appointed a peace commissioner by the last Government, came to me and expressed the view that he thought it was his job to keep the peace between the neighbours. Had he intervened he would have quickly learned that intervention of that type was not the job of a peace commissioner. He also thought he was going to get paid for the job, but he quickly discovered that all he was required to do was sign summonses for bald tyres and things like that.

Most new recruits to the Garda Síochána, in regard to enforcing the provisions of the Bill, will have difficulty in deciding what to do. That is the reality of the situation and it must be borne in mind. While I strongly welcome the changes proposed as being sane and sensible — they are entirely laudable — I should like to refer to the fact that in regard to the last two Governments, from 1973 to 1981, the parliamentary legislative programme in this area has not been very good. We passed a number of Bills, but we have not done much in terms of providing money for the agencies which are primarily involved. The Eastern Health Board are hardly mentioned in the Minister's speech. In each local health centre there should be family welfare workers to maintain a register of the families who are in danger, a register of the children of such families who are liable to physical violence. Then we would be talking about the one thing which is lacking in the whole concept of the Bill, preventive measures. This is post factum dealing with the situation. I do not think that the preventive measures which we all want to see here are adequate. Very often when young people get married there is no conception on the part of one spouse or the other of the fact that violence can ensue. Personalities may be dormant at that time and it is only much later that the whole thing explodes.

Therefore, in welcoming this Bill and speaking briefly to it at this stage, I urge strongly that the Department of Justice are perhaps the Department worst equipped to deal with this problem because they are basically a Department of response to committal of crime. Rather I see the Department of Health and the Department of Education as being Departments who would be preventive. It is far better to prevent one case of violence than to spend three or four years afterwards trying to chase the outcome of it through the courts, through barring orders and so on. For these reasons I welcome the Bill with very strong reservations because of the kind of society we have and the need for us as politicians to spend far more public money in trying to change the cultural structure of society which brings violence into the family home. I hope that this Bill will at least highlight that aspect of the problem.

First of all I want to take the opportunity of thanking both Deputy Keating and Deputy Desmond for their contributions here this morning, even in so far as those contributions went completely outside the area we have been dealing with. It should be recognised that this type of legislation cannot be presumed to, or drafted in such a way that it can deal with all aspects of the likelihood that violence may occur in the family. For centuries — in fact since man has come to exist as we know him on this planet — it has been accepted that marital violence, violence in the home, domestic violence as we describe it, is something which has different factors and different causations. To prescribe a legislative package that could be seen to deal with all aspects of it, as the remedy for all causes of this type of violence, would be very difficult and, I think, unrealistic. In this legislation I have tried to go as far as possible to provide practical measures or steps for the protection of the spouse. Let it be the husband or wife, and the child.

In the course of preparation of this legislation very serious consideration was given to the views and opinions expressed by the various agencies involved, some of them referred to by Deputy Keating, others not referred to by him, both directly and through the Council for the Status of Women. In that connection we also had discussions with people experienced in these matters, with members of the Judiciary, Garda officers and so on. All were satisfied that this was the best approach to the handling of a situation where we know and recognise that women and children are oftentimes very much unprotected and at extreme risk in their homes where a barring order is obtained as it is at present. As Deputy Desmond has said, you can have a situation some time later where the barring order would provide for a specific prohibition, but the threat of violence and the likelihood of that threat being manifested in a later visit clearly require something by way of an interim measure to give adequate protection to the wife and children. For that reason the Bill has gone quite a considerable distance and I am satisfied that it has gone as far as we can possibly go in this very delicate and complex area of human relationships and domestic situations.

Deputy Keating suggested that the Bill was a naive attempt to deal with the problem of domestic violence and that it is unrealistic to think that an enraged, violent and possibly deranged husband will be deterred by a protection order and by his being liable to be arrested. I tell Deputy Keating that one can extend that illogical argument into any area of the criminal law when that type of person wants to proceed to act in such a manner that he is prepared to ignore totally his legal responsibility or is prepared to proceed one way or the other, knowing the law. There are other mechanisms and methods to deal with that type of situation. But in so far as it is humanly possible and in so far as we can be realistic in our approach to this situation, the Bill has, on the advice of and in consultation with all of the people involved, clearly produced a realistic and positive solution. I think that I made it clear in my opening speech that the problem of domestic violence is very difficult to describe. I would say that Deputy Keating and Deputy Desmond realise that many factors can be involved, such as ill-health and the stress factor. Simple matters like another individual in the house, or a baby crying, can get on somebody's nerves from time to time in the best regulated home.

However, violence, no matter what the cause, is tragic and horrific, and the best that the law can do, the best that I would wish to do from the responsibility I have in the Department of Justice, would be to ensure that whatever is required in the law would be there in so far as it is desirable or necessary and that also it would take into account the likelihood of reconciliation and of the courts, the Garda and any other agencies involved in this area recognising the fact that situations and the circumstances might change. In the event of such a change, it would be very important to ensure that the avenues were open and that the opportunities would be there for the restoration of a full marital relationship. It would be desirable in this type of legislation that the necessary provisions would be made for that.

Deputy Keating referred to children sniffing glue. He talked about the use of computers for assessment. What did the Deputy mean by the use of computers?

In case anyone was concerned about the idea, what I referred to there was an early warning system where information would be put on a register which would be available to a limited range of people. I said that we already do that in a variety of areas, for example, income tax and Garda matters and so on.

While it is not a feature of this Bill, I go along with the Deputy that there is a difficulty in relation to glue sniffing that has emerged in recent years. I would be cautious not to subscribe to the idea of an early warning system which might be related to the correlation of facts about identified persons and which would come under suspicion from society generally.

Perhaps I should have explained. Let us assume that a doctor has a child brought in to him six or seven times in a period with markings or bruising which could be interpreted as burns or wounds or injuries which would not arise from a fall. He might be entitled, in his professional capacity, to at least initiate a confidential investigation with the full knowledge of the parents. The matter would not become a matter of public discussion but at least the evidence would be used as a basis for preventing serious injuries.

It is well accepted that doctors, all of whom are well intentioned and all of whom are constantly vigilant in this area, realise the very delicate situation that they find themselves in. It is a strange phenomenon but children can go into hospital and be discharged and taken home by the parent who was not responsible for the beating or injury caused or done and who never reveals to anybody what the cause is. Often, for psychological or other reasons that are not explainable by me as a lay person, the parent offers protection in this area. Apart from that, it is an area of family life where one has to have facts soundly based and be in a position to know the chemistry of the two parents particularly and to know quite a considerable amount about the relationship. There is a lot involved in the gathering of this type of information. I do not say that we should not attempt it in so far as it is possible. But we cannot be unrealistic and impracticable about the thing. We must ensure that whatever is necessary in a reasonable sense will be provided. To come back to the idea of computerisation in relation to such facts——

The Minister should forget that. I just referred to the fact that the Garda and a variety of agents obtain information voluntarily.

If Deputy Keating wants to forget it—and I know he does not intend this—because it might conjure up in the mind of the average person something sinister, that we were going to put everybody in the nation on computer——

The Minister does me an injustice.

I do not want to do that. That is why I agree that the Deputy wants to forget it.

The Chair feels that we are getting into an across-the-House argument.

I know the Minister would not wish to misunderstand what I said. May I just clarify it?

I will take it as forgotten.

It cannot be forgotten. I did not wish to imply that I sought computerisation of these reports. What I said was that it would be a good idea to have an early warning system where the evidence before a doctor would be put on file and it would have no statutory basis. I suggested that that information could be gathered and that it was not novel to do this because we do that information gathering in other areas. In that connection I referred to the Garda computer.

What we are doing now is completely out of order. I have allowed a fair amount of latitude across the House for explanations but we cannot continue in this vein.

I would have been much happier if Deputy Keating had been in a position to be much more expansive when making his contribution on the type of information that would be gathered. I do not mean to misrepresent what the Deputy said but I want to be satisfied that whatever is said is understood in the context in which it is said and is not seen as something else. I know Deputy Keating did not intend anything sinister by his remarks.

It has been suggested that the Bill does not provide adequate protection to children. That is not a fair reflection of what is in the Bill. In section 2 "child" is mentioned on more than one occasion. But it must be realised as well that the argument being made in this connection by Deputy Keating was that this should be a Bill which provided for criminal law penalties where children are concerned.

That is in the title of the Bill. That is the point I made.

We have quite a considerable amount of criminal law which protects children and all people in our society. Referring specifically to children and sexual and indecent assaults on children, there is the Children Act, 1908. There is also the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. There are a considerable number of criminal options where assaults are concerned, with very heavy penalties ranging, as the Deputy knows, to life imprisonment in some instances.

Would the Minister know when the last prosecution was?

For what?

For incest.

No, but I will certainly find out for the Deputy. The Bill, as I said, intends to deal with the situation where the spouse and children are put at risk and does not intend to provide the type of legislation that Deputy Keating has been speaking about. I notice that, while Deputy Keating spoke about the type of legislation he would like to see without acknowledging that there is considerable criminal law there, he did not mention the unborn child at all in this connection. I wonder has he any views on that in the light of recent statements in the media by members of his own party.

That is not very nice.

The Deputy was speaking about children and the protection of children. I invite him to make a comment if he wishes.

If the Chair allows me I will.

That is not relevant.

Deputy Keating has been irrelevant for a considerable time.

I will comment on Committee Stage.

I was not there at that stage. Nevertheless I am sure——

There must be an election coming up all right if the Minister is making such comments.

I would not be privy to that type of information.

Deputy Desmond was concerned about the fact that the Garda might not be the most suitable agency to deal with this type of problem or to offer the type of expertise required in this area. When it comes to law enforcement and the enforcement of laws that protect people the Garda are the best trained and equipped. That does not mean to say that I totally disagree with what the Deputy says. I am satisfied that it is necessary for the Garda to have advice in other areas such as medical advice and advice from social workers and to be able to call on those types of services. I believe that this is an area of law enforcement which only the Garda can carry out properly. If, as Deputy Desmond stated, some husband comes back to his wife after having been barred or after she had obtained a protection order in the court and he proceeds to repeat what he was barred from doing in the first instance, there would be little point in that woman waving the barring order or the notice of protection order in front of him. I accept that we are all at risk in the society we live in from time to time and the only thing one can hope for is that new provisions for the enforcement of the law and the expeditious way proceedings could be taken against such might be a deterrent.

I have some experience of the existence of violence in the home, savage beatings of women and children and some of the other types of violence mentioned by Deputy Keating, which can often be more cruel and psychologically damaging than the actual physical violence which can leave a mark and might heal. The other type of psychological violence is the total breakdown of relationships in the home, where somebody is at the whim of the stronger partner or the victim of that person so far as that person can take any decision and there is no remedy or recourse. That is a more difficult case because the visual evidence of injury is not there. It can be very difficult in that situation to know what is going on in the home. We all have a public duty to keep our eyes open and bring to the attention of the agencies which can help any matters which would afford protection to people at risk.

The termination of marriage was referred to by Deputy Desmond. I am sure he realises the constitutional aspect of this matter and also that the dissolution of marriage is not just a simple matter of legislation. I know the Deputy is interested in ensuring that all the options for reconciliation and restoration of relationships are provided for and are protected. We have to recognise that this matter has constitutional implications and has no relevance to the particulars we are dealing with.

I said that the barring orders are invariably only sought after a long history of violence.

Evidence of a long history of violence is not necessarily relevant for making the application. However, if the applicant wants to substantiate her application with a long history of violence that is perfectly acceptable. Most marriages that have this shocking problem of violence have often been left without help offered to them, even when it was known that violence was occurring.

They are not good marriages.

We cannot make a judicial decision in the House about a marriage that might have some violence which, if it was known about, might have been curable.

Does the Minister want to extend the argument and say that in a marriage there can be an acceptable level of violence?

There is violence in our society. Violence at any level is not acceptable. The Deputy should not have been naive enough to make the point and expect me to accept that any level of violence is acceptable in marriage or outside it.

Do we terminate marriage after the man has murdered his wife?

We are having a rather unusual concluding speech.

The matter we are dealing with is very unusual.

I accept that but we cannot continue in this fashion. The Minister to conclude his speech without interruption.

Is there not a point where the marriage should be terminated?

There could be a situation where it might be necessary to look at the causes of violence in a marriage and examine ways of ensuring that this could be removed or for dealing with the reasons for it. As I said earlier, violence in society and violence in marriage has puzzled generations of people.

I do not want to prolong this but is there not a clear point known to medical workers, social workers and marriage counsellors where the marriage is utterly irretrievable? My argument is that at that stage barring orders and efforts to contain the violence is not a solution.

The Minister should conclude without interruption.

There was an opportunity, when Deputy Noel Browne came into this House, to deal with that particular matter and the then Government shunned their responsibility.


The Minister must conclude without interruption or without inviting interruption.

The Deputy should be honest about his ambivalence in this area.


We are not getting into a debate on divorce.

You are the first one to mention it.

It has been hanging in the air for the last 30 minutes.

It is like Northern Ireland. Some people want to have a shilling each way.

Not on this side of the House. Deputy Keating mentioned the task force which were set up in November 1974 by the then Tánaiste, Deputy Corish. They made their report in October 1980, which was recently published. Their terms of reference were: (a) to consider the services for deprived children and children at risk; (b) to recommend what changes should be made; and (c) to prepare draft legislation to effect these recommendations. When the task force were set up in 1974 it was announced that they would report in a matter of months. For three of those years the Coalition were in power and the unrealistic commitment given at that time was highlighted by the fact that the report was not published until 1980. The report was submitted to the Minister for Health and he is preparing legislation to give effect to those recommendations. Under the terms of reference the task force were to prepare a draft Bill, but they did not do so. If they had, the publication of the report would have been delayed even more.

It was promised——

The draft Bill was included in the terms of reference——

—— and was one of the excuses given for the delay.

These matters were raised and I want to put the record straight.

That is what I want to do, too.

The fact that the report was to have been published within a few months in 1974 shows what people are prepared to say for politics——

They published an interim report.

I was worried about something Deputy Keating said and if I heard him correctly, he might like to put the record straight. He seemed to say, when dealing with the division of responsibilities for children between several Departments that the Department of Justice were responsible for juvenile delinquency and that some officers, with saliva coming from their lips——

I did not say that.

—— want to have children locked up.

I said the Department of Justice, the Department of Education and a variety of Departments and agencies should be streamlined in that regard.

From whose mouth was the saliva coming?

Certain vociferous elements of the public whose needs were then seen to be politically advantageous——

The Minister is not entitled to ask a question. He is making his concluding statement on the Second Stage.

I am delighted there was no inference in regard to the staff of the Department of Justice, the Prison Service——

There was not.

The reason I asked the question was to ensure that there would not be any ambiguity read into what the Deputy said.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take the remaining Stages?

That is up to the Minister. If he wishes to have them now, he can. It is unusual to do this, but we will do it because, if the Bill is law, it will afford a modest degree of protection to people who would not otherwise have it — and in case something dramatic happens next week.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.