Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 27 Feb 2007

Vol. 632 No. 4

Domestic Violence: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann,

recognising that:

the grave threat to life and limb and to the mental health and quality of life of women, children and men posed by domestic violence is undermining the fabric of our society and our belief in equality;

an estimated one in five Irish women experiences domestic violence at some point in her life;

of 126 women violently killed since 1996, 81 were killed in their home and just under 50% of victims whose cases have concluded were killed by their partner or ex partner;

in 2003 on average more than 23 incidents of domestic violence were recorded by gardaí each day compared with an average of 11 other assaults recorded;

more than a third of all calls to the Women's Aid national phone help-line went unanswered due to inadequate funding in 2005;

women are 70% more likely to be raped, severely assaulted or murdered after they access the legal system and attempt to leave their abuser and therefore victim safety and offender accountability must be at the centre of every intervention; and

there is an unjustifiable shortage of refuges and other front line provisions;

believes that:

an effective sanctioning system is essential if the incidence of domestic violence is to be reduced and therefore law enforcement bodies and agencies involved in the administration of justice must prioritise the prosecution of domestic violence crimes on indictment where possible rather than simply as breaches of orders;

the variation in Garda practice across the State and within stations is a serious problem and can impede women from making complaints or even undermine the cases that are brought forward, and therefore the existing Garda policy on domestic violence and practice must become subject to monitoring, support and supervision to ensure it at least achieves the level of response expected and set down by that policy;

consideration should be given to the appointment of a commissioner within the Garda Síochána tasked with ensuring domestic violence is treated as a serious criminal matter, and domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse crimes should be named as crime priorities in the Garda annual policing plans;

greater investment should be made in specialised training and ongoing in service training for gardaí given the distinct nature of crimes of domestic and sexual violence;

guidelines should be introduced detailing criteria for the granting of safety, protection and barring orders, as should regular information seminars for the Judiciary on the dynamics and impact of domestic violence, the latest international research into effectively stopping domestic violence, and responding to the needs of victims, children and offenders;

all key agencies, including the HSE, probation service, Courts Service and housing authorities, should be obliged to develop and implement, in conjunction with the expert agencies, a domestic violence policy and training to govern their work;

calls on the Government to:

make the necessary provisions for the introduction of an effective and consistent sanctioning system;

publish and schedule time for legislation amending the Domestic Violence Act 1996 as a matter of urgency, including amendments to:

remove the restrictions caused by residency requirements;

list the name of the agency-practitioner responsible for taking sworn information, for serving orders and/or summons and providing evidence to the court regarding the response of the respondent;

provide for the immediate communication to the local Garda station of the granting-extension of an order for priority entry onto the PULSE system;

provide for applicants for orders to automatically be given a copy of their sworn information;

provide for the immediate seizure of any firearm legally held by a person against whom an order has been granted; and

clearly specify the data protection provisions governing the sharing of information by agencies;

re-introduce and resource a role for the probation service in family courts producing safety reports and risk assessments to inform judges' decisions;

ensure the supervision of child access where necessary to protect against further abuse;

make provisions for the extension across the State of the inter-agency work model developed by the NDVIA and the systemic changes achieved by it in the pilot areas of Dún Laoghaire and Bray District Courts;

prioritise and guarantee core funding to frontline services including refuges, outreach, counselling, court accompaniment and transitional housing on a multi annual basis to allow for the strategic development and delivery of services; and

introduce measures to overcome language difficulties and other barriers, including the prospect of deportation, experienced by immigrants, ethnic minorities and others attempting to access services and protections.

Tá mé ag roinnt ama leis na Teachtaí Ferris, Connolly, Catherine Murphy agus Boyle. Ba mhaith liom an deis seo a ghlacadh an rún seo a chur os comhair an Tí. Tá súil agam go mbeidh, ag deireadh na díospóireachta, na Teachtaí ar fad sa Teach ag tacú leis agus go dtarraingeoidh an Rialtas siar an leasú scannalach a chuir sé os a chomhair.

De shíor bíonn an Rialtas seo, an tAire Dlí agus Cirt go háirithe, ag ligean air go bhfuil sé crua i dtaobh coireanna ach níl ann ach posers. Ní gá ach smaoineamh ar na mná, na páistí agus na fir a bheas ionsaithe ina mbaile, ina leaba nó ina gcistin anocht, agus gan ach fíor-bheagán déanta ag an Rialtas faoi. Tá teipthe ar an Rialtas seo agus na Rialtais roimhe an tosaíocht chuí a thabhairt do choireanna foréigin theaghlaigh. Dá mbeadh sin tarlaithe, bheadh muinín acu siúd atá buailte, ciaptha agus céasta ina dteach cónaithe dul go dtí na gardaí cosaint a lorg agus a gcás a thógaint.

This Government and successive Governments have failed to treat crimes of domestic violence with the priority they require. If they had there would be no need for this motion. The Government amendment is an insult to the victims, their families and the organisations that must deal with the effects of domestic violence. Victims should have faith that the judicial system, from the gardaí to the courts, would protect them, defend them and ensure that they, as victims, are paramount. That is not the case and that is why many victims continue in abusive situations. That is why many women and men put up with the daily hidings, the physical and psychological abuse, and why they lie to family and friends about their injuries. They are afraid for themselves and their kids and feel all alone. If this motion is taken seriously they should no longer feel that society does not care.

Gangland crime and anti-social behaviour are popular topics for media coverage and have prompted no end of pontificating and endless legislative proposals from the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, most of which are no more than soundbites or are ineffective and unnecessary. However, this most prevalent of serious crimes — domestic violence — rarely features at all on the Government's agenda. Where is the Government's plan to secure convictions against these most violent of offenders? Where is the Tánaiste's 50 point proposal? Is it any wonder the justice system fails to treat domestic violence as the serious crime it is if the Government fails to do so?

The following statistics, both national and international, gathered by Women's Aid, along with those detailed in the motion, give an indication of the scale and extent of crimes of domestic violence. Nearly a quarter of violent sexual offenders against women are partners or ex-partners. One in eight pregnant women experiences abuse. On average a woman will be assaulted 35 times by her partner or ex-partner before reporting it to the police, an indictment in itself. Domestic violence has the highest rate of repeat offending.

Our motion calls for an effective and consistent sanctioning system, essential if offenders are to be held accountable for their crimes and if the incidence of such crimes is to be substantially reduced. A clear message must be sent to domestic violence offenders that there will be serious consequences for their actions.

The gardaí and DPP, therefore, should treat domestic violence as they would other violent crimes. Wherever possible, they should build cases to try crimes of domestic violence on indictment, laying charges such as assault, assault causing harm, threats to kill or cause serious harm. Indictable offences carry much weightier penalties, including custodial sentences, than would be the case where offenders are merely pursued for breaching a civil protection or safety order or where, in the first instance, an application for an order is the sole judicial response to crimes of violence which have already been committed.

Garda practice must be standardised, with the same recording method, approach to complaints and urgency as for other violent crime. There must be the same thorough approach to investigating the crime and charging the perpetrator as there would be if the Minister had been attacked.

Garda domestic violence policy must be monitored, supported and applied consistently. We can no longer tolerate gardaí asking an offender to go for a walk to cool off or sending a woman home from the station to sort things out with her husband herself. Are they mad? Who would ever dream of asking a victim of a common assault to go find the stranger who mugged him and sort it out himself? Who would ask somebody who attempted murder to go away and cool down?

The Garda Síochána policing plan for 2007 must be revised to explicitly name domestic violence and sexual violence as policing priorities. The current policing plan gives priority focus to terrorism, road traffic law and illegal immigration but not domestic and sexual violence. This telling deficiency must be rectified in the plan for 2008 and in future Garda plans.

The positive news is that in today's Ireland the incidence of domestic violence can be greatly reduced and victims can be afforded the support and protection they need. All that is required is political will, the political will to lead, to legislate and to resource. That is what the Sinn Féin motion is all about. It was drawn up on the basis of consultation with the expert organisations working in the field, some of which made impressive and compelling contributions to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights last month. These organisations work in the field alongside and in support of victims; they are well placed to identify the legislative, systems and funding shortcomings that inhibit the achievement of victim safety and offender accountability. The motion builds on their learning.

This Government, along with the rest of the House, must lead by making it clear that domestic violence is a serious crime and that it will be treated as such. We must legislate to give the relevant agencies, including the gardaí, the DPP and the probation service, clear statutory roles and responsibilities and eliminate overly-restrictive requirements which prevent certain victims from accessing legal protections. We must resource the front line services that are working on a shoestring to meet the needs of victims. One extremely dedicated worker in the Dublin 12 domestic violence service worked in the absence of employment security on successive contracts lasting a month, three weeks and then three months due to the ad hoc nature of funding available to this crucial community service. The Government must guarantee core funding to front line services on a multi-annual basis to allow for the strategic development and delivery of these essential supports.

Beidh mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Martin Ferris, ag leagan amach an gá le leasaithe reachtúla agus leasaithe chórais atá á moladh againn. Amárach déanfaidh an Teachta Seán Crowe an gá le gealltanais fad-téarmach maoinithe do na heagrais agus do na tionscnaimh atá dírithe ar an fhadhb mhór seo dár sochaí. Beidh an Teachta Arthur Morgan ag plé na teipe déileáil le lóistín éigeandálach, sealadach agus fad-téarmach atá de dhíth orthu siúd atá buailte ag foréigean teaghlaigh.

I urge everyone in this House to support our motion and I urge the Government to rethink its amendment and withdraw it. This is a criticism of this Government and other Governments but it is also a call for us to take this aspect of Irish society seriously and give it the priority required. Anyone who sits in advice clinics has met victims of domestic violence, has seen the fear in their eyes and told them to go the gardaí. They ask, however, who will protect them and what use a protection order is if the gardaí in the station do not support them.

I urge the Government to withdraw its amendment, give support to the motion and in particular to do something on this issue. The Government should give it priority, fund the organisations and support agencies. The message needs to go out from this House that we as legislators will be tough on domestic violence. We will tackle it head on to ensure that all the services are resourced properly.

Women's Aid, the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency and the Law Reform Commission have all called for legislative reform to address the restrictions caused by the residency requirements of the Domestic Violence Act 1996. The motion, which we urge all parties to support, calls on the Government to produce and schedule time for legislation to make the necessary reforms without delay.

In its report on the rights and duties of cohabitants published last December, the Law Reform Commission argued that the eligibility criteria applicable to co-habiting but non-married persons restrict the grounds on which such persons can seek protection in the form of domestic violence orders. It noted: "In an analysis of the response of the legal system to victims of domestic violence, it was estimated in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court that approximately 10 cases a week were ruled out at preliminary interview stage on grounds of eligibility." This highlights the urgent need for reform. The impact of the residency requirement on individual victims should not be underestimated. An unmarried woman who is living with an abusive partner cannot be granted a barring order until they have been living together for at least six months. In the case of joint tenants of a local authority house, a complicated procedure must be undertaken to grant tenancy solely to the victim, particularly if the abusive partner is not prepared to surrender tenancy voluntarily.

Further reform is also necessary to ensure that protective orders are available to victims who no longer live with their abusive ex-partner. As noted by the Law Reform Commission report, a British study of 200 women who had experienced domestic violence found that after the relationship had ended 76% were subjected to emotional and verbal abuse, 41% were subjected to serious threats to either themselves or their children, 23% were subjected to physical violence and 6% were subjected to sexual violence. Likewise a study by Women's Aid here found that violent men used access to children to further abuse and control their former partners. On a regular basis Deputies of all parties meet in their constituency offices victims of domestic abuse seeking help and support. In cases where barring orders have been secured and the victim returns to the family home, the barring order often does not get the necessary attention because the authorities believe the violent partner will return again. That should not be the case. We must at all times recognise the vulnerability of the victim, often in refuge centres with three, four or five young children. Without any support mechanism it is almost inevitable that they will return to the home.

The necessary legislative reforms cannot wait any longer. Policy and legislative reform and systems change are necessitated not only by the variation in Garda practice, identified by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, but also by the variation in judicial practice. There are significant variations in the granting of domestic violence order applications. Some 44% are granted nationally but this ranges from 33% in Dublin to 59% in the eastern region. The range in terms of barring orders specifically is even greater, with 28% granted in the Dublin region and 70% in the northern region. Legislation and guidelines detailing the relevant criteria and the standard and types of proof necessary for the granting of domestic violence orders must be introduced urgently.

Judges are making decisions in the dark. There is an urgent need to reintroduce a role for the probation service in the family courts, producing safety reports and risk assessments to guide the decision-making of judges. This need has been recognised by the National Crime Council, the Law Reform Commission and the Law Society at various times dating back to 1999. The Government has not acted on any of their recommendations and has no excuse for this failure.

The National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency has introduced and developed a number of system changes in its pilot area of the Bray and Dún Laoghaire District Courts since 2003. The initiatives included developing an aide memoire for gardaí responding to domestic violence incidents and completing risk reports for the courts at post-conviction stage. An independent evaluation of the project commissioned by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, published in early 2006, details the benefits of the pilot project and concluded positively that the interagency work model assists victims to stay with the legal process. This is despite the fact that the project has been hindered from an early stage by the ad hoc and insecure nature of its funding.

I accept that the victims of abuse can be men as well as women. Like women who are abused, men are constantly harassed, criticised and compared unfavourably to others. Physical violence can also occur. As in any relationship, much of this is witnessed by the children. The impact of the abuse on men includes low self-esteem, depression and insomnia, and can also impact negatively on their relationship with their children. Men are aware that if they separate from their wives or partners they may lose their homes and will no longer be in a position to care for and protect their children.

The NDVIA was scandalously forced to suspend the receipt of referrals and pushed to the brink of closure again this year by the failure of the Minister and his Department to make a timely judgment on its future funding. I understand a decision is still pending. The motion we have tabled calls for the extension across the State of the interagency work model that has been developed and piloted by the NDVIA.

Like any caring person, I would say that any man who lifts his hand and abuses a woman verbally or physically is nothing but a coward and a bully. That message needs to leave this House loudly and clearly. More importantly, there is an onus on the Government to introduce legislation to ensure that protection will be to the forefront. We need a mechanism to help people overcome an abusive and violent relationship.

We are all familiar with the concept of street angel and house devil as it relates to a parent who acts so lovingly in public, but we do not know what happens behind closed doors. Domestic violence happens and we see its signs and symptoms. We are only looking at the tip of the iceberg. People do not seek help after the first episode of domestic violence. It has been mentioned earlier that it is upwards of 45 times on average before people seek help. Some never seek help. When we think of domestic violence we automatically think of physical violence and forget about psychological, emotional, financial abuse and controlling situations. These are all forms of violence that can have a devastating effect on the partner who is suffering it.

The better off tend to seek help and learn enabling skills to help them to cope. As mentioned earlier, if people learn to cope with the situation and show it is not affecting them as badly as it might, that in itself leads to a reduction in the amount of violence these people suffer.

If one challenges a bully he will lie down. One can challenge him in the house or by stating that one will seek professional help. That is the last thing a bully wants. He does not want the violence to leave his controlled area which is his bedroom, living room or his own house. He is familiar with that territory and is happy to have the bullying and violence take place in that particular patch.

The main sufferers in all of this violence are the children of such relationships. It is usual for the family unit to consist of four or five children. They are the people who really suffer from this violence. Children should also be allowed to access help and, perhaps, they should be taught that through the school curriculum. I suppose all difficult situations are heaped on the teacher in the school. This is one of the times the child is out of the home and is impressionable. The teacher is a person they respect. I suggest the matter be included as part of the transition year programme in schools.

It is clear from the statistics on domestic violence that women do not avail of the therapeutic services available, particularly for their children. The tragedy is that they need the consent of both parents before they can access the services. I cannot see a violent father allowing his children to receive counselling to learn how to cope with his violence. That is a difficulty. The consent of one parent should be more than adequate to allow them access to a particular counsellor. This is a learned behaviour and it often stays with families. If children see it in their own family it is likely they will carry it on because they see it as a form of normal behaviour in a household. We must stop this type of behaviour as early as possible in the cycle.

According to last year's statistics, from the excellent report of the National Crime Council, the first major study in this area, domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions. In my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, Tearmann Domestic Violence Service deals with women and men but refer the men on to the Amen centre. The service had 127 new clients from County Monaghan last year. Some 932 telephone calls were made to the helpline. However, in the Cavan part of my constituency there is no such office. I have no doubt the outpatient service in Cavan is availed of to the fullest extent.

The one place in the world where most people would expect to feel safe is at home. For a significant number of people, the one in five Irish women who experiences domestic violence, that is not the case. One in three of those who picks up the telephone to seek help finds the call is not answered. In a country as wealthy as Ireland we have our priorities wrong if this issue is not seen as an area that requires good quality services, backed up by good legislation.

Like other Members, the people, predominantly women, who come to my clinic about issues of domestic violence fall into two categories. First, there are those who require immediate assistance. That such people walk into my constituency office or other constituency offices as the first port of call speaks volumes. That highlights the unavailability of services. Often the agencies have to fundraise to keep the show on the road. Those in the second group try to plan their way out of domestic violence. They are trying to keep the children in school and maintain some normality while trying to find a way out of the appalling situation in which they have found themselves. The problems they experience are the practical remedies of finding another home to go to while trying to remain in the locality where their children are at school. Such practical solutions will have to be put in place if this problem is to be addressed.

Another group who approach me are foreign nationals. They often come from very violent countries and different cultures. We have to make adjustments to ensure the language issue is not a barrier to reporting. I have read the SAVI report on sexual violence. Of the women who are subject to domestic violence, a significant number are also subject to sexual violence. According to the SAVI report 44% were dissatisfied with the Garda who did not adequately explain why certain procedures were conducted. There was a perception that they were to blame for the assaults. That is part of the reason for a low level of reporting. That is a serious problem.

In the main it is women who contact me. It takes a great deal of courage and confidence to tell somebody that something so private is going on in one's own home. While I have not come across them, I acknowledge there is a cohort of men who suffer domestic abuse in the range of different forms in which it manifests itself. If practical solutions are being put in place they will have to be available to men and women. When abuse takes place in the home it extends beyond the partner to the children. One can spend a lifetime picking up the pieces if one does not deal with the issue at source. That is another aspect to which consideration must be given.

A few weeks ago the national domestic violence agency was on the brink of collapse because of inadequate funding. The agency cannot continue from one crisis to another without core funding being put in place. We must recognise there is a range of different forms of abuse and not one size that fits all. There is a good deal of information available at the national domestic violence agency that needs to be considered. Following on from its report we need to put in place practical systems and legislation to tackle the problem in a serious manner.

We are all aware of domestic violence through personal experience, visitors to our clinics, anecdotal evidence and information supplied to us by non-governmental agencies. Unfortunately, while we are aware that domestic violence occurs all too frequently in our society, we lack sufficient official statistics on it. We also lack an official infrastructure to deal with its effects. In its amendment to this timely and much-needed motion, the Government seems to be avoiding the central issue. The mechanisms we have as a society for dealing with domestic violence are far too dependent on Government actions which, of themselves, are too ad hoc, haphazard and akin to a Band-Aid solution and do not take a sufficiently long-term approach to deal with a deep-seated problem in our society.

We see this all too vividly with the pantomime that existed in respect of ongoing funding for the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, NDVIA. It should not have been a case that an NGO, which had been receiving support from the State but never on an multi-annual basis and never with an ongoing thought towards its own future despite the valuable work it was doing, had to make 16 requests to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to seek the funding it needed to continue its work and received a response to that request at the eleventh hour, with that response being only a three-month reprieve. It is not good enough for the State to support vital agencies in this way. It gives the impression that the issue of domestic violence is of only half-hearted concern to this Government.

The lack of any type of real statistics on domestic violence and our dependence on statistics given to us by NGOs is a gap that should be filled as soon as possible. In 1999, Women's Aid pointed out that up to one in every five women experienced domestic violence. It has already been said in this debate that violence is largely of a physical nature. However, domestic violence can be and is verbal and psychological. It can and does involve women who are subjected to controlling means of whatever type. The fact that it exists at all in our society is a blight and the fact that it exists to such prevalence is a shame. It requires appropriate Government action to make sure the problem is tackled.

Despite the revelation of this statistic eight years ago, which we largely still use, there is little indication that the incidence and prevalence of domestic violence has changed at all in our society. That seems to indicate that the lack of an appropriate Government response has been one of the main factors.

The lack of resources for the various helplines has also been mentioned. The lack of people to man helplines very often means that victims cannot get a direct response on a real-time basis and contact with another human being who can help them through crises. We know that the Women's Aid national freephone helpline receives over 8,000 calls. One refuge in Rathmines deals with an average of ten emergency calls every day. The Garda domestic violence and sexual assault investigation unit receives an average of 6,000 calls per year. OSS Cork and Sexual Violence Centre Cork, which followed on from the Cork Rape Crisis Centre, would say that similar statistics exist in my own constituency and city. They are not statistics in which I take pride.

Apart from the funding crisis in the NDVIA provoked by the Government recently, there are scores of similar crises waiting to come to a head because of the lack of clear thinking by the Government in this area. This should be a problem which we could tackle with appropriate political will. It is certainly something we all have a responsibility to tackle, yet sadly all we get is muddled thinking and a lack of long-term vision.

Not only should we highlight the recent circumstances of the NDVIA, but we also need to point out that it has been and remains a pilot project. The use of the term "pilot project" by the Government in social interventions speaks volumes about its social policies in general and indicates that these are matters to which it needs to be seen to respond, but it never really gets to the bottom of these problems and never has the long-term vision needed to deal with them once and for all. I find this approach sad.

The pilot project was and is an innovative project. It could bear being turned into a mainstream project with a wider application throughout the country by State agencies such as the Garda Síochána, the Courts Service, the probation and welfare service, the HSE and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. An interagency response involves doing things in an innovative way that would not otherwise happen, certainly would not with each of these State agencies on its own. It is hard to believe the crisis with the NDVIA occurred at all, given the organisation's great success in 2005 and 2006. There is a need for a political response as to how the Government allowed that situation to develop and a willingness to put in place a proper long-term response.

The wider issue of assisting victims of domestic violence is a cause for huge concern. The debate, quite properly, has involved the support structures which are under-resourced and need to be given greater strength. The real tragedy of domestic violence is the situations in which individual women — it is largely women who are affected — and their children find themselves. There is little to indicate that a wider support service is in place. The institutional barriers, the lack of appropriate bed and dwelling space and the attitude very often shown by officials in different State agencies do as much to entrench the violence these women experience in their domestic situation as they do to help them get away from it. While these attitudes persist, the ability to change to the extent required is probably further away than ever.

The Government will probably use the opportunity offered by this debate to sing its own praises, as it invariably does during Private Members' Business. I like to think it might use this opportunity for a more thoughtful approach which goes beyond the election in three months' time and might be slightly better than the regular type of report we see in this area, which ends up on a shelf with no action taken on foot of it. What we need to hear in this House is an honest response which admits the scale of the problem and then admits that the resources made available are still far from adequate, even if they have been increasing. Finally, we need to see a willingness to work with the entire political system to bring about the appropriate responses. At the end of the day, while there are many Government failings on this issue, it is really a failing of the political system itself. We have seen changes of Government and will probably see further changes in a few months' time. The question has to be whether those changes have any effect on the lives of the women who find themselves in situations of domestic violence and whether they will alter the position of the NDVIA and other organisations.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"affirms that domestic violence is a heinous crime and cruel wrong that affects the safety and welfare of vulnerable persons in the home, including children;

agrees that the National Crime Council in 2005 reported that 15%, about 1 in 7, of women had experienced violence;

acknowledges the comprehensive protection afforded victims of domestic violence contained in our civil and criminal law codes, namely:

the Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment Act 1990;

the Domestic Violence Act 1996;

the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997;

the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002;

the Criminal Justice Act 2006; and

the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006;

welcomes the substantial increases in funding provided under this Government, including a threefold increase over the past ten years in funding to front line services provided through the Health Service Executive to over €17 million this year, and a sevenfold increase over the past five years for awareness raising and perpetrator programmes of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to exceed €2.1 million in 2007;

notes the commitment to continued funding to tackle domestic violence contained in the recently published National Development Plan 2007 to 2013;

notes that the Government's national women's strategy is being finalised for publication in the near future and welcomes in particular that it contains proposals in relation to the establishment in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform of a national domestic violence office which will ensure the development of a well co-ordinated ‘whole of Government' response to violence against women;

supports the Government's strategic approach by way of updating of the wide-ranging codes of law that address violence in the home, the changes in administrative structures and the substantial increases in funding of public services and non-governmental organisations;

notes that the 1997 Task Force Report on Violence against Women was published as a blue print recommending new structures and comprehensive services to bring perpetrators to justice and to support victims;

notes the establishment of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit in the Garda Síochána in 1997;

welcomes the special training of the Garda Síochána in the investigation of cases of domestic violence, which is provided by experienced Garda personnel, assisted by other professionals, such as psychologists, doctors, social workers and also experts from the various non-governmental organisations; and

commends the work undertaken by the national steering committee on violence against women under the Chairmanship of Minister of State, Deputy Frank Fahey, in bringing together all of the Government Departments, State bodies and non-governmental organisations which work with victims of violence."

The House will be aware that policy in the civil law on barring, protection and safety orders is contained in the Domestic Violence Acts of 1996 and 2002. These Acts provide for the protection of any spouse, any children and other dependent persons and persons in other domestic relationships whose safety or welfare requires it because of the conduct of another person in the domestic relationship. The Act of 1996 prescribes that where the court, on application to it, is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing the safety or welfare of the applicant or any dependent person so requires, it may make either a barring order, a protection order or a safety order. In the case of the granting of an interim barring order, that is, an order made between the making of an application for a barring order and its determination, under the 1996 Act the court must be of the opinion that, (a) there is an immediate risk of significant harm to the applicant or any dependent person if the order is not made immediately, and (b) that the granting of a protection order would not be sufficient to protect the applicant or any dependent person.

In the Act of 2002 the Tánaiste, in response to some legal difficulties with the operation of the 1996 Act, made provision that the application for an interim barring order must be made either on affidavit or on sworn information and, if the order is made ex parte, a note of the evidence given, together with the court order and the affidavit or sworn information, must be served on the respondent as soon as practicable.

The importance of the Domestic Violence Acts is that they are premised on the basis of the safety and welfare of vulnerable persons, including children, in the home. Where children are concerned, the Acts already ensure that the courts may, of their own motion, or on the application of any person concerned, adjourn proceedings and direct the Health Service Executive to undertake any necessary investigations of the circumstances of the child. In addition, the court may give such directions, under the Child Care Act 1991, as it sees fit, as to the care and the custody of the child. The court may also make a supervision order under the 1991 Act in respect of the parent of the child, pending any investigation. That power of the court exists under the 1991 Act, whether in the context of associated proceedings under the Domestic Violence Acts or otherwise.

As the House will be aware, violence against women requires a co-ordinated response across a number of Departments. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and its agencies make the protection of barring orders available to women who experience violence and prosecute the perpetrators of violence through a comprehensive and well formulated response by the Garda Síochána and the courts.

The Legal Aid Board provides legal services in domestic violence cases to those who are financially eligible. Applications involving domestic violence are prioritised and applicants are given an appointment to see a law centre solicitor or given a legal aid certificate to allow them to retain a private solicitor from a panel within a couple of days of first making contact. In Dublin, application can be made to any of the board's seven law centres located in the city or to the board's private practitioner centre located at Montague Court, Montague Street, Dublin 2. Outside of Dublin, application should be made to any of the board's remaining 23 law centres. Contact details for the board's centres are available on its website.

The board does not distinguish between the applicant and the respondent in domestic violence cases. Thus the board may equally provide representation to an alleged perpetrator as it may to a victim. The board has also published a series of information leaflets on its services and on the core areas of its work. These include a leaflet on domestic violence, leaflets on other areas of family law and a leaflet setting out the financial eligibility criteria for its services.

District Court staff will help with the completion of application forms under the Domestic Violence Acts. They cannot offer legal advice but offer whatever assistance they can. The Courts Service provides assistance from its information office on how to prepare an application to the court for protection under the Acts, information on what happens in court on the day of the full hearing of an application and the role of the judge. It directs applicants to the services available from the Legal Aid Board and other Government agencies and non-governmental support services.

Criminal law sanctions exist for breaches of safety orders, barring orders, interim barring orders and protection orders under the Acts of 1996 and 2002. The punishment is a fine or imprisonment or both. These sanctions operate without prejudice to the law as to contempt of court or any other liability, whether civil or criminal that may be incurred by the perpetrator concerned. Where a member of the Garda Síochána suspects there has been a contravention of the terms of an order by the respondent, on a complaint being made to him or her in that regard by or on behalf of the applicant, the member may arrest the respondent without warrant. For that purpose, the member may enter, if need be by force, and search any place where he suspects the respondent to be.

Statistics from the Courts Service for 2005 show that it granted 1,037 safety orders, 2,622 protection orders, 550 interim barring orders and 1,265 barring orders. The statistics also show that 115 safety orders, 71 protection orders, 34 interim barring orders and 100 barring orders were refused last year. Of the numbers of applications which were withdrawn or struck out, these numbered 1,714 barring orders, 157 protection orders, 38 interim barring orders and 1,818 barring orders, all of which were withdrawn or struck out last year. The numbers of applications withdrawn or struck out are noteworthy. They demonstrate uniquely among applications to court the extent to which there is equivocation on behalf of the applicant. Behind the figures is a state of mind and, no doubt, turmoil in the home that changes by the time of the hearing of a case.

Domestic violence is a serious crime but too often it is a hidden crime in our society. We must never lose sight of the fact that it is a heinous crime. All sides of this House are in total agreement with the Government's policy which fully recognises this crime and the need to punish offenders most severely. It is for this reason that there is a substantial range of laws that can apply to crimes in the home. These are contained in the Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment Act 1990, the Domestic Violence Acts, 1996 and 2002, in so far as breaches of orders under the Acts are concerned, the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002, the Sex Offenders Act 2001, the Criminal Justice Act 2006, and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006.

There have been calls from Women's Aid to remove the residency requirement in the Domestic Violence Acts, under which partners must establish a certain period of cohabitation. That request has not been met by successive Governments because of legal difficulties. The position remains that there are no proposals to extend the civil law policy of the Acts of 1996 and 2002 to non-domestic abusive relationships which can be the subject of sanctions under the criminal law. In particular, the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 covers a wide range of situations, including domestic abuse, harassment, and stalking. Relief is available to people who are not married to or living with the abuser for the previous six months and are not entitled to avail of protection under the Domestic Violence Acts. In any event, operation of the law on the civil law protection of persons in relationships continues to be kept under review in my Department.

Members of the Garda Síochána are trained to the highest standard in dealing with incidents of domestic violence. Lectures relating to offences committed within the family are given at phases 1, 3 and 5 of training at the Garda College. The lectures cover all matters relevant to the Domestic Violence Acts. Powers of entry, use of force, arrest and prosecution of offenders are all covered during training. Moreover, the contextual policing aspect of training deals with the rights of victims in situations of domestic violence. Throughout training, students and probationers undertake role-play exercises with scenarios which depict practical incidents they may encounter relating to domestic violence. This role-play type training develops skills and competencies in dealing with all aspects of domestic violence.

In the Garda Síochána, the domestic violence and sexual assault unit was established to have a national role in 1997. The Garda has a written policy on domestic violence intervention which is arrest oriented and recognises the vulnerable circumstances in which the victims find themselves. Any evidence of fear or harassment is brought to the attention of the court in the event of a bail application. This domestic violence policy is an integral part of Garda training and is reinforced continuously. All the feedback on this policy is positive. Nonetheless, the Garda has undertaken a review of this policy with a view to modernising and honing its procedures further.

In 1996, the Chief Justice established the Judicial Studies Institute to oversee judicial training. The Judicial Studies Institute has organised professional training seminars and conferences for the Judiciary and exchange visits with other jurisdictions. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has no function in prescribing the content and nature of training provided to the Judiciary. This is due to the independence of the courts under the Constitution. However, the Department has always assisted with initiatives which the Judiciary has brought forward in the area of training. Funds have always been available to judges at all levels to enable them to attend training seminars and conferences both at home and abroad. The Courts and Court Officers Act 1995 provides that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, provide funds for the training and education of judges. This Act also provides that persons wishing to be considered for judicial appointment must give their agreement, if appointed to judicial office, to undertake such course or courses of training or education as may be required by the Chief Justice or President of the Court to which that person is appointed.

The probation service recognises the importance of addressing the issue of domestic violence in working with offenders towards increasing public safety and helping offenders to avoid re-offending. One of the key responsibilities of probation officers is to provide the courts with probation reports to assist in sentencing decisions. These reports assess the risk of re-offending and the capacity and motivation of an offender to address and change offending behaviour. The probation service is supported in this by means of a risk assessment tool.

In addition to assessment, the service has a role in the management of offenders in the community. In support of this work, the service is represented on a number of multi-agency fora including the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency steering group and regional steering groups. Probation service staff are also involved on the north-east domestic violence intervention programme and in similar multi-agency groups in the Wexford-Waterford area. In addition, the Department provides a grant to Men Overcoming Violence, MOVE Ireland, through the probation service.

The Government's key aims with regard to domestic violence are to bring perpetrators to justice and to help victims, who are most frequently women but can include men, to come forward to seek help and redress and to provide them with the support they and their families need. Another Government aim is to stamp out this dreadful crime by creating awareness among people of all ages and by changing the culture of anger and violence that can infiltrate intimate partner relationships.

We must create a culture where every man, woman and child in our country enjoys the right to live in peace and harmony in his or her home. We must also create awareness among all people in Ireland that domestic violence can take place behind closed doors in houses in every suburb, town and village. It happens in the homes of the affluent and the homes of those who may have to struggle to make ends meet and is a crime without social class.

The excellent report published by the National Crime Council in 2005 showed that 15% of women, approximately one in seven, have experienced severely abusive behaviour of a physical, sexual or emotional nature from a partner at some time in their lives. The survey suggests that some 213,000 women in Ireland have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives. Accordingly, we must ensure that support is available so that female victims of violence can seek support and redress through the legal system and other support services without experiencing embarrassment and shame.

Much has been achieved since the 1997 task force report on violence against women was published as a blueprint, recommending new structures and comprehensive services to bring perpetrators to justice and to support victims. I chair the national steering committee on violence against women, which brings together all Departments and the State bodies and non-governmental organisations that work with victims of violence. The committee works to implement the recommendations of the task force report.

I was pleased the Government made a very significant increase in funding in budget 2007 to the non-governmental organisations that offer important frontline services to support victims of violence against women. This complements the health care and personal social services victims may also require. The increase of €4.5 million made available to the Department of Health and Children for the Health Service Executive means that these groups will have over €16 million available this year to provide enhanced support services to help combat and to respond to domestic violence. I accept that there was no increase for a number of years, a major mistake. This was balanced by the increase of €4.5 million in this year's budget.

I must pay tribute to those in the voluntary and State sectors who work selflessly with the victims of domestic violence. I am equally happy to acknowledge the increased funding in excess of €2.1 million granted to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to increase the availability of perpetrator programmes provided by NGOs and to enable us to undertake further awareness raising campaigns.

Members may have seen the extensive media campaign that the Department ran in November and December to coincide with the international 16 days of action on violence against women. This was very well received by the sector and we understand that the campaign reached a considerable audience.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government makes capital and current funding available to voluntary housing bodies and the local authorities respectively for accommodation for homeless people, including those who are victims of domestic violence and are forced to leave the family home because of a violent partner.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, together with the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service, plays a major role in the responses to domestic violence of the civil and criminal justice systems. Domestic violence is a difficult crime to deal with because there can be barriers of influence, authority, shame and even affection between the perpetrator and victim, which can militate against reporting and prosecution of the offence. Tackling these barriers is crucial and the Garda Síochána ensures that domestic violence is dealt with as a serious criminal matter.

Although there has been progress, the level of reporting of incidents of domestic violence remains low. The National Crime Council report found that a little under a quarter of all people surveyed who had experienced severe domestic abuse had reported it to the Garda Síochána. The reasons for not reporting are complex and include a belief that it was not serious enough, that it was the victim's fault or that reporting could end the relationship.

This highlights the complexity and the need to build up the confidence of victims and their awareness of the supports open to them. This is being done in a number of ways, including support to the victims as they proceed through the legal channels and work with the perpetrators of violence to make them understand the gravity of such violence as a crime and to enable them to change their behaviour towards the partner.

The Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime within my Department provides funding to Women's Aid and to the Rape Crisis Centres to assist with running court accompaniment services which assist the victims. The Department also funds perpetrator programmes designed to promote changes in personal behaviour and to prevent future abuse. This type of work both here and internationally is relatively new and is far from straightforward but in some instances, with the right safeguards, it has a role to play in tackling domestic violence. We have undertaken a review of the existing programmes and the recommendations are being considered and will guide our policy decisions.

The final report of the completed pilot project by the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, NDVIA, was received at the end of January 2007. Further funding for the project on an interim basis was agreed by the Department and the NDVIA. Officials in the Department are now reviewing this final report, together with the 2006 external evaluation of the pilot project. The aim of this local pilot project was to develop an integrated response to domestic violence. We are considering how we might progress such an approach on a nationwide basis. In response to certain comments, I wish to emphasise that this was a pilot project in one area of the country, namely in Dún Laoghaire and Bray. The project, which was intended to run for one year, cost €530,000. In the course of the four years for which it ran fewer than 40 victims and perpetrators were assisted. Much media attention suggested that it was a national programme. This was not so.

I expect that proposals will be brought to Government very shortly on the establishment of a domestic violence agency which will ensure the development of a well co-ordinated whole of Government response to violence against women.

In addition, the Department is in discussions with the National Crime Council about the appointment of a researcher who would specialise in this area and keep all our policy-makers informed on best practice in other countries. The present debate is timely as the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform last year commissioned a study which would review the work of the national steering committee on violence against women and the implementation of the 1997 task force, and would develop a new strategic action plan for the committee. The national steering committee is considering the final report from the consultants. We hope to publish that report in the coming weeks.

I agree with the comments made by all Deputies that domestic violence is a heinous crime. State agencies and service providers such as the Rape Crisis Centre and Women's Aid have tackled it. The new office which I will propose soon to Government will incorporate all of the Departments and agencies in one office along the lines of the Office for Children or the Office for Juvenile Justice. This will bring about a significant improvement in the provision of services to the victims of domestic violence from here on in. There are many areas of concern in our community and we have worked diligently over the past 18 months, since I took over as chairman of the national committee, to address those issues. The agencies have welcomed the extra resources made available. These agencies include the national Rape Crisis Network centres, Women's Aid and the national body representing women's refuges. We are on a strong footing to provide a much better support service for victims of domestic violence, and to ensure that the perpetrators of violence are brought to justice quickly and effectively by the regime the Garda Síochána has put in place.

I thank the House for the opportunity to discuss this important topic this evening and I commend the amendment to the House.

I propose to share time with Deputies Olivia Mitchell and Connaughton. I did not think that I would support a motion on violence in this House proposed by Sinn Féin but I am glad to support this motion on domestic violence. While I differ from the party on the detail of some aspects of the motion I am substantially ad idem with it on the issues outlined in support of the motion.

We are largely discussing violence against women which is understandable because most domestic violence arises against women. We must recognise, however, that there are incidents of violence against men too which have been highlighted by journalists such as John Waters in The Irish Times and organisations such as Amen. There are other instances of domestic violence involving children against parents and there is evidence of domestic violence between same sex partners. While these examples exist, 90% or more of domestic violence occurs against women.

This is not simply because women are generally physically weaker than men. Much of the violence may not necessarily be physical. There is also emotional, psychological and financial abuse. It is no harm for us to recall the position of women in our society, and our views on the position of women in Islamic society including, for example, the honour killings in Pakistan, parts of India and elsewhere, the wearing of the burka in some countries, pursuit by vice police in others, and the effect of organisations such as the Taliban. We might think we are in a superior position here being a Christian or, some would say, post-Christian society but it is not so long since our law held that women were not equal. Only in 1882 did the Law of Property Act allow married women to own property. The Married Women's Status Act 1956 attempted to put legal shape on the notion of equality, and that is relatively recent.

We carry a great deal of historical baggage from the point of view of the role of women in society. While in legal terms the issues of equality have been resolved, there remain traditional and historical attitudes that have not been confronted. It is salutary to consider the statistics highlighted during this debate, some of which were mentioned in the Sinn Féin motion. It is horrifying to hear of the number of women killed violently, often by their partners or ex-partners, and the number of incidents of domestic violence recorded by the Garda each day while accepting that only a fraction of the incidents are reported at all. While one may dispute or question some of the figures, it is clear that there is a high incidence of domestic violence in our country.

The issue is to a significant degree unrecognised, much of it unreported, and inadequately confronted by the Executive or the Legislature. It is some time since we even debated this issue. What should be done? First, we must admit the scale of the problem and ensure there is general recognition of its enormous scale. Second, adequate resources, including finance, must be allocated to the various agencies, governmental and non-governmental, trying to deal with the problem. Third, we must try to encourage a change of attitude, whereby everybody realises that this will not be tolerated in our society.

With due respect to the Minister, his speech is an indication of where part of the problem arises. It was a speech without commitment, passion or real vision. It indicated a pedestrian approach to a problem of such enormity. The figures bear repetition. The worst is the huge number of calls made to the Women's Aid helpline. In 2005 there were over 25,000 calls. The helpline was only able to respond to 15,000; over 10,000 were not dealt with for the simple reason that Women's Aid did not have the resources or finances to respond. That is unacceptable and inexcusable.

The Minister spoke rather grandly about the money being made available. It is a couple of million here and a couple of million there. The money was largely capped from 2002. A few million extra was provided in the current Estimates. However, when one adds the figures, it is a miserable amount of money, given the size of the problem. In the budget we no longer talk about millions or hundreds of millions but about billions of euro. The Minister proudly proclaims there is €2.4 million for extra services. It is a little extra but buttons, given the size of the problem. I am most unimpressed with the Government's attitude now that the issue has been put before the House in such stark terms by previous speakers. This laid back response gives the impression that it does not really care. That is worrying.

Telling us about the civil law which was largely put in place by the rainbow Government ten years ago is not an answer to the figures mentioned in this debate. The Minister has said there will shortly be a proposal for a co-ordinated response. The Government is dying on its feet; it will not be there shortly. It will be gone in seven or ten weeks. Very little has been done, even though there is a huge amount to be done. The Government has a hopeless record in dealing with this enormous problem.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. It is a hugely complex and difficult social problem. It is certainly not easy to legislate for domestic violence and almost impossible to predict or prevent it. It is often seen as a single dimensional problem, that is, violence against women but domestic violence can take many forms. There is often violence by women against men, while violence by teenagers against their parents is common. Violence by adults against elderly parents is an emerging problem. Sadly, violence against children regularly occurs.

Violence can take many forms. It is not always physical but can be intimidation or emotional violence. Sexual violence is also very common. As society becomes less cohesive and more mobile, there is a loosening of the controls in place in the past. These include the fear of public opinion, the church and institutions of the State. That fear has lessened its grip. We have created a culture where domestic violence can grow and thrive. Therefore, there is all the more reason to be extremely vigilant.

Households are increasingly being formed not on the basis of marriage but more casual relationships. Where a relationship is casual and perhaps not properly planned, unforeseen violence can erupt, often tragically for those involved. It is a growing problem with no single solution. It is apposite that we should discuss it now, ten years after the passing of the Domestic Violence Act. We can see the flaws and gaps that have emerged in that legislation and where the State, in so far as it can, might plug these gaps and strengthen the law.

It is the prime responsibility of the State to protect its citizens. If the crime takes place in the home, it does not lessen the State's responsibility or reduce the seriousness of the crime. That is particularly the case when vulnerable people, especially children, are at risk. In the past there was a reluctance to deal with violence in the home. If there was not a reluctance, there was certainly a walking on eggshells approach by the Garda. Certainly, there was a sense that the same vigour was not brought to the pursuit of domestic violence cases as to attacks on people in the street. That culture has changed in the Garda but there is a lingering sense in society that these crimes are not as serious as general assault crimes.

The State must be clear about this. The rights of the family are and should be strong but they do not extend a right to family members to beat each other up. That does not show respect for or strengthen families. It diminishes the family unit when we turn a blind eye to what happens, simply because it happens behind the closed doors of the family home. It is the responsibility of the State to convey the message that domestic violence is unacceptable. Victims of domestic violence are often ambivalent about the crimes perpetrated on them. The system must be structured in such a way that when cases are reported, they are acted on promptly and the perpetrators charged and convicted. It is accepted that only a small percentage of cases are reported. When they are, they must be taken seriously.

We have a mobile society and a large immigrant population. The message must be conveyed to immigrants that whatever might have been acceptable in their home countries and whatever their cultures or norms might have been, domestic violence is not acceptable in this society.

We are aware and have seen recent examples that having strong laws that are enforced changes behaviour. It is desperately important that the law in this area is enforced. It can then act as a deterrent. It is better to deter this crime and create a culture in which it is unacceptable than try to deal with it afterwards and pick up the pieces of broken families and bodies.

I thank Sinn Féin for tabling this motion as it is some time since the House debated this issue. Domestic violence is like a creeping paralysis. One horrendous aspect to domestic violence is the unimaginable case of a woman being abused in any one of ten different ways but, because of her dignity and pride in her family, she would nearly do anything under the rising sun rather than turn in the perpetrator.

As a public representative I have been contacted from time to time on the matter. While the prevalence of domestic violence is much greater in the cities than in rural areas, it happens everywhere. Some victims believe they must put up with it. They are fit for sainthood for the trouble they have gone through to cover up their terrible situations. Our attitude to the perpetrators of domestic violence must change. It is difficult for any Government to get to the bottom of this problem.

Women's Aid and other organisations do Trojan work in this area. The very least that can be done is to ensure adequate resources are available to them. Last year, they received 10,000 telephone calls from victims of domestic violence that they could not answer. The victims must have asked themselves if they were living in a society that cares for them. The answer is they are not.

Over indulgence of alcohol is a base issue in domestic violence. The dignity to which every human being is entitled must be ensured. There are a myriad of ways in how this can be approached. I hope there will be other occasions after this debate when we can return to discuss the more detailed and technical measures that can be put into operation to tackle the issue. Like with drink-driving, the message must be sent out that violence against women in simply not on and the perpetrators must suffer badly for whatever injuries they inflict on helpless women and children.

Domestic violence is an important issue that I have encountered closely. The long-term effect it can have on a victim can last a lifetime. Apart from the physical injury and intimidation, it can limit a woman's confidence, making it difficult for her to emerge from it in subsequent times. This debate is timely. I recall at the start of the Twenty-Ninth Dáil, emergency legislation on domestic violence was introduced on foot of a court's judgment on the original Domestic Violence Act. The debate surrounding the legislation was worthwhile and I was pleased the Government could deal with the matter speedily.

A cross-departmental approach is important in tackling domestic violence. I have had many representations from organisations, particularly Women's Aid with which I was involved on a charity basis before being elected. Their concerns not only relate to resources but to a cross-departmental approach. They have highlighted how the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other Departments are involved in the provision of emergency refuges for women who are victims of domestic violence. The Department of Social and Family Affairs is responsible for interim payments. There is also an issue surrounding awareness of rights, available supports and protections.

Gaining access to the legal system can be an intimidating process for some. It can be doubly so when one has been the victim of a crime that goes to the core of what we believe. The family is the bedrock of one's existence. It is the family in which we have the most confidence and rely on in a time of a crisis. If the crisis has emerged from that source, one can be shaken to one's core. The last thing a victim can deal with it is an archaic and difficult legal system and a courts service that lacks transparency. It is important that domestic violence victims know where to access their rights, the applications, such as ex parte, they can make and their various levels from safety orders to barring orders. A large degree of legislation already exists in the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act and criminal justice legislation providing protection to the victim.

The Constitution gives the family based on marriage precedence, and rightly so. However, there are different types of family arrangements of which we have so much experience. Many children are born to families not based on marriage. The protection of a cohabitee from domestic violence is as important. However, a delicate balance is taken by the courts in those situations. If a couple is recently living together, the courts are inclined to take a lesser view of the relationship and the protections that could be afforded in those circumstances.

A stigma is associated with reporting domestic violence incidents. On a weekly basis, we hear calls in the House for education for children in transition year on driver safety, first aid and so forth. However, it would very much be worthwhile if we dealt with this issue among young people and highlighted the fact that they need not accept such approaches, intimidation, or even the very lowest level of violence perpetrated in certain families. I have seen on many occasions what happens when young people have that confidence.

Debate adjourned.