Thursday, 10 September 2020

Ceisteanna (10)

Denis Naughten


10. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice her plans to prioritise practical actions to support the elimination of female genital mutilation in view of the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22918/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

Female genital mutilation, FGM, is a barbaric practice perpetrated on young girls. While the practice is concentrated in 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is a universal problem which continues to persist among migrant populations living in Ireland. I would like the Minister to update the House on the practical measures being taken to eliminate this practice.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Deputy will be glad to know that female genital mutilation has been an offence in Ireland since 2012. It is barbaric and should never happen. The Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act was enacted in 2012. It was sponsored by the then Minister for Health and the Act created the offence of female genital mutilation and related offences. Addressing this serious issue in Ireland falls primarily under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the Health Service Executive is responsible for addressing the health implications arising from female genital mutilation.

Insofar as concerns my remit, the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence runs from 2016 to 2021 and we are finalising a review to set in train a new strategy for 2022 onwards. The current strategy contains a commitment to raise awareness of female genital mutilation within An Garda Síochána. This is being actioned through the delivery of a training module twice a year to front-line gardaí; and the development and dissemination of an information guide for all members of An Garda Síochána. The latest report of the monitoring committee for the strategy notes that this action is meeting the targets as set out in the strategy. Action 61 of the migrant integration strategy sets out the State’s obligation across Departments to provide intercultural awareness training to staff where it is appropriate to their role. For front-line staff such as medical workers and members of the Garda, this is particularly important as they may be the first point of contact with at-risk women and girls. An Garda Síochána is committed under action 63 of the migrant integration strategy to continue to implement a victim-centred policy and good investigative practices in racial or similar crimes. I note that the first conviction under the legislation was secured in the courts in November of last year and An Garda Síochána took the opportunity to highlight the dangers through the national media and the illegal nature of the practice.

Based on UN estimates, two young girls have female genital mutilation performed on them every minute. In a majority of countries, girls are cut before the age of five. This is happening in Ireland and young girls have been taken out of Ireland to have this practice performed on them. It is estimated that 5,790 girls and women living in Ireland have experienced FGM. Some 2,639 girls may be at risk of being subjected to it. We need to stop this practice in the first instance and there needs to be a cross-departmental approach to it. Will the Minister sit down with the Minister for Health and the Minister with responsibility for equality and integration and lead a cross-departmental approach to this issue?

The Deputy has asked a number of questions there. He is right in saying that first and foremost, we need to stop this practice and a lot of that is done through education of parents and within communities. We will progress this through the second domestic, sexual and gender-based violence strategy, which includes a number of measures. A review is under way and we are looking to develop a third new strategy. Specific to that, an audit will be under way within weeks which will look at all of the various different Departments and agencies, from the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Equality, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. In that audit, we will look at the infrastructure and how we will implement these particular policies in a better way. I commit to ensuring that this particular issue is a part of that overall review, not just for the next strategy but we will also ensure that this will be implemented as soon as possible, whether in new or existing structures.

We need to send out a clear message that Ireland will not tolerate female genital mutilation under any circumstance, either in this jurisdiction or outside it. The most powerful step the Minister can take is to lead on this issue by bringing her other two Cabinet colleagues together and to sit down around a table and committing as three Ministers that they will drive the agenda forward on this. Nothing concentrates the minds of public servants more than the Ministers themselves being committed to an issue. I ask the Minister to do that to ensure a strategy is put in place that works with women, men, girls and boys from the communities where FGM is part of their tradition to raise awareness and empower them to reject this practice. I ask the Minister to do so across all of the agencies that work with those communities, such as An Garda Síochána, the health services and the integration agencies because it is only with a co-ordinated strategy that we can eradicate this practice.

I support the Deputy and I agree that we need to eradicate this process. We have made good strides in recent years with the introduction of legislation as a priority as part of the domestic, sexual and gender-based violence strategy. I mention the fact that we have had one conviction. While the number might seem low, there was a significant problem in Ireland whereby this is often only brought to light when there is a medical need following such a procedure and where there is a willingness or ability for an individual to press charges. It is a difficult and complex area but it is only through education, reaching out and engaging with communities that we can address this. I am committed to working with my ministerial colleagues, Deputies O'Gorman and Stephen Donnelly, and with any other Department which may potentially need our support with this issue. As I have mentioned, an audit is due to take place and it will hopefully be done by the end of the year. It is looking to identify how we put in place structures that will ensure that where a particular issue in this area has a number of Ministers working on its behalf, it can be driven either by one Minister or by all of them together.