Friday, 15 December 2017
Domestic Violence Bill 2017 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." The Domestic Violence Bill 2017 is most important legislation and I am pleased to be introducing it to the House. The Bill was initiated in the Seanad and completed its passage through that House on 30 November. I am pleased to say that it received general support among Senators and was the subject of lively debate and very positive contributions. I look forward to a similar debate in this House. I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, in the Upper House.
The purpose of this Bill is to consolidate and reform the law on domestic violence to provide better protection for victims. The Bill also includes provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. The Bill is part of a larger package of measures aimed at dealing with the scourge of domestic violence in our community.
The enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill is a key part of the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence 2016-21. As part of this strategy, the Government is running a six-year national awareness campaign called "What would you do?" which aims to bring about a change in long-established societal behaviours and attitudes to domestic and sexual violence. In developing the Domestic Violence Bill, my Department has engaged closely with groups which support victims of domestic violence. I acknowledge the work being done by these organisations. The support and assistance they offer to victims is hugely valuable to people who find themselves in extremely vulnerable situations.
I will outline the main provisions of the Bill. Part 1 contains standard provisions regarding commencement, definitions, repeals and expenses. Section 5 is a new provision that sets out an extensive list of factors that a court must consider when dealing with an application for a domestic violence order. The list is not exhaustive and will not limit a court's discretion to make an order. An applicant can put forward to the court any factors they consider relevant to the application. The list of factors does not preclude the court from examining any matter that is relevant to a particular application.
Part 2 of the Bill provides for the different orders that can be applied for under the Bill. It also deals with procedural matters for court proceedings under the Bill. Section 6 provides for the making of safety orders to prohibit violent and threatening behaviour. Safety orders were first introduced in the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and section 6 largely re-enacts those provisions. The most important change is that persons in intimate and committed relationships, but who are not cohabiting, will be able to apply for safety orders under this Bill. Section 7 provides for the making of barring orders to direct a person to leave a place where the victim resides, or not to enter that place. Statutory barring orders were first introduced in Ireland by the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976. Those provisions were replaced by the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act 1981. The Domestic Violence Act 1996 further strengthened the law in this area. The main change being made by this Bill is the removal of the six-month minimum cohabitation requirement in cases involving persons in cohabiting relationships. Section 8 provides for the making of interim barring orders in cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is at immediate risk of significant harm. Interim barring orders were first introduced in the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and this section largely re-enacts those provisions, as amended by the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002. If an interim barring order is granted ex parte, without notice to the person against whom it was sought, it will have effect for up to eight working days. In all other cases, an interim barring order will have effect until the application for a barring order has been determined by the courts.
Section 9 provides for a new emergency barring order that will put life and limb ahead of property and allow a person in a dangerous situation to get a temporary barring order even if he or she has no rights to the property. This is an important new provision that must be enacted to enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul convention. A person can apply for an emergency barring order where he or she has lived in an intimate and committed relationship with the perpetrator without being that person's spouse or civil partner or where he or she is the parent of an adult perpetrator. The most significant element of this new provision is that a person can apply for an emergency barring order even if he or she has no legal or beneficial interest in the place concerned or has an interest that is less than that of the person against whom the order is sought. Emergency barring orders will only be granted where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is at immediate risk of harm. An emergency barring order may be granted without notice having been given to the person against whom it is sought and will have effect for up to eight working days. Once the emergency barring order has expired, another emergency barring order may not be made until one month after the expiry of the previous order unless the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances. This is to ensure that the order will operate as an emergency, temporary measure only.
Section 10 is a new provision which was inserted on Committee Stage in the Seanad. It provides that gardaí may communicate with an on-call judge to apply for an out of hours barring order. My Department is examining the text of this section in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. I intend to bring forward any necessary amendments on Committee Stage in the Dáil to ensure that the section will be clear, workable and consistent with the other provisions of the Bill. Section 11 provides for the making of protection orders pending the determination of an application for a safety order or barring order. A protection order can be made where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the safety or welfare of the person who applied for the order or of a dependent person are at risk.
Sections 12 and 13 contain provisions relating to the making of applications by the Child and Family Agency for safety orders, barring orders and emergency barring orders. These sections re-enact sections 6 and 7 of the Domestic Violence Act 1996. Sections 14 and 15 provide protection to spouses and civil partners against disposal of household effects in the period between the making of an application for a safety order or barring order and the determination of that application.
Section 16 provides that a court that is dealing with domestic violence proceedings may also make orders under family law legislation without the need for separate proceedings to have been issued. These include orders relating to the right of access to a child under section 11 of the Guardianship of infants Act 1964. This enables issues relating to the needs of children to be addressed. The courts already have this power under section 9 of the Domestic Violence Act 1996, which is restated and updated in section 16.
Section 17 is a new provision that aims to prevent oppressive cross-examination conducted personally by the applicant or respondent. It provides that persons who are giving evidence may not be personally cross-examined by either the applicant or respondent unless the court is of the opinion that the interests of justice so require. Section 18 will require the courts to give reasons for decisions relating to applications for orders under the Bill.
Sections 19 to 24 contain provisions relating to the taking effect of orders, the delivery of copies of orders to certain persons, appeals from orders, discharge of orders, jurisdiction of the courts and the hearing of proceedings in private. My officials will examine further the text of section 19(3), which was inserted on Committee Stage in the Seanad and which provides for the service of orders by the Garda Síochána. If it is necessary to ensure that the provision is clear and workable, I will propose amendments on Committee Stage here. In the meantime, I am happy to take on board the views of Deputies to ensure we reach the best possible outcome.
The Bill includes new provisions aimed at making the courts process less difficult for victims of domestic violence when they are applying for civil orders under the Bill and in cases where an order is breached and a criminal prosecution follows. These provisions complement the protections the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 provides for victims giving evidence in criminal proceedings. Section 25 provides for the giving of evidence through live television link where an application is being made to court for an order under the Bill while section 26 will allow a person who applies for an order under this Bill to be accompanied in court by a person of his or her choice, in addition to any legal representative.
Section 27 will enable the court to seek the views of the child where an order is being sought on the child's behalf. This will help to make the court process more child friendly. The court will have the option of appointing an expert to ascertain and convey the child's views to the court.
Section 28 will require the Courts Service to provide information to victims of domestic violence about support services that may be available.
Section 29 will give the courts the possibility of recommending that a person engage with a programme or service to address issues relating to their behaviour that led to the application for an order. This could be a programme for perpetrators of domestic violence, an addiction service, a counselling service or a financial planning service.
Sections 30 to 32 provide for costs of proceedings, rules of court and the service of documents and the effect of orders on rights under certain enactments or estates or interests. These provisions restate existing provisions in the 1996 Act.
Part 3 of the Bill provides for offences under the Bill. Section 33 provides that it is an offence to breach a safety order, barring order, interim barring order, emergency barring order or protection order. It is also an offence to refuse to permit a person who applied for a barring order to enter in and remain in the place where the barring order is in force.
Section 34 provides for the giving of evidence through television link in proceedings for an offence under section 33. My Department is examining this section in light of the amendments to the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 made by the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. The intention is to bring forward appropriate amendments on Committee Stage.
Section 35 will provide privacy for victims in cases where there is a criminal prosecution for breach of an order. The judge will be required to exclude all persons from the courtroom except for persons directly involved in the case, court officials, members of the press and others specified by the judge.
Section 36 provides for arrest without warrant where a garda has reason to believe that a breach of a domestic violence order is being or has been committed, following a complaint from, or on behalf of, the person who applied for the order.
Section 37 provides that where proceedings are brought for an offence under section 33, it will be an offence to publish or broadcast any information or photographs which could lead to identification of the victim or the person charged or a dependant of either of them.
Section 38 provides strong penalties for this offence.
Section 39 is an important provision that creates a new offence of forced marriage. While the inclusion of this provision is necessary to enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention, I believe it is also important to send out a message that such behaviour is not acceptable in 21st century Ireland. It will be an offence to use violence, threats, undue influence, duress or coercion to cause another person to marry. It will be also an offence to remove someone from the State with the intention that they will be forced into a marriage outside of the jurisdiction.
Section 40, which provides for a new offence of coercive control, was introduced by a Government amendment in the Seanad. It takes account of the reality that behaviours in a domestic setting that involve emotional abuse, humiliation and fear can be as harmful to victims as physical abuse, as they are an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship. This section seeks to define the offence of coercive control as clearly as possible. The offence will be committed where a person knowingly and persistently engages in behaviour that is controlling or coercive, that has a serious effect on a relevant person and that a reasonable person would consider likely to have a serious effect on a relevant person. A person is a "relevant person" in respect of another person if he or she is the spouse or civil partner of that other person or is or was in an intimate and committed relationship with that other person. The section goes on to define what is meant by "serious effect". A person's behaviour has a serious effect on a person if the behaviour causes the person to fear that violence will be used against him or her, or if the behaviour causes serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on the person's usual day-to-day activities.
Section 41 was also introduced on Committee Stage in the Seanad. This new section will ensure that where offences involving physical or sexual violence are committed in the context of a marriage, civil partnership or an intimate and committed relationship, that fact will be an aggravating factor at sentencing. The new sentencing provision will apply to any offence that involves violence or the threat of violence to a person.
It will ensure that aggravated sentencing will apply where a person is convicted of the manslaughter of his or her current or former partner or spouse. Non-fatal physical violence is captured by offences under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, including assault, assault causing harm, causing serious harm, threats to kill, coercion, harassment, endangerment and false imprisonment. Sexual offences, including sexual assault and rape, are also relevant in domestic violence situations.
Sections 42 and 43 are transitional provisions that allow orders or applications made under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 to continue as if they were made under this Bill. Section 45 amends the Family Law Act 1995 to remove the exemption for underage marriage. Currently, section 33 of the Family Law Act 1995 allows an application to court for an exemption to the requirement that a person must be over 18 to marry. Removing the underage marriage exemption should help to protect minors against forced marriage as requiring both intended spouses to be at least 18 should assist in ensuring that they have the maturity to withstand parental or other pressure to marry a particular person. It will also be necessary to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 and section 49 provides for this. The validity of marriages that have already taken place under the exemption will not be affected. The remaining sections in Part 4 amend other legislation to take account of this Bill.
In conclusion, I believe that this legislation will help to improve the protection of the law for victims of domestic violence as it puts the needs of victims first and foremost, and I hope the Bill will be enacted as early as possible. I look forward to listening to the contribution of all Members of the House on Second Stage and I hope we can proceed to Committee Stage with the objective of ensuring we can have the best possible legislation in order to ensure maximum protection for people who find themselves in these most difficult and unacceptable circumstances.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. It is very important legislation. As the Minister is aware, Seanad Éireann has already passed the Bill, which has come to this House. Fianna Fáil Senators contributed significantly to the debate and to amendments introduced in the Seanad. Similarly, in this House, Fianna Fáil Deputies will be supporting the Bill and will also be bringing forward any amendments we think are appropriate for the purpose of strengthening the Bill.
As the Minister pointed out, it is important to emphasise that domestic violence is completely unacceptable. In many respects, violence, no matter where it comes from, is unacceptable but there is something particularly insidious about domestic violence. For many years in Ireland, spouses, overwhelmingly women, have been subjected to violence which is as the Minister stated, unacceptable. It is important that we as a State put into our laws specific requirements and prohibitions on acts of domestic violence and measures that can be taken by victims of violence for the purpose of trying to protect themselves and indeed their families.
It was back in 1996 when we first introduced legislation dealing with domestic violence in these Houses. In 2002, amending legislation was introduced. The fact that we have previously introduced this legislation indicates that we are aware it is a problem in Irish society. However, it is important to point out that sometimes we think Ireland is exceptional. It is not. Domestic violence is a problem throughout the world. I believe that through the legislation we have introduced over the past 21 years or so that we are moving forward in respect of our desire to deal with it. However, it is a problem that has afflicted the world. It is important to emphasise at the outset that it is completely unacceptable that individuals think they can use violence within a domestic environment in order to put pressure on a spouse or to force a spouse to act in a particular way. It must also be said that, unfortunately, it is overwhelmingly the case that the victims in these acts of violence are women. Nonetheless, this legislation will also apply to men who are victims of domestic violence. It is also worth pointing out that there have been cases and no doubt, there will be cases in the future where men are victims of violence.
The great benefit of the legislation being introduced is that it replicates many of the mechanisms that are available to victims to apply to our courts in order to seek protection. As the Minister has indicated, under the legislation, victims of domestic violence will now be able to apply to our courts for safety orders, barring orders, interim barring orders, emergency barring orders and protection orders.
Some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are children. It is a very traumatic experience for any child to be brought up in a house where there is violence between parents. It has a significant long-term impact on the child. It can also lead the child to believe in years to come that it is an acceptable way of resolving domestic disputes. It is not. I welcome that the legislation also provides for care orders or supervision orders under the Child Care Acts. As the Minister has indicated, under section 27, it also allows for the views of the child to be taken into account. It is a very difficult situation for children to find themselves in. Being in a house where there is violence is unacceptable. The State should not permit it and should provide the mechanism for applications to be made to ensure the family, victim and child can be protected.
The Minister also pointed to the offence of coercive control, which was introduced in the Seanad in section 40. It is a new offence and one we will consider carefully. It is a worthwhile offence to include. It will not apply inappropriately to situations in which somebody just gives a glance at the situation. The section is very specific in terms of how it applies, its persistence and the person to whom it applies. I welcome the legislation.
Domestic violence goes beyond physical violence. It can also involve the destruction of property, isolation from friends, family and other potential sources of support, threats to others, including children, stalking and control over access to money, personal items, food, transportation and even a mobile phone or house phone. Domestic violence is more common than most people realise. It can be unreported and misunderstood. It occurs in all social classes, ethnic groups and walks of life. There is no doubt that current pressures on housing, homelessness and everyday life challenges puts huge pressure on individuals which can result in domestic violence. There is no doubt that safeguards have to be put in place. Fianna Fáil strongly supports this Bill, which was significantly amended as it passed through the Seanad.
I compliment the national awareness campaign which is extremely important. The current series of adverts on television are hard-hitting, effective and they make one stop and think. They show a babysitter listening in on the child monitor and a person in a hotel room listening to next door, deciding whether to say something or to do nothing. They are very effective and at least we are having the conversation; it is making people stop and think. It is important we do not shy away or ignore it and that as a society we stand up and help. A kind word or some support can go a long way.
Fianna Fáil also appreciates the support of a number of NGOs, not least Safe Ireland and the National Women's Council in formulating amendments that truly reflect the experience of victims of domestic violence. We also welcome the move to a more victim centred approach in prosecuting crimes of this nature. Statistics have shown that Irish women are among the least likely in Europe to report crimes of domestic violence. A victim blaming culture is often cited as a major reason for this and there is a need for a cultural change in how crimes of this nature are viewed. It is hoped the legislation will go some way towards achieving that goal.
Deputy O'Callaghan spoke about coercive control. I also welcome the amendment which includes the ground of coercive control. It is groundbreaking and very welcome. Coercive control is defined as a pattern of sustained emotional and psychological abuse of a partner through threats, intimidation, control and restrictions on liberty. It has been recognised as an offence in UK law since 2015. There is much in the Domestic Violence Bill that we can appreciate.
That is something we do not always see. This kind of coercive control of people at home can involve simple things such as finance, access to phone, access to family or even simply going out to walk the dog. It is very welcome that this is being recognised as a major issue.
An EU-wide study in 2014 found that almost one in three Irish women had experienced some form of psychological violence from a partner. The seriousness of this behaviour cannot be overstated. Domestic homicide statistics in the UK have shown an overwhelming number of cases of women who were murdered. There was evidence of years of controlling, threatening and intimidating behaviour. Victims might not have bruising on their faces or bandages on their arms. These things are hidden behind closed doors.
The amendment to include the offence of coercive control is groundbreaking and very welcome. Similar research does not exist in this country, but it is likely that a similar correlation exists. Victims of domestic violence often cite emotional and psychological abuse as the greatest threat to their well-being. Fianna Fáil calls on the Government to commit to improving the collection of data relating to the recording of domestic violence. The lack of data impedes the development of evidence-based policy and has, no doubt, contributed to the delay in bringing forward this legislation. Societal attitudes need to change if there is to be a reduction in domestic violence. It is difficult to implement this change in the absence of the data. I appeal to the Minister to take on board the importance of committing to improving the collection of data on the recording of domestic violence.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Every morning, many women and some men wake up exhausted, drained and concerned. They are trying to hide bruises and other marks on their bodies with make-up or by whatever means in order to try to face their children and the world at large. In many instances, if they have even been able to sleep, they wake up terrified because of the psychological damage that has been done to them. Their self-esteem has been hugely impacted upon and yet they are trying to put on a face on in front of their children, work colleagues and communities.
We owe it to these women and men to do everything we can to try to make their lives more bearable and easier. There are many ways in which we can do this and the Bill before the House is one of them. It began life back in 2011, so we have waited some time to have the opportunity to debate it and to find ways to improve it. I welcome all the work that was done in the Seanad and I commend all the Senators, particularly those in Fianna Fáil and the Independents, who introduced 21 different amendments to improve the legislation. I also commend the NGOs that have been involved, particularly SAFE Ireland and the National Women's Council of Ireland, on their work in formulating amendments that truly reflect the experience of domestic violence. Ultimately, all we can do is listen to the voices of the victims and put in place measures to help to protect and support them.
Comparative European statistics have shown that Irish women are among the least likely to report domestic abuse. Approximately three months ago, I attended a meeting of the Kildare joint policing committee and was surprised that no domestic violence figures were being reported. I was told that the matter was not categorised but that the committee would certainly look at it. At the meeting the following month - approximately six weeks ago - figures were provided. I was amazed at how low they were because I knew they did not reflect the reality of the situation.
All Deputies know from the women who attend their clinics and who are trying to get away from their abusive partners that the numbers are far higher. I acknowledge the compassion of the gardaí present at the meeting who explained that, in many cases, women will make complaints but then subsequently withdraw them. That is something we cannot allow to fester. We must show the victims that we will give them support and that they should not be afraid to report abuse and follow through on it.
At the invitation of Women's Aid, I went to the family court in Dolphin House, Dublin, last year and I was dismayed at the horrific circumstances in which many women, and their children, found themselves. There were not enough consultation rooms and very often the women were sitting only a matter of feet away from the persons who had perpetrated the violence against them. That is not good enough. We need to do much more to support our family court system.
We also need to do more to support the children in these cases. We need strengthened protections for children living with domestic abuse because, too often, they are often forgotten in these situations. Bearing witness to domestic abuse leaves children with deep emotional scars. Organisations such as Barnardos have seen the result of children living in an abusive environment at first hand. Deep anxiety, aggressive outbursts and withdrawing into themselves are commonplace, not to mention the impact on their health, schooling and peer relationships. I would have witnessed that when I taught children aged four and five. Quite simply, domestic violence is a form of child abuse.
We need to examine ways in which we can ensure, within the legislation, that children's safety needs are assessed and addressed when barring orders are being granted. We must examine ways of minimising the possibility that children escaping from domestic violence may become homeless. This is a very difficult situation and we need to do more to support our safe homes such as Teach Tearmainn in Kildare, which spent 12 years looking for a safe place where women and their children could go in an emergency when experiencing domestic violence. For a number of years, only half of that accommodation was open. That is not good enough. If we are saying to women and, in some cases, men that we will support them when they escape violence in their homes. By not providing a safe place for them to go, however, we are failing in our duty to all of them.
There are many welcome improvements as a result of amendments to the Bill but I highlight, in particular, the extension of eligibility for safety and protection orders to all persons in intimate relationships without need of co-habitation. The new offence of coercive control is hugely significant. I refer also to the introduction of factors to which the courts shall have regard in determining applications for orders and the inclusion of the relationship between defendant and victim as an aggravating circumstance in relevant offences. We have to acknowledge that many young women, and young men, in dating relationships can become victims of intimate partner abuse. This amendment is a major positive step.
Section 9 deals with emergency barring orders. This is new provision. A barring order can be made where there are reasonable grounds for believing that there is an immediate risk of significant harm to the applicant or dependent person if such an order is not made immediately.
The Bill is very welcome. The Minister will have our support for it but I am sure he will understand that there are some areas, particularly in terms of supporting children, in which there needs to be an improvement.
I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to working with my colleagues on it.
I have been watching the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill and want to compliment all of the hard work that has gone into it in the Seanad.
I am here to echo the voice of the child, as I have already done earlier this morning during the statements on homelessness. I welcome the eligibility for safety and protection orders and the out of hours barring order included in it. Much domestic violence happens when court services are not working.
A new offence of corrosive control is also established under this Bill at section 40. Deputy Butler spoke very well about corrosive control. I came across this for the first time in my own clinic this week. A woman with three young children, living in rural Ireland, was being controlled via the lift to town or the lift to bring the kids to school. The way this man was controlling her was by allowing her to bring the kids to school in the morning, but if she wanted to get into town she had to be there for half seven. He would not share the frying pan or the toaster so she had to go and feed the children in a local restaurant. In the evening he would give her a lift home and would then allow her to use the fire for only one hour. Herself and her three children sleep in one bedroom. This debate is not about the housing crisis, but because of it she feels trapped. We do not have enough places available in organisations such as COPE, which is doing fantastic work in Galway, and so this lady feels trapped. Some people do not realise that what they are experiencing is corrosive control. When this lady speaks to people in the family resource centres from now on she will now have entitlement rights under section 40. This will help her and many other people to understand what they are entitled to.
I commend all the people who have put an awful lot of hard work into getting the Bill to this stage. I would love to see its speedy movement through the remaining stages.
Barnardos believes that this Bill should be strengthened further. The Minister sought suggestions earlier. One of Barnardos' suggestions is that child safety needs are assessed and addressed when granting a barring order. Another suggestion was on removing the property tests for cohabitants applying for a barring order where the best interests of the child so requires and extending the duration of the emergency barring orders to a maximum of six months. The roll-out of contact centres across the country and the removal of fees to access legal aid were the other suggestions from Barnardos. It has made some good suggestions which might be taken on board as the Bill progresses.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Aire, an Teachta Flanagan, as ucht na hoibre atá déanta aige, ag an Roinn agus ag an Seanad ar an mBille fiúntach agus luachmhar seo. Beidh Sinn Féin ag iarraidh tacaíocht agus cabhair a thabhairt don phróiseas seo ionas go rachfaidh an reachtaíocht tríd na Dála chomh luath agus gur féidir. We have just finished a debate on child homelessness and there are some parallels here. As with child homelessness, domestic violence is something that disproportionately affects women and children. There is a distinction in that the State is responsible for the failures which cause the suffering of child and family homelessness, whereas in cases of domestic violence, tragically, loved ones, or those thought to have been loved ones, are responsible. There is a particular dynamic of fear and betrayal in domestic violence. It is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed. It is a crime that is persistent in its violence, that is repeated day after day, night after night for years and for some people for decades.
We often express our shock and outrage about one-off incidents of violence as we see them reported. Unfortunately, there is still an element of a blind eye being turned to domestic violence. I welcome the recent awareness campaign. It is quite effective. It illustrates quite well the double standard that exists and how it is easier for some to carry on and pretend it is not happening. There is no justification for that kind of tolerance. There is a responsibility on people to speak up. Just because the violence occurs behind closed doors, or because it is inflicted by a person known closely or intimately to the victim, it does not make it any more acceptable. In fact, as the Bill reflects, it should be considered an aggravating factor.
The barriers which prevent many people from leaving much sooner than they otherwise would must be removed and appropriate supports put in place. The lack of alternative accommodation is one of the biggest barriers and is a very real barrier. This ranges from the shortage of refuge beds to the lack of transitional housing and, indeed, to spiralling rents. The housing crisis is connected to this. Women and children who flee domestic violence should be exempt from the red tape and bureaucracy that can surround housing, particularly in respect of applications for social housing. A woman may be the joint owner of a house, but if she is fleeing for her life or for her safety she can hardly call it home. To this end, all housing officers and sections should have domestic violence training in order for them truly to understand the dangers and dynamics of the situation of the woman sitting before them. I recognise that many local authorities handle this issue quite sympathetically and well, but there is still a distance to travel and not all local authorities would apply the same sensitivity and understanding.
The introduction of this legislation is to be welcomed as the provisions of the Bill will allow Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence. I take this opportunity to commend the Minister, as I did in Irish at the start, the Department and, in particular, the Seanad and the organisations involved in this. These included Safe Ireland, Women's Aid, the National Women's Council of Ireland and Barnardos.
I have been a Member of this House for two years and previously worked as a member of staff here for three years. This is probably the most comprehensive and successful example of lobbying by NGOs that I have seen in that time. It has been fruitful and constructive and some of the credit for that goes to the Minister and the Department for engaging with the arguments made by Independent Senators, Fianna Fáil Senators, Labour Senators and Sinn Féin Senators. Great credit is due for what has been a very effective, comprehensive and professional engagement, which has borne fruit in the amendments which have been made. I will touch on those. The Bill will make a real concrete difference to women and men who find themselves in these situations.
I will note some of the sections I particularly welcome. Some were in the original Bill and some have resulted from amendments. In particular I welcome section 6 which allows people who are in intimate and committed relationships but who are not cohabiting to apply for safety orders. Section 9 introduces the new emergency barring order which prioritises the safety and welfare of people ahead of property. This section is essential to allow Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Sections 19 to 24 relate to the service of orders by An Garda Síochána and result from an amendment in the Seanad. Section 27 enables the court to seek the views of a child when an order is being sought on his or her behalf. This is vitally important. As I have said, this is a form of violence and a crime which particularly affects children. This section should make the process more child-friendly. I look forward to engaging with that section on Committee Stage.
Section 39 deals with a new offence of forced marriage.
The Minister has acknowledged it is necessary in order to ratify the Istanbul Convention but it also has inherent value and is a statement of the State's stance on the issue.
Section 40, which the Fianna Fáil speakers acknowledged, is a valuable amendment by the Seanad and creates the new offence of coercive control, which is a significant reality in Ireland. Deputy Rabbitte outlined a good example of the types of behaviour the legislation should seek to make a criminal offence.
Section 41 relates to aggravating factors and much work was done in this regard. There was, and perhaps still is among some people, a belief that it should be a mitigating factor that domestic violence happens behind closed doors or that a different approach should taken. On the contrary, the level of betrayal and violence involved should be an aggravating factor, taken more seriously and considered a more grave matter by the Director of Public Prosecutions and judges.
The scale of the domestic violence problem in Ireland can be seen by the fact that in 2015, there were 12,041 contacts with Women's Aid, in which 16,375 disclosures of domestic violence against women were made, including emotional, physical, financial and sexual abuse. Domestic violence is a crime and it is everyone's business. Unfortunately and tragically, in some circumstances, it can lead to murder.
I commend Safe Ireland, representatives of which I met during the week, together with the other organisations previously mentioned, for their engagement with the Department and efforts in bringing the Bill forward.
Domestic violence can happen to anybody, man or woman, to members of the LGBT community and in any social setting. However, it is a crime that disproportionately affects women and children. I acknowledge the courage, strength and resilience of women and children who have experienced domestic violence, both those who continue to live with abuse and those who have taken the enormous and terrifying step of deciding to leave. I want to remember the more than 200 women who have died violently in Ireland since 1996 and all those who died prematurely because of the violence and abuse inflicted upon them. I acknowledge their suffering and that of their families. I also acknowledge those adults who were robbed of their childhood and survived domestic violence.
The legislation must be underpinned by additional resources for front-line services. I acknowledge the services in Cork provided by organisations such as YANA in north Cork, Mná Feasa and Cuanlee, which do excellent work in protecting and supporting women and men in such circumstances. Additional funding for refuges, helplines and cross-agency and community training, including for judges, should be considered. Without adequate resources, the Bill will not meet the objectives and high ideals it has set out. I hope resources are to the fore of the Minister's mind when signing off on the Bill and when coming up to the next budget. We look forward to engaging further with the Bill on Committee and Report Stages and will be supporting its passage.
I very much welcome that the Bill has come before the Dáil today. In common with other Deputies, I congratulate the Government on bringing it forward and Members of Seanad Éireann on their significant engagement on it. I have a copy of the Committee Stage amendments from the Seanad, which are quite significant and were proposed by Members from across the political spectrum. I was particularly interested in the amendments submitted by my Labour Party colleagues and the Civil Engagement group but also those of other parties.
I also thank the Government for accepting a number of Opposition amendments, or at least the spirit of them, in the Seanad.
The Bill will allow Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which we signed in November 2015. This is a very important step forward for people in Ireland. I accept that while domestic violence is mostly committed in respect of women, it can be committed in respect of others as well. It is a huge problem and a Europe-wide one. I think Barnardos has statistics on domestic violence across Europe generally and, I am sure, in other parts of the world. It is very significant that we have a Bill which addresses many of the issues that have been highlighted. This is also a consolidation Bill that brings together various other items of legislation enacted previously, including the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002, the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 and the Domestic Violence Act 1996. We welcome the Bill and will support it.
I, too, commend the various organisations involved. SAFE Ireland has been mentioned, as has the National Women's Council of Ireland. Women's Aid has done significant work on the Bill, as has Barnardos, in the context of children. I hope I have not left others out. In November, Women's Aid published an updated submission that is quite detailed and very useful for our consideration of how we might propose further amendments to the legislation. I know that some of the organisations had expressed the wish that the Bill pass fully through the Houses of the Oireachtas before Christmas. Obviously, this will not happen because we are only on Second Stage. However, I know the Minister has said that he intends to have the Bill pass as soon as possible. We should all ensure that this happens.
The measures contained in the Bill have been mentioned by previous speakers. I particularly welcome the extension of eligibility for safety and protection orders to all persons in intimate and committed relationships regardless of cohabitation, the new offence of coercive control, the introduction of factors to which the courts shall have regard in determining applications for orders and the inclusion of the relationship between the defendant and the victim as an aggravating circumstance in relevant offences. I will come back to the latter when I talk about how we might strengthen the Bill.
As a result of the fact that we public representatives, we have all had conversations with people facing domestic violence. Their stories are very harrowing. People who are long-term victims of domestic violence - it need not be physical - very often have their self-esteem completely destroyed and they then find it very difficult to take action for their own safety and that of their children. We must understand this in the context of this legislation. I have had a number of confidential conversations, as I am sure others have had, where one gets to understand exactly what domestic violence does to a person. We might ask why people experiencing domestic violence do not get out of their relationships. When one has been in such a relationship for a long time, it is difficult to find the strength to get out of it because of the impact on that one's self-confidence and sense of having some power over one's own life. For this reason, there are a number of measures in the Bill which I think are particularly useful. I refer here, for example, to section 9, which relates to emergency barring orders. The section applies to individuals who have finally found that they simply must break the abusive relationship and ensure their own protection. It is an important aspect of the Bill. There are other aspects that have been discussed by others and I will not take up time discussing them further. They are extremely important, however.
I wish to pay tribute to ADAPT House, which operates in my constituency and which has done wonderful work in this area for a long period. It has been in existence for I do not know how many decades and has been a place of refuge for many women and children over the years.
I wish to pay tribute to the work undertaken by those involved. I know others have referred to projects they are familiar with in their constituencies.
Information is important because people get into situations that are urgent and they do not have time to figure out what they are going to do. We need to give as much information as we can to people. I said the same when I was discussing the homeless issue earlier. When people are in urgent situations, they need to be able to access the necessary information about where they can go and what they can do. I hope that will happen in this case. The Citizens Information Board has produced a good document that goes into considerable detail. It is useful and people should be aware that they can get such information from their local citizens' information centres. We need other ways of ensuring that the relevant information is available for people.
I wish to briefly cover some of the areas that we might propose for amendment when we get to Committee and Report Stages. Women's Aid has made seven recommendations. I emphasise that the organisation has been very positive about the Bill, but those involved are suggesting ways in which could be strengthened. Women's Aid representatives have referred to the fact that in the Bill, eligibility for safety and protection orders is extended to applicants who were in an intimate and committed relationship with the respondent prior to applying for the orders. While this is an excellent extension, Women's Aid queries how the courts will determine that a relationship was committed or otherwise in the absence of cohabitation. The organisation has suggested this wording may create difficulties. In the Seanad, the Minister suggested that the Department would consider the possible implications of the word "committed" and whether other wording could be found or formulated. Perhaps before we move on to subsequent Stages there can be some consideration of that point in the meantime. Women's Aid provided an example in which an abuser may challenge that the relationship was committed on the basis that he does not feel committed. In other words, the perpetrator does not feel committed. Women's Aid has suggested other situations where the word "committed" might cause difficulties as well.
Barnardos has also highlighted a second point relating to children. As Deputy Rabbitte noted earlier, Barnardos has raised four different areas of concern. Barnardos strongly believes the Bill should be strengthened to ensure children's safety needs are assessed and addressed. Deputy Rabbitte highlighted several other points relating to contact centres, removing the property test for cohabitants applying for a barring order where the best interests of the child so requires and removing fees to access legal aid. The removal of fees to access legal aid is important. The fact that there is a fee can mean a child cannot get the protection he or she needs.
My Labour Party colleagues in the Seanad proposed an amendment in a third area. It relates to the increasing use of electronic technologies to monitor, control and harass women during an abusive relationship and after separation. They commended and supported the inclusion of the provision in section 6(2)(c), that prohibits the respondent from following or communicating, including by electronic means, with the applicant or the dependent person. They made the point, however, that much damage to the welfare and reputation of victims is done by communication to third parties about the women, usually through electronic means and not necessarily with them. The Senators provided a number of examples, including image-based sexual abuse, which is commonly known as revenge porn, advertising of women on escort sites, accessing or modifying a woman's online data, falsely impersonating the woman online, alienating friends and supports and spreading lies and rumours about the woman that affect her personally and professionally. This area could be looked at further as well. We can see the power of social media and the Internet across so many areas. Moreover, we can see the power people have to manipulate social media in a negative way and use it against a person. That is another factor in this case and I suggest that this area be looked at as well.
My Labour colleagues in the Seanad tabled an amendment in that regard, as I mentioned.
Like others, I very much welcome that we are able to deal with this legislation on Second Stage. It has been a long time coming and much work has been put into it by the Department and the current and previous Minister. The Seanad did a really good piece of work and it is to be commended on it. The willingness of the Government to interact with the Seanad and accept either amendments or the principle of amendments is important, but we have a job to do now in the Dáil to ensure this Bill is as strong and enabling as possible for people who are involved in cases of domestic violence and who urgently need to be able to get out and move on with their lives in a way that would keep them and their children safe.
I welcome the Bill, many provisions of which are very welcome and progressive. They shine a light on the experience of domestic violence in this country. I hope if we get it through, some of the measures will allow women and children affected by domestic violence to navigate the courts and find protective measures a bit more easily. I hope such people will be able to achieve some form of protection from an abuser in an easier way.
Over the years I campaigned for women's rights, looked over the reports and have been involved with women's refuges, but I am still taken aback by the scale and prevalence of violence against women and domestic violence in general in this society. The SAFE Ireland report of 2014 suggests that if we extrapolate from the almost 9,500 women who reported abuse, it would represent between 8% and 12% of the total number of women suffering abuse at the hands of partners in communities around Ireland. The scale of non-reporting is very worrying and it is reckoned that 79% of all women never disclose serious physical or sexual violence by a partner to anyone. One in four women experience physical and sexual violence from a male partner.
The scale of non-reporting is quite scary and there are many reasons for it. Most women are led to believe that somehow it is their fault that they are abused or that they asked for it. Sometimes they are told this by others, such as relatives, but society also sends messages indicating they have made their bed and now must lie on it. The biggest problem that women or anybody has in an abusive relationship, particularly where children are involved, is that there is nowhere else to go. I have a very close friend who recently retired from working with Women's Aid over the past 25 years and she spent every day of her working life accompanying mainly women into the courts to help them stand up for themselves and apply for barring orders. She retired early because she could no longer bear the increasing frequency of having to take women through the court process before sending them back to the arms of their abusers.
The simple reason for this is the housing crisis and the lack of alternative facilities for women and children in this society. There was a time when organisations like Sonas could provide alternative homes for victims of abuse, but that is no longer the case. That organisation is now extraordinarily frustrated by its inability to rehouse victims of abuse, many of whom are children. There are material conditions prevalent in this society that are feeding into the problem and not allowing us to escape from it. Along with this Bill, we must seriously consider alternative provisions for victims of abuse. I particularly emphasise the provision of alternative housing.
The Tusla report indicates domestic violence services helped almost 25,000 victims last year and that Irish women are among the least likely in Europe to seek support when suffering domestic abuse. Last year, Women's Aid reported almost 17,000 disclosures by women, with 11,000 of those being incidents of emotional abuse. This relates to a very important part of what we must achieve with this Bill.
It is to ensure that emotional and coercive abuse becomes a crime. There are so many ways to scare, threaten and manipulate another human being, especially when the relationship is close and involves dependency. There is no doubt that would be very difficult to prove but even being able to say that a person suffers from emotional, coercive and mental crime would be a major step forward in empowering those who suffer from the abuse.
I recognise the progressive elements of the Bill but I wish to address the scale of domestic violence, why it is so pervasive and why violence - particularly against women - is something we cannot get away from in our society. On one level it is quite straightforward; what is a woman who is in an abusive relationship and wants to escape from it to do? As we are aware, the State is not in a position to provide alternative supports and it is very difficult for a woman to leave her home and access any other sort of accommodation to provide for her and her children's needs. Many women have to stay in abusive relationships because of economics. This is why the prevalence of the violence continues.
During the recession we saw the previous Government first pick what they called - and what the Minister clearly named at the time - the low-hanging fruit. Cuts were made to funding for services such as Women's Aid and refuges around the State were closed. The cuts that ensued from the bank bailout were directed at the most vulnerable, not just at people who suffered from domestic violence. There were many others who suffered from the cuts but I focus on this because of the Bill and the debate. I am not sure if any of the cuts or low-hanging fruit picking that happened during the crisis have been reinstated or brought back in full or if the direct financial abuse by the Government has ended. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us in that regard.
I have referred to the housing crisis. This also denies women and anybody suffering abuse any sense of independence by not being able to seek another place to live. This also points to the class nature of many of these issues. I know of women of all ages who have been abused in relationships by very wealthy men - extraordinarily wealthy men in some cases - and I know of men who have been abused by extraordinarily wealthy men. By and large, however, the statistics bear out the fact that the lower economic classes suffer the most through the excesses of domestic violence. Those who need the access and the supports the most are the people who will not get it. The impact of domestic violence on the most vulnerable women needs to be taken into account.
The recent advertisement campaign that urges people to not turn a blind eye to domestic violence is important in making us all think about the issue. One very brave woman showed - on YouTube - the reality of her life. That video received millions of hits, which was very good for encouraging other victims of domestic abuse to come forward. It is, however, not enough if we do not put in place the supports, funding and provisions to empower women and other to be able to leave abusive relationships.
I asked the question about the scale of the problem. I believe it is part of a systemic nature of sexism in our society. Pervasive sexism is deeply ingrained in the way we live with the allotted roles of how we are supposed to behave, how we are supposed to work, how we are supposed to think and slot in to a gender-based society. Part of this gives us the answer to why all of this domestic violence happens. This sort of gender-based role playing does not just apply to women who are supposed to be feminine, quiet, accepting, to say nothing, to be loving and to make sure everybody is all right, to keep the peace, to shut their face and not to be too bold about things. While such expectations are being broken by women on a large scale, this does not mean it is not still pervasive in our society. I believe it still is. Society uses women's bodies and their nature to sell all sorts of commodities from cars to clothes to drink. Society eulogises a woman's body - and to a lesser degree a man's body - to sell products. This has a profoundly damaging impact on our perception of one other as human beings. It really goes to the heart of what alienation from our society is about. The behaviour of men and women that allows them to put themselves into these gender roles is very much determined by the type of society we put them into, including putting family at the heart of society.
We all know that Christmas is supposed to be a wonderful experience and a time of joy and happiness for the family. However, we also know that from now until the end of January there will be a spike in the incidence of domestic abuse and violence precisely because families and relationships that are not working are being coerced by the idea that this is how they should be perceived. The happy-clappy nuclear family is supposed to be at the heart of who and what we are. It is the norm of every society. I have no doubt that the recession placed a huge strain on this model. Sonas and others conducted studies in 2011 on the strain the recession had placed on that image of the family. When finances are stretched, it is usually the man who is expected to play the strong, breadwinning, caregiving role. The idea is that nobody need worry about anything once the man is there to provide. It is usually the man who falls foul of that image of self and who becomes frustrated and angry with society. However, he does not articulate that as "I am pissed off with society", he articulates it as "I am angry with you and the kids and everything in my life". All these factors have an impact. We have to question our image of self and the image imposed on women in particular but also on men. Not bringing home the bacon makes a man feel worthless. That should not be the case and it should not be the sort of pressure that leads to a breakdown in a family and to violence but it does.
The commercial pressure to buy things at this time of year has an impact on families. The moneylenders are probably rubbing their hands in some of the poorest areas of this city. Domestic violence will peak at this time of year.
Sonas said in 2010 that almost three times more women and children became homeless because of domestic violence. It recorded an astounding 163% increase in the numbers it supported. That was a result of austerity, the recession and unemployment. Economic pressure and homelessness have an impact on the level of abuse. We cannot, however, escape the fact that, whether a person is suffering financial disempowerment or, indeed, empowerment, which often makes very wealthy men abusers of their wives, it is prevalent, deep and rotten in our society. It is true that this Bill sets out to address the issue by empowering women to report domestic abuse, to get barring orders more easily and to have more say in court.
From my experience of dealing with Women's Aid, we should require judges, maybe through an amendment to the Bill, to undergo further training in family relationships and the culture of domestic violence. They are very good at family law and know it to the letter but training can be delivered to help them understand, for example, the need, where requested, to talk to children through video link. Sometimes they reject that as not being their role, saying they are not social workers. We should encourage the judges to take up that training and consider the cultural impact of domestic violence, not just the legal impact, to give them a more rounded judgment of how to deliver the necessary protection for women. The protection is not good enough. I and, I am sure, many others are approached by women who are terrified of their partners. Their partners may not have hit them but they threaten to, keeps them scared and prevent them from expressing and defending themselves or getting away from the relationship. The psychology of a twisted human being adjusts to thinking the woman is getting snotty, getting more power or becoming too confident and he ups the ante in terms of his violent and threatening behaviour. A lot of supports need to be put in place. While I welcome the Bill, I think this society has to look very hard again at the homelessness crisis because more women and children will be driven into homelessness during the happy-clappy period we are about to enter precisely because we have nowhere to put them when they suffer from extreme violence at home.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is a pity there are not more people here and that a number Members have not taken up their speaking slots. It is an important issue. While we recognise that it is a Friday in the run up to Christmas, it is still important to come to the House to contribute to the debate. The Bill includes several very welcome new provisions. They have been welcomed by all of the organisations working in the area, including Women's Aid, the National Women's Council of Ireland, SAFE, Barnardos and others. There has been extensive consultation with these groups in the preparation of the Bill and during the course of its passage through the Seanad. A great deal of consideration was given to the Bill in the Seanad where many of the Members contributed and proposed amendments. The Minister was open to that. It was suggested that we might try to get the Bill through before Christmas, but it would be a mistake to rush it today bearing in mind that some people are unavailable. I am sure there are others who want to contribute and that there are amendments which still need to be made to the Bill. It is very nearly there but it can certainly be improved by the addition of further amendments. I hope the Minister is open to that.
The Bill allows us to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul convention. We have been talking about the convention for some time and it is good that we are now at a point where we will hopefully be in a position to sign up fully to it and to commit to all of its provisions. The problem of domestic violence is a very prevalent one and has been for some time. For a long time, no one spoke about it and it is only in the last 20 to 30 years that it has come out from behind the shadows with people beginning to talk about their experience of domestic violence. Clearly, it is a very personal issue and a difficult topic to discuss. Very often, people were not believed when they spoke about it in the past or were thought to be exaggerating. Going back not all that long ago, and certainly not 100 years ago, there was a view that if a woman was complaining, there was something wrong with her rather than with her partner. There was also a sense that the views of the man of the house should hold sway and that he was the boss. It is not that long ago that this was the view and it was very much supported by official Ireland in terms of property rights, etc. Thankfully, the last 30 years or so have seen us become more enlightened.
Ireland has become a more equal society in gender terms. In fairness, we should recognise that much of that progress was initiated from Europe. It was not necessarily our own domestic Governments which led the way. We were brought to a fairer, more open and progressive approach as a result of EU legislation in the main. That is a very positive thing arising from our membership of the EU.
I remember, and it is not that long ago, when domestic violence was mainly whispered about and discussed behind the scenes. People did not feel they could raise it publicly. This was especially true given that the problem of domestic violence crosses all classes and creeds in our society. Women who were in marriages or relationships with more vocal and, perhaps, more influential partners often found it even more difficult because they found it hard to be believed when the people concerned might have been regarded as pillars of society, prominent people and people who were regarded as virtuous, as it were. It was thought they could not possibly do anything wrong and what they said would be believed, while at home they often were different people. Their partners had great difficulty getting assistance to deal with somebody who was violent, coercive and undermining of them at home.
There are many reasons for that. Again, this applies across the board irrespective of a family's financial or other circumstances. There was a prevailing culture which was about the man generally being the person in the right and the woman needing to get on with it and not complain. There were also situations in respect of housing whereby it was very difficult for a woman to speak out about violence in the home and to be in a position to take action in respect of it. There are many reasons that women did not come forward in the past and still do not do so to this day. They principally relate to the controlling attitudes their partners might have. It is often the result of fear.
Domestic violence can be physical or sexual violence, but it can also be psychological violence and coercion. In such situations, generally the problems do not arise overnight. They start with, perhaps, raised voices in a row and they become more threatening. Often it might just involve a push or a slap, but that can go on to become something much more serious. Due to the slow development of problems like this in relationships, it is quite insidious. It reaches the point where it is not just that something happens and a woman responds to it, but over a long period it can result in undermining the woman, her confidence, belief in herself and her ability to take action. She can sometimes doubt herself and wonder if it is her fault. In many cases, women feel they are not in a position to take action because they fear for their safety. If a partner or husband is violent and if the woman takes a stand against it, complains or threatens to take action, often that results in the woman being subjected to even more vicious violence.
Women find themselves in a very difficult situation. Often this arises because of the lack of freedom many of them have in terms of their options. That is the reason it is essential to have good quality services for the victims of domestic abuse and violence so we can offer people in that situation the option of assistance through a help line and also in respect of being able to move out of the family home if that is the right thing to do, being able to remove themselves and potentially their children from a dangerous and violent situation and providing refuge for people in that situation.
Taking that step and removing oneself and one's children from a dangerous and threatening situation can often be determined by the financial status of the woman. If a woman does not have her own independent income and access to her own resources, it is obviously far more difficult in those circumstances. The question of housing is critical where it is simply not an option for a woman in a long-term relationship or marriage with children to up and leave because, too often, there are no alternatives. We know that this is the case. We know that the supply of refuge housing is very limited. While things have improved somewhat in recent years, there is a very high demand for refuge beds and places. Certainly demand exceeds the current supply. Overall, it can be very difficult for a person actually to stand up to a partner who is bullying and threatening them and who threatens to take action regarding children.
We have come a long way in Ireland in terms of recognising the existence and prevalence of this problem and its insidious nature. I pay tribute to a number of organisations that work in this area and provide essential helplines for women who find themselves in this situation so that they can ring up, talk to somebody who understands the nature of the problem and get advice from them on the best way to handle the situation and what action they can take, be it through the legal system or in terms of leaving the family home and moving to a refuge. Critical advice is also provided about where they can access legal advice and their legal rights in situations like that. Helplines are extremely important. Very often, contacting Women's Aid or one of the other organisations and getting that help over the phone is the only lifeline for women in violent situations. Very often, people are ashamed to do that, which they should not be. We need to send that message out loud and clear. Too often, women think they are responsible for it when, of course, in the vast majority of cases, that is not true at all. For that reason, it is important that there be easy access to the kind of advice that will enable a woman to take herself out of that situation or bring an end to it in the family home through access to a barring order. The refuge places provided by a number of those organisations are essential. Very often, they amount to a life-and-death situation. Being able to move to a safe house, possibly late at night, with children is a lifeline for people. It literally can be a matter of life and death for them. A reasonable supply of refuge places around the country is essential if we are going to deal with this problem in a serious way.
I very much welcome the new offence of coercive control. It takes account of the kind of insidious form of domestic violence about which I have spoken and which is such a frequent aspect of this very serious social problem.
I commend all the people who have been involved in this, apart from the organisations I have already listed, and the Members of the Seanad who did a lot of work in improving and amending the legislation and getting it to this point today.
As others have said, Women's Aid is very supportive of the legislation and has contributed a lot to it. It has identified a number of gaps in it and is very keen that we, in this House, address those gaps. I hope we have an opportunity to do that in January. I hope the Minister will be open to further improvements and amendments to the legislation. Women's Aid says the major gap in what it regards as an otherwise very positive Bill is a missed opportunity to improve the safety and welfare of children escaping or witnessing domestic violence. My colleague, Councillor Cian O'Callaghan, also brought this to my attention in recent weeks. He has received a number of representations in this regard.
There are two areas in which the Bill could positively impact on children experiencing domestic violence. The first is to ensure their safety needs are assessed and addressed when granting a barring order and the second is to minimise the possibility that they may become homeless when escaping domestic violence with the non-abusive parent. Women's Aid has made a substantial submission in this regard. It is a particularly important aspect of its outstanding concerns.
The link between child abuse and domestic violence has been clearly established, with domestic violence being a very common context in which child abuse takes place. That is a very important thing to bear in mind. It has also been found that the more severe the domestic violence, the more severe the abuse of children in the same context. Women's Aid says that international research documents the co-occurrence of child abuse with domestic violence and the impact of domestic violence on the developmental needs and safety of children. Exposure to domestic violence is recognised as a form of emotional abuse with detrimental effects on children's well-being as acknowledged in Children First. The provisions in the guidelines for the protection and welfare of children need to be taken on board to a greater extent in this legislation. Women's Aid is pleased that exposing children to violence inflicted by the respondent on the applicant has been included on the list of factors the court shall consider when determining an application for an order under the Bill. That is provided for in section 5.
As Barnardos has recently confirmed, the way children experience domestic violence is complex. Their awareness of it is often underestimated by adults and therefore its impact is underestimated. There is an urgent need to create more robust legislation and procedural links between domestic abuse and child abuse. When a court grants a barring order, it is found that the respondent poses a significant risk to the welfare and safety of the applicant. Research and the experience of Barnardos and Women's Aid suggests there is a high probability that the safety and welfare of children of the family is also jeopardised. Therefore, this risk should be assessed and mitigated. Unfortunately, Women's Aid says that in its experience, when barring orders are granted to protect a woman from her abusive partner, there is often no assessment process to look at the safety and well-being of children. For that reason, Women's Aid believes it is a gap in the Bill and has requested that Members of the House propose an amendment to that effect. I hope to do that.
I will make a number of small points in the course of the consideration of the Bill on Committee Stage.
Otherwise, I very much welcome the Bill. It is excellent legislation that is very much needed. We look forward to just a few other amendments to ensure that it will deal with all aspects of this most serious problem.
I want to speak in support of the Domestic Violence Bill, introduced by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. I thank him for getting the Bill to this point. Having listened to proceedings up to now, I am looking forward to everybody's co-operation and what, hopefully, will be a very helpful and informative debate at the end of which we will have we will have legislation on which we can all agree.
There is a group of people dedicated to this cause and our advocacy for it should probably be far more widespread. In considering domestic violence, there are no Opposition and Government sides. There are no ideological differences between us when we talk about our aspirations. There is no left or right, no rural or urban; we just want to do what is right. I do not think it is the season of goodwill that has us united today. I think it is a very important topic because domestic violence is a scourge that is present in every part of our society from the smallest of rural towns to our largest cities. It affects people of all ages from pre-teenagers right up to the elderly. Although most of our comments assume that women are the victims, we must also recognise that quite a large number of men are also victims of domestic violence.
A few weeks ago, I attended an event at Dublin's Wood Quay organised by Women's Aid. I was lucky enough to launch the latter's report on femicide last year. This year was more of a remembrance for women murdered in Ireland. We held a minute's silence, which did not seem long enough given the testimonies and stories that had been told earlier that day by the relatives and friends of some of the victims. At the event in question, we were reminded that 216 women have died violently in Ireland since 1996, which amounts to nearly one woman murdered every month since 1996. It reminds us that this is not an historical issue; femicide is an issue right here, right now.
Some 56% of the women who were murdered were killed by either a current partner or a previous partner. We warn our children - as we were warned when we were growing up - particularly our daughters to be afraid of the fellow who might jump out from behind the bush or somebody one does not know. We never talk to our children, other family members or friends about that stranger in the home, the person with whom we have shared our bed, our life, our hopes, dreams and aspirations, and somebody we have loved and, in many cases, who said they loved us.
One number sticks in my mind from the event to which I refer because up until that point I was not aware of it. The number we all should remember is 2.8. Men who have killed a partner - either a current partner or a former partner - receive shorter prison sentences than those who have killed somebody they did not know. On average, their sentences are 2.8 years shorter than the person who receives a sentence for killing someone he or she did not know.
I know I am not supposed to be critical of our Judiciary, and I do not mean what I am about to say in a bad way. Based on our judicial history, somehow we are sending out a particular message to women who are lying on their kitchen floors having had their eyes swollen from punches they received or having being winded from kicks while they were pregnant. Domestic violence is far more prevalent when a woman is pregnant. Perhaps she had her skin slashed with a knife in the various engagements that take place in this domestic aggressive society we live in. The message we are sending to those women is that it could have been worse; it could have been a fellow that she did not know. I find that bizarre. It is unacceptable that a man who harms a woman he knows is somehow considered less of a criminal than a man who hurts a woman he does not know. It should be the exact opposite.
A home - my home and that of everyone here - is a refuge. It is where we go to be safe, warm and to put our slippers or our tracksuits on. It is everything to us. It is where we share love, fondness and memories of happy times with the people who are the most important in our lives. However, a woman is more likely to be killed in her home than in any other location. There is something dreadfully wrong with that, which is why we must do something to identify domestic abuse in all of its forms and protect those women, and men, from it, remove and deactivate the perpetrators and, ultimately, eliminate this scourge from our society.
We must also recognise that domestic abuse is not just about violence because threats and other non-violent actions can have exactly the same effect as physical blows. Bullying and psychological abuse have devastating consequences. When a man threatens to harm or kill a woman's children, first, she has no reason to doubt him and, second, it has to be the most guttural response of a mother or, indeed, a father to protect his or her children, even when it is at his or her own expense. That level of psychological abuse is happening in the towns and villages we all represent today.
We all know that words sometimes speak much louder than actions because when we get to a certain level of psychological abuse, we tend to mix it up in our heads and make it all the more fearful. What is so powerful about psychological abusers is the control they have over their victims. We are all well aware that, in the main, that is what this is all about. Domestic , sexual and psychological violence are all about control and power.
I want to touch on the important provisions in the Bill and the areas it will address. There is an extensive list of factors the courts must now consider when dealing with applications for domestic orders. Safety orders will be available to people who are in intimate and committed relationships but who are not cohabiting. Somebody does not have to be living with the person for them to have the same control and power over them as somebody who is living with them. Victims of violence who are cohabiting or are parents of the perpetrator will be able to apply for emergency barring orders. These orders will last for up to eight days, which will give people that breathing space of peace and clarity of thought to be able to address the immediate issues on hand. Emergency barring orders may be granted even if the victim has no legal or beneficial interest in the property they are living in or has an interest which is less than that of the perpetrator. What difference does it make? We want the person to be safe. It is not about property or one-upmanship. It is about keeping safe a person who is being abused. This measure is intended to weaken the economic grip that in most cases men have over the victims they are abusing.
It will be possible for a court to prohibit a perpetrator from communicating with the victim electronically. We live in a wonderful new world of social media and, in many ways, it is fabulous, even though it does not feel that way in my house when I am trying to get the children off the Wi-Fi in order that they might go to bed. There is a whole new level of access whereby people have the most manipulative control and power - on a 24-7 basis - over the people they want to abuse. It is very important that all our laws change and reflect evolving society so this particular piece is vital.
The Bill, when enacted, will provide protection against cross-examination of the persons. The courts will be required to give reasons for decisions they will make with regard to applications. It will be possible for victims to give evidence by live television as opposed to being in the presence of the person who has abused, maligned and terrified them for weeks, months and, in some cases, years.
The enactment of the Bill will grant victims the possibility of being accompanied to court with those they need to support them. Deputy Bríd Smith put it beautifully earlier. The women and men we are talking about are not the confident people we know. Even when we realise that somebody we know is being abused physically, mentally, sexually or whatever is on the list of abuses, the private and public person are sometimes two very different people. We might believe someone is a confident person in their own home but when they are being controlled and manipulated they are no more confident than somebody who is obviously not. The person can be a family friend, a member of the family or a supporter or community worker from some of the organisations mentioned earlier, including the National Women's Council of Ireland or the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.
It will be really important that children have the opportunity to make their views known to the court under the new Bill. Sometimes the children are being protected by the mother, but even with the best will in the world, violent behaviour certainly has an enormous impact on the children living households where this occurs. The court will have the option of appointing an expert to assist it in ascertaining the views of the child, because it cannot be done in the manner to which we are accustomed. There will also be an obligation to offer information about domestic violence and support services to victims, although I am quite sure that people who get as far as the courtroom have already been supported by somebody. There will also be the possibility that the perpetrator engages with services aimed at the perpetrators of domestic violence and-or addiction and counselling services.
Restrictions will be put in place on attendance by the general public at these criminal proceeding for breach of civil domestic orders. The only reason for that is to try to protect the dignity of the person who has had their dignity stripped away from them by somebody they love. While the media will be able to report, we want to make sure that the reports ensure that the dignity of the person that is being abused is respected and that their close children and families are protected.
A new criminal offence of arranged or forced marriages will be created, and we will also provide for a new criminal offence of coercive control, which is also very welcome. There were some very welcome changes made to this Bill in the Seanad and, as Deputy Shortall said, there are one or two further amendments that will be put forward that I will fully support. The main reasons I am supporting this Bill are that in its current form it gives us the best opportunity to improve the lives and circumstances of thousands of women and children living in our communities who are suffering from domestic violence. If I learned anything from my attendance at the Women's Aid events a couple of weeks ago and a year ago, it is that these women are people we might meet in the post office. I meet them in the morning when I drop my children to school and at GAA club matches when I am watching my children. They are people one would never suspect of being in difficulty because they are so proud that they protect themselves. We need to open up this conversation not to make it normal, but to make it acceptable for somebody to be able to reach out and get help. We must get rid of the spectacle that occurs when we hear stories of men who have take the lives of their wives or partners or have viciously or brutally hurt and damaged a woman, and where we hear about the surprise of a community because he was the pillar of society or was involved in sports clubs. This business of trying to normalise these actions and make them acceptable is something that we really have to get away from.
Domestic violence is a scourge on this society, and it has been for many years. It is not new, and it certainly has not gone away. I give my full support to this Bill. I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and all of his officials, who have done tremendous work over the past number of months on this Bill. It is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation we will pass in this House.
I dtús báire, gabhaim beannachtaí na féile leis an gCathaoirleach, le gach ball den Oireachtas, agus leis na daoine a oibríonn i dTeach Laighin ach go háirithe. Ba mhaith liom an rud céanna a rá le na teaghlaigh i nDáilcheantar Chontae Lú agus deisceart na Mí. Ní bheidh na beannachtaí sin le fáil ag gach clann i rith an ama seo den bhliain. Caithfimid na clainn sin a choimeád inár gcuimhne. Tá a lán daoine ag obair go deonach chun cabhrú leo le linn an ama seo. Gabhaim buíochas leis na hoibrithe deonacha, go háirithe na daoine a oibríonn le daoine a fhulangaíonn foréigean sa bhaile.
Ní raibh mé ag caint ar maidin ach ba mhaith liom labhairt faoin easpa dídine freisin. Caithfimid cuimhniú ar na daoine sin an t-am seo den bhliain. Bhí dhá agallamh agam leis an Aire faoin easpa prótacal atá i bhfeidhm a bhaineann le daoine a thagann go dtí stáisiún na ngardaí. Dúirt mé leis nach mór dúinn athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar na prótocail sin agus iad a fheabhsú. Is é mo thuairim féin nach fiú na prótocail a fheabhsú amháin ach ní mór go mbeadh líne teileafóin ar fáil gach lá chun cabhrú le daoine. Ba chóir go mbeadh siad ábalta dul go dtí an stáisiún agus go mbeadh dochtúir agus duine chun éisteacht leo ann nuair atá siad faoi bhrú.
I have spoken to the Minister on two occasions on the issue of the protocols in respect of domestic violence, or indeed any situation in which people are under massive pressure and need the assistance of An Garda Síochána. An Garda does excellent work but needs to continue to improve the protocols in respect of people visiting Garda stations. I know they can be busy places, but the issues of domestic violence and rape cause people trauma. It is not that there are not protocols, it is just that they need to be improved to ensure speedy transition. I know the Minister has given a commitment to look at that.
I have not raised this issue to be repetitious. I have listened attentively, within the Chamber and without, to the contributions of the many speakers across the parties. The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, pointed out that this issue affects every society and that this Bill has the support of everybody in this House. Whether the issue is homelessness, housing or domestic violence, we need to visit and revisit it, discuss it and express the views of the people we represent. Finally, guím beannachtaí na féile ar na Teachtaí. Gabhaim buíochas leo uilig as an obair a dhéanann siad.
I have a short contribution but it is very important that I make it. As the Minister, Deputy Doherty, leaves the Chamber, I commend her on her most powerful speech here today. It brings the plight of domestic abuse survivors home to people. In referring to that issue, I have been looking at something from the Samaritans in respect of abuse and domestic violence. Sometimes we can have a narrow definition of these issues. The Samaritans say:
Abuse includes emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. Domestic violence is a term used to describe emotional, physical or sexual abuse from a family member or in a relationship.
It speaks about emotional abuse, which is:
When someone threatens, humiliates, bullies, intimidates, calls you worthless or belittles you. It can include things such as constant criticism; threats; being controlled by someone; being constantly put down; and having your things destroyed.
It defines physical abuse as:
When someone deliberately injures, attacks or assaults you. It can include things such as being pushed; punched; slapped or beaten; having your hair pulled; or being spat on.
It can include neglect, which it defines as:
When a child, young, elderly or dependant person does not have enough food; care or supervision; clothing; medical care; or somewhere warm and clean to live. It can include things such as when a child's parents leave them alone for a long time, or do not provide enough food.
Those are statements by the Samaritans. I commend it and other such organisations throughout the country, in particular those working in hostels. All Members know of hostels across the country for many years and have heard stories of women and children being taken in by them in the middle of the night. Nobody can deny that. The Samaritans organisation also addresses the help that is available. I commend such people.
Part of the problem is, and has for many years been, people's fear of reporting what happens to them. I am not referring to neighbours or groups but, rather, to family members. Many people in Irish society have suffered domestic violence for many years but are afraid to tell their families.
I commend the Minister on the Bill because I have discovered, having read it over the past few days, that it is comprehensive and covers many situations. There doubtless also will be some amendments to it. It is of the utmost importance and will prompt a new debate on the issue.
As the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, stated, the Bill applies to men as it does to women, which is important. Although there is no doubt that the vast majority of those who suffer domestic violence are women, it also affects a percentage of men.
It is sad that Irish women still do not want to report domestic violence. In the UK, 92% of women who were murdered had been threatened, intimidated or controlled, which is a worrying figure. Similar statistics are not available for Ireland. However, some who work in the area of trying to assist people have said that up to 300,000 people may be affected by domestic violence in Ireland.
I wish to dwell for a moment on the life of a child who suffers by seeing domestic violence in the home. My view, and probably that of most in the House, be they officials or Deputies, is that children never recover from domestic violence. It destroys the child's whole life, takes away his or her childhood, leaves him or her very sad and is not something about which he or she wants to talk. It is a sad part of life that such children never seem to forget. To see a parent, be it the mother or father, perpetrating domestic violence in the home must be very frightening and terrorising for young people who could be as young as two, three or four or older. It also contributes to mental health issues. It has such a knock-on effect that affected children cannot recover from it or get it out of their minds. In many respects, it leaves a blot on many people's lives.
I wish to focus on the Garda Síochána, which does not get enough credit for its role in dealing with domestic violence. I am strongly in favour of there being a separate Garda unit to deal with the problem because it is becoming such an issue. I recently met two gardaí in a rural area who had travelled quite a distance to attend a domestic dispute one morning. I was thinking about how much effort they put in, possibly to try to make peace or ensure children were safe.
It is a harrowing experience for members of An Garda Síochána, most of whom have their own families. I am sure it must be very challenging for them to stand in the middle of a kitchen floor dealing with a domestic violence situation where there are young kids, people hurt and a lot of fallout. They do a marvellous job in most domestic violence situations. This Bill will improve the situation in that we will have a more open debate about this and we will have strong legislation. I hope the publication of the Bill and the procedure we are going through here will ensure we are all more open about this. We should be very concerned about it. I know from people and from things I hear that living with domestic violence and being controlled by someone is a frightening scenario. It is the most difficult life and, as I said earlier, people cannot even tell their families about it.
The second national strategy on domestic violence, which will run until 2021, is really about awareness and we need to make ourselves more aware of the situation. Therefore, I and my party are very glad to support the Bill and I am glad that Fianna Fáil in the Seanad made some major contributions to it. As I said, I hope and I have no doubt but that the Bill will have the full support of this House. It is a good day and a good end to the year. We have been working on this all year to get this far. It is a major step forward. As we come into the last week before Christmas, let us remember that in many homes at this time of year there is a major issue with domestic violence.
That is fine. I merely wish to state for the record that the programme for Government includes a commitment to implement in full the Istanbul Convention and the commitments contained in the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. I acknowledge the contributions of all Deputies. I will not have the time, as adverted to by the Acting Chairman, to deal in full with the points raised at this stage but I would be happy to do so on Committee Stage.
The Bill will improve the protections available to victims of domestic violence and help them deal with the court process. It contains a number of important amendments. I acknowledge the many agencies involved and pay a particular tribute to the Garda, in particular the domestic abuse implementation and policy group and the Garda National Protective Services Bureau, GNPSB, on Harcourt Square, representatives of which I had the opportunity of meeting recently. They too look forward to this legislation. I assure the Deputies that I will very carefully and seriously examine the many points that were raised during the debate along with the submissions raised by relevant organisations. I will give due consideration to introducing appropriate amendments to the Bill, as referred to by a number of Deputies across the House, and I look forward to engaging further on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.